Horror Hotel / City of the Dead (1960)

“Burn the witch!”

Horror Hotel Poster

Synopsis:
Influenced by her professor (Christopher Lee), a college student (Venetia Stevenson) travels to the New England town of Whitehead to research its history of witchcraft, against the wishes of her boyfriend (Tom Naylor) and brother (Dennis Lotis). Once there, she stays at an inn run by a woman (Patricia Jessel) who looks suspiciously like a witch burned at the stake centuries earlier; meanwhile, she is warned by both a mute maid (Ann Beach) and a blind local preacher (Norman Macowan) to get away, but she ignores this advice at her own peril.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
In his short review of this British horror film — a distinct precursor to Mario Bava’s Black Sunday (1960), released in Italy later that year — Peary writes that while it’s “no classic”, the film possesses “creepy atmosphere plus a few good shocks”. He points out that the “early death of [the] lead actress in [an] inn makes one think quickly of [the] same year’s Psycho,” and that it “contains many plot elements — as well as symbols — that would be used in [the] 1973 British film The Wicker Man.” In sum, Horror Hotel seems to be primarily remembered in comparison with other similarly themed or plotted films of the era. As Richard Scheib writes in his review for Moria, it was:

… the first film to patent the theme of reincarnated witches, Satanic covens and sinister New England towns where the inhabitants mutter portents and run before nightfall … [and it] … sets up much of what would later become the cliches of the genre – the reincarnated witch, the Satanists hiding behind the guise of respectable townspeople, the occult tomes that provide information about the situation… [all] images [that] would become the staple of the Italian Gothic movement…

So, is Horror Hotel worth watching on its own merits? Scriptwise, no: as DVD Savant writes, “we know we’re in one of those horror movies where certain things have to be taken for granted”; indeed, you’ll roll your eyes at the characters’ denseness. But atmospherically speaking, it’s a winner, and a visual treat all the way. Fans of the genre probably won’t be too disappointed.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Patricia Jessel as Elizabeth Selwyn/Mrs. Newless
    Horror Hotel Direction
  • Highly effective sets and cinematography
    Horror Hotel Cinematography1
    Horror Hotel Cinematography2

Must See?
No, but it’s certainly worth a one-time look.

Links:

One Response to “Horror Hotel / City of the Dead (1960)”

  1. First viewing. Not must-see.

    Low-budget, quickly forgettable witches tale which has the feel of a Twilight Zone episode. More silly than anything else, the film suffers most from some seriously bad acting, esp. by way of poor Ms. Stevenson (who is just terrible). Strangely, even Lee turns in something rather over-cooked here and appears somewhat indifferent.

    The only saving grace among the cast is Jessel – who has presence as a malevolent force and an effective maniacal laugh. (She would later be seen to good effect in ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum’.)

    Yes, there’s a bit of potent spookiness here and there but things are forced overall and the film builds to a ridiculous crescendo.

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