City of the Dead (1968)
By: CJ on October 27, 2006  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
VCI Entertainment (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 1.0. 78 minutes
The Movie
Director: John Llewellyn Moxey Starring: Patricia Jessel, Dennis Lotis, Christopher Lee, Tom Naylor, Betta St. John
Screenplay: George Baxt Music: Douglas Gamley, Kenneth V. Jones
Tagline: 300 years old! Human blood keeps them alive forever!
Country: UK
AKA: Horror Hotel
City of the Dead opens dramatically with a grisly scene of a witch being burnt whilst she and her once-Puritan lover (the wonderful Valentine Dyall) make their pact of vengeance with Satan. The witch, Elizabeth Selwyn (Patricia Jessel) curses the city of Whitewood and her lover agrees and enjoins himself with her curse and with her pact.

Fast forward to the 20th Century and we are with Nan Barlow (Venetia Stevenson), who is studying witchcraft under the tutorial eye of Professor Alan Driscoll (Christopher Lee). Having taken a deep interest in the subject she decides to do some extra-curricular research of her own. Having approached Driscoll she asks where she can go to do further research into the history of witchcraft. He points her in the direction of Whitewood, recommending that she stay at the Raven's Inn, which is run by a certain Mrs. Newlis. At the expense of the scoffs of her fiancé and her brother she sets off to do some research in Whitewood.

This seems like a good cue for lots of fog and eerie lighting and we are with Nan as she drives along a country lane towards Whitewood. At a crossroads near the village there is a stranger who asks for a lift to Whitewood. Nan agrees and the stranger gets in. He is, in fact, the Puritan lover of the witch Elizabeth Selwyn and the viewer is alerted to the fact that things are amiss here!

Upon arriving at Whitewood she turns to bid her passenger farewell only to discover that he has vanished into thin air. Feeling somewhat alarmed she heads straight to the Raven's Inn where she is greeted by Mrs. Newlis – who is, in fact, the witch reincarnate. Nan embarks upon her research with gusto and starts to learn more than she bargained for. It's not long before things go horribly wrong and she is abducted and ritually killed by the devil worshippers in homage to their unholy god.

Obviously alarmed at the disappearance of his sister, Richard Barlow (Dennis Lotis) sets off to Whitewood to uncover the truth and hopefully find her. But what will he find – and will he live to tell the tale?

Director John Moxey directs with visual flair, with top-notch performances from the cast. The fog enshrouded imagery with an unsettling soundtrack combine to create a genuinely creepy atmosphere. For fans of classic horror there is much to enjoy here, from witch-invoked curses, black magic, and shadowy cloaked figures through to the haunting finale in the graveyard. This is everything a supernatural chiller should be. Moxey drives the film along at a brisk pace and manages to hold the viewer's attention right through to the closing credits.

This is an old film that relies heavily on its atmosphere of menace and eeriness rather than on visceral shocks, so don't expect buckets of gore and lashings of violence. This is old school filmmaking, where less is more. And it works a treat.

Please also note that this is the full version, which is longer than previous DVD incarnations released as Horror Hotel. And also be warned that the disc is coded Region 1 and is NOT Region 0 as the box incorrectly states.
VCI have done an incredible job of presenting this horror classic on DVD. The image quality is astounding. There are virtually none, if any, flaws on the print and it looks fresh and vibrant. The contrast is excellent and the level of image detail is excellent - this will never look better than it does here, until HD, that is. Full marks to VCI for this transfer.
Although mono, the soundtrack is still very good and perfectly manages to recreate the atmosphere that is required. It is crisp and clear with lots of depth and captures the atmospherics perfectly. The dialogue is perfectly audible and there were no noticeable drops in sound.
Extra Features
To say that this disc is definitive would still be a gross understatement. With no less than two commentary tracks, interviews, a photo gallery and more, this disc is the perfect purchase for aficionados of this film. There is little chance of walking away from this disc not knowing everything there is to know about this film. VCI have done a top class job in securing these extras.
The Verdict
VCI have done this film full justice and deserve to be commended for all the hard work they have put into this disc. This is a film that has been crying out for Special Edition treatment – and here it is. I cannot recommend this highly enough.
Movie Score
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