If horror movies are anything to go by, you had to be really careful about booking a place to stay back in 1960. This proto-Amicus spookfest, released in the same year as Psycho, features a hotel no less deadly than Bates Motel: the Raven’s Inn, in Whitewood, Massachusetts.
Built on the very spot where, some three hundred years ago, the townspeople of Whitewood burned suspected witch Elizabeth Selwyn (Patricia Jessel) at the stake, it’s now run by the forbidding Mrs Newless (also Patricia Jessel). And while her anagramming skills aren’t quite perfect, her spells are top notch. Twice a year, Selwyn/Newless gathers her coven together in Whitewood to perform the ritual sacrifices that keep them alive forever.
So when curious history student Nan Barlow (Venetia Stevenson) checks into the Inn on the night before Candlemas Eve, intending to do some original research for her 17th century witchcraft class, it’s pretty obvious things aren’t going to go well for her.
Despite the New England setting, the film was shot entirely at Shepperton Studios, and features an international cast whose American accents don’t all entirely convince. Somehow, though, its flaws only add to its appeal. Smothered in fog and drenched in atmosphere, The City Of The Dead is both creepy and charming – it’s the kind of gently spooky black and white horror that demands a rainy Sunday afternoon and a mug of hot chocolate.
This new rerelease is stuffed with extras, including a high-def copy of the US cut of the film (released as Horror Hotel, and two minutes shorter) plus several commentaries and interviews with the cast and crew. Much of that material comes from earlier releases, but even if you already own a copy of this film, it’s worth upgrading. Arrow’s 4k Blu-ray heightens every shadow and sharpens every carefully composed frame, making the whole film look even more eerily gorgeous than before.
It might not be a good idea to stay overnight at the Raven’s Inn, but this release means The City Of The Dead is well worth a visit…