Film Review: City of the Dead (1960)

Also known as: Horror Hotel (alternative title)
Release Date: September, 1960 (UK)
Directed by: John Llewellyn Moxey
Written by: George Baxt, Milton Subotsky
Music by: Douglas Gamey, Ken Jones (jazz tracks)
Cast: Christopher Lee, Venetia Stevenson, Betta St. John, Dennis Lotis, Valentine Dyall, Patricia Jessel

Vulcan Films, British Lion, 76 Minutes


“The basis of fairy tale is in reality. The basis of reality is fairy tales.” – Professor Alan Driscoll

I’ve known about this film for a very long time but I never saw it for some reason. It’s interesting as it came out when Christopher Lee was just hitting his stride as a horror film icon and it’s also not a film put out by Hammer, where Lee was plying his trade almost exclusively this early on.

While Lee is the top billed star of the film, he doesn’t feel like the main character and he’s not in the movie a whole lot. You get him in the beginning, a major scene in the middle and then he returns in the final sequence to reveal that he’s been pulling a lot of the strings.

The story is about a small village with a history of atrocities surrounding witchcraft. A young student goes there to investigate the village’s history for a school assignment. While there, she starts uncovering things that she probably should’ve left alone and she goes missing. Her sister then goes to the village to investigate and finds herself in the same situation.

In the end, we learn the dark secret of the town and get a really phenomenal finale that sees a dying hero, carrying a giant cross through a witch infested graveyard. That same cross summons a holy power as evil villagers are struck by a force that sets them on fire. It’s a really f’n cool scene and it comes off much better than one would anticipate for a very low budget horror flick filmed in 1959.

Beyond that, this film has incredible cinematography. The sets have real texture and the darkness almost becomes a character all on its own. The film is dreary, unsettling but kind of beautiful. There is always a brooding atmosphere and a real sense of danger lurking just offscreen.

The film builds suspense exceptionally well and even though it’s pretty obvious that Christopher Lee is going to reveal himself as a villain, his appearance in the end is still satisfying and cool.

I kind of love this movie. I didn’t expect to enjoy it nearly as much as I did but man, I’m glad that I finally made time for it.

Rating: 8/10

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