The City of the Dead (film)

The City of the Dead (film)

Infobox Film
name = City of the Dead

image_size =
caption =
director = John Llewellyn Moxey
producer = Max Rosenberg Milton Subotsky Donald Taylor
writer = George Baxt Desmond Dickinson
narrator =
starring = Venetia Stevenson Christopher Lee
Dennis Lotis
Betta St. John
Valentine Dyall
music = Douglas Gamley Kenneth V. Jones
cinematography = Desmond Dickinson
editing = John Pomeroy
distributor = Trans-World Film
released = 1960
runtime = 76 min.
country = UK
language = English
budget =
preceded_by =
followed_by =
website =
amg_id = 1:23149
imdb_id = 0053719

"City of the Dead" (US title: "Horror Hotel") is a 1960 film directed by John Llewellyn Moxey and starring Christopher Lee and Valentine Dyall.


Production began on October 12, 1959 at Shepperton Studios with a budget of £45,000. Milton Subotsky was an uncredited producer of the film, leading somewho to consider this the first unofficial Amicus Productions film.Fact|date=April 2007 Officially, it was produced by Vulcan Productions.

Plot synopsis

The film opens on March 3, 1692 during the Salem Witch Trials, in the town of Whitewood, Massachusetts. An Elder (Fred Johnson) calls forth Elizabeth Selwyn (Patricia Jessel), who, accused of witchcraft, is a about to be burned at the stake. As Elizabeth is being dragged to the stake, she calls out to an onlooker named Jethrow Keane (Valentine Dyall). When asked by the Elder if he has consorted with the accused, Jethrow denies it.

The Elder orders Elizabeth to be burned. As the flames engulf her, Jethro utters a quiet prayer to Lucifer to help Elizabeth. A dark cloud then appears over the village and thunder is heard. Selwyn proclaims that she has made a pact with Lucifer.

The film then cuts to the present, where Professor Alan Driscoll (Christopher Lee) describes Selwyn's misadventure as part of a lecture on the history of witchcraft. As the lecture ends, one of the attendees, Bill Maitland (Tom Naylor), makes a wry comment about Driscoll to his girlfriend, Nan Barlow (Venetia Stevenson). Other attendees within earshot laugh at the comment, but Nan is irritated at Bill for not taking the lecture seriously.

Nan approaches Driscoll and tells him that she wants to go to New England to learn more about the subject of witchcraft. Driscoll suggests to going to Whitewood, where the events surrounding Elizabeth Selwyn actually happened, and suggests she stay at a hotel called the Raven's Inn.

Nan's brother Dick (Dennis Lotis) arrives to meet her. Hearing of Nan's plans, he expresses his skepticism of witchcraft to Driscoll. When Driscoll relays stories that Elizabeth Selwyn is still alive, Dick argues that nobody could survive being burned at the stake. Driscoll then relates that 3 years after the burning, a series of blood sacrifices began in Whitewood. He says that the daughters of the Elder who condemned her were found dead with the blood drained from their bodies, and that people testified that they had actually seen Elizabeth Selwyn.

Dick and Bill try to dissuade Nan from going, but she is adamant. On her way to Whitewood, a gas station attendant also tries to discourage her from going, but she persists.

On the road to Whitewood, Nan encounters and eerie fog, and picks up a hitchhiker (also played by Valentine Dyall), who eventually introduces himself as Jethro Keane. He sees that he too is going to Whitewood, and is going to stay at the Raven's Inn.

They arrive at the Raven's Inn, which adjoins a cemetery. Jethro explains that the cemetery has not been used for 200 years, and says there are witches buried there in a section of unconsecrated ground.

As Nan gets out of the car, she says he parting words to Jethro, then turns around to find that Jethro has vanished into thin air.

Nan goes into the hotel and encounters the servant Lottie (Ann Beach), but Lottie does not respond. Shortly afterward Mrs. Newless ( also played by Patricia Jessel), who runs the hotel, appears, and explains that Lottie is mute. Nan asks for a room, At first Newless says the hotel is full, but when Nan mentions Driscoll, Newless provides a room for her.

As Newless shows Nan to her room, Jethro appears, lurking behind a corner.

Alone in the room, Nan discovers a trap door in the floor, but there is no handle.

Meanwhile, Newless and Jethro, in front of a fire, cryptically express relief that the time for the "festivities" have finally come.

Nan takes a walk through the village, but she finds that other villagers eye her strangely.

She wanders to the entrance of a dilapidated church, but she is refused entrance by Reverend Russell (Norman Macowan). The Reverend explains that the town is evil and that no one worships at the church anymore, and he warns her to leave before it's too late.

She then walks to the parish house and there meets the Reverend's granddaughter Patricia (Betta St. John). Nan asks about the Reverend's erratic behavior and his ominous warning. Patricia explains that the loss of parishioners has made him bitter and suspicious. Nan asks Patricia if she has any books or pamphlets on witchcraft, and Patricia produces an antiquated book titled "Treatise on Devil Worship".

Later at the hotel, as Nan is poring over the Treatise, she hears chanting voices coming from the trap door. Nan goes out into the hallway to ask Newless about it, but Newless dismisses it, saying it's just water or pipes. When asked about the trap door, Newless insists that the gorund beneath is filled in.

Later that night, as hotel patrons slow dance downstairs, Lottie enters Nan's room and tries to write a message on Nan's notepad, but Newless interrupts before Lottie can write the message, admonishing Lottie not to bother the guests.

Newless comments on the Treatise, and Nan reads a passage from it recounting that on February 1, 1692, the eve of the Candlemas, witches gathered beneath the Raven's Inn to perform a Black Mass. They took an object of value from the person marked for sacrifice, leaving in its place a dead bird and a sprig of woodbine. The witches sacrificed her on the altar and drank her blood at the hour of 13.

From this point onward, history seems to repeat itself as Nan's subsequent misadventures seem to mirror those of the ill-fated sacrificial victim recounted in the Treatise, beginning with the realization that her locket is missing. Deciding to dress and go to the party downstairs, she leaves her room only to find that everyone is gone, and the music and dancing she heard just before she opened her door has suddenly turned to silence. Newless explains that everyone has gone to services for Candlemas Eve. She then returns to her room to find a dead bird in the place where she left her locket. On the wall, she sees a sprig of woodbine.

Nan then hears the chanting from the trapdoor again. Hearing something tap against the window, she looks to see an object hanging from the draw-string of the curtain.

Outside the window, she sees cloaked people chanting and marching in unison through the graveyard.

She realizes that the object hanging from the draw-string is a handle which can be used to open the trap door.

She opens the trap door and walks to the bottom.

At the bottom, she is seized by shadowy figures and taken to another chamber. A stone doors closes behind them.

In the other chamber, cloaked figures are gathered around a sacrificial altar. Nan is placed on the altar. One of the cloaked people is Newless. Newless lifts a sacrificial dagger, and says that she is Elizabeth Selwyn. Another cloaked figure standing behind her is Driscoll. Newless counts to 13, then brings down the knife on Nan.

Nan isn't shown being stabbed, but rather the film does a darkly comedic cut to a knife cutting a birthday cake at a party for Sue (Maxine Holden). Bill and Dick attend the party, and both express concern for Nan, as neither has heard from her for two weeks. Dick tries to call the Raven's Inn, but the operator tells him there is no such place. Dick gives Bill Nan's research materials, advising him to look for anything that might give a clue as to where Nan may have gone. Meanwhile, Dick goes to see Driscoll to see if he knows where Nan might be.

Driscoll says he hasn't heard from Nan, but insists there is nothing to worry about because he is from Whitewood and is familiar with the Raven's Inn and feels it is perfectly safe.

Just as Dick leaves, Patricia shows up at Driscoll's home. She says she is looking for Nan's address because she has something to return to her. Driscoll gives her the address to Nan's house.

Meanwhile, looking through one of Nan's books, Bill finds a picture of a blood sacrifice, and it worries him.

At Nan's home, Patricia shows Dick and Bill the locket, and Dick immediately recognizes it as Nan's. Patricia says that Lottie gave her the locket, but Lottie didn't want Mrs. Newless to know that she had it. Dick says he's going to Whitewood the following day to investigate and offers to give Patricia a ride, but Patricia says she needs to go back tonight.

On the way to Whitewood, Patricia encounters Jethro on the road, just as Nan did. She reluctantly agrees to give him a ride to Whitewood. During the ride, Jethro identies her as Reverend Russel's granddaughter. Patricia wonders how Jethro could know her, even though she's never seen him. Jethro explains that to see him is a "special privilege. It's reserved for a chosen few."

Upon their arrival in Whitewood, Jethro vanishes just as he did before.

In front of a fire later, Jethro and Newless cryptically remark that Patricia's being a living of descendant of those who Elizabeth cursed makes the situation even better.

Dick leaves for Whitewood, and Bill secretly follows. Driscoll, watching through his window, sees Bill following Dick.

On the road to Whitewood, Bill sees in his windshield an image of Elizabeth Selwyn burning at the stake. Frightened, he veers off the road and crashes. He escapes the wrecked vehicle, but is injured.

Dick arrives at the inn. He probes Mrs. Newless for information, but it is fruitless.

As Newless shows Dick to his room, Jethro is once again revealed lurking around a corner.

That night, Dick takes a walk, and finds that people are eyeing him strangely.

While he's gone, Lottie goes into Dick's room and tries to write him a note of warning, but she is discovered by Newless and Jethro, and they murder her.

Meanwhile, at the parish house, the Reverend explains to Dick that the people of the village are Devil worshippers, and have been for 200 years. He says that the witches' master took away his sight. He says that they made a pact with the Devil, doing his work in exchange for eternal life. To seal this bargain, they must sacrifice a girl on 2 nights of the year, namely Candlemas and the Witches' Sabbath, the latter being tonight.

Dick leaves to talk to Mrs. Newless. Shortly after he leaves, Patricia discovers a dead bird in a drawer. The Reverend tells her to check the front door, where she finds a spread of woodbine. The Reverend realizes that this means she is an intended victim of sacrifice.

Patricia calls the hotel looking for Dick, but her conversation is cut short as Dick hears a scream at the other end of the phone.

Dick goes to the parish house to discover that the electricity is dead, and Patricia is nowhere to be found. While frantically opening doors, he discovers the Reverend in a closet, barely conscious. The Reverend says that the witches have Patricia, and that Dick must destroy them using the shadow of a cross.

As he leave the parish house, Dick discovers Bill. Dick carries Bill back to his car.

Dick then sees, through the wrought iron fence of the cemetery, the cloaked Devil worshippers carrying Patricia into an above-ground tomb.

Dick runs to the tomb and tries to open the entrance to the tomb, but it won't budge.

He runs back to the Inn and tries to make a call, but the phone is out.

He then hears the chanting, and follows the sound to the trap door in his room.

He goes down the steps, and the stone door to the next part of the tunnel opens.

He proceeds through the door, and the door closes behind him.

In a dark recess, he sees Lottie's dead face, frozen in an expression of terror.

He then opens a door to the sacrificial chamber, where a cloaked Jethro holds Patricia down on the sacrificial altar. Newless, also cloaked, brandishes the sacrificial knife.

Driscoll then emerges from a recess. Dick tries to shoot him, but the bullets seem ineffective. When Driscoll gets close enough, Dick uses the gun to bluntly knock Driscoll to the ground. Dick runs to the table, grabs Patricia, and, fighting off Newless and Jethro, they make their escape through the stairs opposite where Dick came in.

They emerge from the above-ground tomb that Dick tried to enter before, only to find that they are surrounded by the cloaked devil worshippers. With outstretched hands, the walk forth in unison to seize Dick and Patricia.

Chanting and marching in unison, the devil worshippers take Patricia to a stone altar. Newless puts the sacrificial dagger to her throat. The cloaked people watch a clock, making it evident that they can't complete the sacrifice until the "13th hour".

Just outside the cemetery gates, Bill emerges from the back of the passenger car. He laboriously makes his way to the gate.

When Dick sees Bill approaching, he tells Bill to get a cross.

Driscoll turns to see Bill walking toward a cross-shaped headstone, and alerts Newless. Newless throws the sacrificial dagger at Bill's back to stop him from getting the cross. Driscoll hands newless another knife to complete the ritual, but reminds her she must not do it until the 13th hour.

Bill manages to get back to his feet however, and he pulls the cross from the ground. He walks toward the Devil worshippers, and as he approaches, they burst into flames one by one. Driscoll and Jethrow burn, but Newless runs away.

Dick runs back to the Inn to find Newless's dark form slumped in a chair. When Dick moves the chair, Newless's dead face is revealed, charred as if burned at the stake. The camera pans to a plaque on the wall which reads says "March 3rd 1692, On this site was burned for witchcraft Ellizabeth Selwyn".

Comparisons to Psycho

This film has been compared to "Psycho" due to some structural similarities. Both films begin by establishing an attractive young blonde woman as the viewpoint character, leading the audience to assume that she will be the protagonist through the rest of the story. In both films, the blonde travels to a remote location and checks into a hotel or motel run by an eccentric manager. In both cases, the audience's expectations are shattered before the midpoint of the story when the young blonde is abruptly stabbed to death.

In Other Media

The metal band Iron Maiden use scenes from this film in the video clip for "Bring Your Daughter... to the Slaughter". Also King Diamond uses clips in their "Sleepless Nights" video, while Rob Zombie used Christopher Lee's opening words to similarly preface one of his track from "Hellbilly Deluxe".


*cite book|author=Rigby, Jonathan,|title=English Gothic: A Century of Horror Cinema|publisher=Reynolds & Hearn Ltd|year=2000|id=ISBN 1-903111-01-3

External links

*imdb title|id=0053719|title=City of the Dead
* [ City of the Dead] at Rotten Tomatoes
*google video|5112877763365075587|City of the Dead
* [ City of the Dead] at the Internet Archive

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