3. Witch’s Dungeon Classic Movie Museum

Putting the “Horror” in “Horrorible”
Bristol
(Google Maps Location)
October 29, 2006

2014 Update – it appears the museum has moved its location from Battle Street over to the beautiful Bristol Historical Society. Though I assume it’s still in the trailers outside. I have no idea.

mq4g.jpgWow. What a surreal experience it is to visit the Witch’s Dungeon Classic Movie Museum. And trust me, I don’t 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 on the list have seasonal events and many more are only open during certain times of the year. This one may be the most specialized – it’s only open during weekends in October. And yet, they claim that 2006 is the 40th year of existence. 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 exagerrations 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 that 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:

mq4r.jpg

Or maybe not. We drove through some unknown territory across the northern edges of New Britain and Plainville to a part of Bristol I didn’t know existed – the nice part. 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, “Ha! Crowds = Good.”

mq4d.jpg
The trailer at the beginning of The Wait.

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 cute. [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 damn 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.

mq4b.jpg
The line about half an hour into The Wait.

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 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.

mq4e.jpg
The line about an hour into The Wait.

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.

mq4c.jpg
The movie screen about 90 minutes into The Wait.

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, thank goodness – Note that it’s 2 bucks in 2011) and we counted down the minutes. And then… The Wait was over! Nearly three freezing hours with no enterprising little punk selling hot chocolate at three bucks a pop (Hint, hint) and with our vitriol at its peak… we entered.

Mwuh-huh-huh-huh-huhhhhhhh.

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 it.

mq4i.jpgWe 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 junk was “authentic” I suppose, and true fans I’m sure could glean something postitive from this experience. But normal people? No. [Update: Now 48 hours later, I can report that I have a full-on cold.]

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 awful. 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.

This museum left us wondering just what is in the water up there in that rural section of Bristol that we didn’t know existed until this visit. And I wonder how long their site will continue to have all the falsehoods and WAY outdated info on it? [Update: About 6 months – Steve 4/17/07]

Who knows… all I know is, we got to check this place off the list. Happy Halloween!

mq4f.jpg
About 5 groups ahead of us here – that’s still 45 minutes of The Wait to go.

mq4s.jpg
Damian got us into the spirit of the night before we left.

mq4a.jpg
Despite the promise of a beautiful mansion museum, the outdoor line and port-a-potty just to the left of this picture was the reality.

mq4t.jpg
Cortlandt Hull, the man responsible for this mess.

mq4j.jpg
We were welcomed by this scaaaaaaary skeleton!

mq4k.jpg
Then Frankestein’s monster spooked us further. You can’t get an appreciation for just how cramped this place was, but trust me, it was ridiculous.

mq4l.jpg
“I’m the Phantom of the Trailer!”

mq4m.jpg
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the caldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
The things I do for this silly blog.

mq4n.jpg
The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Eh. I enjoyed the “Return to the Blue Lagoon” much more.

mq4o.jpg
“Zis museum sucks more than I do.”

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:

mq4p.jpg

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…

mq4q.jpg

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.

Update: I note in 2011 that they’ve added some truth to their website. They state the “museum” is only 6 minutes long, that you “may wait in a cold line” and stuff like that. Kudos to them.

…………………………………………………….

Back to Top

Cost: $1.00 Adults ($2 as of 2011)
Hours: October weekend nights, 7-midnight or so
Food & Drink? Gnaw on your arm and bring a flask of brandy
Children? Hardy 6 yr olds and up
You’ll like it if: You are a total horror movie geek
You won’t like it if: You are normal
Freebies: Rhinovirus

mq4h.jpg

For the Curious

Museum Website
Buy their movie!
People who would dig this place
What appears to be a much cooler Witch’s Dungeon Museum
We may make these MA museums honorary CT museums
Treating hypothermia

8 responses to “3. Witch’s Dungeon Classic Movie Museum”

  1. May=Spring=Events Galore « Vernon Neighbor to Neighbor says:

    [...] a parent’s blog about museums in Connecticut – a great guide for when you’re wondering if the Witch’s Dungeon Classic Movie Museum is really worth the drive with the kids. Faith Middleton recently did a staycation guide to a lot [...]

  2. chick110 says:

    How cool that you suffered through this to give your readers the scoop. I hope the cold didn’t linger long and you didn’t suffer any lasting effects from it. At least you didn’t get charged a massive amount and then feel ripped off afterwards. Loved the pic of the guy in the attic!

  3. Corey says:

    Haha…so true…this place is LAME…I went there about 20 yrs ago as a kid…prob was the same since then…

  4. Fran says:

    I had to laugh at the description. A lot of it is true, but I think the author missed a lot of the charm. Here are some interesting facts, too:

    The museum was begun by Cortlandt when he was just a kid – that in itself is pretty amazing. Also, one of the major movie studios threatened to sue Cortlandt until Vincent Price intervened on his behalf. I’m not sure how many people realize this, but some of Cortlandt’s work is at the Monster Cafe at Universal Studios in Florida. He is an impressive guy with a real commitment to the history of film. I hope he gets to see his dream come true.

  5. thegodamill says:

    I live near Battle Street and I’ve never heard of this disaster but I can’t wait until October so I can take my girlfriend here for her birthday. Muahahaaa. Hope it didn’t ruin Bristol for ya!

  6. Paul says:

    Um…you do realize that Cortlandt Hull made those figures himself, right?? They aren’t just crappy animatronics that he bought at a Halloween store. Why you would go to a place like this – where you pay A DOLLAR – expecting Erebus or something is beyond me.

  7. Michael says:

    Reading through the original poster/reviewers comments and the comments following… I get your point that this museum is not a DISNEY exclusive. But I also sense your heart and spirit is one that likes to harm versus smile and enjoy life.

    One comment above cites the point that this museum is essentially one about the love of horror films, the costumes and makeup involved. Clearly you are not a fan of the imagination on down to earth basics.

    And last, if you had ever bothered to meet, sit down or be in a seminar that Cortland Hull is a guest speaker at, you might open your mind and imagination to someone who loves what they do and wants to share it, and has shared it for several decades. You might also find out that his network of friends and colleagues over his lifetime, is far greater than your limited spirit realizes :)

    p.s. have a good halloween, or thanksgiving, or christmas, or whatever fantasy season you do happen to find smile in.

  8. Steve says:

    A few points from me, the original author of this page:

    First, I wrote this many years ago when I was younger and hadn’t fully come to appreciate what our state’s tiny museums offer. To use an earlier commenter’s word, “charm.” I’ve sort of changed the way I view these little oddity museums and treat them with a bit more respect than I treated this place.

    That said, I still don’t really get it. No, I’m not a 50′s B-Movie horror fan. That much is evident. But I froze my butt off for such little pay-off. It’s cool that Mr. Hull is an originator of a lot of this stuff, and it would be great to chat with every museum owner/inspiration, but that would just be impossible with the scope of the CTMQ project.

    And to the most recent commenter, Michael just above, I do not have a “spirit,” as there is no such thing as spirits. I’m not sure why Mr. Hull’s vast network of Hollywood friends has anything to do with me, but cheers to him. He clearly is an accomplished movie artist.

    And lastly, I smile every day! I have two beautiful children and a wonderful wife. If you poke around this website a bit, my love for them and my love for travel, exploration and discovery is fully borne out.

    Thanks for reading.

Leave a Comment

The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of Atheism