Review: “City of the Dead” / “Horror Hotel” (1960)

One thing I will say up front about reviewing anything that isn’t contemporary: it’s important to view it in the lens of the time it was produced. For example, you can’t knock a 1930s space alien movie for having cheesy special effects when they were likely doing the best they could for the time period.

Okay, enough of that. I’ve always been a fan of older movies regardless of genre. I’m apt to pick anything that looks interesting and watch it. Just ask Carrie, who came home today to find me watching “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians“. Yes, that’s a real film. I didn’t get to watch all of it, but I will eventually, and I’ll post a review. πŸ™‚

But, on to the review we go. I was just perusing one of the many free channels on my Roku, when I ran across “City of the Dead”. I was intrigued because it had Christopher Lee in it, one of my favorite actors of all time. Plus, you gotta love someone who puts out metal albums while in his mid-eighties. Seriously. Check them out! πŸ™‚

Now I’m really on to the review. I promise. πŸ™‚ The premise is simple: student Nan Barlow, played by Venetia Stevenson (did you know she was married to one of the Everly Brothers, Don, for eight years?), is encouraged by her instructor, Professor Alan Driscoll, played by Lee, to go to Whitewood, Massachusetts, to do research on a paper she was doing on witchcraft.

Whitewood, as Nan is soon to find out, was the site of an infamous burning at the stake (let’s not even get into burning as a means of execution in the colonies) of witch Elizabeth Selwyn in 1692. As she is being burned, she and a cohort place a curse upon the town. That always makes for a good plot, eh?

When she gets there, Nan discovers the town is very creepy, with ground perpetually layered in fog, and appears to be unchanged since the 17th century. Miss Nan soon disappears, and her brother, Dick, played by Dennis Lotis, and love interest, Bill, played by Tom Naylor, travel to Whitewood to find Nan. All manner of witchcraft, dirty tricks, and sneakiness ensues, leading to a fun battle between good and evil in the climax.

As we look at this film sixty years later, it has all the hallmarks, tropes, and even clichΓ©s you’d expect in horror flicks:

  • Creepy fog covering the ground of an old, cursed town. βœ…
  • Stranger appearing along the side of the road, who Nan cheerfully picks up, only to have him mysteriously disappear from the car later. βœ…
  • The old man giving directions to the creepy old town, warning everyone not to go there. βœ…
  • A priest the lone vigilante against all the evil in the town. βœ…
  • Supposedly helpful mentor to a main character who might potentially have a sinister past. βœ…
  • Present-day character who looks remarkably like someone 300 years ago and whose name now is amazingly pronounced as the reverse of that same person from 300 years ago (a la Dracula/Alucard). βœ…
  • Heck, at one point, the brother was looking for someone, and I told Carrie, “He’ll find him in the closet.” Sure enough, the brother opened the closet, and out fell the missing person. πŸ™‚ βœ…
  • So, so many others, but let’s not spoil the plot. πŸ™‚ βœ…

Now, as mentioned before, those checkmarks don’t make it a bad movie, considering it was made in 1960. Movies were made differently back then, and they were almost expected to be formulaic rather than avoiding tropes as is encouraged now.

Overall, I really enjoyed the movie. It was cool seeing Lee in a movie from sixty years ago, when he was still pretty early in his career, with his first film appearance coming in 1948. It moved along at a good, if predictable, pace, and the special effects were very good for the time, especially some baddies spontaneously bursting into flame. While I joke about the fog, its presence really helped set the tone of the movie, as did the ambient music. The actors definitely played their parts to perfection, being helpless, creepy, scary, mysterious, or hapless as needed.

If this movie was on, I’d definitely watch it again, if only to really look at all the details behind the scenes. It was well done, if somewhat campy. I may even buy it to add it to my collection.

Rating: Four Stars (Out of a Possible Five)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *