AKA, Horror Hotel
In 1700s Massachusetts, a woman named Elizabeth Selwyn has been accused of being a witch and is about to be burned at the stake. As the flames lick her heals, thunder booms overhead and Elizabeth swears fealty to the Devil, cursing the town of Whitewood while the crowd cheers her demise. Little do they know that she is not the only one in town who has made a pact with the Devil.
The film then segues to the present (1960), into the home of Professor Alan Driscoll who is teaching a course on witchcraft. One of his young students, Nan, is fascinated with the subject and informs him that in order to write a proper term paper, she wishes to travel to a place where witchcraft once flourished. Driscoll suggests she travel to Whitewood and even suggests a place to stay as well as the name of the woman who runs the inn, a woman called Mrs. Newless. Little does Nan know, but she’s just bitten off a lot more than she can chew.
Smart enough to bring a flashlight, but not smart enough not to go into
the dark, creepy cellar. That’s the 60’s for ya!
To say the film has atmosphere would be an understatement. The town of Whitewood is perpetually bathed in an eerie fog making it feel like you’ve just entered a place that exists just outside of time. The buildings are old and partially dilapidated, light seems to be non-existent and that, coupled with the knowledge of the towns history, makes the town and many of the people encountered in it seem hauntingly malevolent.
Just taking a leisurely stroll through the cemetery. Nothing to
see here, folks.
If you couldn’t tell already, the cinematography is also excellent. Even some of the darkest moments wind up looking beautiful. This is really the type of movie that really wouldn’t feel the same in color.
The film is filled with solid performances from all its cast members. Venetia Stevenson nails down naïve Nan’s wide eyed innocence with the youthful vigor needed for the role. Patricia Jessel, playing both Elizabeth Selwyn and the malicious Mrs. Newless, exudes a superbly eerie aura, even when she’s attempting to pass as sensible innkeeper to the unsuspecting newcomers. And then there’s Christopher Lee who, as always, mixes together the perfect combination of suave and sinister that he is so well known for.
City of the Dead is a movie where the horror and tension permeates almost every scene. The copious amount of fog and the set pieces transport the viewer to a forbidden town shrouded in evil and mystery. The performances are all excellent and the visuals are exceptional. The storyline may no longer be unique, but it’s still a fun and beautifully atmospheric tale. A definite recommendation to those who enjoy 60s horror and Christopher Lee.
City of the Dead is currently Streaming on Amazon Prime.
There’s also a Rifftrax version, for those of you who’d like to get a giggle or two out of it as well.