By LISA CAPOBIANCO
Throughout the month of October, the public will have an opportunity to step inside the world of classic horror movies at the Bristol Historical Society.
The Witch’s Dungeon Classic Movie Museum, which is considered to be the longest-running exhibit nationwide, recently established a partnership with the Bristol Historical Society to feature a large display of life-size figures of characters from classic sci-fi and horror films.
Cortlandt Hull, who started the museum at the age of 13, said last year the museum itself had a difficult time meeting code requirements, which would have cost well over $15,000. Although he considered moving his business to New York where a friend’s studio was located, Hull spoke with Jim Albert, president and CEO of the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce, who offered encouragement to keep the nonprofit in Bristol. Ultimately, they chose to bring the museum’s display to the Bristol Historical Society, which offered additional space for Hull.
“I was hesitant to move it to the New York area because we do have a fan base here,” said Hull. “It really is a tradition in Bristol.”
Starting the museum in1966 with the help of his mother (who was a costume designer) and his father (who was a painting a decorating contractor), Hull said Witch’s Dungeon has been running for 48 consecutive years, and has brought in visitors from all over the country. The museum has served as a tribute to the actors and effects artists who contributed to classic fantasy films. Besides life-size figures of movie characters, the museum also features voice tracks specially recorded by actors Mark Hamill, June Foray, and Vincent Price to name a few.
Besides working with his parents on the set, Hull also worked with makeup artists and special effects professionals who knew his great uncle, Henry Hull, the first wolfman in the 1935 movie “Werewolf of London.”
“This is something I do because I love it,” said Hull. “It was in the blood.”
Hull said it was a great idea to combine the Witch’s Dungeon Museum and the Bristol Historical Society because of the similar purpose they both serve.
“When you come here, with the displays we have, with the original props and the head pieces, you’ll get a feeling for the artistry that was involved in making these films,” said Hull. “The [Bristol Historical Society] building was built in 1890—it has that gothic atmosphere, which is perfect for what we do.”
“I think the building itself or just the physical nature of the building lends itself well to Witches Dungeon,” said Tom Dickau, president of Bristol Historical Society.
Albert said he is thrilled that Witch’s Dungeon is staying in Bristol, adding he hopes the historical society will ultimately become the permanent home of the museum.
“This is a great opportunity for the city, and a great opportunity for Cortlandt—I think it will be a hit,” said Albert, calling Hull’s display an “extreme Bristol jewel.”
Hull said the display at the Bristol Historical Society will be even more elaborate for visitors, since it will feature four to six life-size figures never shown before. Although other pieces of properties were considered when looking for the museum’s new home, Albert said the Bristol Historical Society served as a natural fit with the available space it provided.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity also for any of the fans of this because we were cramped for space in the original display that I had,” said Hull, who is a freelance artist, illustrator and sculptor by profession. “Because of the wonderful display cases the Historical Society has, we can put on display original movie props the public has never seen before, and some of these are like ‘Raiders of Lost Ark,’ ‘The Exorcist,’ ‘Mars Attacks,’ ‘Planet of the Apes,’ even one from an earlier Godzilla film, and also live casts of the actors’ faces.”
As visitors step inside the building throughout the nights of the display, Hull said they will “get in the mood immediately,” since organ music will be playing. In between the numbers, audio clips from some of the classic horror films will be played. Display cases will feature live casts of the actors with photographs next to them, and taller display cases with have head pieces of characters from movies including “Mars Attacks,” “The Exorcist,” “Planet of the Apes,” “Godzilla,” and several other films. Tour guides, who will be dressed in costumes, will direct visitors through the exhibit in a fun way, said Hull. At the end of each tour, visitors will see a graveyard setting along with a pipe organ. During the tours, ambient sounds will emanate the background.
While guests are waiting in line for their tour, the auditorium area of the Bristol Historical Society will feature classic horror films throughout the entire night.
“You’re going to be entertained from the moment you come in the door,” said Hull, adding that once guests finish the tour, they can enter the building again to see more of the movies being filmed.
Dickau added he hopes to establish a long-term relationship between the historical society and the Witch’s Dungeon Museum.
“We’ve get great feedback [from people] that they’re thrilled [the museum] is remaining in Bristol,” said Dickau, adding that the historical society will feature the display for at least 17 nights. “We’re thrilled to have it because not only does it help…Witch’s Dungeon, but it brings many people out to our facility who have never been here prior.”
Located at 98 Summer St., the Bristol Historical Society will feature the Witch’s Dungeon Friday through Sunday on Oct. 3 to 5, Oct. 10 to 12, Oct. 24 to 26, and Oct. 31 to Nov. 2 from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Guests will receive two tickets, including one for the tour, and the latter one for the movie. Admission includes a $5 donation, which will benefit both the Witch’s Dungeon and the Bristol Historical Society. The display is recommended for ages 7 and up. While the display is at the historical society, the three existing collections, including The Bristol Sports Hall of Fame, The Memorial Military Museum and Made In Bristol still will be open for business as usual during normal operating hours.
“It’s going to be wheelchair accessible, so anybody can come,” said Hull. “People can look at the displays out in the foyer and if they are waiting…they can come in and watch movies. Before, they were outside in the cold and rain, so there’s an added plus here.”
This weekend, Hull, the Bristol Historical Society, and the Bristol Chamber of Commerce plan to roll out the new exhibit during the upcoming Mum Parade on Sept. 28 with a float to highlight Witch’s Dungeon. Hull, along with his staff, designed the float. On Saturday during the festival, a booth will be set up to feature materials and displays of the Witch’s Dungeon.
For more information, visit http://www.preservehollywood.org/DungeonWebNew/Home.html.
By LISA CAPOBIANCO