Director: John Llewellyn Moxey
Writer: George Baxt, Milton Subotsky
Starring: Christopher Lee, Dennis Lotis, Patricia Jessel, Venetia Stevenson, Betta St. John, Valentine Dyall
Running Time: 78 & 76 mins
BBFC Certificate: 15
The City of the Dead was originally released in 1960; it’s still gripping today, thanks to a brand new restoration by Arrow Video. The films origin could cause confusion as it is situated in America but was actually produced in England with British actors undertaking American accents.
The opening scene in 1692 depicts the grisly burning of the witch; Elizabeth Selwyn (Patricia Jessel), Jethrow Keane (Valentine Dyall) is asked “Hast thou consorted with the witch Elizabeth Selwyn?” He remarkably gets off the hook just by saying “No”. As Elizabeth Selwyn crisps up nicely at the stake, Jethrow summons Lucifer to save her; the crowd erupt into a chant of "burn the witch" and celebrate by having a medieval BBQ.
Jumping forward three hundred years, student Nan Barlow (Venetia Stevenson) is swayed by Alan Driscoll (Christopher Lee) into travelling to Whitewood as part of her research into witchcraft. She arrives at Whitewood with streets overflowing in swirling creamy thick mist as ghoulish locals stand and stare disconcertingly at her. She discovers that the owner of the Raven’s Inn Mrs. Newless is the reincarnated witch Elizabeth Selwyn. Nan is marked as a sacrifice for the delectation of an evil hoard of witches, who make up the other hotel guests, staying at Horror Hotel for a twisted pilgrimage to honour Candlemas Eve.
When Nan goes missing Patricia Russel (Betta St. John) goes to see Nan’s brother Richard Barlow (Dennis Lotis) and her boyfriend Bill Maitland (Tom Naylor) and they set out to solve the mystery. They arrive in Whitewood and walk into the same strange world Nan encountered. Dripping with atmosphere, the local priest; Patricia’s grandfather Reverend Russell (Norman Macowan) backs into the thick black shadows of his church proclaiming disaster. The streets are again plagued with chilling staring wraiths, unperturbed Richard aims to find out what happened to Nan, what monstrosities will be unearthed on the Witch Sabbath at the 13th hour?
This special edition includes a brand new 4K restoration of the film from the original negative with high definition Blu-ray (1080p) and standard definition DVD presentations. A new 4K digital restoration by the Cohen Film Collection, the BFI with high definition Blu-ray (1080p) and standard definition DVD presentations of two versions of the film: The City of the Dead and the alternative US cut, Horror Hotel. This version contains uncompressed mono 1.0 PCM audio and optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing. Audio commentary by film critic Jonathan Rigby, author of English Gothic: Classic Horror Cinema 1897-2015 and Christopher Lee: The Authorised Screen History, recorded exclusively for this release. There’s an audio commentary by actor Christopher Lee and director John Llewellyn Moxey and interviews with Lee, Moxey and actor Venetia Stevenson with gallery and trailer. Included is a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys, the first pressing will contain an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Vic Pratt.
In this bumper deal you get to see both versions of the film; it’s interesting to see the differences between the American and British versions. A few lines have been removed for the American version, including this jolly dictum. “I have made my pact with thee O Lucifer, hear me. I will do thy bidding for all eternity”. My personal favourite line is “Burn the Witch”. Most importantly The Misfits wrote the song Horror Hotel about the film. https://youtu.be/NTdtVbS2r0M. Incidentally witch burning never happened in New England; they preferred hanging or pressing, while witch burning was a favoured pastime in merry old England.
Arrow Video presents The City of the Dead on dual format on 24th April. The disc I reviewed was tip top with fine picture and sound quality, and they include a mass of special features. I reviewed the discs alone, sadly I did not get a chance to review the illustrated collector’s booklet. This fine offering contains two discs of classic horror, with tons of specials and stunning artwork. It’s time to reincarnate your lack lustre collection with this classic offering, so make a pact with your disc player and celebrate the 13th hour in style.