Kim Newman on... Hotel

RT Obscura 16: Star-Studded Vampire Hijinks from Mike Figgis

by | May 8, 2008 | Comments

RT Obscura with Kim Newman

RT Obscura, the exclusive column by renowned critic Kim Newman, sees the writer plumbing the depths of the RT archive in search of some forgotten gems. In his 16th column, Kim revisits Mike Figgis’ star-studded film-within-a-film vampire flick Hotel.

Shot fast and cheap in Venice in 2001, Hotel is even looser than director Mike Figgis‘s earlier Timecode. That had to keep four images in some sort of sync and thus could ill-afford sloppiness, but this improvised effort (Figgis’s background is in jazz, which says a lot) is lopsided, wilfully strange, not always coherent and feels as if lost hours of ‘deleted scenes’ might explain things.

The 24, mostly-excellent ‘web shorts’ included as an extra on the DVD don’t actually help with the story, but at least give actors who barely register in the actual film a shot at getting a laugh. They don’t seem to be online as of this writing, which is a shame. Despite everything, Hotel is a fun watch, has a freewheeling feel, is full of good jokes, and stretches to unusual creepy or erotic sequences. Even viewers who reject it out of hand (and there will be a lot) will find some scenes sticking in the memory — though I’d worry about anyone who tries to copy the kinkier stuff.


In the opening, guest Omar Johnson (John Malkovich) joins the staff of the Hungaro Hotel in Venice in a meal, which he partakes in from behind bars in a basement. The fare on offer turns out to be prosciutto made from human flesh. It seems the manager (Danny Huston) and his observant, odd staff — not to mention a huffy tour guide (Julian Sands) — are some variety of vampire, and they lurk in the background or around the margins, waiting for the unwary to wander into their clutches (Figgis consigns several of his most loathesome characters to their larder).

The guests are filmmakers working on a loopy-sounding Dogme version of John Webster‘s Jacobean The Duchess of Malfi. The nearly covert plot involves an assassination attempt which puts flamboyantly difficult director Trent Stoken (Rhys Ifans) in a coma so that sneaky producer Jonathan Danderfine (David Schwimmer) has to take over the film, a process which involves getting close to Stoken’s girlfriend-star Naomi (Saffron Burrows).


We get a few scenes from Malfi, as adapted by Heathcote Williams (who also plays Boscola), and glimpse what Burrows (“I am Duchess of Malfi still”), Mark Strong and other talents could make of the text; the play is so grotesquely violent and demented there has to date been no serious attempt to film it. There are sly send-ups of the Dogme film movement (“it means it will be badly-lit”), though the film-within-a-film scenes are actually slicker than the surrounding stuff. Salma Hayek shows up as the monstrous ‘Charlee Boux’, a catty cable TV documentary host who comes on like a feral version of the Geraldine Chaplin character from Nashville and enjoyably gets into a hissing fight with a rival (Lucy Liu) which echoes the animal snarling director and producer do at each other. Ifans is a lively, powerful, funny presence as a director who might be either a genius or a total idiot, and the film’s energy level sags notably when he’s in a coma.

There’s an entertaining if queasy emphasis on weird sex — with Stefania Rocca as a red-dressed call girl who dips her breasts in champagne glasses of milk for the benefit of a crass movie financier (George DiCenzo), quarter-of-the-screen vampire lesbian business, a peculiar sequence from Malfi in which Burrows takes the male role in a doggystyle sex scene before giving birth to twin baby dolls and Trent’s return from coma when his nurse (Chiara Mastroianni) uses him as a ceremonial sex aid.

RT Obscura with Kim Newman

Given that this is a movie which trades a lot on connections, note how many of the cast have been in vampire movies (admittedly, some made after Hotel): Malkovich (Shadow of the Vampire), Huston (30 Days of Night), Sands (Tale of a Vampire), Rocca (a 2002 made-for-TV Dracula), Liu (Rise), Hayek (From Dusk Till Dawn), Burrows (Perfect Creature); then again, maybe there are so many vampire movies around that any large-cast film will have a simialr record.

Also floating about are Valeria Golino as an actress who complains all her lines have been cut but she still has two nude scenes, Jason Isaacs as an Aussie star who quits when he gets a Ridley Scott film (guess who this is a jab at?), Burt Reynolds (!) as the spokesman for a flamenco troupe (if he really improvised his terrific, double-edged big speech, we’ll have to reassess him as a writer), Valentina Cervi as a maid and Alexandra Staden (who played Modesty Blaise in the direct-to-DVD My Name is Modesty) as a p.a. (barely visible in the film, but very funny in two of the ‘web-based shorts’ inclduing a wonderfully sustained phone routine about ordering drugs for the wrap party).


If Timecode was one movie occupying four equal screens, Hotel (which uses the Timecode splitscreen for several sequences) is more like four films which occupy the same screen — a Player-ish filmbiz comedy, that Dogme Duchess, the vampire picture and a sex/assassination conspiracy thriller. Perhaps predictably, this took a critical pasting; though, frankly, it’s got far more going for it than the ‘proper’ movie (Cold Creek Manor) Figgis made at about the same time.

Like Michael Winterbottom, Takashi Miike, Fassbinder or even Jesus Franco, Figgis is so prolific that he can afford to turn out experimental movies between more mainstream efforts, and seems to be more interested in stretching himself and playing with new toys (he designed his own camera rig for this) than turning out a consistent oeuvre. Like all of the above cited directors, he takes the risk of dashing off an indulgent exercise which befuddles more than it delights. And it is a risk — Alex Cox did one of those larks, Straight to Hell, and self-destructed a promising career.


Though it scores high on the “oh come on, now” meter, there are things in Hotel that repay repeat visits. And don’t miss the shorts — if only to see Danny Huston and Saffron Burrows doing what amounts to a Monty Python routine about the hotel bell and a marvelous standalone scene in which the producer has to bail his director and an actor out of an Italian jail before the show can go on.

Tag Cloud

crime Walt Disney Pictures Creative Arts Emmys Binge Guide Tomatazos DGA Starz unscripted Dark Horse Comics Paramount Network FX on Hulu serial killer miniseries SundanceTV cinemax Set visit finale kids nature BBC America El Rey 71st Emmy Awards The Witch Awards Winners teaser SXSW Christmas DC streaming service Tubi History Nat Geo VICE travel game of thrones elevated horror Apple Amazon Studios CBS romance television 21st Century Fox American Society of Cinematographers latino Marvel Television Holidays 24 frames psycho animated all-time The Purge Disney Lucasfilm See It Skip It Syfy Disney+ Disney Plus aliens Amazon Bravo video Star Trek Red Carpet MSNBC universal monsters Rom-Com APB YA documentaries cats discovery social media BAFTA festivals SDCC GIFs Sneak Peek OWN DC Comics HBO Max Shondaland MCU Discovery Channel mockumentary Superheroes Reality Competition ABC indiana jones children's TV Freeform Song of Ice and Fire Nominations canceled TV shows period drama richard e. Grant game show dark TV Land theme song what to watch supernatural President Black Mirror best facebook TNT cancelled TV shows Awards Tour IFC slashers BBC political drama Acorn TV werewolf mission: impossible Teen award winner Tumblr directors Toys Endgame Crackle Hear Us Out Paramount PlayStation spinoff natural history Musical independent screenings Film Festival Trailer Ellie Kemper stand-up comedy spy thriller Showtime Western crossover reviews breaking bad Lionsgate Polls and Games rotten movies we love dceu Cartoon Network science fiction E! talk show The Walking Dead Food Network doctor who Best and Worst historical drama Pride Month Television Academy The CW Comedy Schedule Comedy Central name the review space docudrama zombies CW Seed Trivia politics PaleyFest YouTube stoner Country free movies Universal spider-man hist Comic Book Quiz TLC Interview streaming New York Comic Con toy story Action TIFF Chernobyl chucky Peacock strong female leads Shudder Hulu Disney Channel Cannes Stephen King twilight child's play anime Sundance TV Holiday BET Turner Classic Movies Baby Yoda Apple TV Plus Winter TV Netflix series Super Bowl versus Sundance Now Countdown Mary Tyler Moore war Biopics Hallmark Lifetime Christmas movies First Reviews RT History justice league 2015 Heroines sitcom Epix Fall TV BET Awards FX Star Wars satire casting Mystery adventure Rock Apple TV+ scary movies Arrowverse hispanic biography Martial Arts Photos cartoon spain diversity A24 VH1 AMC Opinion Music CBS All Access Amazon Prime Video ITV Podcast witnail Watching Series Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Funimation FOX Extras canceled First Look TCA 2017 Columbia Pictures DirecTV critics NBC Cosplay zombie blockbuster binge mutant criterion Captain marvel medical drama Disney streaming service Fantasy Box Office ESPN Trophy Talk Anna Paquin Esquire films CMT 2016 robots Mary poppins crime thriller jamie lee curtis GLAAD cancelled television cars comic cooking Pop police drama disaster crime drama franchise Horror Fox News TV renewals Summer sports blaxploitation Women's History Month Pirates VOD south america PBS San Diego Comic-Con Britbox Calendar IFC Films comedies halloween cancelled Crunchyroll movies ratings 007 OneApp Writers Guild of America Avengers Vudu DC Universe Academy Awards 4/20 comiccon Film TruTV die hard tv talk Nickelodeon Spike Pixar E3 movie cops true crime technology indie christmas movies Thanksgiving FXX cancelled TV series Superheroe A&E 2018 Marathons book Election Spring TV LGBT 2019 Kids & Family Infographic Certified Fresh TCM Rocketman sequel Turner Elton John WarnerMedia Ovation Warner Bros. singing competition LGBTQ renewed TV shows MTV revenge adaptation romantic comedy CNN Netflix Christmas movies 2020 Spectrum Originals video on demand Adult Swim ghosts a nightmare on elm street 20th Century Fox reboot concert dragons Mindy Kaling Logo RT21 Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt harry potter Classic Film TCA Winter 2020 dogs TCA X-Men dc spanish language Sundance GoT USA Network Black History Month Valentine's Day zero dark thirty HBO Go vampires Sony Pictures parents YouTube Red Marvel Studios boxoffice dramedy transformers asian-american Disney Plus TV Emmy Nominations Marvel Travel Channel National Geographic documentary Rocky TBS Animation YouTube Premium Grammys HBO psychological thriller based on movie quibi Drama Comics on TV Premiere Dates 45 news Brie Larson Pet Sematary cults Emmys Mary Poppins Returns Hallmark Christmas movies sag awards green book Family Sci-Fi USA Ghostbusters Year in Review ABC Family Masterpiece golden globes batman Tarantino screen actors guild Oscars comics Reality foreign BBC One WGN 2017 Lifetime composers Pop TV Mudbound thriller The Arrangement Video Games Musicals Character Guide Amazon Prime joker anthology NYCC