Saturday, 11 December 2010
City of the Dead
AKA Horror Hotel
John Llewellyn Moxey
Betta St. John
The first time I caught this film was on terrestrial TV, under the name Horror Hotel. Remember when they used to throw these films on at night? So many good films were put on, it was actually worth staying up after The Word. Lets face it, you wouldn't be watching the Hitman and her, that was shit. Now the most you'll find is She on a Thursday afternoon. I used to love sitting up to watch Son of Godzilla or Kiss of the Vampire. Now all you get is some fucking pay to play game show hosted by someone who is trying (and failing) to be a TV presenter. Cunts.
Before I go any further I feel I must warn you this is a British film set in America, so all the cast have strange American accents, but you do forget about it almost instantly. Not like when Ewan Mcgregor does it and you spend the whole film wincing. It's probably because everyone's doing it in this and they're all equally as bad as each other. Onto the film.
The film starts during a witch hunt, the witch in question is Elizabeth Selwyn (Patricia Jessel), it's all very familiar at this point as this sort of thing has been seen in many films from this time. The main difference in this film is that the atmosphere gets you straight away. This is no half arsed attempt to burn a witch at the stake and it's pretty full on for a film of it's time.
On the stake her buddy Jethro (Valentine Dyall) asks lucifer to help her, and good ol' Satan bloody does it too. Cursing the village forever. They say it's a city but at no point during the film does it look anywhere near big enough to even be a town. The biggest thing in it is the bloody graveyard. Which is kinda handy it being a horror film and all. It's almost like they planned it to be used in a horror film when they built it.
Jump forward in time to modern day, well 1960 modern day anyway. Christopher Lee is teaching The Black Arts to some very uninterested students. "Burn witch, burn witch, burn, burn, burn" to which one of the students replies "dig that crazy beat". If you can get past that comment then the rest of the film is awesome. Seriously though I cringe so much every time I hear it, the guy is Maitland (Tom Naylor), Nan Barlows (Venetia Stevenson) boyfriend, though I have no iidea why she's go out with him cause he's clearly an asshole that pretty much just mocks everything she's interested in for the whole film.
Anyway Christopher Lee thinks it would be a great idea if Nan would go to the village (yeah i said village) of Whitewood, the one we just saw burning Elizabeth Selwyn. Oh that crafty Professor sending his student out by herself to a creepy ass old village that has a giant graveyard and a habit of being in league with the devil. You'd almost think he had some ulterior motive. Well he does but that's later in the film. I'm just warning you now so you know I have watched this film before. Let's face it, my writing does slightly resemble a drunken man sitting next to you on a bus and talking crap to you while you try to slowly move away, calculating how long it would be until the next bus if you got off now.
Nan's brother (Richard Barlow played by Dennis Lotus) comes in and completely mocks Christopher Lee also, this girl is surrounded by people who just don't care about her interests. Sign of the times maybe but everyone around her just seems to dismiss her. No wonder she likes Christopher Lee, at least talks to her like she's allowed an opinion. Even though he's secrety planning bad things to happen to her.
Another point I have to add before I go any further is that none of the people in this film look like teenages, they all seem to be in their late twenties. I know it was different back then, you didn't have little emo children crying about how much they love twilight, but still as you can see from the picture above, the kids look a little old. It's all I'm saying. This film was also produced by Milton Subotsky (uncredited though) who also produced The Uncanny and created Amicus films. I know I should have put this in earlier but I just found out whilst trying to find information on Tom Nayors age. I mean the guy looks like he's 30 and he's playing the equivalent to a high school jock.
So Nan heads to Whitewood, again I'm not gonna go through this film scene by scene. I just wanna wet your appetite so you rush out and buy it. Redemption released it in a 2 disc dvd set which has some nice extras. Just make sure you don't buy the Lucio Fulci film City of the Living Dead. Don't get me wrong it's a great film but you may get confused why Christopher Lee doesn't appear, why it's dubbed, and why it has zombies and not witches.
On the way she gets warned by a "gas station attendant" (cause it's all meant to be America and that) "not many god fearing folks go there nowadays", which should set alarm bells ringing. Yet she still picks up a creepy ass guy who appears out of the fog, who just so happens to be Jethro from the start of the film. He's looking pretty good for a guy that's been around for 300 years. And he bloody disappears from the car when she gets to Whitewood. RUN AWAY WOMAN.
The Church is run down, and the hotel is next to the graveyard. But let's face it everything is next to the graveyard the place is fucking tiny. City my ass. As I mentioned earlier, the reason this film works so well and is still a hugely enjoyable film today is the atmosphere it creates. Not like the video boardgame, "ROLL THE DICE", which seemed to be hosted by Senator Palpatine but the edge of your seat kind of atmosphere that grips you and takes you into the film. Like the Robert Wise classic The Haunting, or the original version of The Ring. Atmosphere is another thing that seems to be lacking in many modern day horror films, along with characters, storyline and general fear factor. The odd jump now and then doesn't count.
And who just so happens to be running the Inn Nan's staying in, it's only the bloody witch Elizabeth Selwyn. Although now she's called Mrs. Newless and isn't being burned at the stake. There's a mute girl trying to warn Nan but lets face it if she hasn't taken the hint to run the hell away by now she's never going to get it. Even a visit to the church with the mental Reverand guy warning her isn't enough. The reverand has a daughter by the way who's busy opening a book shop of all things, (Patricia Russell played by Betta St. John) she's gonna be in the film more later so I thought I'd better let you know about her. Don't wanna jump that one on you and catch you all unaware and junk.
Turns out Nan's made it to Whitewood just in time for Candlemass Eve so the place is packed out with crazy witches and all manner of creepy evil folk who all worship Satan. Too make matters worse they're all just standing in the street staring at her as she walks about town, sorry the village. Now even when Nan get's back to her room and hears creepy ass music coming from the cellar under her room she still doesn't run away. Mrs. Newless' explanation of "it's just running water" doesn't even make her run away. WHAT THE DEVIL???
Different times I guess. Personally if I'm staying at a hotel and hear creepy ass chanting then I'm out of there faster than a teenage boy who's just heard there's a porn mag in the woods.The discovery of a bird with a pin through it doesn't even make her leave, she just tries to find Mrs. Newless. Seriously though girl RUN AWAY. To make matters worse the creepy ass chanting is back on again. Bugger.
As you may have guessed it doesn't end well for Nan. Now the film takes on a psychoesque twist. Her brother now becomes the main character as he goes looking for her. It didn't copy psycho as far as I'm aware, they both came out in the same year. They just follow similar story concepts. I'm not going to go too much futher into the plot of the film so not to spoil it for anyone even though the film came out in 1960, some of you may not have seen it. Which by the way is your own problem for clearly not watching awesome films. But hey that's why you're reading this right? So I can tell you what films to watch. Fly my pretties, fly.
What I will say is that Nans brother goes out, falls for Patricia Russell the reverands daughter and then has to rescue her from all the crazy witches and general creepy folk. That's not spoiling it surely. I hope not. But it's one of those films that you watch for atmosphere anyway. When you watch Troy you don't get shocked by the ending. Though I did work with a guy who turned round and genuinely said he never saw it coming, "a big horse n that" SERIOUSLY. He also went on about how crap Achilles death was. ACHILES FOR FUCK SAKE. Do people even go to school these days, and what the fuck are they learning there?
But this is another horror gem from the 60's, the film was shot in black and white which just adds to the general atmosphere along with the music and outstanding performances. Go out and find it. You won't be disappointed.
You can watch it for free online here
City of the Dead