The most common thing you’ll see mentioned online about Estonia’s most famous genre film, THE DEAD MOUNTAINEER’S HOTEL, is that it predates the visual styles that would become popular in the 80s. There are comparisons made to BLADE RUNNER, THE HUNGER and Michael Mann and so on. I’m not sure if this is true or not. I’ve not seen any 80s movies that really look and feel like THE DEAD MOUNTAINEER’S HOTEL. Like BLADE RUNNER, it places a film noir style detective into an unusual location under strange circumstances. It also has a kind of meditative quality and artificiality that might have become more popular in the 80s, but it is so…stylized…in such an otherworldly way that one is more likely to have a sense of discombobulation rather than deja vu while watching. It feels ahead of its time…it feels out of its time. It feels like something that one can’t find anywhere else.
The architecture and set design probably contribute most to this impression. The entire movie takes place in a labyrinthine Modernist (and yet cozy) ski resort with black painted walls, floor to ceiling windows, and splashes of colorful neon lights that make it feel like a weird cross between a Swiss chalet in THE PINK PANTHER, a New Wave club from LIQUID SKY, and the interior of a haunted fast food restaurant taken over by Andy Warhol, Bianca Jagger and their entire entourage while on the way to Studio 54. The characters lurk in shadows during the day with postcard-bright mountain views framed in the windows behind them emitting a kind of Douglas Sirk / Rene Magritte luminescence. In this environment, the use of lighting and framing and a Nicholas Roeg-ish editing style makes for a mesmerizing and unique (I’m using the word correctly) viewing experience.
I really want to move into this film permanently…and I don’t even like Modernist architecture.
In any case, concerning the plot…I would rather be vague. A cop is called to an isolated resort by a phone call reporting a murder. He meets strange people. It is a strange place. Any more information is too much. Don’t read any other reviews or descriptions. They all give too much away.
One could argue that this is a genre mash-up mystery film that isn’t exactly horror, but the mystery genre is so close to horror that the difference is generally just a matter of emphasis concerning the “atmosphere” and style. And how many times do I have to argue for something being horror? I don’t have to…it’s my blog…I’m just preempting complaints. THE DEAD MOUNTAINEER’S HOTEL is so ominous in its style that I have to consider it horror, no matter how imdb chooses to label it.
On a final note, since concealing the plot prevents me from going into any great detail about the film, I should say that the electronic music used to score THE DEAD MOUNTAINEER’S HOTEL, composed by the renowned Sven Grünberg, is in my opinion one of the best electronic scores of the 70s.
Before choosing whether or not you are going to add this movie to your “to watch” list or decide to skip it (maybe because you don’t get any of my descriptive references above), I urge you to watch the short video clip below which features some of Grünberg’s music set to brief images from the film. It is surely a better taste of THE DEAD MOUNTAINEER’S HOTEL than my poor attempts to describe it could ever be.
CLIPS FROM THE FILM:
THE DEAD MOUNTAINEER’S HOTEL (1979) – FULL MOVIE: