The City of the Dead (United Kingdom, 1960):

The Americanized title is Horror Hotel, maybe a Psycho gag, yet the parallels can be alluring -- released within months of each other, Hitchcock's masterly voyeuristic deconstruction and John Moxey's more modest peek into off-the-roads darkness both include blonde heroines dispatched at the end of the first movement, check-in-but-not-out lodges, and the evil bubbling within. More jazzy than somber, malevolence here is also more easily located (thus, isolated), medieval townsfolk materializing out of the mist to demand the burning of occultist Patricia Jessel in a 17th-century Massachusetts burg. "Burn, witch, burn!" leech-faced close-ups cry before a cut to modern day, with Prof. Christopher Lee whipping up his witchcraft college class with the same hysteria. Comely coed Venetia Stevenson needs material for her term paper, so Lee (warning no.1) suggests she stay at the "Raven's Inn" (warning no.2), right out of a Munsters episode, where a reincarnated Jessel presides grimly (warning no.3). Fuzzy-headed cutie that she is, Stevenson ignores the blind priest's caveats, the dead bird placed on her counter, and the hooded figures chanting in the mist; doubting brother Dennis Lotis, a scientist, has to come on down to unearth the coven of witches periodically plaguing the hamlet. Narrative elements are practically replayed and looped over, probably to save sets and money, yet reaching trance-like inexorability -- characters asking for directions toward their doom, creepy Valentine Dyall hitching a ride on the foggy crossroads before vanishing into thin air, everything leading up to sacrifice chambers and shadows of crosses used to torch satanic cassocks. Not as rich as Terence Fisher's Hammer studies, though Fisher's own The Devil Rides Out (and La Maschera del Demonio, and Rosemary's Baby, etc.) follows the path carved by Moxey's Gothic chiller. With Betta St. John, Tom Naylor, and Norman Macowan. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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