by SARAH JOHNSON
Drive up toward Chippens Hill around Halloween and it becomes apparent that there’s something special happening on Battle Street.
The Witch’s DungeonClassicMovieMuseum, run by Bristol native Cortlandt Hull, has been scaring and delighting people from all over the country since 1966.
“People make this a Halloween destination,” Hull said. “I got started on Witch’s Dungeon when I was 13 years old. I had a rare blood condition as a kid and spent a lot of time in hospitals. I got interested in art and film and my folks encouraged it.” Hull is a freelance artist for a living, but creating wax creatures is his hobby and passion. “I always charge only two dollars so it’s affordable to just about everybody. I want to share my passion.”
The $2 admission to the Witch’s Dungeon, which includes classic horror films projected onto a movie screen on the front of the property, actual monster movie props from classic films and a haunted graveyard, supports the non-profit museum. While there is some grant money available for what Hull does, he prefers to be self-sufficient via admission proceeds and sales of documentaries about his work and the industry.
Hull’s great uncle, Henry Hull, played The Werewolf of London in 1935. “He introduced me to makeup and effects people in the business. In the early days since I was only a teen, my work was crude. One of the first was Zenobia the Gypsy Witch, who is still in the museum and I improved as time went on. I worked with John Chambers, who created the original ‘Planet of the Apes’ makeup. He was one of the early ones who helped me learn how to make life-sized figures. I got to know Vincent Price and he did the opening and closing dialogue and he gave us the original suit he wore in ‘House of Wax.’ The voice of my witch was recorded by June Foray, whose voice is best known as Rocky the flying squirrel and Natasha from ‘Rocky and Bullwinkle.’”
The Witch’s Dungeon has been recognized by “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” and “Entertainment Tonight” as the longest running Halloween attraction in the country and was truly a forefather in its field. “The museum is more like a wax museum of classic movie monsters than it is a haunted house,” Hull explained. “It’s rather unique in that there’s no blood or gore. In the old days, it was more or less like fairytales for old movie monsters. All ages could enjoy it. I think that’s why Witch’s Dungeon has lasted so long.”
“In 1966, all there really was to do was go trick or treating and bobbing for apples at Halloween. I always loved going to wax museums but in their torture chambers they never had classic movie monsters.”
Hull has lived in his home since childhood, when it belonged to his family. “My mom was a professional costume designer who worked for a number of companies. She recreated the unique costumes in the museum based on the movies. The house is full of more creations. I’ve got more material that I’ve worked on than I have room to display.”
This is the final season for The Witch’s Dungeon as it’s known now and there are only limited dates interested patrons can view it. With time, the demands of time and regulations have changed. “We had some technical problems this year and the space we have would need some upgrading,” Hull revealed. “We had a good offer in New York for a larger, more move-in-ready space. My friend Bill Diamond, who I have done documentaries with has a video studio there.” Hull will provide more details as they become available.
As for what he will be up to once the Dungeon’s seasonal showing dates are through, Hull has a busy schedule. “I do a lot of film conventions in different cities like Pittsburgh, Boston and Burbank on the off-season. I drive to all the conventions because that’s how the figures need to be transported. The monsters and I take trips together.”
What to expect on your visit to The Witch’s Dungeon
90 Battle St., Bristol
Oct. 18, 19 and 31
You can park all along the street and into the dead end adjacent to the property.
Hours are 7 to 10 p.m. each of these nights.
If you’re in line by 10 p.m., you will be admitted through.
The space is a tight, single file attraction. Strollers and wheelchairs will unfortunately not fit through the space. The attraction is not recommended for children under six years old. A ghost host guide will take you through. The average time to view all the figures is about seven minutes. Groups of two to four people can move through together.
Documentaries on for sale on website, all proceeds benefit museum.
Movie props that are on display include the alien head from “Mars Attacks,” the original “Planet of the Apes” make ups, the original spinning head prop from “The Exorcist,” and the original “ET” head in the milk crate from the bike riding scene.
DVDs and postcards are also for sale. Treats given out for kids.