Putting the “Horror” in “Horrorible”
Bristol (Google Maps Location)
October 29, 2006
Since my visit, the museum moved to the beautiful Bristol Historical Society building in 2014, and then moved again to a building in Plainville in 2021. This makes everything below moot, but it’s still entertaining.
Wow. What a surreal experience it is to visit the Witch’s Dungeon Classic Movie Museum. And I don’t necessarily mean that in a good way. What I thought would be a quick little kitschy jaunt through horror movie history via some masks, wax figurines, and posters turned out to be a 4 hour triumph of the will. No way I could have done this one alone, so many thanks go out to my man EdHill.
Several museums in Connecticut are only open during certain times of the year. This one is one of the most specialized, as it’s only open during weekends in October. The museum is considered the longest running exhibit of its kind in the country. I’m sure that’s true on some level, but after reading their website and visiting their museum, I can’t say I trust them all that much. Why? Let me count the ways…
(The site linked above is through the Wayback machine. It appears that they finally caught on that certain claims and exaggerations on that site were ripe for jerks like me to pick at. Oh, I still will… but some visuals are lacking. Like above, you have to scroll down a pace to see the building they were planning to move into in 2003. And 2004. And 2006. And…)
First of all, they are confused about the name of the museum. I’ve determined that I have it right, but apparently there will be a new museum by the name of “The Silver Screen Movie Museum and Archive.” Or maybe there already is? And if it is, it’s housed in a beautiful old mansion in Bristol. Of course it is. I swear, before the site owners took it down, this was the picture they displayed of where the museum was housed:
Or maybe not. We drove through some unknown territory across the northern edges of New Britain and Plainville to a suburban part of Bristol I didn’t know existed. We parked on Battle Street with maybe 30 other cars and made our way through the chilly autumn air to the entrance. There was a line of maybe 40 people ahead of us so we smiled and thought, “Nice! Crowds = Good.”
We passed the little trailer with a sparse collection of heads and posters from famous movies. It didn’t look all that impressive so we joined the line and began the wait. Ah, yes… The Wait. The museum’s owner, Cortlandt Hull, was kind enough to have an old Abbott and Costello movie reel going on a sheet hanging from his house’s gutter. How fun.
Aside: There was an actor in the movie named Reginald Denny. When Ed and I were in LA last month taking in the “Walk of Fame,” we thought it odd that the guy who got hit in the head with a brick during the LA OJ riots got a star. Now we know better.
It didn’t take long for two things to happen: One, we realized that the line wasn’t exactly moving much at all and two, it was pretty darn cold outside. We noticed the majority of our fellow patrons in The Wait were much more warmly dressed than we were. Hmmmm, did they know something we didn’t know? (Yes, they did.) We continued The Wait.
After 90 minutes of The Wait, I just had to call home to tell Hoang what was going on. “Baby? Hi, it’s me. I’m standing in line. Outside. I’m freezing. I just don’t understand this!” That was the prevailing thought for both of us – we just didn’t get it. “Man,” we thought, “this place must be awesome!” After a bit more of The Wait, I noticed that the museum was only allowing groups of two (or three, max) in at a time.
I hung up with a thoroughly disbelieving Hoang – if I were the kind of husband to give her reason to question me, no way would she believe that I was standing in line for 90 minutes, freezing my butt off, for what was rapidly becoming a very questionable museum. Half an hour later, Ed and I took stock of the situation. We had now been waiting two hours, had surely given ourselves at least a cold for the upcoming work week, and yet… we agreed that we would continue to suffer for our art. So we continued The Wait.
I cut the line and figured it all out; the ideal group size was two because the “hallways” were so skinny and the displays were so “tight.” It took 9 minutes for each group to get to a point where the next group could enter. Quick math told me we had nearly another HOUR of The Wait. And quick observation told me two more disturbing truths: At any given time there was only ONE GROUP in the museum at a time. And… and… there was no mansion. The tiny glorified faux Swiss Chalet trailer we were waiting to enter WAS THE ENTIRE MUSEUM. The Wait continued – at that point, we simply could not give up. We would not be beaten. We were going to view the Witch’s Dungeon Classic Movie Museum no matter what.
Then again, that may have been the hypothermia talking.
I moved my car to the closest position out on the street, cranked the heat all the way up, turned up the heated seats and dreamt of crossing this ridiculous museum off the list. Ed and I traded spots – car, line, car, line – for the next 45 minutes or so, as did most of the other groups in line. (Hey, I said it was surreal.)
As we got closer to the front, we heard the door guy explaining a few things. About how the fake tombstones in the yard represented the great classic horror monster actors. About how they “just got” their non-profit status from the government (though the various websites I’ve linked mention that they did that years ago), that the DVD that they “just completed” will be sent to corporations so they will donate money and they’ll have a better building “soon,” that when the children of famous actors show up like Ron Chaney and Lara Karloff, the lines are down the street, that the mansion on their website is the place they wanted to buy, but simply couldn’t, that the giant toothy worm in the yard actually wasn’t from “Tremors,” but an unheard of TV show throwaway bin, the hot apple cider machine “crapped out” on them just that very day – and yet, when there was a changing of the guard, we heard an entirely different story.
The Wait continued… But we were close. We could feel it. The groups in front of us dwindled ever-so-slowly. And then… we reached the Promised Land. I paid for the both of us (only a dollar each) and we counted down the minutes. And then… The Wait was over! Nearly three freezing hours later and with our vitriol at its peak… we entered.
Remember how excited you were for the 4th Star Wars movie after the long hiatus and how disappointed you were by it? Or how you waited and waited and waited for your 8th grade crush to ask you out and when he/she did it was terrible? Yeah? Well, take those two feelings, combine them with an acute case of frostbite and you’ll have the Witch’s Dungeon Classic Movie Museum.
Upon entering we were greeted with a spectral skeleton creature voiced by Vincent Price. Ok, Vincent Price’s real voice is pretty cool I suppose. The second thing we noticed was that this place was TINY. Ed and I couldn’t move. The “hallway” was literally about 18 inches wide and we were guided by each display being lit up as we made our way down the length of the trailer building thing. Seriously.
About one minute in, we couldn’t stop laughing at the absurdity of this place. A light would click on behind us, we’d twirl in place to see Frankenstein’s monster while a garbled movie clip played over the sound system. That display’s light would click off and the next one behind us but a foot closer to the end would click on and there was Erik, the Phantom of the Opera. And so on and so forth. Ed and I were losing our minds.
We had waited nearly three hours, expecting a mansion and lots of cool movie memorabilia, and all we got was a crappy barely animatronic drive-thru quality sound system display of nine movie monsters from back in the day. Oh sure, some of this stuff was “authentic” I suppose, and true fans I’m sure could glean something positive from this experience. But normal people?
As we made our way through our nine minute experience, we heard the ceiling above us creak and moan as though someone was above us. Near the end, this was proven true as a scary gloved hand reached down from above to touch Ed on the shoulder. He almost avoided the touch, but this surprising bit of kitsch only served to crack us up more. See the pictures and explanation below for the full story of this “scary hand….” It made The Wait totally worth our while.
In the end, this museum is just ridiculous. It’s a shame, because the concept is cool and the owner’s heart is in the right place. Somehow he gets lots of press and he actually does know lots of children of moderately famous monster actors. This museum is his true labor of love and I’m sure he’s a great guy. But there was just something so weird about the whole thing; the childlike whimsy of the door guy who really did believe that they really were just about to move into that mansion and get major corporate financing and that idiots like us waiting in line for nearly three hours were more than rewarded in the end. Happy Halloween!
Ok, so now this is when it all became worthwhile. As we neared the end, (The Fly, the Mole Man) we noticed the creaking above us was all too apparent. Then, a scary gloved hand slipped down from above and touched Ed on his shoulder. Awesome. Here’s the hole:
In a moment of brilliance, as the last display crackled through its garbled monologue, I thrust my camera up that hole and snapped a picture. Heck, I didn’t think I had it angled correctly or anything, so I wasn’t expecting much. As I brought the camera back down and clicked over to see the result of my attempt, I could barely contain my glee. I’ve studied the picture below over the last couple of days and it really makes me think…
Why? I don’t really know. The fact that that dude crawls around up there all night? That he’s shoeless so as to minimize his creaking mere inches above our heads? That he saw/heard that his picture was about to be taken just before the flash? That you can make out the original 1960 electrical wiring up there – I believe he is responsible for each display’s lights coming on at the right time – is that it? I don’t know, but this picture, for Ed and me, made our 4 hour mission (drive time included) totally worth our while.