Movie Review by Curt Solash
This little gem of a movie was made on a miniscule budget, but director John Moxey obviously took pains to make it believable, frightening and completely engrossing.
Movie Review by Curt Solash
MOVIE TITLE: Horror Hotel - aka City of The Dead
* Trans- Lux (England)
* Director: John Moxey
* Cast: Christopher Lee, Venetia Stevenson, Patricia Jessel, Betta St. John, Dennis Lotis
A university student studying the occult becomes the victim of a witches' coven when going to a small, forgotten New England town to do research.
In certain cinema genres,such as horror and film noir, a lot of money is not necessary for a picture's success,but attention and care are,and in my opinion, few films demonstrate this better than Horror Hotel. City of The Dead is the title of the British version and perhaps more apt.
This little gem of a movie was made on a miniscule budget, but director John Moxey obviously took pains to make it believable, frightening and completely engrossing. Everything about it works well: the script, acting, pacing, and set design. It is one of the finest horror and witchcraft movies I know of.
From the opening scenes of a witch being burned at the stake in small-town New England of 1692 to the exciting finale, the story develops beautifully; it convinces the viewer and never slackens.
This beginning sequence, complete with superstitious, vengeful, frankly grotesque townspeople and a witch in league with Satan, levelling curses at them and their future generations, feels completely authentic. It sets the stage for a move to the current day,in which college student, Nan Barlow, is sent by one of her professors (played by the always impressive Christopher Lee) to study 17th- century witchcraft first hand in Whitewood, Massachussetts, a town where the Devil still rules (and where the opening scene took place).
It is in Whitewood where we see how the small budget actually works to the film's advantage; director Moxey emphasizes the blackness, emptiness, smoke and dust of a town totally bypassed by the modern world.
Black and white is absolutely essential for a horror film such as this one and the sparseness that monetary concerns may have dictated add to the otherworldy feeling of this tiny hamlet forgotten by time.
The movie abounds with details that build and sustain the sense of supernatural doom - old, abandoned dirt roads traversed at the dead of night, a boarded-up, crumbling church in ruins, and , best of all, The Raven's Inn, the lodging the girl has been sent to, reeking with malevolent atmosphere. It is run by Mrs. Newless (really a reincarnation of the centuries-old witch, Elizabeth Selwyn), superbly underplayed with delicious menace by Patricia Jessel.
Evidence quickly mounts that the girl is in grave peril, but escape is impossible and we soon learn that the professor, Mrs. Newless, and the residents of the town are all witches from that long-ago time who need a girl for sacrifice to Lucifer every year at this time, Candlemass Eve.
Her brother and boyfriend come searching for her and they, as well as the old minister of the defunct church and his granddaughter, all get involved in the proceedings. In a truly exciting denouement, in an old cemetery,the badly wounded boyfriend manages to cast the reflection of a crucifix onto the witches, causing them to burst into flames.
The film, made in England, features a mixture of American and British actors, some of whom employ a very convincing American accent.
Little more than one hour in length, it is held in high esteem by fans of the supernatural and puts to shame many other movies of the type that resort to gore and blatant and expensive "tricks".
Horror Hotel needs none of that - what it suggests is usually more than sufficient and when those suggestions develop into actual horror, it is done tastefully, credibly, logically,and in a highly entertaining way. Nothing is overdone, everything is perfectly judged, and because of its successful mix of restraint and nightmarish action, it is absolutely first-rate from beginning to end.
See the British version, if you can, as it contains some extra footage. It gets my highest recommendation.
copyright 2019 CURT SOLASH
Curt Solash is a retired educator, an antique advertising collector and a lifelong cinemaphile from New York City who now lives in sunny Florida with his life partner.