Witches Dungeon Museum Celebrates 50 Years Of Classic Horror Films

Hartford Courant

Connecticut fans of classic horror films — or anyone who just loves a good scare — don't have to travel far to see the longest-running Halloween attraction of its kind in the country: The Witch's Dungeon Classic Movie Museum in Bristol celebrates its 50th consecutive year this October.

The museum, at the Bristol Historical Society, is a chilling tribute to movies, actors and makeup artists such as Vincent Price ("House of Wax," "The Abominable Dr. Phibes"), Boris Karloff ("House of Frankenstein"), Bela Lugosi ("Dracula") and Lon Chaney ("The Phantom of the Opera").

The museum features a 20-minute tour showcasing the re-created characters in displays. Following is a screening of classic horror films from the silent era to the 1930s in reel film, and displays of original props from "ET," "The Exorcist," "Planet of the Apes" and more.

To commemorate its 50th year, new characters have been added to the exhibit, including Warner Oland (Dr. Yogami in "Werewolf of London") and another mummy from the 1932 film "The Mummy." There will also be several special guests, including Victoria Price, daughter of Vincent Price, on Oct. 1; Bela Lugosi Jr. on Oct. 29; and Boris Karloff's daughter on Halloween night.

Witch's Dungeon began in 1966, when Cortlandt Hull, at just 13 years old, started making the life-size classic movie monsters he loved.

His fascination for all things horror-classic ran in his blood — his great uncle, Henry Hull, played the first werewolf in the 1935 film "Werewolf of London."

"I was a weird little kid. I loved going to wax museums," Cortlandt Hull says.

Whenever he visited wax museums he would be disappointed that their "house of horrors" would only feature things like torture devices, blood and gore. Instead, he wanted to see displays of the classic monsters.

View a list of upcoming Halloween happenings here.

With the help of his father — Robert Hull, a painter and decorating contractor who built the background sets and a Swiss chalet-style building to house the monsters in — his electrician uncle Louis Gagnon, and his mother, Dorothea Hull, a costume designer, he was able to make his dream museum a reality.

A half century later, it has grown three to four times its original size, from a small, trailer-like building that sat on his property in Bristol to being hosted at the Historical Society, says Hull.

He attributes his family and connections he's met through them — including makeup artists Don Post and Oscar winners John Chambers and Dick Smith — to helping him achieve the success he has today.

"I learned more from those three than I did studying art at the University of Hartford."

Witch's Dungeon has been featured in the New York Times, National Geographic and Ripley's Believe It or Not! among other national publications. As of this year it is one of the 10 weirdest places in Connecticut by onlyinyourstate.com, and on Halloween, Ripley's Believe It or Not! will be honoring them with an article.

"In the past two years, we've attracted people from 25 different states, 17 countries and two-thirds of the communities in Connecticut."

Hull is hoping to make the exhibit even larger. He hopes to eventually move to the second floor and stay open all year long.

Hull, who's main profession is an illustrator and artist, says he's had people come up to him who work in the film industry in California tell him how they got their inspiration from his work at the Witch's Dungeon.

"I never thought when I started this that, all these years later, I would still be doing it," he says. "I still enjoy it as much as I did originally."

THE WITCH'S DUNGEON CLASSIC MOVIE MUSEUM, Bristol Historical Society, 98 Summer St., runs every weekend Sept. 30 to Oct. 31. Hours are 7 to 10 p.m. Friday through Sunday. $6. Not recommended for children under 7. Photos without flash are permitted. preservehollywood.org.

Find haunted houses and other scary (and not so scary) Halloween happenings here.

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