Category Archives: VCI

Blu-Ray Review: The City Of The Dead (1960, AKA Horror Hotel).

City Of The Dead UK quad

Directed by John Moxey
Screenplay by George Baxt
Story by Milton Subotsky
Director Of Photography: Desmond Dickinson

Cast: Patricia Jessel (Mrs. Newless), Dennis Lotis (Richard Barlow), Christopher Lee (Alan Driscoll), Tom Naylor (Bill), Betta St. John (Patricia), Venetia Stevenson (Nan Barlow)


John Llewellyn Moxey’s The City Of The Dead (1960), under its American title Horror Hotel, was one of those movies I bumped into a lot on TV as a kid. If I came across it, I’d always watch it through to the end.

The sets, the lighting, the fog — there’s something about this movie that really gets under my skin.


It’s a really simple story: a college student (Venetia Stevenson) travels to Whitewood, Massachusetts, for some research on 17th-century witches (at the urging of her professor, Christopher Lee). That research ends up being a bit more primary than she had in mind, as she discovers that Elizabeth Selwyn (Patricia Jessel), who was burned at the stake in 1692, is running the Ravens Inn under the name Newless. Why do witches, vampires, etc. take on a new identity by simply reversing their last names?


The City Of The Dead is often compared to Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), with it assumed that Moxey ripped off Hitch. But while there are similarities — a pretty young woman heads out on her own, checks into a creepy hotel/motel and something bad happens midway through the picture — The City Of The Dead began production before Psycho. As Horror Hotel, however, it hit theaters in the States after Hitchcock’s film debuted.

By the way, this picture is an early effort from the folks who later became Amicus Productions and made horror films throughout the 70s.


It couldn’t be more obvious that Whitewood is a soundstage, not Massachusetts. Some see that as a sign of its limited budget, others as part of the stylized, atmospheric look. Whether it’s due to aesthetics or economics, to me it’s one of the picture’s greatest strengths. No other movie looks like this. Desmond Dickinson’s camerawork is terrific.

You can see all this plainly on the new Blu-Ray from VCI, which makes use of original material from the British Film Institute. There’s been some criticism of the framing (1.78 vs. the UK version’s 1.66; it probably ran 1.85 in the States), but the film’s never looked better on video. The contrast seems perfect, accommodating both the fog and, say, headlights in the same shot, without either being compromised. Audio is fine, doing justice to Douglas Gamley’s creepy score. And there are a slew of extras, from multiple commentaries to the trailer to the shorter US cut of the film (Horror Hotel).

No matter how shoddy it might look, I’d recommend The City Of The Dead. This Blu-ray makes it absolutely essential for fans of 60s horror.

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Filed under 1960, Amicus Productions, Christopher Lee, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, VCI

Blu-ray News #46: The City Of The Dead (AKA Horror Hotel) (1960).

Horror Hotel HS

Directed by John Moxey
Starring Christopher Lee, Dennis Lotis, Betta St. John, Patricia Jessel, Venetia Stevenson

John Moxey’s The City Of The Dead (1960) is an excellent British witchcraft movie. As a kid, it scared me plenty of times on the late show as Horror Hotel, the title of the shorter US version.

VCI has a great-looking DVD of the British cut, and they’ve announced a Blu-ray edition for release in March 2016. Can’t wait.

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Filed under 1960, Christopher Lee, DVD/Blu-ray News, VCI

Blu-ray News #27: The Giant Spider Invasion (1975).

Giant Spider Inv OS

Directed by Bill Rebane
Starring Steve Brodie, Barbara Hale, Leslie Parrish, Alan Hale, Robert Easton

By just about every way you determine how crummy a movie is — acting, writing, special effects, etc., The Giant Spider Invasion (1975) is as crummy as they come. In fact, it’s a common sight on those Worst Movie lists — and those Mystery Science Theater 3000 folks got ahold of it once. But, if you judge a movie simply according to how entertaining it is, just about every Important Film you’ve ever seen falls far short of this one. And over the years it’s developed enough of a following for VCI to grant it a two-disc Deluxe Collector’s Edition.

A throwback to the Big Bug movies of the 50s, The Giant Spider Invasion was made in Wisconsin on a shoestring. Its special effects ain’t so special, with a Volkswagen Beetle transformed into a giant spider. (The amount of retouching necessary in the still below hints at the film’s paltry production values.) Sure, it’s terrible. But it’s great fun.

Giant Spider Inv LC

The story goes that the original screenplay was a total disaster, and Alan Hale suggested that the producers call in Robert Easton, a noted dialogue coach/charactor actor/English professor. Easton gave the script a major overhaul and wrote himself a sizable part. Now, if you don’t remember Robert Easton, he’s great as Dusty Acres in The Loved One (1965) and Carter Mawson in a very funny episode of Father Knows Best, among other things. Hale and Easton are joined by Barhara Hale of Perry Mason, Leslie Parrish and Steve Brodie, whose CV includes everything from Out Of The Past (1947) to The Wild World Of Batwoman (1966).

VCI is promising to pull out all the stops on this one, with interviews, galleries, trailers and the old Super 8 version you could order out of the back of Famous Monsters magazine. The invasion begins in June on both DVD and Blu-ray.


Filed under 1975, DVD/Blu-ray News, VCI