City of the Dead (1960)
It seems as if this film has always been plagued a bit by its title. Its original British title, which it now goes by everywhere, City of the Dead, sounds like many a zombie film through the ages rather than a tale about witches and witchcraft. Its original US title did not really serve a use, however, as Horror Hotel makes the film feel more schlocky and bloody than it is. What City of the Dead is is a story told in wholly Gothic, aggressively fog-laden style and quite effectively done.
On occasion this film is as transparent but highly enjoyable nonetheless. It features a narrative told with a truncated running time allows it an almost El Mariachi-like replicative structure. It kicks off with a great teaser that leads to an awesome introduction for the late great Christopher Lee.
Christopher Lee in this film is given quite the interesting role to work with. It starts with an impassioned, excellently delivered monologue and builds in intrigue from there. While it’s not the largest of his roles it does much to buoy this film throughout. His presence grows to make an impression that belies the amount of screen time he’s allotted.
With almost any work in the horror genre the score is a crucial piece of the puzzle, and this film, so dead set on creating atmosphere and so simple in its plotting clearly needs to succeed in this facet and does so to tremendous effect.
As much as this film relishes the artifices of more classical horror techniques its rooting itself in historical precedent and wanting to carve a fictional enclave amidst historical happenings is highly commendable indeed. One might watch this film and consider it to be dated. However, with older films that is a conversation that is mostly moot to me. All films are created for the times in which they exist, even ones borrowing older techniques. Timelessness is an alchemistic accident that cannot be manufactured.
This film works for what it wants to accomplish: a chilling, moody, Gothic witch tale and is well worth seeking out for the program alone but it even more worth it for fans and neophytes alike for the myriad bonus features the Blu-ray release includes such as:
Horror Hotel, the American Version of City of the Dead
Alternate cuts, even when they are shown to be inferior are always useful for learning.
Not one, not two, but three feature-length commentaries:
- Bruce Hallenbeck
- Actor Christopher Lee
- Director John Moxey
Three interviews, which are lengthy:
- Christopher Lee
- Actor Venetia Stevenson
- John Moxey
- Theatrical Trailer
- Photo Gallery
- Liner Notes by Mike Kenny, Film Reviewer
- English Subtitles
City of the Dead can be purchased directly from VCI or other online retailers such as Amazon.