Horror Hotel: Review
Horror Hotel, also known as The City of the Dead, was released in 1960. It is a black and white film and the special effects are limited, but the lack of colour and modern FX gizmos have not prevented the film from becoming a firm favorite of many horror fans. There is no blood, gore, or guts in he film, and it manages just fine without any of that as well. Whenever someting nasty is about to happen, the camera cuts away and leaves the rest to the viewer’s imagination: knife raises . . . clock strikes thirteen, the knife falls (scream) and . . . cut to another scene, where someone is cutting a cake.
So if you are a fan of all that is red and splatters—and like to take a good look at your hero’s guts, as they spill onto the floor—Horror Hotel may not be horrific enough for your tastes. If you prefer a more traditional style of horror though, that offers bags of atmosphere instead of bags of body-parts, then it is probably worth taking a look at this classic piece of cinema.
The first few moments of the film are set in 1692 and concentrate on the witch, Elizabeth Selwyn, who is about to get burned at the stake. It is quite a spooky scene when the witch-hunters come for her, appearing out of the fog, beating a drum and shouting “Burn witch!”
The next scene is set in a more modern-day setting—at least it was in the ’60s—and finds historian, Professor Driscoll (Christopher Lee) lecturing his class on the subject of witchcraft. Strangely enough, he is focusing on the burning of Elizabeth Selwyn. One of Driscoll’s students, Nan Barlow, shows a firm grasp of the subject and he is impressed. When Miss Barlow tells him that she would like to go to New England to write her senior paper Driscoll recommends the village of Whitewood to her, and further suggests that she stay at The Raven’s Inn, which is run by a woman called Mrs Newless. In fact, he explains, Whitewood is the very same village where Elizabeth Selwyn was burned.
When Nan arrives at Whitewood she finds a lot of fog and a town that seems unchanged by time. She compares it to a picture out of a history book. Whitewood is always foggy, it seems, and people have a habit of stopping in the street and just staring at strangers while the fog drifts around their feet. They are a strange lot and none of them; it seems at first, are stranger than the local minister, an old blind-man who tends a church that has no congregation. His only message to Miss Barlow is, “Leave before it is too late.” In fact the only normal person that Nan meets is the woman that runs the local book store who, it turns out, is the Minister’s granddaughter.
When Nan fails to turn up at a party two weeks later, standing up her boyfriend, Bill, he gets worried. He hasn’t heard from Nan since she left, and asks her brother, Dick, also at the party, to ring up Whitewood and find out if the missing Nan has left yet. Dick doesn’t have a contact number and rings the operator. He asks to be put through to The Raven’s Inn at Whitewood, only to be told that there is no such place.
Horror Hotel features a strong cast and the whole thing is presented quite convincingly. It has a runtime of about one and a quarter hours and lots and lots of fog.
Director: John Llewellyn Moxey
Dennis Lotis … Richard Barlow
Christopher Lee … Prof. Alan Driscoll
Patricia Jessel … Elizabeth Selwyn/Mrs. Newless
Betta St. John … Patricia Russell
Venetia Stevenson … Nan Barlow (as Venetia Stephenson)
Valentine Dyall … Jethrow Keane
Ann Beach … Lottie
Norman Macowan … Reverend Russell
Fred Johnson … The Elder
James Dyrenforth … Garage attendant (as Jimmy Dyrenforth)
Maxine Holden … Sue
William Abney … Policeman