the CITY OF
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Movies Eddie McMullen Jr. Review by
E.C.McMullen Jr.
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HORROR HOTEL aka The City Of The Dead - 1960
USA Release: Sept 12, 1962
Amicus Productions / Vulcan / Various distributors

"Superstition, fear, and jealousy"

Right off the bat, I gotta tell you; if you be into that there Wiccan stuff, you sure as hell ain't gonna like this movie. For one thing, it paints all witches as them whats in league with the DEVIL! For another thing . . . well, no... there is no other thing, that's pretty much it.

The flick starts off in ancient times, about 1680 or so, and some nervous jittery folk are about to burn themselves a witch! Then we see that the whole thing is a historical tale being told by kindly Professor Alan Driscoll (Christopher Lee: THE WICKER MAN, SLEEPY HOLLOW, THE LORD OF THE RINGS). He is teaching an extracurricular course in witchcraft and devil worship out of his house in Massachusetts.

One of Alan's students, a comely young thing named Nan Barlowe, is headstrong and independent. Back in the late fifties early sixties, such women were bound to get themselves into trouble (remember Janet Leigh in PSYCHO?). Her friendly professor appreciates her singular personality and helps her with her thesis on devil worship and witchcraft. He does this by giving her an address in the old witch burning town of Whitewood.

It's an address to a hotel see? A possibly Haunted hotel. With friendly teachers like this you don't need enemy teachers! So the young and lovely blonde (brunettes in this movie are inherently evil and in league with the DEVIL!) goes to Whitewood, checks into Raven's Inn and merry mishaps occur.

The City of the DeadHORROR HOTEL was made at Shepperton Studios, which in their time, produced such classics as THE WICKER MAN. Though the movie takes place in the U.S., it's fun to hear these British actors slip in and out of their accents. When watching old movies like this, it's easy to feel falsely jaded and make fun of it for being riddled with clichés. But the truth is, HORROR HOTEL created some of the tropes that were later done better as well as done to death. At its best, it contains many unique surprises as well as genuinely creepy scenes.

On the other hand, it's also hard not to draw comparisons between this movie and its contemporary, PSYCHO. Remove Norman and Mother and you pretty much have the same story of a young blonde woman who goes out to parts unknown, checks into a hotel, and meets her fate. Like PSYCHO, the rest of the movie concerns itself with those she left behind trying to unravel the mystery of her disappearance.

Both movies were in production at the same time, but the movie industry was well aware of what Alfred Hitchcock was up to long before he began production on his film. With 10 years of growing success behind him, nobody doubted that whatever his next movie would be, it would be a smash hit as well. Amicus made sure to release THE CITY OF THE DEAD on the same month and year as PSYCHO.

American censors were appalled by some of the dialog, however, and it took two years before its American release, then retitled HORROR HOTEL.

Unlike PSYCHO, HORROR HOTEL is riddled with gaffs. At one point, a character empties his gun shooting at a witch, who just stands there unafraid. Good Lord! They are bullet proof! In his frustration, the character then throws the gun at the witch and the witch ducks! "Hey! Watch where you throw that thing! Somebody could get hurt!" What the hell?

Though HORROR HOTEL was made on a very low budget, the production values were quite high and even with some of the cheapo video production houses like, for example, Diamond Video, the quality of both picture and sound is passably clear: as clear as regular VHS. The end of HORROR HOTEL is really what kills this flick, so mind boggling stupid is it, so ridiculously easy are the evil doers overcome, that you'll be asking yourself, "Why the hell didn't anyone ever do that before???"

Those of you who saw SIGNS will know what I mean.

Because, at turns, this film is creepily great, and the aforementioned mind-boggling stupid bit, I give HORROR HOTEL 3 Negative Shriek Girls for being so Bad It's Good!

Shriek GirlsShriek GirlsShriek Girls
This review copyright 2006 E.C.McMullen Jr.

The City of the Dead (1960) on IMDb
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