The City of the Dead  (1961)

Octoblur 2015 - #04: The City of the Dead (1961)

 
By dorrk, October 5th 2015
Octoblur: If the quality doesn't scare you the quantity will.

Perhaps more than any other "monster" genre, I'm a sucker for old, gothic witchcraft movies from before the time when every writer felt compelled to make their movie a statement on the tragic injustices of the Salem witch trials. During last year's Octoblur I enjoyed both the terrific Witchcraft (1964) and Blood on Satan's Claw (1971), and now the 1961 City of the Dead (aka Horror Hotel) gets added to the string of modest successes at scratching my creepy classic witch itch.

Even though Christopher Lee's name is above the title, his role is minimal: Lee plays a college professor who sends an eager young student, Nan (Venetia Stevenson), to pursue her research on witches by travelling to a remote, forsaken Massachusetts village still affected by the burning of a witch 270 years ago. Nan gets closer to the subject than she may have wanted, and her brother (Dennis Lotis) and boyfriend (Tom Naylor) come looking for her.

From the powerful opening scene, as witch Elizabeth Selwyn (Patricia Jessel) invokes a Satanic curse while an enraged mob torches her and her acolytes (including Valentine Dyall) plead for devilish respite, it's clear that director John Llewellyn Moxey and cinematographer Desmond Dickinson are taking The City of the Dead seriously, with arresting imagery, full-throttle performances and no shying away from the darkness of their subject matter. In fact, for many years, two minutes of Selwyn's fiery cry to Lucifer was edited from releases out of fear of offending religious audiences.

While The City of the Dead is similar in its brooding tone to Mario Bava's great 1960 witch drama Mask of the Demon/Black Sunday, the movie to which it really owes a debt is Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. There are at least three instances of fairly direct homage to the movie that was very much the pinnacle of contemporary horror at the time. The City of the Dead stands well enough on its own, despite those clear echoes, even though the pacing of its visually striking finale is a bit sluggish.

Also features Betta St. John, Ann Beach, and Norman Macowan in memorable roles, and there's some neat, though sometimes incongruous, jazz music by Ken Jones.

The City of the Dead Stills Gallery

There may be spoilers in these stills. Don't look if you don't want spoilers.

Great lesser-known horror movies

Fun, weird & dark corners worth exploring.
A Chinese Ghost Story (1987)

A Chinese Ghost Story (1987)

Demon Seed (1977)

Demon Seed (1977)

The Exorcism Of Emily Rose (2005)

The Exorcism Of Emily Rose (2005)

Friday The 13th Part 2 (1981)

Friday The 13th Part 2 (1981)

The Funhouse (1981)

The Funhouse (1981)

The Guest (2014)

The Guest (2014)

The House Of The Devil (2009)

The House Of The Devil (2009)

Housebound (2014)

Housebound (2014)

The Johnsons (1992)

The Johnsons (1992)

Kill List (2011)

Kill List (2011)

Little Otik (2001)

Little Otik (2001)

Motel Hell (1980)

Motel Hell (1980)

Orphan (2009)

Orphan (2009)

Seed Of Chucky (2004)

Seed Of Chucky (2004)

Silent Night Deadly Night (1984)

Silent Night Deadly Night (1984)

Spider Baby... (1968)

Spider Baby... (1968)

Starry Eyes (2014)

Starry Eyes (2014)

The Stepfather (1987)

The Stepfather (1987)

Suicide Club (2001)

Suicide Club (2001)

A Tale Of Two Sisters (2003)

A Tale Of Two Sisters (2003)

Dorrk's Top 20 horror movies

The boring list of horror essentials. If you haven't seen these yet, what are you doing?
The Exorcist (1973)

The Exorcist (1973)

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

The Shining (1980)

The Shining (1980)

Jaws (1975)

Jaws (1975)

The Thing (1982)

The Thing (1982)

The Fly (1986)

The Fly (1986)

An American Werewolf In London (1981)

An American Werewolf In London (1981)

Psycho (1960)

Psycho (1960)

Poltergeist (1982)

Poltergeist (1982)

Alien (1979)

Alien (1979)

The Omen (1976)

The Omen (1976)

Rosemarys Baby (1968)

Rosemarys Baby (1968)

Halloween (1978)

Halloween (1978)

Nosferatu (1922)

Nosferatu (1922)

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (1986)

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (1986)

Frankenstein (1931)

Frankenstein (1931)

The Return Of The Living Dead (1985)

The Return Of The Living Dead (1985)

Suicide Club (2001)

Suicide Club (2001)

Repulsion (1965)

Repulsion (1965)

Bride Of Frankenstein (1935)

Bride Of Frankenstein (1935)

Trailer for the City of the Dead (1961)

Beware: Galleries may contain spoilers.
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A.K.A.

  • Horror Hotel

More Info:

Stay tuned here and on twitter @Popgap to see what I choose to inflict upon myself this Octoblur!

Links

Here are my Letterboxd lists for 2014 & 2013:
https://letterboxd.com/dorrk/list/octoblur-2014/
https://letterboxd.com/dorrk/list/octoblur-2013/

Tags

The Top 20 Movies of All-Time

#1: The Godfather Part II (1974)

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Dir: Francis Ford Coppola
#2: The Godfather (1972)

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Dir: Francis Ford Coppola
#3: West Side Story (1961)

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Dir: Jerome Robbins, Robert Wise
#4: Manhattan (1979)

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Dir: Woody Allen
#5: The Graduate (1967)

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Dir: Mike Nichols
#6: Tootsie (1982)

#6: Tootsie (1982)

Dir: Sydney Pollack
#7: Apocalypse Now (1979)

#7: Apocalypse Now (1979)

Dir: Francis Ford Coppola
#8: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

#8: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Dir: Irvin Kershner
#9: Star Wars (1977)

#9: Star Wars (1977)

Dir: George Lucas
#10: The Exorcist (1973)

#10: The Exorcist (1973)

Dir: William Friedkin
#11: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

#11: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

Dir: Peter Jackson
#12: Taxi Driver (1976)

#12: Taxi Driver (1976)

Dir: Martin Scorsese
#13: Annie Hall (1977)

#13: Annie Hall (1977)

Dir: Woody Allen
#14: Vertigo (1958)

#14: Vertigo (1958)

Dir: Alfred Hitchcock
#15: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

#15: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Dir: Steven Spielberg
#16: Boogie Nights (1997)

#16: Boogie Nights (1997)

Dir: Paul Thomas Anderson
#17: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

#17: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

Dir: Tobe Hooper
#18: It's a Wonderful Life (1944)

#18: It's a Wonderful Life (1944)

Dir: Frank Capra
#19: Singin' in the Rain (1952)

#19: Singin' in the Rain (1952)

Dir: Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly
#20: Zodiac (2007)

#20: Zodiac (2007)

Dir: David Fincher