"You can check-out any time you like/ But you can never leave."
A line from The Eagles' classic track "Hotel California" that's become something of a tagline for the historic Hotel Cortez: the seductive, frightening deathtrap at the centre of FX's American Horror Story: Hotel.
A single line that's also managed to fill me with a level of both trepidation and eerie thrill; as I find myself a willing volunteer, for one night only, to step into the Cortez's labyrinthine hallways - or, at least, London's stunning Beaumont Hotel, whose regal Art Deco design makes it the perfect stand-in for the Cortez itself.
Arriving at its doors, we're lucky enough to find the hotel's manager Iris (played on the show by Kathy Bates) in a more magnanimous mood than usual; keen to welcome strangers into the establishment, this collected pool of innocents (victims?) ushered in to celebrate the wedding anniversary of the hotel's glimmering couple: James Patrick March (Evan Peters) and Elizabeth Johnson AKA The Countess (Lady Gaga).
The former is also present to welcome our arrival; purveying, examining, and critiquing almost everything in sight, all while propped up by his trusty cane and ensuring that Clark Gable moustache is always kept in check. Yet, there's an air of nervousness to his usually confident stride, with his opening words to his honoured guests coming off more like a warning than an invitation. We're told we must keep our wits about us, otherwise he may just make use of those hollowed spaces between the hotel's walls.
While it's not something to be mentioned in polite society, James March is not only entrepreneur and visionary, but also one of history's most prolific serial killers; who constructed the Hotel Cortez in the 1920s as "murder palace", a shrine in which he could commit his depraved acts out of the retributive eyes of the public.
As a studied member of polite society, I'm careful not to bring up the side-career in murder when in conversation with Mr. March; my companion for the night, however, is a little bolder and his constant queries as to what/who is residing within the hollow walls certainly doesn't see him warmed up to Mr. March much. I realise at this point that it's unlikely my companion will survive the night, and I quietly make my final goodbyes to him in my head.
Soon, we're introduced to the rest of the hotel's residents: the ever-glamorous Liz Taylor (played on the show by Denis O'Hare), Hypodermic Sally (Sarah Paulson) and, of course, The Countess herself. Though Liz and Iris do their best to cajole the guests into a more festive atmosphere, and Hypodermic Sally lives up to her name and largely skulks in the corner looking for her next hit, there's clearly something awry with the supposedly happy couple.
As is the way with the world of American Horror Story, the truth always outs itself, and the tension is soon revealed to have its source: with The Countess' great former love, the departed Rudolph Valentino, who proves a particular sore spot for the usually so self-satisfied Mr. March. Although, really, you could tell the sympathy of the room leant firmly with The Countess. Valentino, after all, was known as the World's Greatest Lover. Who could blame the woman?
With the room's air tense with foreboding, disaster struck - or, I guess, the usual struck - the infamous Hotel Cortez. Murder, and the discovery of James Patrick March's cold, lifeless body on the hotel's gilded staircase. "What a tragedy," people would say, if everyone present didn't have a very good reason to be rid of him. Even my companion is starting to look shifty.
Everyone becomes a suspect: the Countess bats her eyelashes at guests, though her bloodied, stiletto-pointed glove says otherwise. Iris shuffles modestly around the room, hoping to ensure everyone is content. Liz Taylor attempts to brush off an unexpected absence with a flick of her jewelled wrist.
Hypodermic Sally is certainly her ever seductive, charming self, swift to corner my companion and within moments convince him of her innocence. Again, I quietly say my goodbyes to him in my head, knowing that an evening with Hypodermic Sally only ever ends up with getting sewn up into a mattress.
Luckily, though, the truth does always win out at the Hotel Cortez. Not to reveal the night's highly secretive investigations, but the murder was solved, and no one ended up sewn up in any mattresses. An overall successful stay, I would say.
AMERICAN HORROR STORY: HOTEL is available on Blu-ray™ & DVD from 3rd October courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
- More about:
- American Horror Story