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Christopher Lee in Horror Hotel, 1960

From the DVD case: A college student (Venetia Stevenson), with an interest in witchcraft, travels to a foggy, spooky town in Massachusetts and meets with the owner of the Raven’s Inn, Mrs. Newless (Patricia Jessel). Mrs. Newless is in fact a 268-year old witch, who sold her soul to the devil to regain her life after being burned at the stake. Christopher Lee plays Stevenson’s helpful history teacher who along with the town is controlled by the evil witch. When Stevenson’s brother and boyfriend arrive in town to find the missing woman, they discover evil and disgusting happenings going on. (1960, b&w)

Mark Says: Horror Hotel is a brilliant movie saddled with an unfortunate title. You may have heard this movie referred to as City of the Dead, which isn’t much better, but once you get past the campy title, you are in for a real treat.

This is a genuinely eerie film with an interesting plot and great black and white photography. I was surprised, after viewing the movie, that I had never heard of it before. This is certainly an underrated gem.

Christopher Lee (Horror of Dracula, Curse of Frankenstein) has a minor, but significant role. He is at his cool, sinister best as Alan Driscoll, a history professor teaching a course in witchcraft.

However, Christopher Lee does not steal the show; he is surrounded by an outstanding cast of actors. Notable is Patricia Jessel, playing the duel roles of Elizabeth Selwyn and Mrs. Newless, the witch and the witch incarnate, respectively. Valentine Dyall (The Haunting) is suitably creepy as Jethrow Keane, and Norman Macowan (X the Unknown) is unnerving as Reverend Russell.

Venetia Stevenson is the lovely, if slightly naive, Nan Barlow. She’s a likable young woman who really just needs to apply what she has learned. Her boyfriend, played by Tom Naylor, is the only actor that strikes me as a little stiff and not up to par.

Horror Hotel can boast some unusual twists, too, including a shift in protagonists, which is very artful for this time and genre.

I highly recommend this movie, though not everyone shares my enthusiasm (see “personal note,” below).

Horror Hotel is directed by John Llewellyn Moxey.

Scene to watch for: Miss Barlow is caught wearing some pretty unusual underwear for someone in town just to do research.

Line to listen for: “Let me warn you, young fella, they don’t like strangers in Whitewood.”

Fun fact: John Llewellyn Moxey, the director of this film, also directed one of my all-time favorite made-for-tv movies, The Night Stalker.

Personal Note: Of all the movies in my collection, my wife has three she hates so much that she refuses to even entertain the thought of watching them again. One of these movies is Horror Hotel. The other two are Carnival of Souls and Konga.

Mark’s Rating: ! ! ! ! ½ out of 5.

IMDB Link

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8 Comments

  1. I don’t remember seeing this film until I purchased the DVD, which also contained Carnival of Souls. Horror Hotel has since become one of my favorites of the genre.

    I like the black and white photography and the spooky atmosphere. The one thing that surprised me was the fact that the heroine gets killed off early in the picture. In a way, it kind of reminds me of what they did with the Janet Leigh character in Pycho.

  2. Paul: This was one of my earlier reviews. If I were to review it again today I would certainly give it more time. I really enjoy this movie. The shift in protagonists was definitely ahead of its time, and others have noted the similarity to Janet Leigh in Psycho.

    What struck me about this film was how little I expected and how much it delivered. I first viewed it on the same DVD release you mention (paired with Carnival of Souls). I didn’t even know Christopher Lee was in it. Immediately I noticed the superior cinematography. I was totally taken in! And then when beautiful Venetia Stevenson was sacrificed, I was absolutely aghast! I watched the movie over and over again (which probably accounts for my wife’s hatred of it).

    When the newer DVD release came out featuring both versions (Horror Hotel, and the longer, original version, City of the Dead) I immediately bought it. I definitely hail as one of the tops in the witchcraft genre.

  3. Mark: You’ve sparked my curiosity. Is it possible for you tell me what additional footage is in the “City of the Dead” version? Chances are, unless my local Blockbuster or Movie Gallery has it available, I probably won’t have an opportunity to see it.

  4. Paul: I see that I was mistaken in my earlier comment. The DVD release I’m speaking of wasn’t a “back to back” showcase of Horror Hotel and City of the Dead, it was only the widescreen, restored and uncut version of City of the Dead. (It was Curse of the Demon and Night of the Demon that were released back to back.)

    Anyway, City of the Dead boasts “more than two minutes of additional footage,” so it’s not anything of great significance. In fact, I would be hard-pressed to tell you exactly where the extra footage is located. It is a great copy, though, and it has some special features that may be of interest to hardcore genre fans. For example, it has commentaries by both Director John Moxey and Christopher Lee.

    A word on Lee’s commentary: I find it annoying when commentators come in unprepared. Christopher Lee had obviously not seen this movie in decades and almost any fan of the film could have done a better job. Lee did have some kind words to say about a few of his fellow actors, but I don’t think he remembered Venetia Stevenson at all. In fact, at one point, I think he says something to the affect of “she must be very old now, or even dead.” It just struck me as crass.

    The DVD is distributed by VCI Entertainment.

    Anyway, if you can get your hands on it, it’s worth a view. If not, you’re not missing out on anything too earth-shattering. Maybe I’ll watch it again tonight and if I notice anything else I’ll let you know.

  5. Thanks Mark, for taking the time to respond to my request.

    When it comes to the commentaries that accompany newer DVD releases, I have found that sometimes they are fun and interesting and other times the people doing the commenting aren’t even watching what is happening on the screen and are simply rambling on about things not even associated with the film. Obviously, older films like this one make it difficult or even impossible for some of the participants to remember details that film buffs would like to know. It’s too bad Mr. Lee didn’t do a little “homework” before arriving at the studio to record his commentary, but he is a busy man. Although I have no idea when he did the recording, it appears (according to IMDb) that he has 6 films being released this year and at least one for next. And he has done a lot of films since 1960.

    Once again, thanks for your time. As usual, I find you site extremely fun to visit.

  6. Paul: Yeah, I’m probably being a little too hard on Mr. Lee. It just seems to me that he certainly must have been paid for his time and that he could have at least watched the film through once before coming in to do the commentary. But there’s no denying he is an extremely busy man and getting up in age himself.

    My favorite movie commentator is Thomas Weaver. That guy does his homework! You probably already know who he is, but for those who don’t, he’s an author and big-time genre enthusiast. He’s interviewed many of the actors, producers, directors, etc. who made these films so fun.

    If you ever get to listen to Mr. Weaver’s commentary on the film It Came from Outer Space I recommend you do so. At first I felt he was annoying because he talked so fast and so much, but then I realized what a warehouse of knowledge he was. He obviously times his commentary with the movie, which must take a lot of practice. His books are great, too, and I use them as resources more times than I care to admit.

  7. this is a very creepy film. the camera work really adds to the atmosphere. john

  8. John: You are absolutely correct. The cinematography is essential to this film’s appeal.


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