The City of the Dead Limited Edition Blu-ray Review
Written by ZigZag
Blu-ray released by VCI Entertainment
Directed by John Moxey
Written by George Baxt
1960, 78 minutes, Rated PG-13
Blu-ray released on March 27th, 2018
Christopher Lee as Alan Driscoll
Dennis Lotis as Richard Barlow
Patricia Jessel as Elizabeth Selwyn/ Mrs. Newless
Tom Naylor as Bill Maitland
Betta St. John as Patricia Russell
Venetia Stevenson as Nan Barlow
Ann Beach as Lottie
Valentine Dyall as Jethrow Keane
Norman Macowan as Reverend Russell
Nan Barlow is a college coed studying religion and the history of witchcraft. Her term paper on the dark arts is well underway, but needs a little something extra. Her teacher, Professor Driscoll, suggests she check out a small New England town notorious for burning witches in the seventeenth century. Over the objections of her brother Richard and boyfriend Bill, Nan makes the trek and checks into a small hotel hoping to discover local flavor on the topic. The town is creepy and the residents are peculiar, but she finds inspiration at a local rare bookstore. When Nan fails to return home, her brother follows to investigate her disappearance. Richard is determined to locate his sister, no matter how secretive the community, only to discover much more than he bargained for.
The City of the Dead is a classic gothic horror story rich with atmosphere. Foggy nights, creepy residents and a coven of witches are sure to rattle viewers’ sense of comfort as the dark tale unfolds into a frightful series of events. Prolific television director John Moxey stages things with a familiar set-up only to pull the rug out from under viewers with a plot twist straight out of a Hitchcock thriller. Working from a screenplay written by George Baxt, based on a story by Milton Subotsky, Moxey delivers one winning scenario after another as he ratchets up the tension in this moody film. The prologue featuring a witch condemned to burn at the stake is effectively disturbing and was in fact edited for the film’s American release. The finale is a bit over the top, and a tad bit goofy, but provides satisfying closure to the preceding events.
I am a sucker for anything featuring Christopher Lee (Scream and Scream Again) and I have always had a soft spot for this picture as an example of how effective he can be in a limited capacity. Lee appears as Professor Driscoll, a striking figure filled equally with authority and quiet menace. His small yet pivotal role provides the film one of its strongest performances and if there is a criticism here, it is that things would benefit from more Lee. Dennis Lotis (Sword of Sherwood Forest) assumes the part of reluctant hero as brother Richard, a man on a mission to track down his missing sister. Lotis does a fine job as the protagonist in a spooky story and has great chemistry with his co-stars, especially Betta St. John (Corridors of Blood) as the comely book dealer. Special mention should be made of Patricia Jessel (Beware of Children) in the dual role of condemned witch Elizabeth Selwyn and hotel manager Mrs. Newless. This intimidating woman owns every second of her screen time and is quite the adversary.
At some point The City of the Dead was retitled Horror Hotel and went into public domain. Countless video copies cropped up at gas stations and discount stores around the country before legitimate releases began appearing under the original title in 2007. Genre fans have kept this title from disappearing into complete oblivion for decades and now it is back to thrill and chill a whole new generation of viewers. Christopher Lee fans will definitely want to add this one to their collection if for no other reason than to see him playing a dubious professor rather than a vampire or other monster. I first caught this movie on late night cable as a kid and it creeped me out. Hopefully it will have a similar effect on you.
Video and Audio:
This movie suffered countless terrible releases that offered murky transfers full of scratches and other print damage. VCI’s earlier Blu-ray was a real improvement, but is marred by a waxy transfer that has now been corrected with this stunning new release. This edition presents the film in the original 1.78:1 aspect ratio with a freshly commissioned 2K remaster of the original film elements.
This is a dialogue-heavy film and the English LPCM 2.0 audio track delivers where it needs and does so without showing off. Limitations stem from the source materials as some sequences sound a bit tinny, but everything is clear and free from distortion.
Optional yellow English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
Well…the good news is VCI has corrected the video transfer, but the bad news is they’ve ditched the majority of the supplements found on their previous release.
We still get an excellent interview with Christopher Lee (45 minutes) that is well worth checking out and we are also treated to Lee’s audio commentary that is highly informative.
The only other extra is the original theatrical trailer.
Fans will need to hang onto their copies of the earlier Blu-ray that featured additional commentaries, interviews, a photo gallery and the shorter American version of the film under the title Horror Hotel.