The City of the Dead DVD Review
Written by Steve Pattee
DVD released by Salvation Films
Better warn you young fella, they don't like strangers in Whitewood. – Old Man
Directed by John Llewellyn Moxy
Written by George Baxt
1960, Region 0 (PAL), 84 minutes, Rated 18 (UK)
DVD released April 16th, 2007
Patricia Jessel as Mrs. Newless
Dennis Lotis as Richard Barlow
Christopher Lee as Alan Driscoll
Tom Naylor as Bill
Betta St. John as Patricia
Venetia Stevenson as Nan Barlow
In an effort to gather research for her paper on witchcraft, young Nan Barlow (Venetia Stevenson) decides to head to the town of Whitewood — a town whose history is thick with witchlore.
Her professor, Alan Driscoll (played by the always good, Christopher Lee), is very encouraging, giving her a suggestion where to stay and to even drop his name if she has any problems. Seems the professor grew up in Whitewood, and knows a lot about the little burgh.
Nan's brother, the appropriately named "Dick," thinks the whole "believing in witches" is just plain silly, and she should just stay home. But Nan is insistent on learning the history, so, against the will of her brother, she heads off to Whitewood, hungry with curiosity.
And that's when the movie really gets going. Because Whitewood is a population of weirdos, and Nan has happened to arrive just in time for the Sabbath. (And not a Christian Holy Sabbath, either).
Do you think Dick's first thought was a big "I told you so" when his sister turns up missing? I think it was. But it doesn't stop him from heading to Whitewood to kick a little townie ass in an effort to find Nan.
Christopher Lee is a rock star. Even if you don't recognize him at first.
When I saw Lee's name on the box cover of The City of the Dead, I knew that, even if I didn't enjoy the film, I would enjoy Lee's performance. The irony that ended up was not only did I enjoy the film (a lot), I thought Lee was coolest characters (and the best actor) in the flick. And, shame on me, but I didn't even recognize him when he first showed up on screen. It hit me after his scene was over.
I'm no Lee aficionado, by any means, and I'm used to seeing him in his later roles (Dracula A.D. 1972, The Wickerman, etc). So when it dawned on me that I just missed Lee, I felt a little sheepish. But that's a credit to Lee because, even not realizing who he was at first, he still stood out. Yet, that really shouldn't be a shocker.
The movie itself is a damn enjoyable one. It's a little Psycho-esque in its story (woman goes to strange hotel in desolate area, run by an even stranger proprietor, disappears and the hunt is on). But instead of one Norman Bates, there's an entire town — save one or two people — of certifiable nutjobs. And there are definite other Psycho-like scenerios, but to delve into those would spoil it for you.
But, here's the kicker: Dead was released only months after Psycho. So these could simply be coincidences, and if they are, there's one hell of an eerie coincidence in the film.
While there are some similarities with Psycho in story, at the end of the day they are completely different movies. And while Dead doesn't reach Psycho's level of sheer genius, it still has some damn fine "WTF!" moments going for it, as well as a great cast. Aside from the mentioned Lee, Dennis Lotis (as Dick), Venetia Stevenson (as Nan) and Patricia Jessel as the spooky hotel owner, Mrs. Newless are all fantastic. Especially Jessel. She is one sadistic woman.
And even though Dead's ending is unintentionally hilarious in its execution, it doesn't hurt the film in the slightest. But let's just say it involves a man with a dagger in his back running around, carrying a cross that is bigger than him, harnessing the power of lightening. Yeah, it has to be seen to be believed.
Video and Audio:
Dead's 16:9 anamorphic presentation is surprisingly crisp and clean. While there is some print damage, that is to be expected. I didn't notice any of the edge enhancement that was in the other Salvation films I reviewed (Night of the Bloody Apes and Justine). An overall very nice looking picture.
Sound wise, I was also surprised. There are more-than-a-few instances of the Rice Krispy gang (at one point I thought the fireplace noises were a little out of place, especially when there wasn't a fireplace in the scene), but, overall, voices are easily understood, and I never had to reach for the remote.
- Brand New 45 Minute Interview with Christopher Lee
- Interview with Venetia Stevenson (Derby's Rangers, "Alfred Hitchcock Presents")
- Interview and Commentary by John Moxey (TV's "Night Stalker", "Detective Father Brown", Circus of Fear)
- Original Theatrical Trailer
- Photo Gallery
- Star and Director Biographies
- Redemption Trailers
The interviews are fantastic, with Lee's being the best, and longest, of the bunch. While each interview touches on some of each participant's involvement with Dead, they are also very personal as the discussion is not just about the movie. In particular, Lee, who also discusses films made in the U.S. versus films made in the U.K.
One minor complaint I have, though, is the interviews were talking head-ish. Certainly at least Lee has enough film work behind him to throw up some pictures of him, or some old film footage, that he can talk over.
The photo gallery contains ten pictures of movie posters and seven stills from the film.
The offered trailers are for The City of the Dead, Requiem for a Vampire and Les Demoniques.
Note, the DVD I have for review notes a Christopher Lee commentary on the box, but, sadly, that is nowhere to be found.
This two-disc set of The City of the Dead is a solid purchase for both Christopher Lee fans and fans of horror alike. Hell, buy it just for the ending.