The City of the Dead aka Horror Hotel – UK, 1960 – overview and reviews

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[Total: 15   Average: 3.4/5]

‘Just ring for doom service!’

The City of the Dead – US title: Horror Hotel – is a 1960 British horror feature film directed by John Llewellyn Moxey (Circus of Fear; The House That Would Not Die; I, Desire) from a screenplay by George Baxt (Tower of Evil; Night of the Eagle; Circus of Horrors), with revisions by Milton Subotsky (prior to setting up Amicus).

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Produced in England by Vulcan Film Productions but set in the United States, the British actors were required to speak with American accents throughout; the movie stars Dennis Lotis, Christopher Lee, Patricia Jessel, Tom Naylor and Betta St. John.

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Plot:

In 1662, Elizabeth Selwyn is accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake by an angry mob.

Present-day: On the recommendation of Professor Driscoll (Lee), a young female student, Nan Barlow (Stevenson), travels to the Massachusetts town of Whitewood to do some research into witchcraft.

Nan discovers that the town occupied by the reincarnation, Elizabeth Selwyn, the infamous witch (Jessel) burned at the stake in the 17th century; in order to sustain her immortality, virgins must be sacrificed to her every year – and this year, Nan has been the chosen victim…

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Influence:

Heavy metal band Iron Maiden used scenes from the film in the music video for their song ‘Bring Your Daughter… to the Slaughter’. King Diamond also uses clips in their ‘Sleepless Nights’ video, while Rob Zombie used Christopher Lee’s opening words to similarly preface his track ‘Dragula’ from Hellbilly Deluxe. In addition, punk band Misfits released a song called ‘Horror Hotel’.

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Reviews [click links to read more]:

“Atmospheric low-budget chiller that benefits from a sparse script, some impressive studio-bound sets, and a genuinely horrific performance from Patricia Jessel.” Alan Frank, The Horror Film Handbook

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“Although cheaply made, studio-bound and short on complexity, the film has a beautifully eerie Lovecraftian atmosphere.” Phil Hardy (editor), The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror

“Despite a few phoney transatlantic settings and accents it remains the English horror film which comes nearest to reproducing Val Lewton‘s RKO work in the 1940s, and the City – it’s black and rotting buildings saturated in fog and gloom – had an unusual Lovecraftian flavour.” David Pirie, A New Heritage of Horror: The English Gothic Cinema

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Buy: Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com | Amazon.ca

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“A superbly creepy horror film with a good storyline and acting, and some amazing direction, City of the Dead proved to Rosenberg and Subotsky that there was money in horror films … It comes recommended to all horror fans, and highly recommended to fans of classic and British horror films.” Mondo Esoterica

“The uncomplicated plot is greatly enhanced by atmospheric black-and-white photography, taut direction and some very eerie performances. Patricia Jessel and Valentine Dyall are especially creepy as a witch and her consort.” Gary A. Smith, Uneasy Dreams: The Golden Age of British Horror Films, 1956 – 1976

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Buy: Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com

“British thriller reeking with atmosphere in crisp black-and-white photography” John Stanley, Creature Features

Choice dialogue:

Professor Driscoll: “Burn witch! Burn witch! Burn, burn, burn!”

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Buy DVD: Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com

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In 2001, US-company VCI Entertainment released a widescreen DVD version that included:

  • Extra two minutes of footage not found in the American Horror Hotel version
  • Commentary with actor Christopher Lee
  • A 45-minute interview with Christopher Lee
  • Interview with Venetia Stevenson
  • Interview and commentary by director John Moxey,
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Photo Gallery
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On March 29, 2016, VCI Entertainment released a Blu-ray that includes the longer UK version, plus:

  • Horror Hotel, the American Version of The City of the Dead
  • Commentary by Bruce Hallenbeck
  • Commentary with actor Christopher Lee
  • Commentary by Director John Moxey
  • Interview with Christopher Lee
  • Interview with Venetia Stevenson
  • Interview with Director John Moxey
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Photo Gallery
  • Liner Notes by Mike Kenny, Film Reviewer
  • English Subtitles

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On 24 April 2017, Arrow Video released the film as a Blu-ray + DVD combo with the following extras:

  • New 4K digital restoration by the Cohen Film Collection and the British Film Institute (BFI)
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations of two versions of the film: The City of the Dead and the alternative US cut, Horror Hotel
  • Uncompressed Mono 1.0 PCM Audio
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Audio commentary by film critic Jonathan Rigby, author of English Gothic: Classic Horror Cinema 1897 – 2015 and Christopher Lee: An Authorised Screen History, recorded exclusively for this release
  • Trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
  • Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Vic Pratt


“Predictably, logic plays no part in the narrative, no-one-, for instance, seems to have noticed that for 300 years, maidens have been sacrificed twice yearly. But Moxey’s assured touch keeps things rattling along at a pace that ensures such inconsistencies and the off limp performance do not get in the way.” John Hamilton, X-Cert: The British Independent Horror Film: 1951 – 1970

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Buy: Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com

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“To say the movie is atmospheric is a gross understatement. There is so much fog swirling around the cursed town, it looks like the surface of Venus. Many scenes are accentuated by the chiaroscuro of flickering flames, and the eerie chanting of the Satanists, like a church choir gone awry, completes the aura of menace.” Alan Tromp, Hidden Horror

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Buy: Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com

Buy t-shirt: Amazon.co.uk

Cast and crew:

  • Dennis Lotis … Richard Barlow
  • Christopher Lee … Professor Alan Driscoll
  • Patricia Jessel … Elizabeth Selwyn/Mrs. Newless
  • Tom Naylor … Bill Maitland
  • Betta St. John … Patricia Russell
  • Venetia Stevenson … Nan Barlow
  • Valentine Dyall … Jethrow Keane
  • Ann Beach … Lottie
  • Norman Macowan … Reverend Russell
  • Fred Johnson … The Elder
  • Jimmy Dyrenforth …Garage Attendant
  • Maxine Holden … Sue
  • William Abney … Policeman
  • Director: John Llewellyn Moxey (as John Moxey)
  • Producers: Seymour S. Dorner, Max Rosenberg [uncredited], Milton Subotsky, Donald Taylor
  • Screenplay: George Baxt
  • Story by: Milton Subotsky
  • Cinematographer: Desmond Dickinson
  • Editor: John Pomeroy
  • Music: Douglas Gamley

Filming locations:

Shepperton Studios, Surrey, England

Trivia:

Legendary bad filmmaker Richard Driscoll re-used the witch-burning footage in his 2008 film Evil Calls: The Raven aka The Legend of Harrow Woods aka Doctor Sleepless

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