The City of the Dead (film)

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This article is about the 1960 horror film. For other uses, see The City of the Dead.
The City of the Dead
Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey (as John Moxey)
Produced by Seymour S. Dorner
Max Rosenberg (uncredited)
Milton Subotsky
Donald Taylor
Screenplay by George Baxt
Story by Milton Subotsky
Starring Venetia Stevenson
Christopher Lee
Dennis Lotis
Betta St. John
Valentine Dyall
Patricia Jessel
Music by Douglas Gamley
Ken Jones (jazz)
Cinematography Desmond Dickinson
Edited by John Pomeroy
Distributed by British Lion (UK)
Trans-Lux (US)
Release dates
September 1960 (UK)
1963 (US)
Running time
76 min.
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget ₤45,000[1][2]

The City of the Dead (U.S. title: Horror Hotel) is a 1960 horror film directed by John Llewellyn Moxey and starring Christopher Lee and Valentine Dyall. Produced in England but set in America, the British actors were required to speak with American accents throughout.


On the recommendation of her professor (Christopher Lee), a young female student (Venetia Stevenson) travels to the fictional Massachusetts town of Whitewood to do some research into witchcraft. She finds the town occupied by the reincarnation of an infamous witch (Patricia Jessel) who was burned at the stake in the 17th century. To sustain her immortality, virgins must be sacrificed to the witch every year – and this year, the student is the chosen victim.



The script was originally written by George Baxt as a pilot for a TV 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. Finance was obtained from TV producer Hannah Weinstein along with money from the NFFC.[1]

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 Rosenberg it has been considered the first Amicus Movie.[2]

Censored lines[edit]

In the American version, a few minutes of dialogue were removed, including these lines near the beginning, which fit in with and clarify the plot of the movie:

  • "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!"


Comparisons to Psycho[edit]

This film has been compared to Psycho due to structural similarities. Both films begin by establishing an attractive blonde woman as the viewpoint character, leading the audience to assume she will be the protagonist through the rest of the story. In both films, the blonde travels to a remote location and checks into a hotel or motel run by an eccentric manager. In both cases, the audience's expectations are shattered before the midpoint of the story when the blonde is abruptly stabbed to death. IMDb notes that "The City of the Dead (1960), a British horror picture that was released three months after Hitchcock's film, seems to have independently hit upon the idea of killing its [blonde] protagonist before the film is half over"[3] and on another page notes that "Both [films] have as protagonists attractive blonds who are unexpectedly killed off less than halfway through the film while staying at a remote hotel/motel. Both have a sibling--in Psycho it's a sister, in City of the Dead a brother--who go looking for them. Both siblings are joined in the investigation by someone of the opposite sex..And both are joined by a third person who gets killed"[4] Both films include a "shock" scene in which a corpse is revealed, and both films were released in the same year (1960). A review in Images, remarks about City of the Dead that

This story has several striking similarities to Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. In both cases, a heroine drives to an isolated town, well off the main road, and stays at a hotel. After she disappears, police investigate but make little progress. So a sibling and a lover continue the investigation--and are nearly killed for their efforts. In addition, in scenes very near the end of each movie, the hero sees someone sitting in a chair and tries to talk to them. He turns the chair and discovers a corpse. The heroine screams. This last scene is so similar to Psycho that it seems absurd to think there is no connection between the two movies. But as director Moxey and star Stevenson point out during the supplementary interviews on VCI Entertainment's disc, The City of the Dead was released BEFORE Psycho. (So is it possible the reverse is true? Was Psycho affected by The City of the Dead?)[5]

Other sources state that City of the Dead was released 3 months after the premiere of Psycho[6]

Psycho was released June 16, 1960 in the United States,[7] The City of the Dead released September, 1960 in the United Kingdom.[8] However, since the two films were produced an ocean apart at virtually the same time - The City of the Dead began shooting October 12, 1959, while Psycho started November 11, 1959[9] - the plot similarities must be mere coincidence. The earlier production date gives a little credence to producer Milton Subotsky's claim that "...we did it first."[10]

The above all ignores that the original novel basis for Psycho by Robert Bloch had been published previously.


The film was a box office disappointment although it did make a small profit.[1] It was not released in the US until 1963 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).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c John Hamilton, The British Independent Horror Film 1951-70 Hemlock Books 2013 p 72-77
  2. ^ a b Ed. Allan Bryce, Amicus: The Studio That Dripped Blood, Stray Cat Publishing, 2000 p 12-15
  3. ^ Psycho (1960) at Internet Movie Database
  4. ^ The City of the Dead (1960) at Internet Movie Database
  5. ^ City of the Dead at Images, A Journal of Film and Popular Culture
  6. ^ City of the Dead at
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ [2]
  9. ^ [Rebello 1990, p. 128]in Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho
  10. ^ [Writing the Horror Movie, Marc Blake, Sara Bailey, p.94]


  • Rigby, Jonathan (2000). English Gothic: A Century of Horror Cinema. Reynolds & Hearn Ltd. ISBN 1-903111-01-3. 

External links[edit]