The City of the Dead
John Llewellyn Moxey
Review by Thomas Scalzo
Posted on 27 October 2004
Source Platinum Disc Corporation DVD
features: October: 31 Days of Horror
Dedicated coed Nan Barlow heads out to Whitewood, Massachusetts to study the area’s rich history of witchcraft. As she delves into the dark underbelly of the old town, however, Nan learns that in Whitewood, the practice of human sacrifice, witchcraft, and the worship of the devil are not confined to the past.
Though Horror Hotel is certainly an effective and entertaining genre picture, it may not, at first glance, recommend itself as a horror classic, revolving as it does around a rather predictable story (witches try to placate dark lord by killing virgin; friends of virgin try to stop them), and a trio of flat, moronic, and forgettable protagonists.
However, the definitive gauge of a horror film’s quality rests in its ability to create effectively frightening antagonists. And in this respect Horror Hotel delivers. With the inimitable Christopher Lee as the malevolent professor, Patricia Jessel as the menacing innkeeper, and Valentine Dyall as the phantasmagoric hitchhiker, Horror Hotel boasts an effective triumvirate of terror, each member contributing to a palpable aura of evil that more than makes up for the film’s abovementioned shortcomings.
Reinforcing and augmenting these founts of terror is the marvelous atmosphere of Whitewood itself. The combined effect of musty wooden buildings, a dilapidated church, morose inhabitants shuffling across desolate dirt streets, and a thick, ubiquitous mist that blots out the sun and enfolds the town in an ominous silence, is a most gloomy, forbidding, and horrific world.
Thus, despite offering little in the way of unexpected plot twists, Horror Hotel is nevertheless an enjoyable horror film. The villains are fun to watch, the setting is wonderfully eerie, and the scenes of the satanic cult in action are competently handled: an unquestionably sufficient return for a rather modest seventy-six minute movie-watching investment.