HORROR HOTEL

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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

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Distributed by British Lion

Cast:

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

I encourage all who read my reviews to comment.  Tell me what think.  Do you agree with what I have said or do you disagree?  And why?  Or if you just have a comment to make on horror, post it here.  It might even become the basis for one of my future posts.  And please, if there’s a horror movie you would like to see reviewed, tell me.  I will respond to all comments.

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

Categories: Uncategorized

4 thoughts on “HORROR HOTEL

  1. The film is one of my favorites! I first watched it as a child on television (approx ’74) on “Creature Features,” a Saturday evening horror movie program on WNEW Channel 5 in New York. The way Nan Barlow is teased about the trap door under her room only covering dirt, or that there isn’t any singing to be heard, by Mrs Newless, had me on edge because the viewer knows its a tease and a set-up… Later on Nan’s high pitched screaming after being captured by the witches down there still sends shivers up my spine. Also when her brother Richard Barlow eventually ends up in the same basement looking for her, he first encounters a large tarantula spider that causes him to use his flashlight as a smashing instrument and he breaks it losing the light and is in total darkness… He resorts to lighting a match and simultaneously places his bare hand on Lottie’s cold dead face… Jeeezzee that look on his face is intense as is his silent scream…. What makes this plot work so well is that Nan was interested in witchcraft and yet becomes one of its victims while on a mission to research the topic. Richard on the other hand was a scientist and a doubter and yet with Maitland’s help, they encounter destroy the entire covenant just in time…

    BTW I watched this film, just 2 nights ago. The characters in this film like Reverend Russell, Pat Russell and Jethro Keane deliver their roles with such intense feeling and total believability. Christopher Lee as Professor Driscoll is also very good in this film, but I think the main character Elizabeth Selwyn (aka Mrs Newless) makes the film what it is. She is ruthless and evil and totally gets under my skin, especially the sound of her laughter…

    So I do have a trivia question, more like a homework assignment that has yet to be answered with fact: What is the name of the song and who is the jazz musician that is playing in the Raven’s Inn hotel, when Nan is about to attend the dancing with the other guests? There is a short jazz riff that is playing with an incredible beat. I searched online but using the name Douglas Gamley from the Horror Hotel credits at the end of the film doesn’t lead me anywhere. Mr. Gamley may have organized the score which often means that this music was only put forth for a brief section of filming and not an actual song. I am not sure. I wish I could get this song for my library. Worse case scenario, I will show the clip to some jazz musicians and/or DJs and “remix” or “recreate” the tune in its entirety as I see (and hear) it.

    Also and very important: I do hope no one ever, EVER tries to “remake” this film. The residents of Whitewood with their gloomy stares, the rising fog, the musical score and the mood should never be trampled by some hollyweird johnny-come lately or even Q.T. etc… Just leave this film alone. It will stand forever as one of the best, of its kind!

    Finally: My favorite Christopher Lee film (of the horror genre) is the Torture Chamber of Doctor Sadism (1967). That film also has many different titles.

    1. Hello Izzy, thank you for your thoughtful and insightful comment — it is exactly what I was looking and hoping for. It is my hope to start a conversation on horror movies and I appreciate you taking the time and effort. And now as to your question: In my review, I stated that Douglas Gamley and Ken Jones wrote the score, but I omitted to say that Ken Jones, specifically wrote the jazz segment. As to the name of the song, I cannot say.

  2. Looking online, it appears as though “Horror Hotel” is considered to be a “public domain” … I love the poster art and I’m wondering if you have looked into any copyright issues with the poster, I am wondering if it too might be “public domain”. I recently saw a T-shirt made with the the large ghoul head on the bottom right, missing his left eyeball, and no copyright or other indication of licensing. I know this is off subject, but was wondering where you got the poster art and if you had any thoughts or experience with the matter.

    1. Hello David, first let me say, thank you for reading my review. I hope you enjoyed it. And permit me to apologize for not replying to your comment sooner. I’ve been away from my blog for awhile, life getting busy and all that, but now I’ve back and I’m planning a few additions to my blog, that I hope I can make happen, so I hope you stay tuned.

      Now to answer your question, which is no, I haven’t looked. I really just found the pictures online and put them in my review. I would assume that if the movie is in public domain, that the poster designed for its promotion would be as well. Being that that the artist was commissioned to create the poster for the movie, than all subsequent rights should go to the studio, and if the movie is in public domain, than the poster art should be as well. But that is just an assumption on my part.

      May I ask, why do you want to know — just curious or are you planning a T-shirt venture of your own?

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