Los Angeles, the city that inspired such films as Chinatown and Pulp Fiction and fellates itself several times a year with glitzy awards galas, has long been a cinematic backdrop. After all, movies are made there (or were, until Vancouver offered better tax breaks). But the city is chock full of weird locations home to creepy-ass stories, such as ...
Located in Los Angeles's Skid Row, the Cecil Hotel inspired Barton Fink, whatever season of American Horror Story it was that jumpstarted Lady Gaga's acting career, and even had Blink-182 and U2 play there.
The real hotel is far eerier than Ryan Murphy's menage-a-plots could ever manage to be, having housed serial killer Richard Ramirez during his murder spree in the 1980s. During the summer of 1985 while the rest of the country was enjoying a trip to the 1950s with Marty McFly, Ramirez, a snaggle-toothed Satan worshipper, spread a swath of terror across the city of Los Angeles. Ramirez, worse than a dozen Biff Tannens, broke into homes, raping, beating, and killing whomever happened to be home at the time, which put the police on his trail. During this time, he called the Cecil home and used it as a changing spot in between human hunts.
Skid Row, which had always been the spot in LA for the down-and-out crowd, had its status made permanent when the city, in a move for "containment" centralized all the shelters and needle drops in the area. Once crack hit the scene, Skid Row, with the Cecil Hotel in the heart of it, made a perfect stomping ground for a monster like Ramirez. It was the type of place where a crazy, dirty guy splattered with blood wouldn't stand out that much. Ramirez would strip off behind the hotel, dump his bloody rags in the dumpster, and plod to his room naked, hopscotching his way around the junkies.
But the seedy Cecil wasn't just home to one serial killer. In 1991, an Austrian named Jack Unterweger made it his home base as well. He'd gotten a life sentence in his home country for the murder of a prostitute in 1976, but after learning to read and write in prison, he became a cultural darling for his writing in the Austrian literary community. He was released as a model of rehabilitation, but it turns out that old murderous habits die hard, and the guy killed nine more prostitutes before U.S. authorities got him for good. (After he got sentenced here, he used the string from his prison pants to hang himself.)
You'd think being the home to two serial killers within less than a decade of each other would be enough for any place, but the Cecil made headlines again when it became the final resting place of a woman named Elisa Lam. Lam was a 21-year-old woman who was seen in security footage seemingly yelling and running from someone, until finally ending up in the hotel's water tank. Guests bathed in and drank that water for over two weeks before her body was finally discovered.
This park, which was named for the redundantly monikered business tycoon Griffith J. Griffith, has been used for a whole bunch of stuff, as it's a forested area within the heart of Los Angeles. Star Trek famously used Griffith Park a lot, so chances are you've seen it if you've caught Kirk having hot, girdle-busting sex with green alien women or watched Picard send an away team to talk their enemies to death.
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Beyond Trek, the fight in Rebel Without a Cause took place at the Observatory and La La Land shot the dance between Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling near the Hollywood sign. Both Bob Hoskins and Christopher Lloyd drove through the Observatory tunnel in Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Back to the Future Part II, respectively. The Batcave in the Adam West Batman series had its entrance in Bronson Canyon, and the Anchorman bear fight took place in the abandoned zoo. And that's just a partial list of all the things that filmed here. CSI regularly treats the audience to the creepy forests of Griffith Park as their creepy murder sites ... and with good reason.
The property originally had owners who killed each other. This resulted in the guy who then owned it, Don Antonio Feliz, having the land cursed by his niece Petronella when she got cheated out of the land by Don Antonio's lawyer friends during a smallpox outbreak. From there, it was bought by a man named Thomas Bell who ended up selling it to Griffith. Griffith would be most famous for two things in his life; A) attempting to murder his wife by shooting her in the eye and only getting a two-year sentence, and B) giving the accursed acres to the city of Los Angeles, an act that comes off today like a Scooby Doo villain unloading his haunted amusement park.
The land was appreciated by a growing city looking to expand itself, and over the years it became home to even more weird occurrences. In 1932, an upcoming actress at the time named Peg Entwistle took a swan dive off the H in the Hollywoodland sign. Her suicide note was cryptic, as she apologized for not having jumped earlier. The ghosts of Petronella and Don Antonio are seen riding horses near the abandoned zoo that lies nestled in area, and the noises of animals are also said to be heard from around the zoo.
In 1933, 29 Civilian Conservation Corps engineers died screaming in a wildfire in the park as part of the government's WPA program to give men employment during the Great Depression. Observers reported the screams coming one by one over the course of seven minutes as the fire advanced upon the men. In 1976, a pair of lovers were crushed under a falling tree branch during a picnic. The hits just keep on coming, and to this day, as the park is still the site of gruesome crimes and decapitations, just like all those meet-cutes from La La Land.
Edward Doheny, one of LA's evil founding fathers, was a major part of the inspiration for Daniel Day-Lewis's Oscar-winning role as Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood. And, like the title of that movie, at the Doheny house, known as Greystone Mansion, there was blood. There was so much blood that even famous Los Angeles detective story writer Raymond Chandler took a whack at the story with his character Phil Marlowe in The High Window, explaining to an LAPD cop that the reason he didn't trust the police force was their coverup of the crime.
The Doheny House is like Griffith Park in that it's cheap and local, making it an ideal shooting location in Los Angeles. The number of shows and movies that have used the house is an IMDb wet dream, with Phantom of the Paradise, Eraserhead, both OG Ghostbusters, X-Men, and the threequels to both Raimi's Spider-Man and the Austin Powers franchises. Ed Doheny himself was a man who had helped the city grow with his massive oil fortune. He was the West coast equivalent of Rockefeller, rivaled only by even crazier oilman, J. Paul Getty in terms of building a city into a cesspool. (Greystone wasn't the interior of The Big Lebowski's mansion for nothing.)
By 1929, all 46,000 square feet of this Tudor revival monstrosity was the site of a famous murder, that of Ed Doheny's kid, Ned, Jr. and Ned's social secretary, also a man. They were found in the bedroom, in pajamas, in case there was any other room for doubt. It was quickly swept up as a murder/suicide with no inquest held, but for years rumors lingered about a possible homosexual relationship between the two men. (Ned, Jr. was married, but it's hard to conceive of two men having a pajama-party murder marathon and not get the vibe of a Liberace birthday party.)
The Lincoln Heights prison -- aka the central jail of the old LAPD -- provided fodder for James Ellroy's 1990 novel L.A. Confidential and the movie adaptation by depicting the real-life 1951 "Bloody Christmas" scandal, when, in a pique of Christmas spirit, a bunch of officers and their nightsticks beat the hell out of detainees. The jail, thereafter, became a sight for sore eyes, and turned into a rundown rat's nest.
Besides LA Confidential filming there, the jail achieved fame in the boiler room finale of A Nightmare on Elm Street, when a murderous dream demon used it for a boss level. The place has a long and sordid history beyond that fateful night in 1951, having housed everyone from Al Capone during his incarcerated tour of all of America's jails to the 1943 Zoot Suit riot victims who were tired of getting their skulls split for wearing baggy clothing during wartime rationing.
Having jumped from holding 600+ prisoners in the 1920s to 2,500 by the 1950s, the city eventually washed it's hands of the place by 1965 (some of the Watts rioters made appearances as the last guests) and simply began transferring every inmate to the larger county jail nearby. This meant that the old wreck could become a movie set for things like Con Air and Hootie & the Blowfish videos. Not only had the place once seen America's biggest gangster, it had even caged, uh, Nicolas Cage.
And it's not as if the stories stopped when it closed. After the last prisoner was transferred, tales started about the building being haunted by those who'd shuffled off their mortal coils, with the building taking on the aura of the ghostly for those in the neighborhood. More concretely, in 1994 a boxing trainer named Johnnie Flores fell to his death down the elevator shaft in the building's gymnasium where the WWII vet had been training up-and-comers for almost twenty years.
These days, the city has its eye on gentrifying the place into an outdoor mall and rental housing called "The Linc," because if there's one thing the city needs more than a crumbling jail, it's another mall. So yeah, there'll probably be a Pinkberry where the nightstick of the LAPD officer once reigned, drunk on Christmas.
Top image: New Line Cinema