on April 11, 2006
Here are some of the taglines for the film Horror Hotel (1960) aka The City of the Dead...SCREAM With Guests From The "Other World" When You Ring For DOOM SERVICE!...Horror Hotel, next to the graveyard...okay, not bad...I came up with a few of my own...Horror Hotel, our rates are slashed to the bone...Horror Hotel, we'll keep a pyre on for you...Horror Hotel, now with complimentary turn down DEAD service...Horror Hotel, where guest check in, but they don't check out (okay, that one's from Roach Motel roach traps)...Horror Hotel, we're working on the smell...Horror Hotel, not just for Ho's anymore...yeah, I know, I'll probably never realize a career in writing taglines or slogans...oh well...based on a story by the legendary schlock producer Milton Subotsky (Dr. Terror's House of Horrors, They Came from Beyond Space), and directed by John Llewellyn Moxey (Circus of Fear), the film features Dennis Lotis (Sword of Sherwood Forest), Patricia Jessel (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum), Betta St. John (Corridors of Blood), Venetia Stevenson (Island of Lost Women), Tom Naylor (Danger by My Side), Valentine Dyall (The Haunting), and Christopher Lee (Dracula, Corridors of Blood, The Vengeance of Fu Manchu).
As the story begins it's the year 1692 and we're in the colonial town of Whitewood, Massachusetts...man, people sure were homely back in the day...anyway, we're just in time for a witch burning...burn, witch, burn...we then transition to the present day as Professor Alan Driscoll (Lee) is relating the events just witnessed to a small gaggle of students, among them Nan Barlow (Stevenson). Nan's interested in doing some in depth research for her term paper, desiring to experience as much as she can first hand, to which Driscoll recommends she travel to Whitewood, as the town's changed little in the last 200 years (when he says `off the beaten path' he wasn't kidding). Nan sets out for Whitewood, despite the protests from her scoffing boyfriend Bill (Naylor) and her skeptical brother Richard (Lotis), the latter a science professor at the university...well, a whole lot of stuff happens, all culminating in the disappearance of Nan, who, by the way, is quite attractive and book smart, but about as na?ve as they come (it's truly hilarious how much she doesn't notice about the town and specific individuals until it's too late). Richard goes about trying to discover what happened to his sister by retracing her footsteps (the police turned up squat), and learns the town of Whitewood is populated by practitioners in the black arts, getting an earful from a blind priest who's holed himself up in the town's dilapidated church. He also discovers he's arrived just in time for a ritual, one that involves a sacrifice, as the devil must have his due...
On the surface the film may not look like much, but it's actually an interesting, atmospheric soaked little thriller with a few decent scares and some definite surprises. I particularly liked the fact it pulls few punches in terms of the disposition of some of the main protagonist characters...to say anymore would spoil the fun, so I'll leave it at that. There are quite a few characters running around in the film, and most of them get their fare share of development, as needed, to support the story. Surprisingly, Christopher Lee does not have as big a part as I would have thought, but his presence is definitely felt when he's on the screen (he's Christopher frickin' Lee). His performance is reserved, but it worked extremely well for his character. I thought Patricia Jessel, playing dual parts, the main one being that of the inn keeper and number one spooky chick was especially good, as she really creeped me out a number of times (she was attractive despite her uninviting, angular features and general sinister mannerisms). Miss Stevenson was cute but her character's level of naivet? fostered a sense of frustration from myself given the obvious nature of what was going on around her (Miss St. John's character was slightly more on the ball, but not much). One could present the defense that she was firmly entrenched in modern reality, and the idea that various archaic practices were still being performed may have been quite unbelievable to her, but I had a difficult time seeing how she could have missed the overwhelming sense of danger present throughout the town (the only thing missing was a huge, flashing neon sign proclaiming the presence of the witches)...heck, even the blind priest told her point blank to head for the hills...that would have been good enough for me. And can anyone tell me what was the deal with the Jethrow Keane character, played by Valentine Dyall? I know who and what he was, but why did he always seem to be standing outside town, looking for a ride? And did the disappearing act he pulled after getting a ride (twice, no less) really serve any purpose? I know it was meant to be unsettling for the characters, but would hardly be something I'd do if I were trying to draw people, i.e. potential sacrifices, into town. The story moved along well, and I really liked the notion of the town being a relative throwback, changing little over time except perhaps to incorporate some modern necessities such as electricity and telephones, but otherwise being so far off the map that few outside those who actually live in, or around, the town know of its existence. The town itself looked wonderful and added a great deal to the eerie atmosphere of the story. I did think it odd to have a cemetery smack dab in the middle of the town, but to each his own. I'll tell you what, someone sure got their money's worth from whoever was working that fog machine, as the town had a perpetual two-foot thick layer of the stuff like all the time. All in all this is a modest feature with a few thrills and spookiness up the waz, one worth checking out if you're into classic horror films.
I see there's been a number of different DVD releases for this film. The one I own was released by a company called Elite Entertainment. The picture, presented in non-anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), looks decent enough, as the tones come across fairly sharp, but there is some minor print damage present limited to specks, some lines, and such, and the Dolby Digital mono audio comes through well enough. As far as extras, the only thing included is a funky looking trailer for the film. I've heard the Roan release is better, and I'm apt to believe that based on my past history with their DVDs, but I have yet to see it...regardless, it would be in your best interest to make sure you know which release you're getting, as I'm sure some, especially the inexpensive ones, aren't all that great (The Amazon website has a tendency to lump the reviews for all different, various releases together in a lovely, albeit confusing, mishmash).
By the way, I'd read there was going to be a 2006 remake of this film, but it looks like the production may have stalled...