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

Grammys Pop TV 73rd Emmy Awards young adult fast and furious debate free movies Ovation Rock spider-verse Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt what to watch period drama japan First Reviews Year in Review History crime thriller Teen boxoffice A24 Tumblr mcc Travel Channel strong female leads venice heist movie Certified Fresh sopranos live action Polls and Games WGN all-time psycho dexter best Fox News Showtime animated Awards Acorn TV Holidays Infographic biopic Sundance TV Turner emmy awards Crunchyroll Hulu dreamworks Video Games Thanksgiving golden globes Ellie Kemper Sony Pictures popular 4/20 Food Network Tubi art house 90s The CW slasher Amazon Studios Nickelodeon rotten romantic comedy The Witch halloween Drama ABC Signature Baby Yoda Film Turner Classic Movies LGBT DC Universe jamie lee curtis medical drama El Rey Pet Sematary First Look Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Schedule Rocketman Spike NBA anime Marvel Studios Amazon Prime sag awards OWN docudrama news San Diego Comic-Con video on demand Trivia Stephen King deadpool binge ratings The Walking Dead casting Cartoon Network black comedy DC streaming service OneApp spy thriller romance mob HBO Go ViacomCBS Film Festival worst movies Podcast TLC 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Marvel Television Opinion Marathons Comic Book Summer 2021 chucky space Disney Plus CMT hidden camera MTV Song of Ice and Fire Mary poppins critics kids Superheroe Photos 2016 richard e. Grant cancelled Lionsgate slashers Dark Horse Comics blaxploitation 007 Rocky Christmas comic book movie E! HBO Captain marvel elevated horror Holiday spider-man Action Mindy Kaling docuseries comics BBC America adenture Disney parents Binge Guide Creative Arts Emmys cars spinoff serial killer Walt Disney Pictures hispanic heritage month Disney streaming service razzies GoT Winners 99% Spring TV SundanceTV high school ABC Family psychological thriller 2017 The Arrangement AMC die hard video trophy TV movies CW Seed Cosplay renewed TV shows vs. australia Legendary Vudu FOX comic Wes Anderson Marvel PaleyFest Black History Month Academy Awards spanish godzilla spanish language canceled teaser Super Bowl rt archives scene in color kaiju 2020 mockumentary USA Network game of thrones Esquire HFPA scorecard crime joker latino LGBTQ theme song Sneak Peek zero dark thirty TIFF unscripted posters Tarantino hist screenings twilight TCM italian suspense toronto TCA 2017 Star Trek dceu AMC Plus Hallmark Christmas movies Comedy Elton John singing competition franchise Epix Neflix movies king arthur crime drama CBS All Access dragons TruTV screen actors guild children's TV feel good reviews aliens TCA Superheroes cartoon Mudbound batman blockbusters stop motion Broadway miniseries foreign Biopics Watching Series cooking The Purge Netflix Christmas movies New York Comic Con Black Mirror Winter TV cancelled TV series festival true crime films science fiction TNT golden globe awards rt labs Comic-Con@Home 2021 comedies Nat Geo Endgame Sundance sitcom stoner streaming movies NYCC a nightmare on elm street book werewolf royal family Reality nature streaming superman zombies ABC 71st Emmy Awards ghosts tv talk discovery Paramount Plus Comics on TV Rom-Com DGA TCA Awards Pacific Islander HBO Max natural history festivals biography Emmys Paramount concert superhero leaderboard Reality Competition BBC Discovery Channel TV Land Britbox kong Shondaland wonder woman Extras Oscars diversity black comic book movies target Universal Pictures cults Hear Us Out TV renewals television Western cops VICE Country Starz Sci-Fi new york political drama indie Netflix finale APB sequels adventure Set visit witnail indiana jones PBS Disney Channel Calendar Anna Paquin Fox Searchlight dark directors Peacock VOD hispanic Masterpiece dogs Cannes Instagram Live IFC Films VH1 cats RT History cancelled television remakes A&E FX cinemax Arrowverse breaking bad Hollywood Foreign Press Association TBS rom-coms BBC One YouTube Premium telelvision award winner 45 Alien Columbia Pictures Pixar BET Awards hollywood Bravo worst independent Exclusive Video Red Carpet comic books harry potter japanese live event Countdown National Geographic talk show YouTube FXX Syfy WarnerMedia transformers nbcuniversal doctor who Emmy Nominations 1990s scary movies obituary Television Critics Association USA rotten movies we love politics Pirates Logo IMDb TV Trophy Talk lord of the rings Avengers Classic Film aapi Comedy Central Musicals Family women E3 Valentine's Day Lucasfilm marvel cinematic universe new star wars movies BAFTA Music Box Office toy story Funimation thriller PlayStation Character Guide Brie Larson Star Wars documentaries YA saw The Academy marvel comics reboot Musical quibi SDCC Shudder Animation Mary Poppins Returns Apple TV Plus cancelled TV shows Hallmark game show Apple See It Skip It Heroines Amazon Prime Video TCA Winter 2020 boxing crossover travel mutant Fantasy SXSW robots olympics MCU CBS Lifetime Christmas movies dc composers legend james bond green book 2015 Disney+ Disney Plus American Society of Cinematographers versus ITV revenge Amazon Premiere Dates 72 Emmy Awards new zealand supernatural blockbuster justice league 2019 President fresh Kids & Family Fargo know your critic CNN Television Academy christmas movies universal monsters DirecTV Spectrum Originals genre Martial Arts mission: impossible asian-american sports FX on Hulu based on movie scary movie rt labs critics edition TV One Horror canceled TV shows GLAAD historical drama Adult Swim RT21 technology Image Comics satire zombie BET 79th Golden Globes Awards MSNBC trailers international X-Men criterion vampires monster movies Interview football Prime Video ESPN NBC 20th Century Fox DC Comics south america GIFs war ID Mary Tyler Moore IFC Tokyo Olympics Freeform Pop critic resources Election king kong Fall TV Toys nfl YouTube Red name the review series archives Pride Month gangster Universal Lifetime disaster Apple TV+ prank adaptation Quiz Tags: Comedy basketball 21st Century Fox Sundance Now Women's History Month dramedy Ghostbusters Trailer stand-up comedy Chernobyl Awards Tour Tomatazos jurassic park Writers Guild of America facebook documentary halloween tv child's play book adaptation action-comedy Crackle 24 frames Warner Bros. The Walt Disney Company classics Best and Worst 2018 spain Mystery Nominations sequel 93rd Oscars TV Paramount Network anthology laika comiccon french pirates of the caribbean social media police drama