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Burn the Negative

The Guesthouse, is a gnarly horror movie from 1993 set in a cursed hotel. Nearly everyone involved in the film is dead. Are you interested? 🎶 The Needle Man is gonna get you 🎶

Half way across the Atlantic Ocean is not the ideal place to realize you’re fucked, but that’s exactly what happens to Laura Warren. The journey from London to LA is awful, the sleeping pill failed to knock her out, her seatmate is a manspreader, the air stewards are too slow with the wine and she just now realized the Netflix TV series It Feeds she’s on the way to cover for Zeppelin magazine is a “modern interpretation” of The Guesthouse. How the hell did Mike, her editor and ex-boyfriend, find out?

Laura has spent thirty years eradicating her past. She dyed her hair, put on weight, never wears yellow, lost her American accent and changed her name. If only her night terrors and nightmares would go but it seems Polly Tremaine, child actor, will never die. Unease filling her, Laura goes to the airplane bathroom to pull herself together. In the mirror she sees a figure in a black coat with a bandaged face beneath a black hat and clawed fingers. The Needle Man. Turning, there is nothing there, she’s just jumping at shadows.

Even landing in LAX isn’t without its trauma. First, the airline lost Laura’s luggage, and Madeleine, the entertainment publisher, turns out to be annoyingly one hundred percent Hollywood. In the car on the way to the studio, Madeleine explains that production has hired a psychic in case anything spooky happens, and says Laura should really interview her! Blocking Madeleine’s chatter out, Laura spots a man standing on a bridge over the highway and after they pass under the bridge, she turns and sees the man jump.

At Universal Studios, Madeleine takes Laura to stage five. A sick sensation hits her when Laura sees the set, it looks exactly the same. Madeleine introduces Laura to Todd Terror, director and showrunner, who doesn’t look old enough to vote. Pulling out her Dictaphone, Laura can’t believe she’s doing this, conducting an interview about The Guesthouse. Todd is nearly obsessed with The Guesthouse, he even has the original print in his office and treats the “curse” like a neat marketing tool and not something ghoulish even though eight real people died.

After the interview, Laura walks around the set and it’s eerie. Going into the hall, she’s sure she sees someone wearing yellow run up the stairs as a sing-song voice echoes around the set, "One for sorrow, two for mirth, three for a funeral, four for birth…” before she sees movement in the doorway and five needle-like claws wrap around the frame and the thing in the darkness whispers “polllllllyyyyyyshhhh.” Laura runs out the front door, turns back and sees someone fall from the roof. Madeleine is there, but she didn’t see anything. Oh, god, Laura is going to be sick. She rushes to the restroom, vomits in the stall, and, as Laura is cleaning up at the sink, she sees a disquieting middle-aged woman looking at her. This is the set psychic.

Later, in the hotel lobby, Laura video-calls Mike and demands to know how he found out she was Polly Tremaine. Amy, Laura’s little sister, told him. Of course it was Amy. When Laura demands to get her flight changed, Mike protests. He tells her she is the real story, the original star coming out of the shadows to report on the remake and tell her truth. That is exactly NOT what she wants. Then Mike points out it would improve her work because it has not been good since her dad died. No shit, Sherlock. Suddenly Mike realizes that The Guesthouse is the reason for her nightmares. He says he’s sorry but the damage is done.

Back in her hotel room Laura fruitlessly tries to find a Winona Ryder movie on the TV before giving up and trying not to think about the man in the highway or the psychic in the bathroom. Unfortunately she thinks about how her mother, Pamela Tremaine, would punish her: for playing, for getting a tan, for putting on weight, for wanting to be normal. Pamela Tremaine would make Polly hold a lit match to practice her lines, not bothered if her daughter burnt her fingers. Grabbing sleeping pills from her bag, Laura cuts her finger on the edge of the paper fortune teller exactly like the one from The Guesthouse that is somehow. Lifting a flap, Laura sees scrawled WELCOME HOME POLLY.

The next day Laura heads to Universal to interview Kyle Williamson, the twenty-something actor who is playing Tammy Manners in It Feeds. New Tammy is definitely different from old Tammy. Starting the interview, Laura asks Kyle if she’s experienced anything weird, oh yes. Kyle tells her about her missing lipstick and phone charger, how someone went through her trailer, her headshots with IMPOSTER scrawled across them, the dead rat in her bathroom and just yesterday someone wrote SHE’S HERE above the couch in her trailer. Is this spooky or an over-enthusiastic showrunner trying to get her in the horror mood? The interview ends and Laura heads back to stage five where Todd Terror and Madeleine try to scare Laura with the Needle Man in full costume. Yeah, not funny.

Laura’s next interview is with Beverly the psychic. Beverly isn’t interested in talking and gives short, clipped answers but this doesn’t stop Laura. Eventually Beverly says something curious about paper fortune tellers and uses her name like she knows she was Polly. Back in her hotel room Laura sees a missed call from her sister Amy. Laura isn’t ready to talk to her right now, but she can never stay mad at her sister, nobody ever could. Lying in the dark as Laura feels sleep pulling her down, she sees something in the dark corner watching her and hears, “polllllllyyyyyyshhhh.”

Laura wakes in a panic, struggling to breathe through the black smoke and heat. Taking in her surroundings, Laura realizes she’s in a bathroom, not her hotel room. Crouching low, Laura begins to make her way out and spots an unmoving body in a shower cubicle, their palm burned into the glass. Making her way outside she realizes she’s at Universal stage five and the set of It Feeds is going up in flames. How did she get here? Obviously the police come and question Laura and she tells them what happened and the very little she can remember, including seeing a figure in the corner of her room just before her sleeping pills kicked in and she fell asleep. The police seem skeptical and now she’s a material witness in a major crime so can’t go home.

The police escort Laura back to the hotel and check her room. Laura realizes she’s likely not a material witness, rather the number one suspect so she asks to check the hotel CCTV footage. With the police officer, they go to speak to hotel security and are granted access. There is absolutely nothing on any of the camera recordings to support Laura’s abduction, in fact, it’s more incriminating as she’s seen on camera walking by herself. Her old habit of sleepwalking seems weak. But what about the dead body in the shower? All Laura knows is that in The Guesthouse, one of the victims dies by being burned alive in the shower. As Laura is mulling this over in the hotel lobby, Beverly approaches her.

Beverly knows about the fire, she doesn’t know who set it or who died, but she knows it has to do with Laura, and she wants to help her. On the way to the studio, Beverly tells Laura she believes in curses but doesn’t believe there is a Guesthouse Curse. Laura wants to start their investigation with Brad, the guy playing the Needle Man, but it’s a dead end so they move to the costume department, but again it’s a wash. They leave to go back to the hotel and agree to meet up later. In the hotel parking lot, paparazzi hound Laura until she’s able to get inside. A man in a Demons t-shirt tells the paparazzo to quit it and offers to help Laura escape but it’s too much like the time in the supermarket a woman tried to kidnap her. That was the incident that drove her family to the UK and away from Hollywood. As Laura rushes inside the hotel she’s sure she hears someone call out “Polly.”

In the elevator, Laura video-calls Mike, she doesn’t want to talk about what’s happened, she wants him to talk to the police and get her out of LA. Again Mike urges Laura to go public about being Polly, so she ends the call placating him with assurances that she’ll think about it. Entering her hotel room, Laura finds it trashed, her mirror is smashed and her journal stolen. The paper fortune teller has been purposely placed on top of her suitcase and inside all her clothes have been shredded, except a yellow cotton dress, a replica of Tammy’s dress. As she leaves the hotel room, Amy is standing in the doorway.

Amy had been in New York for work and when she heard Laura was in LA, she caught a flight over knowing Laura might find being there difficult. Despite Laura telling her to stop, Amy starts snapping pictures of the room, you know for “photographic evidence.” Grabbing the remnants of her stuff, they leave and head to the trashy motel Amy's staying in and Laura confronts Amy for telling Mike who she was. Apparently it was an “accident” when she was drunk and Laura bailed on her birthday party for an interview. Fine. But who else could know? Why are they targeting her?

Later, while eating Chinese food, Amy is scrolling on her phone and tells Laura there are unconfirmed reports that the fire shower victim was Todd Terror. Making Laura feel even worse, Amy tells her The Guesthouse turns thirty this year and you know murderers love an anniversary. Strategizing, Amy compiles a list of how people died in the movie: 1. Falling, 2. Burning, 3. Spider bites, 4. Drowning, 5. Decapitated, 6. Buried alive, 7. Stabbed, 8. Hanged. But Todd was burned so it seems the order has been broken, though in It Feeds, the first death is spider bites. Uggh, remakes. So basically, they have no idea what could happen next, however Laura keeps remembering the man who jumped when she first arrived in LA. As they settle down to sleep, Laura asks her sister, what if she set the fire but doesn’t remember?

The next morning Laura calls her mom back in the UK. Pamela Tremaine would hate what she has become as dementia takes her memories and independence. Pamela Tremaine was told about the fire so Laura reassures her she is okay and that Amy flew to LA the day before and is with her now. Curiously, Pamela Tremaine says that Amy has been in LA for two weeks and that she promised her saltwater taffy. Laura tries to convince herself her mother is confused but the seed of doubt is planted and then Amy tries to persuade Laura to tell her story, a suggestion that sounds just like Mike. Unfortunately it makes sense to weaponize the truth. Amy pulls out her phone and hits record.

After a cathartic session recounting what has happened, Laura checks her instagram. Her follower count has exploded and she’s been tagged in a bunch of posts, some of which out her as Polly Tremaine. Deciding not to feed the trolls, Laura DMs Kyle Williamson who just friended her. She wants to meet up and Kyle replies with her address. Before they head over, Laura challenges Amy about when she flew into LA. Amy reiterates it was two nights ago but Laura isn’t wholly convinced.

On the way to Kyle's they stop by a cell phone store to change their SIM cards in case they’re being tracked. During the meeting, Amy records Kyle. She mentions how she doesn’t trust the show psychic because she heard Beverly was arrested for a murder and is called the “Psycho Psychic,” but that murder was ruled a suicide and charges were dropped. When Amy excuses herself to go snoop, sorry, use the bathroom, Kyle changes the topic to Laura and The Guesthouse. As they talk, Laura spots a dark shape outside in the pool, then it moves and steps out of the pool. It's the Needle Man from the TV show. Suddenly the Needle Man is in the house, behind Kyle. He slashes down towards Kyle’s skull and Laura blacks out. She comes to to screaming from Kyle’s assistant and in her hand is a bloody knife. Amy comes in and drags Laura out.

Outside Laura is starting to think she killed Kyle, but Amy keeps telling her she didn’t do it, the assistant brought them water and she probably spiked it. It’s worrying though that Laura’s blackouts have started again. With sirens blaring in the background, Laura and Amy head away from Kyle’s house, and fortunately Beverly pulls up to them and they get in her car and Beverly takes them to her apartment. While Amy is standoffish with Beverly, Beverly freely answers Laura’s questions including about the girl who died. She’d performed an exorcism but hadn’t been told the girl was into some pretty extreme cult practices and two weeks later she killed her family before killing herself. Amy tries to push Laura out the front door as Beverly begs to help, but her honesty and earnestness sway Laura so they stay.

Amy continues to try to persuade Laura to leave and says that they can figure things out on their own because she doesn’t trust the Psycho Psychic. Laura heads outside to the balcony where Beverly is chain smoking, they talk and Beverly admits she never felt anything spooky or unnerving on the It Feeds set. Beverly also doesn’t think The Guesthouse or It Feeds are cursed, rather it’s an entity or an attachment, something malevolent looking for opportunities. Beverly doesn’t deny it when Laura asks if the entity is attached to her, but to be fair she also doesn’t confirm it so it’s time for a séance.

Despite Beverly’s protests Amy records the séance. Worryingly Beverly pulls out Kyle’s murder knife still covered in blood. Laura follows Beverly’s instructions and feels the darkness close in. She senses a figure in the darkness whispering “polllyyyyyyyy.” The Needle Man tells Laura to “killl herrrrrrrr” but Laura screams STOP and lunges for the Needle Man, her hands going round its throat. Amy pulls Laura away from Beverly who Laura is choking.

They watch Amy’s recording but there is no Needle Man, just Laura looking possessed. Beverly suggests that it could be Demonic Parasites, something that feeds on trauma. To get rid of it they need to find its power source that would be linked to the origin of the trauma. Destroy the object, destroy the parasite. Laura suggests the original film reels in Todd Terror’s office. Amy doesn’t believe any of this at all.

Security at the studio is tight and Laura’s name being flashed all over the news in connection to Kyle’s death are going to be challenge. Laura’s solution, make Madeleine help them get in. For obvious reasons, Madeleine is reluctant and tries to call the cops. Laura stops her, and with a fireplace poker, makes a very persuasive argument as to why it would benefit Madeleine to help them. Within minutes they’re out the door and heading for the studio.

Madeleine is able to get them inside. Amy is in awe; it's always been her dream to be an actor, but unfortunately all she hears is rejections. Together, they make their way up to Todd’s office and find the original The Guesthouse reels displayed behind glass. Smashing the glass, Laura takes down the eight film canisters, passing them around to carry to the burned bathroom before dumping the contents into the shower stall Todd died in. Beverly passes a lighter and Laura sparks the reels.

Too fixated on the burning film, none of them see Madeleine disappear. As they move to look for her, the set begins to shake and collapse, separating Laura from Amy and Beverly. Laura is disoriented, not sure if she blacked out again. Resisting the rising panic, Laura tries to escape the collapsing set when she sees a body swinging and hears a voice say “polllyyyyyyyy.”

Laura tries desperately to help the person who she is convinced is Beverly down but spiders cover the body and the rope, more and more every second. Finally using all her strength, Laura lifts Beverly down only to see it’s Madeleine, she’s covered in spider bites, foaming at the mouth and bloating. Laura then spots Beverly on the ground and groaning. Performing CPR, Laura gets Beverly breathing again and up just as Amy comes in. They need to get the hell out of here.

In the car Beverly confesses she felt the entity, and it was pure rage. Laura considers handing herself in to the cops but the whole situation feels like something other is responsible. In between her sarcastic responses and scoffing, Amy suggests she call a friend for help but won’t say who it is. With no better option, they head to this friend's hotel. The mysterious friend is Mike.

Clearly Mike isn’t here in a professional capacity but he certainly questions Laura like a journalist. He keeps looking at her strangely and Laura doesn’t like it. Regardless, he wants to help and has already spoken to a lawyer. Laura, Amy and Beverly retire to a second hotel room. While Amy is in the bathroom, Beverly admits to Laura that she may be wrong and that it’s maybe not a Demonic Parasite, maybe not a demon at all, but a person.

The next morning Mike brings pastries and coffee. Beverly wants to ditch Mike, he’s an unnecessary complication regardless of Amy’s protests that Mike has a credit card they can use. Eventually Mike takes the hint and leaves, giving Laura the lawyer's business card before he goes. Wondering about Beverly saying it’s a person not an entity, Laura starts scrolling through her Instagram. One DM stands out, it’s from the guy in the Demon’s T-shirt, Brian Arenberg, who Laura remembers was also a child actor in The Guesthouse. Despite Amy urging her to block him, Laura DMs Brian and he sends his address for her to come over.

They head straight over to Brian’s and as soon as he opens his front door, Laura and Beverly jump him and spray mace in his eyes. Charming. Laura demands to know what he knows about the Needle Man, which is nothing, and just as Beverly is about to mace him again, Brian calls out to Amy by name for help. What?! Turns out, Brian is making a documentary and Amy is a part of it, he even flew her out to LA a couple of weeks ago. In exchange for introductions with agents, Amy would help him get Laura and has been recording her sister, not for evidence but for the documentary. Laura doesn’t understand what she has done to Amy for her to betray her like this, but knows Amy’s too self-absorbed and desperate for Hollywood. Amy’s crossed a line.

Brian shows them his horror movie memorabilia and it’s impressive and not at all creepy. Brian is a podcaster now and has been working on his documentary about The Guesthouse for years. He’s got a rough cut edited together and offers to show them. The Guesthouse writer Yvonne Lincoln’s interview is interesting, and she is currently in prison for the murder of her husband despite claiming it was self-defense. Amy, looking through some of Brian’s letters, asks who Ivan Rothschild is. The story of The Guesthouse was originally his concept before he was booted and by Christopher Rosenthal and Yvonne Lincoln took over. Ivan never received credit. This could be something. Brian is in touch with Yvonne Lincoln, but she won’t talk to anyone else. Laura insists she’ll speak to Polly Tremaine.

Brian has done a great job with prosthetics, a wig and a thick layer of makeup to transform Laura into Callie Turner. Once confirmation for their visit to the California Institute for Women comes through, they head out. Straight away, Brian starts sweating, laughing nervously and acting weird to the reception guard. Thankfully Laura has more wherewithal and blames his jitters on too much coffee which gets them inside and to Yvonne Lincoln. When Yvonne questions who Laura/Callie is, Laura tells her they met when she was a kid and Yvonne called her the sweetest thing you’d ever seen. A star. Instantly Yvonne knows this is Polly and she's all grown up.

As they talk, Yvonne tells Laura that since she’s still alive he has big things planned for her, the Needle Man. Yvonne explains at first he was in her dreams at night, then during the day, he poisoned her husband against her, made him attack her and she defended herself. Yvonne’s experience is nothing like Laura’s. Laura begs Yvonne to tell her where Ivan Rothschild is. Since the story started with him, it stands to reason that it ends with him. Yvonne tells her Ivan’s address. As they leave, Yvonne warns her Ivan is a freaky fuck so make sure to go during the daytime.

Laura, Beverly, Amy and Brian head to see Ivan Rothschild. On the drive, Amy tries to get Laura’s forgiveness, but nah dog. Eventually they reach an Elm Street-style house and Ivan’s daughter Ruth answers, looking worn out. Ivan died just this week, he jumped from a bridge near LAX. Laura saw him jump! Ruth invites them in and she tells them how Ivan got more and more paranoid and distant this past year and refused to see a doctor. Mentioning a script Laura loaned Ivan, Ruth leads them to his office and leaves them to look. There’s a lot of occult research and a doodle of the Needle Man on the back of a creepy picture; one photo is of the house The Guesthouse and an attached article. The Guesthouse is based on a real place, Gimlet Point Guesthouse in Craven, California, which closed after a series of unexplained deaths. Checking on her map app, Laura sees it’s only two hours away in the middle of the Mojave.

They take a break in a diner on the way to Craven where Amy and Brian try again to persuade Laura to be interviewed for the documentary. Laura protests because people don’t want the truth. Then she admits she saw Rothschild jump. Laura is convinced there is something strange going on and they must be missing something important. They continue on a bit further before checking into a motel to rest and strategize a plan of action for Gimlet Point. After a bit of bantering about horror movies, Laura realizes she won’t survive Gimlet Point, she takes off her disguise, puts on the Tammy Manners dress and agrees to be interviewed.

The interview goes well because Laura insists Amy conducts it so it feels more like a chat. Laura answers each question and when Amy asks about the curse, Laura admits she saw Vince Madsen fall from the roof and die. She’s never told anyone that and it’s the reason she never believed there was a curse. After a few more questions about what is happening now, Amy calls an end to the interview. Composing herself in the bathroom, Laura sees the Needle Man in the mirror’s reflection, then she and Amy take a walk outside. When they return to the motel room, they find the room dark, The Guesthouse playing on the TV, Beverly having a seizure on the floor and Brian’s blood filling the bath, and his body sucked through the floor. On the bathroom mirror is scrawled YOU’RE MINE POLLY.

Beverly doesn’t know what happened, she heard voices, saw the TV change then blacked out. This is the fifth time it’s happened this week, and every time someone is killed. Laura then spots her journal on the bedside. It turns out, Beverly stole it from her hotel room because she wanted to help her and thought it would be useful. Amy is concerned that Beverly is the killer and it makes a lot of sense. Despite Beverly’s begging, Laura and Amy leave.

They plan to head straight to Gimlet Point after stopping at a gas station for supplies first: Mountain Dew, M&Ms, and two gallon cans of fuel. On the way, Laura looks through her journals and notices strange and violent entries she did not remember writing but they’re in her handwriting. Amy says the only explanation is Beverly is the killer and setting Laura up and she’s faked the journal entries as evidence. When they’re in the gas station the attendant seems to transform into the Needle Man and rasps “polllyyyy” and grabs at Laura. She struggles to get free and in the end bites him just as the LA police detective and Mike pull up outside.

They try to escape the gas station but the detective spots them and orders them to freeze with her gun out while Mike tries to talk Laura down. Laura will not be dissuaded and smashes and crunches their car out of the gas station and tears away. How did they find her? Amy thinks it was Beverly. Throughout the drive Laura sees flashes of ghosts on the roadside and hears messages in the songs on the radio with the Needle Man’s voice. He knows they’re coming.

Soon they reach Gimlet Point, it looks plush and lived in, not abandoned. Laura calls out to Ivan Rothschild but she gets no response, so it’s time to spread the fuel before setting the guesthouse ablaze from the doorway. Behind them is Beverly, she pushes both Laura and Amy back inside, follows then locks them inside with the fire.

A knife wielding Beverly tells Laura to stop running, it ends now. She also shouts at Amy to shut the hell up ((finally!)). Beverly has been trying to help Laura the whole time but there is something she’s suppressed, buried so deep down she’s convinced herself it never happened but she has to remember. The past starts clutching at Laura as Mike appears. He urges them to get out because the house is on fire (no shit, Sherlock). Mike manages to get to them and holds Beverly back so Laura and Amy can escape but the ceiling collapses barring their exit, they’ve no choice but to go up and out of a window. All the time Beverly is telling Laura the thing inside her has been with her since 1993. Laura remembers the way her mother treated her, abused her and used her; it makes her heart sick. After a bad incident with her mother, she remembers running away to the sound stage. As the memories flood Laura she can feel something coming up her throat and she vomits a black thing which writhes and grows and transforms into the Needle Man.

What the actual fuck? Beverly says it’s a parasite made of rage and trauma. The Needle Man lunges at Laura but Mike jumps in its way and the claw goes into his gut. Laura is able to fight the Needle Man by torching him with a baton made from a bit of burning stair. Together they support Mike and head up to the attic, the Needle Man stalking them, banging and stabbing the locked door. The attic looks like a child’s playroom, only Laura can see Tammy Manners/Polly Tremaine in the corner.

As Amy finds a way out, Mike dies. The Needle Man bursts open the attic door and Beverly stands up to confront it beseeching Laura to face her trauma. Finally Laura admits after a particularly bad argument with her mom in the studio she ran up to the attic of the set. She was looking down below when the Needle Man appeared and grabbed her. When he said she couldn’t be there, rage filled her and she charged him and pushed him. Polly climbed down the set and watched Vince Madsen die. When she heard someone coming, Polly hid under the craft service table and watched Christopher Rosenthal remove the Needle Man costume from Vince. Laura must have killed them all, Todd, Kyle, Madeleine, Brian and Mike, but Beverly tells her it wasn’t her, it was the killer inside her. The Needle Man isn’t done yet though, he lunges toward Laura but Beverly steps in and takes the blow to her neck. As Beverly dies, Laura steps toward the Needle Man and pushes it from the roof into the flames below.

ONE YEAR LATER. ENGLAND. Laura is visiting Amy on the set of the BBC show Knock Twice. Mike came through in death, the lawyer he arranged was scary and amazing she got the charges thrown out based on circumstantial evidence. Amy deleting all her recordings helped. Amy nervously asks Laura to sit, she has something to ask her. It Feeds is being resurrected and they want her to play Tammy, would Laura mind? The question is disingenuous because Amy already accepted the role, it's going to be so good for us she says. These are trigger words for Laura after all she went through with their mother and she needs to go to the bathroom. As Laura stares at her reflection she sees a shadow behind her. She can hear Amy’s voice ringing in her ears. After everything that happened, Amy wants to dig it all up and disrupt her peace.

Laura feels a lump in her throat and she swallows down the rage. From outside the bathroom there are sounds of grunting and writhing, gasping and choking breaths. Then footsteps. A tap, tap, tap at the door. “Polllyyyy…”

Outside the studio there are clusters of flowers and cards dedicated to Amy. If only Amy had turned down It Feeds. Amy had been seduced by Hollywood and faced the consequences of her decisions. It was the same with the people who saw Polly suffer at the hands of her mother and stood by and did nothing, they were complicit and they faced the consequences. Laura takes a folded piece of paper from her pocket and places it amongst the cards. She never got to give Amy her fortune. As Laura walks to her car she pulls out a full box of matches just waiting to be used.

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