Located in a residential area in Bristol, Connecticut, the Witch's Dungeon Classic Movie Museum housed in a small swiss chalet style building, suitable for a witch, is a tribute to classic movie monsters that has been in existence for over 40 years. Since its founding, it has been a Halloween staple in Connecticut that is visited by people from all over the country.
The museum is owned by Bristol-native Cortlandt Hull. Since he was a young boy, he had always been interested in art and film. Due to a rare blood condition, he was ill most of his younger years, and this heightened his interest in the arts. Having a love of cartooning, at one point Hull considered a career in animation. As young as six, he begged to stay up late to watch Boris Karloff in "The Mummy" on TV - without realizing it, that changed everything! Shortly afterward, he became interested in wax museums, as Cortlandt put it - "I was a weird little kid!" Then he started to build and paint the Aurora model kits of the classic monsters.
Hull always seemed fascinated by the make-up and effects in fantasy and horror films. Even at a young age, he viewed it as a form of art. Thanks to co-operative parents, he began collecting lobby cards, photos, and magazines such as "Famous Monsters", "Castle of Frankenstein" and "Fantastic Monsters". Soon, the Aurora model kits were not big enough. By thirteen, Hull wanted to build life-size figures of his favorite actors, in make-up based on their films. Wax museums of the time had only torture devices and famous murderers in their "Chamber of Horrors". Amusement parks had "dark rides" with generic vampires or monsters, mechanically jumping out at you - the "Boo" tactic!
Hull's concept, even from the beginning, was a tribute to the actors and make-up artists that gave us those memorable monsters and characters we love. So in 1966, Cortlandt's father helped him build the Swiss chalet-style building to house the museum. Cortlandt built life-size figures of classic movie monsters that were made of wax, fine wire mesh, papier-mache and polymers. As Cortlandt got older, and as his artistic ability got better, the figures were replaced with more accurate ones that would arguably rival wax figurines at Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum.
Over the years, Universal Studios took notice of the small Connecticut museum. They were glad to see that someone was keeping interest in their classic monsters alive. In 1997, Cortlandt and two of his colleagues, Dante Renta and Paul Clemens, created a life size figure of Lon Chaney Jr. as "The Wolf Man", for the entrance of "The Classic Monsters Cafe" at Universal Studios Florida. Even several actors, make-up artists, and relatives of classic horror actors took notice of the non profit museum and got involved. Over the years, several people in the film industry became honorary board members of the museum, including: John Astin (Gomez Addams on "The Addams Family"), Bob Burns (film historian and collector of movie memorabilia), Ron Chaney Jr. (grandson of actor Lon Chaney Jr., and great-grandson of actor Lon Chaney Sr.), June Foray (voice actress), Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker of "Star Wars" fame), Sara Karloff (daughter of actor Boris Karloff), Béla Lugosi Jr. (son of actor Béla Lugosi), Leonard Maltin (film historian/critic), Victoria Price (daughter of actor Vincent Price), and Dick Smith (Oscar-winning make-up artist). Some other members who have since passed away are John Agar (horror actor), Roddy McDowall (Cornelius in the "Planet of the Apes" films) and legendary horror actor Vincent Price.
The museum is only open on weekend evenings during the month of October, but each night it attracts lines of people who may have to wait for up to three hours. Since the museum is so small, only groups of three are allowed in at a time. It takes approximately 7 minutes to walk through the 40 by 17 foot structure. You are first greeted by an animatronic grim reaper who is voiced by none other than Vincent Price himself, who recorded the voice track before his death in 1993. Afterwards, the visitors will make their way through a narrow passageway with partitioned dioramas for each movie monster on either side. Lights go on one exhibit at a time, accompanied by a brief recording. The heads of many of the figurines have been based on life-casts of the actual actors who portrayed them. Background sets and clothing are authentic to the era, with some costumes or props actually used in the original films. Characters represented in the museum are:
A recent addition to the museum is a figurine of Dr. Wilfred Glendon, The Werewolf of London (portrayed by Henry Hull). The late actor Henry Hull was Cortlandt's great uncle. "Werewolf of London" (1935) was Universal Pictures' first attempt at a werewolf movie, but it failed to catch on and it was more or less forgotten after the success of Lon Chaney Jr. in "The Wolf Man" (1941) and its subsequent sequels. Cortlandt feels that it is very important to preserve the memory of his uncle and his portrayal of the cinema's first werewolf.
Cortlandt Hull is currently trying to raise money to start the Silver Screen Movie Museum and Archive. Hull owns several old movie props, posters, and other pieces of memorabilia that are not on display. Hull's dream is to open a museum that will be open year-round, so that he may display his entire collection of film history. The Witch's Dungeon will be a separate section of the new museum. Hull also hopes to host seminars for film students, featuring special guests from the movie industry. A 40th-Anniversary DVD about the Museum has recently been released, directed and produced by Dennis Vincent and Colorbox Studios. The profits of which are being put toward funding for the new museum. Thanks to broadcasts of classic horror films on networks like American Movie Classics and Turner Classic Movies during the Halloween season, new interest in the museum is being born. The expansion of the museum will preserve the legacy of all classic movie genres, for generations to come.