Monday, April 5, 2010

The City of the Dead (1960)

If you're gonna watch one classic, British horror this year, just watch The City of the Dead. I almost feel ashamed for missing this movie for so many years. I had in my DVD-collection for how long, but this morning - when waiting for Jocke and a day of Gamera - I scanned my shelves and found this one. The title on my version is Horror Hotel, which I understand is a slightly shorter version, but it's still one of the most impressive horror movies I've seen in a while.

The lovely Venetia Stevenson plays Nan Barlow, a young student that wants to write her thesis on witchcraft. On a lecture with Professor Alan Driscoll (Christopher Lee) she hears about the village of Whitewood, where once a famous witch was burned in 1692. But of course the village is far from normal, and when she arrives to the little hotel, Raven's Inn, the guests and the hotel owner (Patricia Jessel) start to act more and more strange...

... and I don't want to write anything more about the story.

The City of the Dead is such an impressive work of art, of horror, that I really don't know what to write. I mean, first of all we have the atmosphere, which is so thick that you can cut it with a chainsaw. The fog machine is working all the time, and the claustrophobic sets works very well - it would never have been so powerful images if this movie had a higher budget. The actors are quite few, except for when the villagers comes out at night, but they are still just shadows, parts of the scenery, and should be that way to make everything tense. It actually has a few shocks, and twists, and it's a very dark fable of witchcraft being told. The script is tight and there's NO unnecessary lines spoken at all. Everything said has a reason, and when you moan at some of the characters from the beginning - for example Nan's boyfriend, you'll soon realize that he and the others are way more layered than you can imagine.

Stuff never turns to the direction you'll guess, and the shocking and surprising twist in the middle is very similar to another one in a very famous horror movie from the same time, but still works perfect. It's the same idea, but I'm not sure either of the movies copied each other. The idea is just to smart and clever to be "stolen" from one producer to another. Another brilliant idea is the casting of Patricia Jessel as the hotel owner. She's disturbing, scary, cold and bitchy - and at the same time dangerous to the max. At least as good as Christopher Lee here, where he makes one of he best roles I've seen him in, even if it's quite small.

Yes, The City of the Dead is a masterpiece and truly one of the best horror movies of the sixties. See it and I'm sure you will agree.

1 comment:

dfordoom said...

It's also been released on DVD under the title Horror Hotel. Either way it's classic Brit horror, and I agree totally with your review.