The City of the Dead (film)
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|The City of the Dead|
|Directed by||John Llewellyn Moxey (as John Moxey)|
|Produced by||Seymour S. Dorner|
Max Rosenberg (uncredited)
|Screenplay by||George Baxt|
|Story by||Milton Subotsky|
Betta St. John
Betta St. John
|Music by||Douglas Gamley|
Ken Jones (jazz)
|Edited by||John Pomeroy|
|Distributed by||British Lion|
|September 1960 (UK)|
The City of the Dead (U.S. title: Horror Hotel) is a 1960 horror film directed by John Llewellyn Moxey and starring Christopher Lee, Venetia Stevenson, Betta St. John, Patricia Jessel and Valentine Dyall. Produced in the United Kingdom but set in America, the British actors were required to speak with North American accents throughout.
In 1692, in the fictional Massachusetts town of Whitewood, a witch named Elizabeth Selwyn was burned at the stake. However, before her death, she managed to make a deal with the devil: he gave her eternal life in exchange for a promise eternally to create only evil.
This opening story is in reality a dramatization of the lecture on witchcraft Professor Alan Driscoll is giving to his history students at university. One of his students, Nan Barlow, is particularly interested in this subject, so the professor advises her to visit Whitewood, where she can find many interesting things on the topic. Nan goes there on vacation. Having settled in The Raven's Inn, a hotel owned by eccentric Mrs. Newless, Nan begins to study the history of the town. She gets acquainted with the only normal-seeming local resident, Patricia, and upon borrowing a book on witchcraft from her, soon learns that the very night she is there--February 1st--is also Candlemas Eve--the day when the witches sacrifice a young girl. Nan is eventually lured down to the basement of the hotel, which is actually a satanic shrine, and gets captured by Mrs. Newless and members of her coven. Newless says that she is actually the immortal Elizabeth Selwyn. To sustain her immortality, virgins must be sacrificed to the witch every year—and this year, the student is the chosen victim.
Two weeks later, having not heard from Nan, her brother Richard is persuaded to check up on her by her fiance Bill, and discovers that not only does Whitewood not exist in any phone directory, but when the police are summoned to join the search that Nan abruptly left The Raven's Inn without informing anyone. After Patricia herself travels to Nan's school to meet Professor Driscoll, inquiring where she could find Nan's family, she visits Richard and Bill and shares her concerns with them. Richard then travels to Whitewood himself, encountering the formidable Mrs. Newless and reconnecting with Patricia. Bill must overcome witches' machinations when he takes off after Richard, crashes his car on the way, and the mystery deepens when Nan appears to have vanished without a trace. Richard meets the Reverend Russell, Patricia's grandfather, who tells him about the demonic cult ruling over the town. Soon, Patricia is kidnapped, and Richard finds her in the same basement where Nan died. The girl is ready to be sacrificed. To his great surprise, Richard learns that the leader of the satanic sect is Mrs. Newless/Elizabeth Selwyn and that Professor Driscoll is himself a centuries-old member of the coven, who deliberately sent Nan to her death. Richard is also captured and is soon to be killed. At the last minute, the greatly-injured Bill gets involved and, with the help of the cross, burns the witches, although he himself is killed with a knife in the back. Newless escapes, but she is dying as the time of sacrifice is missed. Later, Richard and Patricia find her burnt body in the hotel.
- Christopher Lee as Alan Driscoll
- Dennis Lotis as Richard Barlow
- Patricia Jessel as Elizabeth Selwyn / Mrs. Newless
- Tom Naylor as Bill Maitland
- Betta St. John as Patricia Russell
- Venetia Stevenson as Nan Barlow
- Valentine Dyall as Jethrow Keane
- Ann Beach as Lottie
- Norman Macowan as Reverend Russell
- Fred Johnson as The Elder
- James Dyrenforth as Garage Attendant
- Maxine Holden as Sue
- William Abney as Policeman
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 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.
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. They have been restored in the version broadcast on TCM:
- "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. It was a box office disappointment, although it did make a small profit. It was not released in the US until 1961 under the title Horror Hotel.
Comparison to Psycho
While two quite different horror films, Psycho and The City of the Dead have a few coincidences. They both opened in their native countries in September 1960. They are both in black and white. The beautiful heroine dies in the first half, an unusual plot twist. We join the search after she has been missing for two weeks. Her boyfriend, a detective, and a sibling all arrive at the locale of her demise to find out what happened to her. The motel of central interest is on a rarely travelled road, making suspect its ability to stay open at all. The innkeeper claims the victim stayed only a night, a lie. The Raven’s Inn has dead birds popping up. The Bates Motel has stuffed birds and bird pictures. The final scream comes in finding an old woman’s corpse, with a closeup of the corpse’s face and closeup of the second heroine’s screaming with fully opened mouth.
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.
- John Hamilton, The British Independent Horror Film 1951-70 Hemlock Books 2013 p 72-77
- Ed. Allan Bryce, Amicus: The Studio That Dripped Blood, Stray Cat Publishing, 2000 p 12-15
- 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.