With atmosphere practically dripping from every frame, Horror Hotel (AKA The City Of The Dead, apparently) is yet another little gem of a movie ripe for rediscovery by horror fans.
It all starts with a witch named Elizabeth Selwyn (Patricia Jessel) being burnt at the stake. This happened a long, long time ago and is now a macabre tale being told by Alan Driscoll (Christopher Lee) to a class full of his students. Not everyone takes the tale all that seriously, but young Nan Barlow (Venetia Stevenson) does. In fact, she wants to visit the site of the alleged witch activity, a small village named Whitewood, and rack up some extra credits for a paper that she's working on. Taking the advice of Driscoll, Nan goes to Whitewood and seeks a room at the hotel run by Mrs Newless . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ignorant of the fact that Mrs Newless looks a LOT like the witchy Elizabeth Selwyn. Things don't look good for Nan.
Don't come to this film looking for logic, because you won't find it. The screenplay by George Baxt, and direction by John Llewellyn Moxey, keep focus on one thing and one thing only. Atmosphere. I don't think I'd be going too far by saying that Horror Hotel is one of the most atmospheric, low-budget movies I can think of, with the exception of Carnival Of Souls.
When Nan Barlow first arrives in Whitewood it quickly becomes clear that the film is a languid nightmare, practically overflowing with dry ice in every "outdoor" sequence. The characters around her help to reinforce that feeling, with people stopping to turn and stare at the interloper, and Jessel being wonderfully evil in her role, even though she doesn't really DO much at all in the first half of the movie.
The cast may not be at the top of their game but, with Jessel and Lee underpinning the whole thing, it's not that bad. Again, this is due to the film being all about the atmosphere. Stevenson is good enough in her role, all wide-eyed naivete and vulnerability, while Dennis Lotis, Tom Naylor and Betta St. John are all decidedly average as the people heading after her, and setting out, unwittingly, to uncover the darkness at the heart of Whitewood. Norman Macowan is a lot of fun as the reverend speaking of doom and gloom.
Available in its entirety on YouTube, I encourage viewers to at least give this a watch. If you like it then please try to seek out a decent DVD to purchase. And, if you have any shopping tips, feel free to comment below and let us all know.