Horror Hotel (aka City of the Dead) (John Llewellyn Moxey, 1960)

posted in: Duane, Jocelyn, Joint Review, Review | 2

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A pretty college student travels to a forgotten New England village to research a paper on witchcraft.

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Duane: Nothing says “Halloween” quite like devil cults, ghost towns, and the abuse of a fog machine. John Moxey’s atmospheric tale of a young co-ed caught in a town full of witches is an excellent example of gothic horror done right. The visuals here are what really drive the film; from the fog shrouded fork in the road that leads to the cursed village of Whitewood, to the cobweb-strewn catacombs underneath that usher us to the satanic altar of doom, the mood is definitely well-established early on in the film and never lets up. It’s a shame that Moxey didn’t continue down this path instead opting for a career directing television series and made for TV movies, because he definitely had an eye for this kind of stuff. I’ve certainly done myself a disservice for avoiding this excellent piece of cinema for so long. COSDS - Horror Hotel WM 4

Jocelyn: I stumbled upon this film when I was a teenager & have been madly in love with it ever since. You’re right, it positively oozes atmosphere and because of that has a wonderful way of settling in & capturing your imagination. Plus, Elizabeth Selwyn (Patricia Jessel) bears an uncanny resemblance to my grandmother; perhaps that’s another reason I adore it so. It’s always baffled me why this isn’t a more popular film, to me it ranks up there with the stereotypically loved films from the era i.e. Black Sunday, Carnival of Souls, House on Haunted Hill, Village of the Damned or any of the Roger Corman/Poe/Price films that were so prevalent during that time. Between being produced by Max Rosenberg, written by Milton Subotsky, (the duo famous for forming Amicus Films) having the more-than-capable hands of Desmond Dickinson (Hamlet (1948), The Browning Version) covering cinematography and ookie-creepy-über-talented horror stalwart Christopher Lee anchoring an effective cast with his supporting role…this film absolutely *sizzles* it’s so fucking hot. COSDS - Horror Hotel WM 12

D: Not to mention Venetia Stevenson who was quite fetching as Nan, our innocent little college student in big bad Satantown. I couldn’t help but gasp when she stripped down into that fucking awesome lingerie/stockings getup when changing for the “party”. This being 1960 I definitely wasn’t expecting anything even approaching racy. In fact I really appreciated the direction the film took about halfway through with her character

Spoiler!!!
Despite there being certain twists to the film, for the most part it has no qualms in letting the viewer know exactly what’s going on and I really liked that. The film doesn’t suffer from any delusions of being overly clever or surprising; it’s just a creepy gothic melodrama that happens to involve a devil cult and witches. They just don’t make ‘em like this anymore. COSDS - Horror Hotel WM 19

J: Yea, because of that –

Spoiler!!!
there have been a lot of comparisons to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. There’s much debate over whether or not it was a coincidence considering they were released the same year. In the VCI DVD release which has several commentaries, Milton Subotsky claims that they “did it first”, although we all know how reliable any of that information can be. (Remember Sergio Martino denying any animal cruelty in Mountain of the Cannibal God even though you can clearly see that a monkey is being tossed at a pissed off python for our viewing (dis)pleasure?) All of that nonsense aside, I don’t really care who did it first;  there’s no denying how powerful both films are in their own right. And while there may be some similarities in plot structure, they couldn’t be more different in terms of subject matter. COSDS - Horror Hotel WM 29

Yes, Nan was a cute little thing; I have no idea what she saw in that meatball boyfriend. All he does is tug at her leg like a jealous child because she has interests that don’t align with his. What about that line in the malt shop? “It’s not even anything real! It’s just a bunch of superstitious people burning silly ol’ women!” What?! What?! What?! I would’ve smashed that tube-steak over the head & then dry fucked his asshole with the nearest foreign object. COSDS - Horror Hotel WM 27

D: “Silly ol’ women” indeed. And therein lies the obligatory misogyny nestled quaintly in the misty bosom of Horror Hotel. Her brother’s name may have been Dick, but the boyfriend was much more fitting for that moniker. Some scenes are almost saccharine, an element which I believe serves to lower the audience’s anticipation of evil, making the inevitable horror all the more effective. Take for example the cheerful, almost ironically comical jazz music when Nan (and later the librarian girl, Patricia) is driving to Whitewood – it almost creates the feeling that nothing bad could possibly happen despite the road being enveloped in darkness and fog. When the mysterious man at the fork of the road is introduced and that sinister element slinks back into the story, the mood of the film has an audible shift in tone as the score suddenly changes. This may seem rudimentary, but it’s not often used to such great effect as is displayed here. There are so many subtleties to this film that I look forward to exploring upon further viewings. COSDS - Horror Hotel WM 39

D/J: Horror Hotel is an extremely well-made film that truly deserves to be savored. From its creepy graveyards to the shrouded procession of the devil cult through the murky pathways in their midst, Horror Hotel is a moody slice of pure classic horror that’s essential viewing and perfect for the Halloween season.

“I have made my pact with thee O Lucifer! Hear me, hear me! I will do thy bidding for all eternity. For all eternity shall I practice the ritual of Black Mass. For all eternity shall I sacrifice unto thee. I give thee my soul, take me into thy service.”

Official COSDS Nunspank Rating: NS-5

 

 

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Jocelyn lives on 35 acres of woodland in an undisclosed Appalachian location. When not boozing it up or fighting the power she's tending her organic garden or collecting punk/soundtrack albums. Her best friends walk on 4 legs. She does not own a cell phone.

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2 Responses

  1. Excellent write-up ! I love this movie and it’s always one of my Halloween season viewing traditions. Even though its got nothing to do with any of his stories I always thought this had a great “Lovecraft” vibe running through it.

  2. Thanks, Dick! I couldn’t agree more & It’s been part of my seasonal viewing for many years now. An absolute classic that is deserving of much more recognition than it seems to get.

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