Review: The City of the Dead
Blu-ray & DVD: The City of the Dead (1960)
Student Nan Barlow (Venetia Stevenson) is researching a paper on witchcraft, when her studies lead her to spend some time in Whitewood, a small village in New England and the location where the witch Elizabeth Selwyn was burnt at the stake centuries earlier while proclaiming a curse upon the village and all its inhabitants. When Nan doesn’t return from her trip, it is left to her friends and acquaintances to find out what has happened. Can Professor Alan Driscoll (Christopher Lee) give them any further clues as to what may have happened? Also, why does Mrs Newless (Patricia Jessel), who runs The Ravens Inn where Nan was staying in Whitewood, seem so keen on obtaining another female guest?
The City of the Dead (also known under the cringeworthy title of Horror Hotel) is a solid atmospheric chiller with great performances across the entire cast. Christopher Lee was already an established actor with numerous credits to his name, and his ascension to horror greatness had already begun a few years earlier with his roles in Hammer movies. On reflection it is easy to see how his screen presence would dominate not just horror movies, but film in general when seeing him here. Although billed as one of the stars, his role encompasses far less screen time than most of the cast, yet whenever he is onscreen you can not help but be drawn to him like a moth to a flame, his deep rich voice conveying the script in a way which has you hanging on every word.
The rest of the cast are equally as watchable, with Patricia Jessel being a particular standout in a dual role which gives her the platform to be both completely evil, as well as portraying that inner evil in a more considered, yet still unnerving way. While Norman Macowan as the Reverend Russell plays the part of the ‘could be completely crazy, but maybe we should listen to him‘ character perfectly. Giving a performance just this side of being too outlandish that you’ll still buy into his character and why others in the movie may or may not believe him.
The black and white cinematography heightens the oppressive atmosphere on screen, and the fog shrouded village of Whitewood is ever more threatening with its dark shadows and rotting exteriors. An end sequence in a graveyard is exquisite in its visuals, while a superb score by Douglas Gamely perfectly accompanies the onscreen action, in which one particular sequence involving carrying a large crucifix is one where I guarantee it will stick in your head long after the movie has finished.
The City of the Dead is an occult classic that will have you thinking twice before going out in the dark…especially if it’s foggy!
The usual extensive set of special features are once again present on this release from Arrow Films, and it has to be said that Christopher Lee is an absolute mine of information on his commentary track, despite not having seen the movie in a very long time.
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS:
- New 4K digital restoration by the Cohen Film Collection and the BFI
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations of two versions of the film: The City of the Dead and the alternative US cut, Horror Hotel
- Uncompressed Mono 1.0 PCM Audio
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- Audio commentary by film critic Jonathan Rigby, author of English Gothic: Classic Horror Cinema 1897-2015 and Christopher Lee: An Authorised Screen History, recorded exclusively for this release
- Audio commentary by director John Llewellyn Moxey
- Audio commentary by actor Christopher Lee
- Archive interview with John Llewellyn Moxey
- Archive interview with Christopher Lee, conducted by critic Brad Stevens
- Archive interview with actor Venetia Stevenson
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Vic Pratt
The City of the Dead will be available to buy from 24th April 2017.
Review by Dave (host of 60 Minutes With) from a disc kindly supplied by Arrow Films.