I was very impressed with the Hotel Gula – the large, luxurious, abandoned hotel in which almost all of this Cypriot horror film is set – but it’s actually less creepy than the real Berengaria Hotel, which is presumably inspiration for the Gula (there are many photos online). That said, what happens in the Gula is mostly familiar – a group of filmmakers with complicated interrelations and tensions we never quite parse (like the investigators in Prince of Darkness) arrive to shoot an episode of a paranormal TV series which the director (Mark Hubermann) wants to play straight but presenter Bruce (Julian Sands) would like hoked up with fake ghosts. The Gula has been abandoned since a mysterious mass poisoning on a rare fifty-third Monday in a year took out a hundred dinner guests, an incident which lingers in local memories – especially that of Sofia (Marianna Rosset), the director’s Cyprus-born ex-wife. Bruce keeps asking young female crew members to have a drink with him but makes do with the genially sinister older couple (Anthony Skordi, Maria Ioannou) who own the hotel and never leave the place, and there’s talk of ancient beliefs involving sacrifice (obvs) and a demon queen.
It’s a brief film (77minutes) and segues at mid-point from mildly creepy to a succession of Argento-type horrors as characters wander off into dark corners to suffer horrible fates – the most impressive bit of splat choreography involves a masked slasher carving up a victim in a lift visible from the whole vast foyer of the hotel while characters chat in the foreground not noticing what’s going on. It’s an inside-horror picture – we note the names of genre experts Loris Curci and Mark Thompson-Ashworth and busy horror-on-a-holiday scribes Andy Edwards (Ibiza Undead) and Barry Keating (Downhill) among the writing credits. Director Francesco Cinquemani cobbles together pastiche Argento – complete with some fine wittering from Argento’s Phantom Julian Sands – which means this has a feel not unlike Luigi Cozzi’s Paganini Horror or Il Gatto Nero … ramshackle, overpopulated, sometimes tacky, sometimes inspired. Lightly likeable – with interesting imperilled women: Elva Trill, Flavia Watson, Kristina Godunova.