Death Tunnel tells the story of five sorority girls who attend an initiation party only to become the lucky contestants in a daring contest. They’re taken to an unknown location where they must venture through a haunted building for five hours. This contest is run by Richie (Lasater) and two of his buddies, meant to be a spooky and fun experience for the girls, as well as anyone watching via the camera feed in the rooms. They repeat the mantra of “Five floors, five girls, five hours” several times.
Richie and the girls get in way over their head when people start dying and a mysterious voice adds “five ghosts” to the chant. It seems the contest participants are all tied back to the mysterious place in some way, and have to figure out how before they’re each killed off.
The great appeal to this movie, which explains the title, is that Death Tunnel was shot entirely on set in the Waverly Hills Sanatorium outside of Louisville, KY. The hospital was opened in 1926 to house the ever-increasing numbers of incurable patients suffering from Tuberculosis. Known as the “White Death”, the disease killed hundreds of thousands. Estimates claim that over 60,000 patients died within the walls of Waverly Hills.
Experiments were performed ranging from sane to savage in hopes of finding a cure, but the bodies continued to pile up. In an effort to hide the death toll from the public eye, the hospital constructed a 500-ft chute leading to the railroad tracks, where the bodies were transported. First, the bodies were cut open and drained in “draining rooms” so that the infection wouldn’t be carried outside the hospital.
Several other nightmarish stories came from Waverly Hills before its final closing in 1982. One of the nurses hanged herself in room 502, making it an infamous spot among ghost hunters. There are stories of a little girl seen in the halls, and the continued stories of the cafeteria often smelling as if food is being prepared.
Familiarity with Waverly Hills and the massive death toll within its walls is not a necessity to enjoy Death Tunnel, but it adds a supplementary layer of enjoyment for those who’ve read about or seen the place. As with Brad Anderson’s Session 9, director Booth makes use of the overall nature of the building to provide a backdrop for frights. However, each director brings their scares in hugely varying ways.
Booth and his crew use a ton of skipframe shots and cuts to speed up action and make images disappear at will. Combined with very effective sound editing, the film is good for a number of jumps. The characters are only as deep as they need to be in this type of movie, and each actress fulfills her somewhat clichéd role well. It doesn’t hurt that the girls portray five complimentary flavors of just plain hot, with a special nod to Pecoraro as Elizabeth.
Extras on the DVD include featurettes; behind-the-scenes and one titled Death is in Fashion. There is also a photo gallery, scene selection and language selection. The obvious omission of commentary tracks is a disappointment. This can be attributed to the fact that there is a second DVD (not included) titled Spooked, which is a documentary on Waverly Hills itself.
For more information on the Sanatorium, the links below have been provided:
Waverly Hills Sanatorium virtual tour and information:
The History and Haunting’s Book Co. entry to Waverly Hills (a good read to set the tone before watching):