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(aka "Horror Hotel" or "La città dei morti")

 

directed by John Llewellyn Moxey
UK 1960

George Baxt scripted this extraordinarily good chiller from a story by Milton Subotsky, who also co-produced. A college student (Venetia Stevenson) with an interest in witchcraft goes to the Massachusetts town of Whitewood. It's a foggy, spooky town which gets even scarier when Stevenson discovers that the owner of the Raven's Inn, Mrs. Newlis (Patricia Jessel) is in fact a 268-year old witch. Jessel sold her soul to the Devil to regain her life after being burned at the stake. The whole town is her coven, including Stevenson's kindly history professor (Christopher Lee). Stevenson's boyfriend and brother arrive to look for her and discover human sacrifices and all sorts of evil goings-on. One of the few horror films of the period which still has the power to frighten, Horror Hotel is required viewing for genre fans.

***

This classic of British horror has been painstakingly restored by VCI (with the cooperation of the British Film Institute) and is now complete and uncut; including more than 2 minutes of additional footage, which had been cut from the U.S. version, titled HORROR HOTEL. This also marks the first time ever this uncut version has been seen on video with its original title. THE CITY OF THE DEAD is an extraordinarily good chiller scripted by George Baxt, which still has the power to frighten fans of the horror genre." A college student, Nan Barlow is researching the history of witchcraft. Taunted by her brother and fiancée, who have voiced their concern over her silly notions, Nan arms herself with resolve and drives into the small New England village of Whitewood. She is glad that at least she was able to count on the support of her professor. A bit anxious but consumed with curiosity, she will soon embark herself on the journey of her life!

***

Nan Barlow, a student of the occult, is encouraged by her history professor, Driscoll, to visit the decaying village of Whitewood, Massachusetts. Mrs. Newless, proprietress of the Ravens Inn, is in reality Elizabeth Selwyn, a witch who was burned at the stake in 1692 but restored to life through a pact with the Devil. When Nan discovers the witch and her coven, including Professor Driscoll, performing human sacrifices on Candlemas Eve, she is killed as a sacrifice. Nan's brother Richard and her boyfriend, Bill Maitland, become worried about her absence and drive to Whitewood, arriving as Patricia Russell, granddaughter of the blind minister of Whitewood, is to be sacrificed. Bill, although fatally wounded by the witches, manages to throw the shadow of a cross over them, destroying them all, as Richard escapes with Patricia.

Poster

Theatrical Premiere: September, 1960

 

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Comparison:

VCI - Region 0 - NTSC vs. VCI - Region FREE - Blu-ray vs. Arrow (4K) - Region 'B' - Blu-ray

1) VCI- Region 0 - NTSC - LEFT

2) VCI - Region FREE - Blu-ray - MIDDLE

3) Arrow - Region 'B' - Blu-ray RIGHT

 

Box Covers

  

 

  

Distribution

VCI

Region 0 - NTSC

VCI
Region FREE -
Blu-ray
Arrow
Region 'B' -
Blu-ray
Runtime 1:17:54 1:17:59.408 1:18:09.559 
Video

1.66:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 6.36 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

1.78:1 Dual-layered Blu-ray

Disc Size: 48,086,574,510 bytes

Feature: 13,824,055,296 bytes

Video Bitrate: 19.20 Mbps

Codec: VC-1 Video / 1080i

1.66:1 Disc Size: 48,983,386,186 bytes

Feature Size: 20,238,652,992 bytes

Total Bitrate: 29.92 Mbps

Dual-layered Blu-ray MPEG4 - AVC

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate

Bitrate VCI Blu-ray

Bitrate Arrow Blu-ray

Audio Dolby Digital 1.0 (English)

LPCM Audio English 1536 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 1536 kbps / 16-bit
Commentaries:

LPCM Audio English 1536 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 1536 kbps / 16-bit

LPCM Audio English 1152 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 1152 kbps / 24-bit
Commentaries:

Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps
Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps
Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps

Subtitles None English, None English (SDH), None
Features Release Information:
Studio: VCI

Aspect Ratio:
Original - 1.66:1

Edition Details:
• Commentary with director John Moxey
• Commentary with Christopher Lee
• Interview with Christopher Lee (45:06)
• Interview with director John Moxey (26:26)
• Interview with actress Venetia Stevenson (19:37)
• Trailer (1:32)
• Photo Gallery (3:23)
• Scrolling Text Biographies

DVD Release Date: October 23rd, 2001
Keep Case

Chapters 10

Release Information:
Studio: VCI

 

1.78:1 Dual-layered Blu-ray

Disc Size: 48,086,574,510 bytes

Feature: 13,824,055,296 bytes

Video Bitrate: 19.20 Mbps

Codec: VC-1 Video / 1080i

 

Edition Details:
• Commentary with Bruce G. Hallenbeck
• Commentary with Christopher Lee + Jay Slater

• Commentary with director John Moxey

• Horror Hotel (1:16:05)
• Behind the scenes interview with Christopher Lee 2001 (16:37)

• Interview with Christopher Lee (45:09)
• Interview with director John Moxey (26:23)
• Interview with actress Venetia Stevenson (19:31)
• Trailer (1:33)
• Photo Gallery (3:16)
• Liner Notes by Mike Kenny (4:00)

Blu-ray Release Date: March 29th, 2016
Standard Blu-ray Case

Chapters: 13

Release Information:
Studio:
Arrow

1.66:1 Disc Size: 48,983,386,186 bytes

Feature Size: 20,238,652,992 bytes

Total Bitrate: 29.92 Mbps

Dual-layered Blu-ray MPEG4 - AVC

 

Edition Details:
• Audio commentary by film critic Jonathan Rigby, author of English Gothic: Classic Horror Cinema 1897-2015 and Christopher Lee: An Authorized Screen History, recorded exclusively for this release
• Audio commentary by director John Llewellyn Moxey
• Audio commentary by actor Christopher Lee

• Horror Hotel (1:16:18.907 - 19,340,068,416 bytes - 29.91 Mbps)
• Archive interview with John Llewellyn Moxey (26:25)
• Archive interview with Christopher Lee, conducted by critic Brad Stevens (45:13) - Behind the Scenes (16:37)
• Archive interview with actor Venetia Stevenson (19:36)
• Trailer (1:33)

• Gallery (0:34)
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Vic Pratt

DVD included

 

Blu-ray Release Date: April 24th, 2017
Standard Blu-ray Case

Chapters: 18

 

 

 

Comments

NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

ADDITION: Arrow (4K Restoration) - Region 'B' Blu-ray - April 2017: Just a few brief comments about the "New 4K digital restoration by the Cohen Film Collection and the BFI" before I head off - and will post more later. Arrow seem to have gone in the other direction brightening their 4K restored image, it appears perhaps slightly boosted beside the dull VCI, and it has a negligible waxiness however grain is visible - and IS progressive and in the correct 1.66:1 aspect ratio - showing more information at the bottom of the frame. It looks solid in-motion... even standing very close. It's certainly better than the VCI.

The linear PCM is 24-bit and, therefore, also advances upon the VCI's 16-bit. This uncompressed does a superior job with the film's sound requirements which are fairly extensive with plenty of effects, screams, fire and, along with the occasional Gregorian chant. The score is by Douglas Gamley (Madhouse, The Land That Time Forgot, The Beast Must Die, Asylum, And Now the Screaming Starts) and works well with the film's encompassing atmosphere of darkness and fog. There are optional English subtitles (sample below) and the Arrow Blu-ray disc  is region 'B'-locked.

Extras look the same, including Horror House (with a Cohen Media logo) in progressive HD, the Christopher Lee + Jay Slater interview  etc. but Arrow add a new commentary by Jonathan Rigby that I look forward to indulging in this evening. A DVD is included and the package has a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys, and the first pressings receive an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Vic Pratt.

So far, the Arrow does not seem perfect but it's a grand step beyond the VCI Blu-ray. It looks very pleasing in-motion. More later...

***

ADDITION: VCI - Region FREE Blu-ray - March 2016: We use a term 'Criterion treatment' to describe when a film has been brought to digital in a stellar transfer, extras etc. Unfortunately, The City of the Dead has been given 'The VCI treatment' (visually interlaced and cropped) to Blu-ray. Sigh.

We can count the ways that VCI didn't follow preferred practice. The film is now 1.78;1 and cropped on top and bottom from their own stellar DVD. This error seems so obviously disrespectful to the film - it is hard to believe it occurred. Then it gets a paltry 14 Gig of space (but the dual-layered Blu-ray disc has 48 Gig - where did it all go?) What is possible (and I will have to verify) is that they transferred the film separately for each commentary - which would be totally unnecessary. Let's forget that faux-pas and move on to the transfer being 1080i (interlaced). I don't believe the film was shot at 25fps (as in - for British TV) but it seems like another egregious error. They also used the weaker VC-1 encode as opposed to AVC (who makes these decisions?).

On the positive - I don't see combing (from the interlacing) and the image is superior to the excellent DVD - which now looks a shade greenish beside the super contrast of the higher resolution. We should credit the restoration and source for any positives about the appearance - VCI seems to have gone out of their way to screw things up.

There are lots of extras - including those already found on the 2001 DVD. But we do get a new commentary with Bruce G. Hallenbeck - author of The Amicus Anthology (British Cult Cinema). It is quite good although I haven't finished listening yet. Also included are the two previous commentaries - one with Christopher Lee + Jay Slater and another with director John Moxey. What may appeal to some is the inclusion of Horror Hotel (the American version of the film. It runs 1:16:05 and takes up a paltry 4 Gig / 480i and 5 Mbps bitrate - so essentially a weak DVD-quality. But fans can see the slight differences, I suppose. There is a vintage behind the scenes (of the restoration get-together) interview with Christopher Lee from 2001 running over 1/4 of an hour. Also we have the previous interviews with Lee, director John Moxey and actress Venetia Stevenson - as found on the DVD. There is a trailer, photo gallery, and some digital liner notes by Mike Kenny that scroll through the screen for 4-minutes.

So, the package does have value with the new commentary and the slightly superior image but while VCI try - they are taking baby steps when this Blu-ray could have been authored and transferred to a much higher degree. The film, and its stellar restoration/source, deserved it. The DVD is still a steal.

***

ON THE DVD (2015): Imagine my delight! - an un-researched blind buy - I just wanted to see the film! - it wasn't on Blu-ray (to my knowledge) and it was super inexpensive. Then I get this... WOW! How'd this get under my radar?

The restoration, in co-operation with The British Film Institute, looks marvelous on the dual-layered SD transfer - taken from the 35mm original source. It gets the British title, which has an extra 2-minutes (during the brilliantly choreographed villagers cursing at the 1692 Witch-burning.)

Scintillating layered contrast in the original 1.66:1 aspect ratio and detail is crisp with plenty of depth. The image is progressive. It looks very impressive. I was shocked that it was from VCI.  

The mono sound is decent and consistent supporting the score by Douglas Gamley (Madhouse, The Land That Time Forgot, The Beast Must Die, Asylum, And Now the Screaming Starts) and adds further atmosphere to the spooky small-village surroundings. There are no subtitles on the DVD but dialogue is always clear and accents are not, at all, heavy.

And it's not over - this DVD just keeps on giving with absolutely stacked extras - not one but two commentary tracks - from John Moxey (his first theatrical feature as director) and a second by Christopher Lee. They are both very worthwhile but Lee is so impressive in his knowledge and intimate stories. I thought I'd recognized the name John Llewellyn Moxey before - I'm a big Kolchak fan and he directed the original film The Night Stalker with Darren McGavin. Great stuff. Then we get interviews with both of them Christopher Lee for 3/4 of an hour talking about working with a multitude of directors including Orson Welles (the incomplete Moby Dick production), Nicholas Ray, Raoul Walsh and more. Wonderfully informative. We get almost a 1/2 hour with John Moxey who comes across as a smart horror buff and overall gregarious chap. There is also an interview with the photogenic beauty Venetia Stevenson (inquisitive student Nan Barlow in the film) for almost 20-minutes. She was married to both Don Everly (The Everly Brothers fame) and Russ Tamblyn (West Side Story) and is the former mother-in-law of Axl Rose (Guns N' Roses)! We get a trailer, photo gallery and a handful of scrolling text biographies plus a rolling 'thank you' listing. This has everything but liner notes... and it was made back in 2001!

Okay - immense value in this package - let's talk about the film. The black and white supplements the fog-shrouded atmosphere and the brief Gothic opening - evokes Hammer. Then we have the mysterious village Wicker Man-esque residents and the graveyard ending finale with spontaneously combustible monks is nothing short of genius. Let's get this to Blu-ray... now (VCI says it's coming!)! This DVD (slow menu animations though) gets our highest recommendation! I guess I'm only 14 years late on this coverage! For $-value - it's the best I have reviewed in years!  

  - Gary Tooze

 


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Box Covers

  

 

  

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VCI

Region 0 - NTSC

VCI
Region FREE -
Blu-ray
Arrow
Region 'B' -
Blu-ray

 




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