Horror Hotel, released in The United States in 1963, but originally released under its original title, The City of The Dead, in 1960, in Britain where it was made, is a good little tale of witchcraft, Satan worship and ritualistic sacrifice.
The opening scene, the burning of Elizabeth Selwyn in 1692, was sufficiently creepy and atmospheric and it sets the stage for the whole movie. In fact, the atmospheric feel runs throughout the entire movie. The opening scene immediately segues into the scene where Professor Alan Driscoll, played by Christopher Lee, finishes recanting the events of the burning to his class. From there the synopsis of the plot goes like this: On the recommendation of her professor (Lee), a young female student, played by Venetia Stevenson, travels to the town of Whitewood, Massachusetts to do some research into witchcraft. She finds the town occupied by the reincarnation of an infamous witch, played by Patricia Jessell, who was burned at the stake in the 17th century. To sustain her immortality, virgins must be sacrificed to the witch every year — and the student, Nan Barlow (Stevenson), is one of the chosen victims. That synopsis was obtained from Wikipedia and it left out the detail that there were two virgin sacrifices a year – one on Candlemas Eve and the other on The Witches’ Sabbath.
Over all, this movie benefited from fine performances given by the likes of the late, great, Christopher Lee, Venetia Stevenson and Patricia Jessell. I will give a full cast list, along with the characters they played, at the end of my review.
Mood is one of the most important parts of a horror movie. Mood begins with a good musical score, and in my opinion, a bad score can be the death of mood, if not a contributing factor in the death of the entire movie as a whole. Fortunately, thanks to the talents of Douglas Gamley and Ken Jones, who did the music, and gave us one of the most bone chilling and blood curdling opening themes ever written, Horror Hotel achieves the desired mood of dark foreboding.
Set design is another factor in mood and in this movie, it was spot on. The town of Whitewood looks haunted and frozen in time. The fact that the film was shot in black and white definitely added to this effect. The film having been made in England in 1960 may mean that it was not a conscious choice, but if it was, it was indeed a wise one.
It is important to note that Horror Hotel couldn’t ever have happened without a fine story crafted by Milton Subotsky and the screenplay by George Baxt.
All that being said, this film is not without its flaws. The character of Nan’s boyfriend, Bill, was unnecessary. He added nothing to the film at all, except maybe a means to bring the movie to a climax – a climax that seemed a bit forced and not as creative as it should have been. After following Nan’s brother, Richard, up to Whitewood to look for the now missing Nan, he crashes his car, after seeing the image in his windshield of Elizabeth Selwyn being burned at the stake and laughing, and somehow manages to make it to town, half dead, in time to help Richard stop the second sacrifice. During this process, on top of everything else, Bill has a dagger thrown into his back, but still manages to stagger over to a giant wooden cross in the cemetery and with a Herculean effort carries the cross over to the Satanists, causing their destruction.
Furthermore, when this movie opened in the States, it was a disappointment at the box-office. The reason as to why is believed to be due to the fact that some of the dialogue was edited out when it premiered here – dialogue which helped to clarify the plot. Here are a few of those deleted passages, which came in the beginning of the movie:
- “I have made my pact with thee O Lucifer! Hear me, hear me! I will do thy bidding for all eternity. For all eternity shall I practice the ritual of Black Mass. For all eternity shall I sacrifice unto thee. I give thee my Soul, take me into thy service.”
- “O Lucifer, listen to thy servant, grant her this pact for all eternity and I with her, and if we fail thee but once, you may do with our Souls what you will.”
- “Make this city an example of thy vengeance. Curse it for all eternity! Let me be the instrument of thy curse. Hear me O Lucifer, hear me!”
Taking the aforementioned criticisms into account, I cannot give this movie a 5 monster rating, (here at BOTTOMLINE HORROR MOVIE REVIEWS, we don’t use the star system, we use the Frankenstein’s monster system), but I believe it deserves 4 monsters.
Horror Hotel Movie Statistics:
Running time: 76 minutes
Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey
Produced by Seymour S. Domer, Max Rosenberg (uncredited), Milton Subotsky and Donald Taylor
Production Company: Vulcan Pictures
Story by Milton Subotsky
Screenplay by George Baxt
Cinematography by Desmond Dickinson
Music by Douglas Gamley and Ken Jones
Edited by John Pomeroy
Distributed by British Lion
Christopher Lee as Professor Alan Driscoll
Patricia Jessell as Elizabeth Selwyn/Mrs. Newless
Venetia Stevenson as Nan Barlow
Dennis Lotis as Richard Barlow
Tom Naylor as Bill Maitland
Betta St. John as Patricia Russell
Valentine Dyall as Jethrow Keane
Ann Beach as Lottie
Norman Macowan as Reverend Russell
Fred Johnson as the Elder
James Dyrenforth as the garage attendant
Maxine Holden as Sue
William Abney as the policeman
To sum up, Horror Hotel is a well-acted, well-directed horror flick, with excellent sets and bone chilling music, but with a few flaws, which earns it a BOTTOMLINE HORROR MOVIE REVIEW rating of 4 out of 5 monsters. I recommend this movie.
Reviewed by Paul Pappas
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Question: What is your favorite Christopher Lee horror movie?
Coming soon, my review of the first season of SHOWTIME’s PENNY DREADFUL.
And next, my review of The Pit And The Pendulum, starring Vincent Price and directed by Roger Corman