Director: John Llewellyn Moxey
The City of the Dead, AKA Horror Hotel, is a haunting little underrated gem which focuses on the storied myths of New England’s past to tell a new sordid tale filled with cults, conspiracies and witchcraft. Displayed in tension filled style and embraced by black & white cinematography that just oozes with ambience, this twisted story revels in poignant imagery that really sets the mood for the season. With an abundance of atmosphere and a solid cast, The City of the Dead primes the viewer with its unsettling subject matter and its dream-like sets and locations, which really pack a solid horror punch. If you’re looking for a classy horror entry that mirrors the quality that British powerhouse Hammer Films used to produce, then this little known witchcraft entry may be just up your alley.
The film begins in the year 1692 with a witch burning, as the villagers of Whitewood, a small
Venetia Stevenson plays the role of Nan Barlow, the innocent and curious youth who stumbles onto a scenario that she can neither fathom nor predict. Stevenson is a vision and even though she disappears almost halfway through the movie, her performance and initial set up of the creepy world of The City of the Dead is enough to instill in our minds the ambient wonder and dangerous nature of the film. Though I have to admit, her absence in the second half of the movie is quite jarring, leaving me wanting more of her subtle presence. Be that as it may, we are soon introduced to a new vixen. Taking the torch from Venetia Stevenson is Betta St. John, who takes on the role of Patricia Russell the new female lead of the movie. Though not as mesmerizing as Stevenson,
Rounding out the rest of the cast is Dennis Lotis as Richard Barlow, Tom Naylor as Bill Maitland, Patricia Jessel as both Elizabeth Selwyn and Mrs. Newless, and last but not least the legendary Christopher Lee as Alan Driscoll. Though Christopher Lee’s appearance in the film is reduced to an extended cameo, he still makes his fleeting moments shine as he brings enough feeling and credibility to his role to affect the entire production. Out of all the actors above, Patricia Jessel gets the most screen time as she plays the role of the evil witch Elizabeth Selwyn and the character of Mrs. Newless the mysterious innkeeper with a secret past. I liked the maniacal way in which she carried herself and her witchlike features allow her to seamlessly morph into the character without even a hint of burden cast onto the audience in trying to imagine her wicked ways. All in all, the cast of The City of the Dead is a rather solid one.
The atmosphere of the film is also a potent one, relying a great deal on its nightmarish quality and outstanding setting to cast fear into its audience. The town of
The film also takes a good bit of time to show us the interiors of the buildings from the quaint little bookshop to the rustic and shadow-filled inn. It’s the moments inside the inn that are especially eerie, as it is crammed with dark low lit rooms, secret passageways, and underground tunnels. The structure of the inn leads to some very memorable moments, like when Nan first discovers that the throw rug in her room covers a trap door that opens up to the sadistic cult’s underground chambers. Another visual quality of the film is in the antagonists of the story. Draped in dark hooded cloaks and armed with daggers, this coven of witches are as maleficent as they are stylishly creepy. These devilishly dressed cult followers and their iconic attire give way to an amazingly somber moment in the waning hours of this film, when we are treated to an entertaining showdown between the cult and the last remaining good guys of the film. This is all played out among the silhouetted landscape of a fog covered graveyard and it looks absolutely exquisite. There are some unbelievably beautifully shot scenes in this sequence and the epic conclusion will absolutely rock your socks off in its presentation and execution. This is pure Hammer Horror imagery here!
The City of the Dead is a sadly overlooked horror film that mixes the imagery of Krimi films with the classic presentation of the Hammer Horror greats. Basking in a world of fanciful and frightening sights, this horror entry really knows how to delivery on the visual front. The movie plays out like a cinematic tapestry of gothic infused delights, gifting each return to this eerily created Whitewood with a spine-tingling greeting. The imagery perfectly captures the witchcraft hysteria that ravaged the lands of
Saturated with class and knee deep in surreal setting, The City of the Dead is a UK production that gives its all in generating a genuinely creepy tale that features enough twists and turns, and unexpected character demises, to warrant it as one intriguing horror gem. With a more than competent cast and an endless supply of atmosphere on tap, this film is a lost treasure that I always find myself getting lost in. If you’re looking for a good witchcraft yarn and you are in need of a Halloween atmospheric boost, then give John Llewellyn Moxey’s The City of the Dead a try. The visuals alone pack quite a punch. This film is an…..
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