The City of the Dead

Wicked Wednesday (yet another late one): Horror Hotel (1960)

So I missed…two Wednesdays. Oops?

I’ve been away visiting my family in the States for the last month and have since returned to London. Only now I’m stuck in a 10-day quarantine from hell. Every day has been remarkably like the last, which is my only excuse as to how I’ve forgotten that it was Wednesday. Twice.

But when I go home, my dad and I usually have time to watch older Universal horror movies or monster flicks by Roger Corman and the likes. This visit was a bit light on that, so I took it upon myself to squeeze in something with the legend Christopher Lee himself.

In 1692, the settlement of Whitewood burn the witch Elizabeth Selwyn. And if we’ve learned anything from the Fear Street movies, this is supposed to be the right way to rid yourself of witches. Only with her last living breath, Elizabeth announces the pact she’d made with the devil.

Three hundred years later, college student Nan develops an interest in Whitewood. With the encouragement of her professor, Alan Driscoll, she decides to travel to Whitewood on her own to do some research on primary resources. Her brother and boyfriend find it all a joke, insisting that she stay with them during her vacation, but the woman goes off to her doom alone.

Nan drives to the Raven Inn in Whitewood, an accommodation recommended to her by Driscoll, and learns that the inn was the site of Elizabeth’s burning.

While exploring Whitewood, Nan meets Pat – another young woman who lends her an old book about witchcraft. The two women hit it off immediately. You must in order to lend a rando your old ass books.

But that night – the night of Candlemass – while taking notes on the book, Nan is lured down into the tunnels below her room. She’s killed off by a cult in hoods.

The weeks go by, and both Nan’s fiancĂ© and brother, Dick, become increasingly worried about her absence. Pat goes to see the me and explains she’s also concerned about Nan’s disappearance. She did, after all, lend her that book! The group each go out to Whitewood on their own to search for Nan themselves.

That night, the night of the Witches’ Sabbath, Pat goes to see her grandfather, the local priest. He tells Pat that Elizabeth Selwyn is still alive as the owner of the Raven Inn. She needs two sacrifices a year in order to live forever. After learning the story, Pat is attacked and kidnapped by the cult.

But thanks to Dick’s help (as well as that brother who didn’t die in a car crash), the cult are all set on fire and seemingly all’s well that ends well! Minus the charred corpse in the chair, of course.

Horror Hotel (called The City of the Dead in the UK) is delightful. It’s well made. Well acted. It just doesn’t age as well when it comes to the content. Perhaps I’m spoiled with the modern-day assessment of wronged women burned as witches. But if that is, then let it be so!

I liked Nan as a character a lot. As she initially pulls up to the Raven Inn, she declares that she loves how picturesque the place is. Complete with its own cemetery! A girl after my own heart. It was a shame she didn’t make it to be the final girl. RIP Nan!

There are some wonderfully 1960s bits in this: the town that’s contained to a studio lot, the endlessly-rolling fog and the entirely inappropriate music. It’s, yes, cheesy at times because it is 60+ years old. But it also pack a wallop of dark atmosphere. And Christopher Lee is, as ever, brooding perfection.