Pullbox Reviews Hotell #1- The Outer Limits meets American Horror Story…

You won’t find it on any map, but if you happen to be driving down Route 66 late at night and you’re truly desperate for shelter, sanctuary or secrecy, you might see a battered sign on the side of the road: The Pierrot Courts Hotel- where many check in but few check out.

Any port in the storm is more than just a handful of pretty words. For Alice- on the run, frightened, & exhausted- it’s a definitive fact. To some, the weathered hotel sign might not have been inviting, but for Alice it’s an oasis that holds the promise of much needed respite, no matter how brief. Knowing that every minute not spent on the move brings the abusive husband she’s running from that much closer, Alice also knows that she needs some rest, both for her own sake & that of her unborn baby.

Horror movies are kind of hit or miss with me. I’m not a fan of shock or gore for its own sake, & the cheesy jump scare tactic doesn’t impress me. A scary movie has to work a little harder to establish some actual creep factor before it’ll earn my respect. Comics trying to capture the atmosphere of the genre have an even tougher time getting through to me. Lacking the benefit of a musical score or a set pace to build tension, comics have a bit of an uphill climb. They can’t even fall back on the jump scare- not necessarily a bad thing in my opinion- for the easy out.

John Lees got me, & he did it on a couple different levels. First, he tricked me. I’m not gonna spoil anything by getting into detail, but I can say that he pulled off a fine rope-a-dope in his narrative. Second, Lees takes his time to build the creep factor throughout the story, relying on his own sense of the macabre that he feels is inherent in an “old roadside hotel setting” (Lees’ words, from his afterward in the issue). Hotell isn’t about a slasher. It’s not about a psychopathic stalker who keeps his mother’s decomposing corpse on hand, or Satanists looking to bring about the End of Days. Lees is telling a more subtle story of lurking horror left unseen for most of the issue, a feat that’s tough enough to pull off cinematically much less in the silent pages of a comic book.

Lees is assisted in the work by the artistic team of Dalibor Talijic & Lee Loughridge. Talijic’s illustrations are well suited to the understated kind of story being told here. Most of the issue is just people talking, and most of that isn’t particularly horrific. Where Talijic does get to indulge himself comes in the story’s dream sequences, as Alice’s subconscious (or is it?) works on making sense out of recent events. These pages are given even more of an off-putting quality through the color choices made by Loughridge. It’s worth noting that the color palettes throughout the book do a good job of setting the scene, in Alice’s dreams as well as in flashbacks… pay attention to the shades of red used as a  hint of what’s coming.

Sadly, I can’t really give a lot of outright praise to the lettering done by Sal Cipriano. To explain to you why his work is so cool, I’d have to give away parts of the story. I ain’t no spoiler, so you’re just gonna have to take me at my word. Cipriano gets to play around a bit, the lettering never going so far as to overshadow or interrupt the artwork, but subtly implying something… not right.

One thing I can throw some kudos at is that cover! Kaare Andrews has taken a relatively simple thing & imbued it with some pretty unsettling imagery. Nothing overt, with the possible exception of the guy with the friggin AXE, but each window gives a glimpse into a room of the hotel that’s just creepy. Even if we’re not sure why an image should be unsettling (again, except for the dude with the axe… and maybe the guy in the Gimp suit), we just know that it is. What’ll be interesting is finding out if these windows into the Pierrot Courts Hotel are glimpses into future issues.

With some seriously heavy and violent themes, Hotell is definitely a book for mature readers. It’s also a book that does its job, creating a setting with a definite backstory in a very short amount of time. There are relatively few comics as effective at instilling the sense of horror & dread that this one has managed. The hook is set, and now I’m stuck with everyone else, waiting to see what’s next.

Final Score: 10+

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