Review: Horror Hotel by Victoria Fulton and Faith McClaren

cover of Horror HotelHorror Hotel by Victoria Fulton and Faith McClaren
Underlined (February, 2022)
224 pages; $8.49 paperback, $9.99 kindle
Reviewed by Haley Newlin

Sometimes they want to hurt you. Sometimes they want you to help them stop hurting.

Victoria Fulton and Faith McClaren are an award-winning coauthor duo specializing in edgy rom-coms and horror stories laced with romance, friendship, and movie references.

With this formula, mixed with ghosts, psychics, and inspiration from the infamous Cecil Hotel, the pair breed a spine-tingling tale for young adults in this suspenseful horror debut.

When the YouTube-famous Ghost Gang — Chrissy, Chase, Emma, and Kiki —  visit a haunted Los Angeles hotel, they expect it to be like their previous paranormal huntings.

But the hotel, based on the Cecil Hotel off Skid Row, is more than meets the eye, more than the scary stories told about the decades of murder, suicides, and buried secrets infecting and spawning within the walls.

The novel’s opening reveals each of the characters’ roles in the Ghost Gang, but the standout is Chrissy, who can sense the dead, see them, feel their pain or their wrath. Even at home or at Chase’s, the dead follow her like she’s a magnet for the departed.

Chase, driven by the pursuit of a million followers of the Ghost Gang channel, ropes the group into going to the hotel following the death of a college student, Eileen  —  based on the tragic case of Elisa Lam.

As it did with Lam, the hotel opens its jaws, hungry for further pain, death, and scare, and swallows the Ghost Gang whole.

The book’s pacing went into maximum overdrive at this stage and gave me a bit of whiplash. Entering the belly of the beast, the hotel, Chrissy immediately sees ghosts feels their presence, and her only relief is doubling up on beanies.

I would’ve liked to see these disturbances in depth. Instead, Chrissy immediately throws up, nose bleeding, but I felt this was a chance to truly explore the hotel’s horror.

Horror Hotel nods to the Cecil Hotel’s history in numerous places, including a recreation of “The Nightstalker,” aka Richard Ramirez, who stayed at the hotel. Ramirez would throw out his bloodied clothes in the hotel’s dumpster and return to his room with next to no clothing and blood on his face.

Fulton and McClaren missed a chance to layer their horror hotel with its gruesome history from ingesting poison, falling from the building, and children discarded from the windows. They continually reference Elisa Lam’s death, a possible accidental drowning, reimagined as an accident atop the elevator car, but not enough about her case’s dreadful details. I would’ve liked to see ghosts hiding in the corner of the elevator, waving their arms, guests complaining about water pressure, or having a funny taste. These elements were what made sleuths like the Ghost Gang so fascinated with the case and the mysterious atmosphere of the hotel.

I appreciated the Ghost Gang’s after-dark operations that felt like a callback to The Blair Witch Project, As Above So Below, and other films in this camcorder style. This element was seamless, with “off-limit rooms,” rolling blackouts, and an unknown killer on their tails. The ghost vlog transforms into a murder mystery, and the gang relies on Chrissy more than ever.

Cue the internal struggles synonymous with the Young Adult genre. Chrissy aches for someone like her, Chase grapples with his feelings for Chrissy, and Kiki and Emma unveil uncharted, romantic feelings. I especially appreciate the LGBTQIA representation here — shattering the stereotype of what queer women are “supposed” to look like.

The plot from this point forward is a bit haphazard. The story consistently moves forward with intention, but again, it lacks the unease and dread expected of a novel orbiting such a malevolent setting.

Still, while the “who done it” aspect is predictable, it’s conjured with enough complexity that kept me at the edge of my seat. I was afraid for Chrissy and the gang, sad for the souls lost or trapped in the hotel. This evocation of emotion candidly makes the ending of Horror Hotel hauntingly beautiful.

With a genuine and faithful tribute to Elisa Lam and her writing talent, Fulton and McClaren create an aching notion that vengeful ghosts, insidious people, don’t hold a candle to loneliness.

In this, I believe Horror Hotel to be a masterpiece of Young Adult Horror.

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