Sunday, 20 July 2014

City of the Dead

In the secluded village of Whitewood a witch is burned at the stake in an opening similar to Bava’s Mask of Satan - but not before she summons satanic help that will ensure she returns from the dead and cause the village to be forever encompassed by the curse of witchcraft. 300 years after the burning a young college student who is studying the paranormal decides to take her research to a higher level by actually visiting a village that was known for its witchcraft in the darker ages - that of Whitewood. Upon arriving it seems to be a place that has stood still in time, where the denizens are given to acting abnormally and the church is out of bounds. It’s not long before she vanishes prompting concerned friends to retrace her steps to find out what’s happened to her. Something sinister is still going on in Whitewood it would seem…
Apart from the fact that a few elements haven’t dated too well (e.g. the ‘hip’ college teens), this is a tremendous supernatural horror from 1960 with mountains of beautiful atmosphere - the village itself is a joy to behold, with dilapidated buildings and omnipresent mist, populated by strange people who seem to be trapped in time somehow. Oh, and a demented priest. The B&W cinematography is absolutely gorgeous and I think this is one of the best genre films before the more violent and hard-hitting era that was to begin with the 70s.

There are low-grade releases of City of the Dead (AKA Horror Hotel) available both in the UK and US, but the US VCI DVD remains the definitive presentation after all these years, effectively disposing of all others - you owe it to yourself not to view this film on one of those effortless public domain-type releases. For their 2-disc UK release Redemption ported everything here except the commentaries, though downgraded the image with an NTSC to PAL transfer. VCI’s correctly framed picture looks very nice for standard definition, the sound is well represented, and there are essential extras: a commentary with Christopher Lee (who has a smaller role in the film), another commentary with director John Llewellyn Moxey, an indispensable and riveting 45 minute interview with Lee that is pure talk and no unnecessary interruptions with movie clips - he’s lived a truly enviable life. Further to that there are shorter interviews with Moxey himself and Venetia Stevenson, plus more. VCI's is a great disc of a classic film - get it!

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