City of the Dead, The (1960)

The City of the Dead (1960), directed by John Llewellyn Moxey.

First review

Aka Horror Hotel. In the public domain and available online for free. My DVD was from Madacy, known for their bottom of the barrel quality since the VHS days.

Set in New England but made in England with a young Christopher Lee, already sinister. Very dark throughout. A tale of witchcraft survival from colonial times, still a problem in 1960. The ending is very much like something from Hammer Films. I would have used someone else for the brother, or at least redubbed his voice.

People note parallels with Psycho (1960), released the same year. The blonde protagonist does not last past the first half and her friends and family come looking for her. Hitchcock is on a higher level, although we have loads of atmosphere here on a more modest scale. The early segment before she hits the road is awfully stiff.

It actually more closely resembles a Lovecraft story, something like The Shadow Over Innsmouth: obscure New England village, locals tell you to stay away from it, residents pretend nothing is going on, but it actually hides an unspeakable secret from the past...

Second review

Additional thoughts and new thumbnails.

Aka Horror Hotel ("so-called by some genius" -- Christopher Lee).

This time I noticed a similarity to The Wicker Man (1973), also with Lee: the sacrificial victim is lured to the village and the locals toy with her before her shocking end.

As for parallels to Psycho (1960), the director pointed out that sending a woman on a perilous quest is a standard thriller setup. Both films were released the same year and I doubt any direct influence between them. This one was actually out first.

This is a definitely an "atmosphere" film; the dense fog, soundstage sets and underground passage give an ominous claustrophobic feeling. Lovely textured photography by Desmond Dickinson.

Ever since watching Cabin in the Woods (2012) I've been noticing the "Harbinger" character who both directs our victims and warns them against going. He's busy in this one: four scenes outside that busy unfrequented village.

Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg were producers. Although the name was not in use yet they considered this the first Amicus Production.

The action scenes use a weird jazz score that doesn't seem quite right to me.

The DVD has two commentary tracks:

Both men heap praise on Desmond Dickinson's cinematography.

The title is in the public domain. My thumbnails are from the VCI DVD, said to be a more complete cut than other disc versions. Blu-ray versions are available from VCI and Arrow region B. I haven't seen either but imagine they may look rather good given the dramatic cinematography and good detail on the DVD.