small-time American producer Max Rosenberg, and the avid fantasy fan
and film-maker Milton Subotsky teamed up in the 1950s to produce some
rock and roll pictures, but inbetween they scriped a Frankenstein movie
that was eventually sold to Hammer to become their debut horror picture
Curse of Frankenstein (1957).
That film's success, for which the American duo found themselves
uncredited, inspired them to make their own horror picture in Britain
under the Vulcan Pictures name - its success would eventually lead them
to form Amicus films.
Barlow is studying at history an American University and takes an
interest in witchcraft; her teacher, Professor Alan Driscoll
(Christopher Lee) recommends she go to the small New England town of
Whitewood where actual witchburnings took place, to carry out some
research. Despite protests from her boyfriend and brother Nan heads off
to New England and arrives in the town, discovering its very strange
atmosphere and making a sole friend in the shape of Patricia Russell
(Betta St. John), who had recently moved to the town to look after her
grandfather. After hearing mysterious chanting coming from beneath her
room at the hotel, Nan decides to investiage, and discovers
that witchcraft is not quite extinct in this part of the world...
Co-scripted by writer George Baxt and the producer Milton Subotsky, City of the Living Dead
does not have the most original storyline, and the notion of remote and
villages still haunted by the events of their pasts, should be familiar
to any fans of classic horror literature. Fortunately the story is well
written enough that it retains interesting, and has some rather
surprising twists - the notion that the witches are still
alive, that should be quickly obvious to most viewers pretty quickly, is
confirmed half way through and not kept as a big "surprise" for the
ending. The film is noticably short, running to only 80
minutes, which means that there is no need for padding and the pacing
is good throughout - the build up and the climax is
very effective, although as happens quite often in the genre, it
does seem a little contrived.
important than the storyline however, is the amazing look of the film.
The sequences in the town of Whtiewood were all shot on soundstages, allowing
extensive use of smoke machines and controlled lighting, while completely over-the-top and unrealistic, it gives these
scenes an amazingly unreal and nightmarish quality that has rarely been
bettered by even the best horror directors (it is heavily reminiscent
of the ambience achieved by Mario Bava in his horror debut, Black Sunday).
While the black and white film stock was used here due to simple cost
considerations, it is hard to imagine that the film could have been
half as effective if shot in colour. Composer Douglas Gamley, who
would go on to compose many of the later Amicus films, certainly
realises the creepy nature of plain-chant and uses it very effectively
(over a decade before Jerry Goldsmith scored The Omen (1976)), while some light jazz from the era fills out the other scenes.
not top billed, Christopher Lee is certainly the biggest name in the
film - sporting a surprisingly good American accent, he gets one of his
first 'straight' roles in a horror film (having spent his first trio in
Hammer sporting heavy make-up) and gives a very strong performance.
Betta St. John might be recognised by fans, having appeared in the
similarly atmospheric British horror film Corridors of Blood (1958) as well as two Gordon Scott Tarzan films and biblical epic The Robe
(1953) - she plays the last role before her early retirement, and gives
a solid performance. The rest of the cast are solid, and look (or
listen) out for the beautifully toned British radio and film star
Valentine Dyall who plays Jethrow.
An superbly creepy horror film with a good storyline and acting, and some amazing direction, City of the Dead
proved to Rosenberg and Subotsky that there was money in horror films,
but despite all their efforts down a decade of production, they were
only once able to match the genuinely creepy and unsetting atmosphere
of this film (cf. And Now the Screaming Starts (1973)). It comes recommended to all horror fans, and highly recommended to fans of classic and British horror films.
Llewellyn Moxey - a little known British director who helmed a few
horror pictures, including the Dan Curtis television film The Night Stalker (1972) and Christopher Lee and Klaus Kinski in Circus of Fear (1966).
Any gore or violence?
Who is it for?
Highly recommended to all British and Classic horror fans.
Douglas Gamley provides some very impressive and creepy plain-chant, and a light jazz score.
Original Aspect Ratio - 1.66:1 widescreen. Anamorphically enhanced. Black and White. The film looks great, with almost no grain or print damage and a very clear picture.
English language original mono, sounds fine throughout.
The disc includes:
commentary with Christopher Lee and moderator Jay Slater, some
interesting stories, although they spend a lot of time just discussing
(and getting confused about) what is going on in the film, and there
are many questions left unasked.
Audio commentary with director John Llewellyn Moxey, some interesting discussion, but some gaps and silence as well.
with Christopher Lee, a general discussion about his career, although
curiously it doesn't mention this film or his work with Amicus, but is
very interesting and he certainly does not pull his punches discussing
British films and the press. (45 min)
Interviews with directors John
Llewellyn Moxey (25 minutes) and actress Venetia Stevenson (19
minutes), discussing both this film and their careers in general.
Photo and poster gallery, presented as a video file with soundtrack backing. Not manually scrollable.
Talent bios of the director and main cast, presented as video files.
Region 1 (USA, North America) - NTSC
variety of public domain releases in the USA, and a cheap release in
the UK, mostly extra free and with poor prints (mostly the altered
'Horror Hotel' cut of the film).
Comparison between the VCI R1 disc (left) and the UK GMVS disc (right).
The film is believed to be completely uncut as per the original British theatrical release. For
American distribution, the film was cut of two minutes (with the
intention of adding extra special effects shots in 3-D which never
happened) and entited Horror Hotel.
A very impressive and creepy horror film with some beautiful atmosphere. Highly recommended.
do a superb job with this public domain film, providing a strong
print and a solid mix of extras. The only DVD of this film worth
getting. Highly recommended.