By LISA CAPOBIANCO
The Witch’s Dungeon Classic Movie Museum has kicked off its 49th consecutive year with more displays than ever before at the Bristol Historical Society.
Known as the longest-running exhibit nationwide, Witch’s Dungeon began Oct. 2, not only showcasing new displays, but also a new set that gives people a chance to step inside the world of classic horror movies. The museum will continue throughout this month.
This year Emmy-winning lighting director Bill Diamond helped design new sets for the large display of life-size figures from classic sci-fi and horror films. Cortlandt Hull, who founded the museum at the age of 13, said putting together the finished product came along nicely.
“It’s tough to put all of this together in roughly 4 1/2 days,” Hull said last Thursday.
Guests walking through the museum can expect to see new displays in the original prop area, as Witch’s Dungeon has done a special tribute to makeup artist Dick Smith, who died last year. A great friend who gave Hull many of his original pieces, Smith’s most famous makeup work appeared in the 1973 film “The Exorcist”—which museum fans can expect to see again this year. The museum also displays Dustin Hoffman’s character from the 1969 film “Little Big Man.” In that movie, Smith had the opportunity to create 121-year-old makeup on Hoffman.
In addition, Smith is known for his work on the character Mr. Hyde during the 1950s for NBC, said Hull. Calling the images “one of a kind,” Hull said he is excited to share with the public these original pieces Smith gave to him.
“These have never been seen by the public before. They’ve only been seen in photographs,” said Hull. “[Smith] taught me so much.”
Witch’s Dungeon offers three presentations fun for the whole family: the original prop and makeup display from a variety of classic sci-fi and horror movies, the wax museum tour, and actual showings of classic horror and science fiction films, such as “Phantom of the Opera”(1925), “Frankenstein,” and “House of Wax” (1953), among others.
Led by two live tour guides, including a vampire girl and a butler dressed in black and white, the tour features villain character “Maleficent” from the original animated ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and the two Phantoms played by Lon Chaney Sr., as well as the six-foot creature from “The Black Lagoon,” Count Dracula played by Bela Lugosi and the Beast from 1946 film, “La Belle et la Bete.” New this year are two figures of actor Vincent Price from “House of Wax,” including Professor Jarrod before the fire. As visitors step inside Witch’s Dungeon, audio tracks of ambient sound and organ music will be playing the background to create the mood.
This year, Diamond, who has worked with the famous Jim Henson on “Sesame Street,” will make an appearance with some puppets to entertain museum fans.
“It’s family-friendly,” said Hull, adding the films will be in full color and three-dimensional.
As he observes people walking through Witch’s Dungeon, Hull said a lot of them are surprised by the quality of the figures.
“We’re being accurate to the movies,” said Hull, adding the makeup in the classic horror movies is fascinating. “It’s a different format than what they’re used to seeing.”
Starting the museum with the help of his mother, who was a makeup artist, and his father, who was a painting and decorating contractor, Hull said he looks forward to the 50th anniversary of Witch’s Dungeon next year, which will bring a lot of surprises for fans.
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 film, “Werewolf in London.”
“It’s my passion,” said Hull, who is a freelance artist by profession. “It’s what I love.”
During its 48th consecutive year, the museum brought a crowd of people from 24 different states and even from outside the U.S., such as Canada, Spain, and Lebanon.
Tom Dickau, president of the Bristol Historical Society, said the museum gained national attention online, including in an article on USA Today and on MapQuest, which chose Witch’s Dungeon as the one Halloween attraction in the U.S.
“It’s funny that we’re more well-known outside of Connecticut…in a way,” said Hull. “I think it’s because I’ve done a lot of these film conventions in other states where we’ve taken the life-size figures of the shows.”
Last year Witch’s Dungeon moved to the Bristol Historical Society on Summer Street, after the museum had a difficult time meeting code requirements. Although he considered moving his business to New York where a friend’s studio was located, Hull decided to keep the nonprofit in Bristol. The historical society has provided the museum with a space three times larger than its original location.
“This is much bigger than it was before,” said Hull. “We’re working together as a team.”
Since that partnership, Hull said the local fan base of Witch’s Dungeon also has grown.
Hull said the fan base has grown due to a combination of the museum moving to the historical society and the museum’s different format of its presentation as well as the success of the museum’s movie series that occurred this past year.
“More people are aware of it now than they were before, especially locally,” said Hull.
Witch’s Dungeon will continue this weekend (Oct. 9 to 11), Oct.16 to 18, Oct. 23 to 25, and Oct. 30 to Nov. 1, all taking place at the Bristol Historical Society, 98 Summer St., Bristol from 7 to 10 p.m. Admission includes a $5 donation, which supports both Witch’s Dungeon and the Bristol Historical Society.
For more information, visit http://www.preservehollywood.org/DungeonWebNew/Home.html.
By LISA CAPOBIANCO