Cortlandt Hull was barely 13 when he opened his movie monster museum in 1966. It was in a building his parents constructed in the backyard of their Bristol home, and he charged 50 cents admission. His first exhibit was a life-size figure of a witch he dubbed Zenobia, hence the museum’s name.
Celebrating its 55th anniversary, the Witch’s Dungeon Classic Movie Museum now has 25 life-size wax figures, mostly classic horror movie characters in sets representing their films, but also science fiction and fantasy. About 2,000 pieces of authentic movie props and memorabilia are on view from films such as Dracula to Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Hull has more items than display space, so he rotates objects, ensuring repeat visitors have something new to see. The museum previously was only open in October, but after it moved to Plainville from Bristol last year, it is open year round, Friday through Sunday, with guided tours. Over the years, visitors have flocked here from 40 states and 27 countries.
“When I started this, Halloween was celebrated one day only and it was rather dull. All you did was trick-or-treat or go to a costume ball,” he says. “There were no attractions related to the classic movie monsters or anything like that, so we were the very first.”
The museum’s inspiration was two-fold. Suffering from a rare blood condition as a child, Hull was mostly confined to home, where he built Aurora movie monster kits. “The problem was they were only 8 inches tall and I wanted them life-size,” he says. “I was a weird little kid. I loved to go to wax museums, but my disappointment was whenever they promoted a chamber of horrors, I expected it to be the classic movie monsters. Instead, it was torture devices.”
Combining his interests in model building and wax museums, Hull created a place paying tribute to the actors and makeup artists from classic films. He is always adding objects, and will unveil two new figures in October. Original movie props figure prominently in the collection, and rare items include one of the two Exorcist heads for Linda Blair, headpieces from Planet of the Apes and a golden idol from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Starting Thanksgiving weekend, the museum will present “Monsters Holiday,” when visitors can see movie sets decorated with a holiday theme, including vintage toys.
Cortlandt Hull’s favorite movie memorabilia
The Phantom of the Opera set: “The Phantom is one of my all-time favorites films ever since I was a little kid, so that is probably my favorite set. We have Lon Chaney Sr. as both The Phantom and The Red Death from the film,” he says.
Linda Blair’s Exorcist head: Festooned in full demon makeup by artist Dick Smith, the head was later given to Hull by Smith. “It is so real-looking and there were only two of them made,” Hull says. “Dick Smith was amazing, the way he taught me how to do makeup and props.”
Creature from the Black Lagoon head: Among life-size figures, Hull is excited to have a rare prototype head of the creature, which is more eel-like than the film version.
French Beast figure: Hull pays homage to Beauty and the Beast with his Beast figure from the 1946 French version, La Belle et la Bête. “It’s just so elegant, and the head of the Beast — the hair was meticulously put on, one hair at a time,” he says.
Werewolf of London figure: “My great uncle, Henry Hull, was the Werewolf of London so my figure of him as the Werewolf is definitely a favorite,” he says. “If it wasn’t for Henry, I would not have met a lot of these people in the film industry and not many people can say that their uncle was a werewolf!”
This Island Earth alien headpiece: From Hull’s favorite sci-fi movie as a kid is the original headpiece used for the alien, Metaluna Mutant. “It’s a unique design and I always liked it.”
Witch’s Dungeon Classic Movie Museum
103 E. Main St., Plainville
Hours: Fri.–Sun. evenings by appointment (check website for updated hours during October)
Tickets: $9 adults, $4 children under 12 (cash only)