That Old Black Magic
Michael M. Wilk | Howard Beach, NY | 11/26/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The 1960 British film "City of the Dead", or as it is more popularly known in the US as "Horror Hotel", has finally been given the deluxe DVD treatment it deserves. I have seen this film countless times since I first saw it on television back in 1966 in numerous edited versions, and in varying degrees of quality. Made on a modest budget, similar to the Val Lewton chillers of the 1940s, it has remained one of my all-time favorite horror films. Stage actress Patricia Jessel (she won a Tony Award for the role of the duplicitous Christine Vole in Agatha Christie's "Witness for the Prosecution") plays Elizabeth Selwyn, burned as a witch in Whitewood, a New England village in 1692. Selwyn made a pact with Lucifer prior to her death, placed a curse on the village, and has indeed returned from the dead, running the Raven's Inn (guests check in, but don't check out!), and, basically, all of Whitewood. The citizens of the creepy, run-down village, with the exception of blind Reverend Russell (Norman McCowan) and his granddaughter Patricia (Betta St. John), are all witches, so the place isn't exactly a big "tourist draw". Enter shapely blonde co-ed Nan Barlow (Venetia Stevenson, daughter of director John Stevenson and actress Anna Lee) who has come to Whitewood to write a term paper on witchcraft, upon the recommendation of her professor, Alan Driscoll (a suavely sinister Christopher Lee). Miss Barlow checks into the Raven's Inn, and becomes a sacrificial victim of Ms. Selwyn and her pals on Candelmas Eve. A subsequent investigation of her disappearance, led by her brother and boyfriend, along with the assistance of Patricia Russell, leads to a hair-raising climax. The film is chock-full of horror movie cliches, but they work! Dark, film-noirish photography, loads of fog, cobweb-filled catacombs, run-down graveyards, they're all here, and they are simply perfect. This film is practically a style source for Goths! Douglas Gamley's musical score (a hybrid of horror movie meets Gregorian chant, with some jazz passages thrown in) is catchy and memorable, and the actors' performances, particularly that of the "heavies" (especially Ms. Jessel), are good , making for a very entertaining and satisfying 78 minutes. VCI has gone right to the source, the original British print, and has restored 2 minutes of footage that have been unseen in American prints, and that's only the beginning. The picture quality is superb, tho maybe a tad grainy in spots, and is presented in widescreen format. The sound quality is good, nothing spectacular, and then there are the extra features! Interviews with director John Llewellyn Moxey, Christopher Lee (that's "Sir" Christopher Lee now!), and Venetia Stevenson, talent bios, a photo gallery, the original American teaser-trailer, and fun art and graphics add immeasurably to this love letter DVD to a well-made, genuinely creepy film. If you are a fan of classic horror films, this is a must-own. If you are an aspiring horror-film maker, this is an excellent textbook example on how to make a well-crafted, tight film on a modest budget. "Those fingers through my hair, that sly, come-hither stare, that strips my conscience bare...""
"He Will Be Pleased" ~ Witchcraft And Satanism in New Engl
Brian E. Erland | Brea, CA - USA | 10/17/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Down a long, deserted and all but forgotten backroad in rural Massachusetts stands the town of Whitewood. No longer appearing on any current maps, the only people who know of its existence are some of the older locals from neighboring towns who would stay away at all costs and of course the witches.
According to legend Whitewood was cursed by Elizabeth Selwyn (Patricia Jessel) and handed over to Lucifer as she burned at the stake in 1692 for practicing witchcraft and consorting with the Devil. Now some 250 plus years later the 'Raven's Inn' stands in the historic spot of the event.
Nan Barlow (Venetia Stevenson), a pretty college coed comes to Whitewood on the recommendation of her professor, Alan Driscoll (Christopher Lee) to do some primary research for her term paper on Witchcraft. She checks into the 'Raven's Inn' and is never heard from again. Her sudden and unexpected disappearance brings her brother and boyfriend to Whitewood to find her and instead discover a nest of witches in search of yet another sacrifice for Candlemass Eve.
One of the earliest and in my estimation one of the best British horror films ever. Released in the U.S.A. under the title, 'Horror Hotel', the American version is two minutes shorter than its British counterpart, 'City of the Dead.' The additional material is at the beginning of the movie during the burning at the cross sequence when the accused witch is calling upon Lucifer to curse Whitewood. It doesn't add much to the plot, but if you're a purist like I am it's nice to have the film intact in its original form.
This may have been produced on a small budget, but they made up for it with a great storyline, some ingenious atmospheric effects, an eerie soundtrack and an excellent cast. Besides those aready mentioned, also wonderful performances by: Betta St. John, Dennis Lotis and Valentine Dyall as Jethrow."
A Chris Lee Gem!
Deborah MacGillivray | US & UK | 11/05/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Christopher Lee has been an amazing actor, and in the twilight of this career at over 80 years old he is still doing fine work in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and Star Wars II and III(coming). However, most of us grew to love his body of work back in the period of Hammer Studios heyday. Hammer, to lovers of horror, gave us some of the greatest film. Cheap on budget, high on quality, they gave you fun from vampires, to outer-space monster to witches. Directed by the marvelous John Llewellyn Moxey, Horror Hotel was it's alternative title.Chris Lee is Professor Alan Driscole, in Massachusetts in the US, and he is teaching a course on the witchcraft burnings of a near by town called Whitewater, similar to the Salem hysteria. A student, Nan Driscole, is looking to do more in-depth research, so Driscole suggests she travel to Whitewater and sends her to stay at an inn there on her winter vacation. Raven's Inn is run by Mrs. Neils, a friend of Driscole, and she welcomes Nan though says the hotel is closing. Nan learns a witch, Elizabeth Sewlyn. was burned on the spot where the inn stands. Newlis is a strange woman and it quickly becomes apparent there are dark doings at Raven's Inn. Nan is welcome for reasons Nan knows nothing about, and quickly finds herself marked for sacrifice.When Nan fails to return, her brother travels to the strange village that seems trapped in time. It is dark, brooding and literally reeks atmosphere (as only good Black and White horror films can!). Nan is not to be found and Mrs. Newlis claims Nan left after only a few days stay. However, the woman who runs the bookstore believes something happened to Nan and helps him in trying to find out what.A eerie Black and White film that is super for a late Saturday night horror fest! The Quality of the transfer is super crisp!"
Cheaper than the Bates Motel
Darren | Jersey Shore, NJ USA | 01/22/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Horror Hotel was originally released in 1960, the same year as Alfred HItchcock's original Psycho. Apparently, it was also made on a much lower budget and I suspect these factors may be responsible for this film's unjust obscurity. I originally saw this movie only once, over 20 years ago, but some vivid images of certain scenes really stuck with me. The release to video, and now even DVD, has been long awaited. This b&w classic features a very young Christopher Lee in a simple but eerie tale involving witchcraft and the mysterious disappearance of a woman college student in a small New England town. There are definitely some parts of this film that scare without a drop of blood ever being shown. In addition to the topics of devil worship and witchcraft, the b&w cinematgraphy, the background music & chanting, the foggy night setting, the desolateness of the town and the aura of each of the characters all add to the mysterious and eerie atmosphere of this film.This movie appeals to the fundamental elements of all fans of the horror genre. We like horror movies because part of us is naturally and curiously drawn to intrigue and mystery. A part of us will identify with the curiosity of the woman studying witchcraft. The trap door she opens under the rug in her hotel room symbolizes a willingness to explore the dark, mysterious and intriguing unknown. I won't say another word ... other than if you collect horror movies, you will definitely want to own this one. It's also worth the rental if you can find a video store that has a copy."