Yes, the Cecil Hotel Was the Inspiration For American Horror Story's Freaky Fifth Season
Dubbed creepy nicknames such as “Hotel Death” and “The Suicide,” the Cecil Hotel harbors a dark history as a hotbed for death, suicide, and murder. A magnet for crime, it was formerly home to serial killers such as Richard Ramirez and Jack Unterweger. In 2013, its notoriety hit off once more when 21-year-old Canadian traveler Elisa Lam was found dead in the hotel’s water tank days after police released a chilling video of her in an elevator.
Lam’s story is now the focus of Netflix’s Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel, which interviews experts and hotel workers to clarify the context around her case. But this docuseries isn’t the first time we’ve seen the Cecil or Lam’s story referenced on the small screen. Back in 2015, the Cecil actually inspired Ryan Murphy to create American Horror Story: Hotel, which focuses on the disturbing events at the fictional Hotel Cortez.
During the Television Critics Association press tour in 2015, Murphy said that the fifth season of American Horror Story was inspired by a surveillance video of a person acting oddly in an elevator. Sound familiar? While he didn’t outright say who the person was, most internet sleuths deduced that he was referencing the viral Elisa Lam case. “A girl got in an elevator in a downtown hotel,” Murphy explained at TCA. “She was never seen again.”
And so, that’s how the bone-chilling Hotel Cortez came to be. According to production designer Mark Worthington, Hotel Cortez takes after the Cecil Hotel as well as other historical hotels in Los Angeles. The Cortez, like the Cecil, has a ’20s Art Deco style, which Worthington characterized as both as “glamorous” and “very creepy and dark and strange” in an interview with KCRW. Many of the hotel scenes were actually shot on set, which took seven weeks to build. Filming didn’t take place at the Cecil, but the fifth season reportedly drew American Horror Story fans to the Stay on Main hostel (a part of the Cecil that was rebranded to distance the hotel away from its disturbing history).
In terms of the actual story, AHS: Hotel doesn’t explicitly reference the Elisa Lam case. However, there is a dark passing comment about a death and how it impacts the Cortez’s water supply. In episode six, Donovan references the disturbing case of a teacher named Cara, who took her life in a tub at the Cortez. He warns hotel guests never to drink water from the fifth floor since her body sat in the tub for months.
Portrayed by Anthony Ruivivar, Richard Ramirez, aka the Night Stalker, also prominently pops up in the fifth season in the episode “Devil’s Night.” In real life, Ramirez stayed at the Cecil for several months and reportedly tossed his bloodied clothing in the hotel’s dumpster. Fast forward to season nine, Ramirez is later played by Zach Villa in AHS: 1984, in which he has a longer character arc.
Will we see more of the creepy Cortez Hotel in later seasons? We wouldn’t count it out.
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