The City of the Dead (film)

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The City of the Dead
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Llewellyn Moxey (as John Moxey)
Produced bySeymour S. Dorner
Max Rosenberg (uncredited)
Milton Subotsky
Donald Taylor
Screenplay byGeorge Baxt
Story byMilton Subotsky
StarringChristopher Lee
Venetia Stevenson
Betta St. John
Dennis Lotis
Betta St. John
Valentine Dyall
Patricia Jessel
Music byDouglas Gamley
Ken Jones (jazz)
CinematographyDesmond Dickinson
Edited byJohn Pomeroy
Distributed byBritish Lion
Release date
September 1960 (UK)
1961 (US)
Running time
76 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

The City of the Dead (U.S. title: Horror Hotel) is a 1960 supernatural horror film directed by John Llewellyn Moxey and starring Christopher Lee, Venetia Stevenson, Betta St. John, Patricia Jessel and Valentine Dyall. The film marks the directorial debut of Moxey.[3] It was produced in the United Kingdom but set in America, and the British actors were required to speak with North American accents throughout.


In 1692 in fictional Whitewood, Massachusetts, a witch named Elizabeth Selwyn is burned at the stake. Before her death, Selwyn and her accomplice, Jethrow Keane, sold their souls to Lucifer for eternal life and revenge on Whitewood in return for providing the Devil with two yearly virgin human sacrifices on the Hour of Thirteen during Candlemas Eve and the Witches' Sabbath.

In the present day, following his lecture on witchcraft, a university history professor, Alan Driscoll, advises an interested student named Nan Barlow to visit Whitewood during her vacation to slake her interest in witchcraft by studying Whitewood's history. Nan settles in The Raven's Inn, a hotel owned by eccentric Mrs. Newless, becoming acquainted with the only normal-seeming local resident Patricia Russell, who loans her a book on witchcraft. Reading the book, Nan learns that this night is Candlemas Eve.

She is lured down to the basement and is restrained on a satanic altar by Mrs. Newless and members of her coven. Mrs. Newless reveals herself to be Elizabeth Selwyn before proceeding to sacrifice Nan.

Two weeks later, Nan's concerned fiancé, Bill Maitland, and her brother, Richard, learn The Raven's Inn does not exist in any phone directory. They are visited by Patricia, who is also concerned with Nan's disappearance. The men travel separately to Whitewood, and Bill barely survives a car crash caused by an apparition of Selwyn.

Richard reaches Whitewood and meets up with Patricia before visiting her grandfather, Reverend Russell, who reveals that Whitewood is under the control of Selwyn's coven. Soon after, Patricia is kidnapped as the coven's sacrifice, and Richard attempts to save her before they are cornered in the graveyard. Professor Driscoll is revealed to be a coven member. A severely-injured Bill arrives at the last minute and succeeds in extricating a large wooden cross from the ground. After being gravely wounded by Selwyn, Bill uses the last of his strength to burn the coven members alive under the cross's shadow. Selwyn escapes during the chaos. Her pact with the Devil has been undone by the intervention, and Richard and Patricia find her charred corpse in the hotel which is revealed to have been built on the site of her burning.



The script was originally written by George Baxt as a pilot for a television series starring Boris Karloff. The producer Milton Subotsky rewrote it to be longer, including a romantic subplot about the boyfriend who goes looking for Nan after she goes missing. Financing was obtained from television producer Hannah Weinstein, along with money from the Nottingham Forest Football Club.

Production began on 12 October 1959 at Shepperton Studios with a budget of £45,000. Milton Subotsky was credited as the film's executive producer. The film was produced by Vulcan Productions, although because it was made by Subotsky and producing partner Max Rosenberg it has been considered the first of their Amicus Productions.[2]

Deleted lines[edit]

Some dialogue was removed the American version of the film, including the following lines in the opening sequence which clarify the plot. They are retained in the original British version, which has been shown on Turner Classic Movies:

  • "I have made my pact with thee, O Lucifer! Hear me, hear me! I will do thy bidding for all eternity. For all eternity shall I practice the ritual of Black Mass. For all eternity shall I sacrifice unto thee. I give thee my soul, take me into thy service."
  • "O Lucifer, listen to thy servant, grant her this pact for all eternity and I with her, and if we fail thee but once, you may do with our souls what you will."
  • "Make this city an example of thy vengeance. Curse it, curse it for all eternity! Let me be the instrument of thy curse. Hear me, O Lucifer, hear me!"


The City of the Dead was released in September 1960 in the United Kingdom.[4] It was a box-office disappointment, although it did make a small profit.[1] It was not released in the United States until 1961 under the title Horror Hotel.


Heavy metal band Iron Maiden use scenes from this film in the music video for their song "Bring Your Daughter... to the Slaughter". King Diamond also uses clips in his "Sleepless Nights" video as do punk band UFX in the video to "Bitch", while Rob Zombie used Christopher Lee's opening words to similarly preface his track "Dragula" from Hellbilly Deluxe. In addition, the punk band Misfits wrote a song called "Horror Hotel" (the American release title). Most recently in the summer of 2017, metal rock band In This Moment also uses the opening lines by Christopher Lee in their song "The Witching Hour" from their new album Ritual.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Hamilton, John (2013). X-Cert: The British Independent Horror Film 1951-70. Hailsham, England: Hemlock Books. pp. 72–77. ISBN 978-0955777455.
  2. ^ a b Bryce, Allan, ed. (2000). Amicus: The Studio That Dripped Blood. London, England: Stray Cat Publishing. pp. 12–15. ISBN 978-0953326136.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Chibnall & McFarlane 2009, p. 238.


  • Chibnall, Jonathan; McFarlane, Brian (2009). The British 'B' Film. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 1844575748.
  • Rigby, Jonathan (2000). English Gothic: A Century of Horror Cinema. Reynolds & Hearn Ltd. ISBN 1-903111-01-3.

External links[edit]