Cinema Sunday: The City of The Dead (A.K.A. Horror Hotel – 1960)

HorrorHotel

Title: The City of The Dead (U.S. Title- Horror Hotel)

Distributor: British Lion

Writer: George Baxt (screenplay), Milton Subotsky (story)

Director: John Moxey

Producers: Seymour S. Dorner, Milton Subotsky, Max Rosenberg, Donald Taylor

Starring: Christopher Lee, Dennis Lotis, Venetia Stevenson, Betta St. John, Patricia Jessel

Released: Sept. 1960 (U.K.)

MPAA: PG-13

 

It has been a couple of months since I spotlighted a film starring the late, great Christopher Lee. His contributions to the industry are nothing short of legendary, and rightly so. This week I’m going to showcase a lesser-known film that stars Sir Christopher, called “The City of the Dead!” With the two men responsible for the creation of Amicus Studios at the helm (Subotsky and Rosenberg), this film is impressive because of its atmospherics, and some solid acting.

In 1960, the age of Hammer Studios was just starting to blossom (Cushing and Lee were just beginning their conquering stride through the medium), and everyone else was scrambling to catch up. Most other companies (as a whole) never caught up, but some did produce some very good films that live on! Anytime you mix witches, Christopher Lee, and Massachusetts together, you know you’ve got a winner! Alright, and away we go…

 

horrorhotel1

The film begins with a witch, Elizabeth Selwyn (Patricia Jessel) being burned at the stake for her unholy actions. One man in the crowd (Puritans?), Jethrow Keane (Valentine Dyall), seems to have a connection to her, and calls out to the devil to help her. It doesn’t seem to help much though, and she’s apparently toast. Fast forward to modern times, and Professor Alan Driscoll (Christopher Lee), is lecturing some students about these very matters. One student in particular, Nan Barlow (Venetia Stevenson), is very receptive to the subject. Her boyfriend, Bill Maitland (Tom Naylor), thinks it’s a bunch of nonsense, and this angers Driscoll.

 

horrorhotel2

Nan then asks Driscoll if he knows of any place where she can visit to help with her term paper on the subject. Driscoll suggests she stay in his ancestral town of Whitewood, Massachusetts, where she can get a first hand look and get some real perspective. Her boyfriend, Bill, isn’t too happy about this, but lets her go without much trouble. Just then, Nan’s brother, a professor of science at the same school walks in, and has a go with Driscoll about witchcraft. We see that although Driscoll may look like a wuss, he has a temper, and also a sinister look about him.

 

horrorhotel3

The following day, Nan heads out to the town of Whitewood, but seems to get lost in an eerie fog. She happens upon a gentleman and asks him for directions. He tells her the way, but warns her that the town is evil. She continues on, even after he warning. As she gets to a fork in the road, a man is walking nearby. He introduces himself as Jethrow Keane (Valentine Dyall – image below)  and asks for a ride. She invites him in, and he begins to tell her a little about Whitewood. They eventually arrive in town, and their destination, the Ravens Inn. As Nan turns around to get her luggage, but then the man disappears! She heads inside and meets Lottie (Ann Beach), but before she can even try to communicate with her, the owner of the inn appears. We then are introduced to Mrs. Newless (Patricia Jessel – image below), who has a striking resemblance to the witch, Elizabeth Selwyn.

 

horrorhotel4

Later that night, Nan heads out to take a walk around town. It’s very dark and dreary, and the townspeople, who are few, don’t seem to care for strangers. She then heads over to the old church. It seems unoccupied, and in an obvious state of closure. As she attempts to enter, her way is blocked by a minister, claiming to be the leader/caretaker of the church. She questions him about the church and town, but he’ll only remark that there is an evil presence here, and that she should go immediately. She returns to the inn, and settles in for the night.

 

horrorhotel9

After a short time, she thin ks she hears some noise below her room. She gets the attention of Mrs. Newless, but after they investigate, there is nothing to be found. Later, Mrs. Newless invites Nan to come out to join the others, who are dancing in the hall. She eventually does, but by that time, no one is around anymore. We are then made aware that this date is of significance for those who worship Satan, which unfortunately is bad news for Nan. At the very stroke of midnight, she again hears some disturbance, and as she looks outside of her window, she can see robed figures walking through the cemetery. She then finds a handle that fits into the trap door in the floor of her bedroom, and uses it to open the door.

 

horrorhotel7

Next, Nan decides to head down into the dark basement, but is instantly accosted by two men in robes. They drag her, kicking and screaming to an altar, where we see the townspeople, Mrs. Newless, and Jethrow Keane. They begin a count, and when they reach the number thirteen, the knife is plunged! Over at a party, Nan’s brother, Richard, and her boyfriend, Bill, haven’t heard from her in days, and are worried. They attempt to call the inn, but are told that no such place exists.

 

horrorhotel6

Will Bill and Richard find out what happened to Nan and stop the cult from killing again? And what does Professor Driscoll have to do with all of this chicanery? You must watch to find out!

 

OK, here are my thoughts:

Any time you get a black and white film full of atmosphere and incredible sets, count me in. Even if Lee wasn’t in this picture, it would still be quite good. He does add his normal power and presence, but his screen time is somewhat sparse. His scenes are very important, but I’m used to seeing him as the big star, and not a lesser part. The rest of the cast does a solid job though, and really plays up the scary! Patricia Jessel is especially creepy, and does a fantastic job as the witch. Not lost in the crowd is Dennis Lotis (Nan’s brother), who really takes charge once his sister disappears.

As stated above, the atmosphere in this one is incredible. Even though the film is a little too dark at times, it does add a level of fright that is welcomed. The one and only thing I can say that was pretty bad, was the music score. During a couple of the scenes (mainly driving scenes), the music was a ridiculous upbeat tune that seems more appropriate for a Doris Day/Rock Hudson film. Take that away, and this is an excellent film that should be viewed by any serious fan of the time/genre. Oh, and Venetia Stevenson (image below) is stunning in this film!

 

horrorhotel8

 

Click here for the trailer!

 

Cinema Sunday: Dr Terror’s House of Horrors (1965)

drterror1

Title: Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors

Distributor: Amicus Productions/Regal Film Distributors

Writer: Milton Subotsky

Director: Freddie Francis

Producers: Milton Subotsky, Max Rosenberg

Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Donald Sutherland, Michael Gough, Ann Bell

Released: February 1965

MPAA: UR

 

As I promised recently, I wanted to take a look at another Amicus film, to give them their due! In this anthology film, we get a cast that rivals just about anything else in the genre at this period in time. And not just well established guys either, you get a few fresh faces that ascend to rather steep heights.

Although Amicus didn’t have the sheer volume of films as say, Hammer Studios, but their impact certainly made them the main rival to Hammer, especially for the simple fact that they were able to steal most of their actors and actresses (not really steal; the actors weren’t under exclusive contracts and didn’t make a ton of money and simply had to make a living). Seeing the faces of the perennial favorites will easily get you in the mood as soon as they appear on-screen. Well, let’s get down to business!

 

drterror

As the scene unfolds, we see a busy train yard in England. One man is already aboard, and looking at a doll that he’s purchased for his daughter. Just then, another man enters the car, followed by four more. The last man, who introduces himself as Dr. Schreck (Peter Cushing), is a bit odd but friendly nonetheless. One of the men to enter the car, is renowned musical critic, Franklyn Marsh (Christopher Lee). He seems very uptight, and quite like a curmudgeon. Dr. Schreck falls asleep, and his carry-on bag falls over. The contents fall all over the floor, and the men help him gather his things. One man notices his a deck of cards, and Marsh identifies them as Tarot cards. He tells the other men that the cards can tell the future, and that he’s willing to use his talents to show them theirs!

 

drterror2

The first one to volunteer, Jim Dawson  (Neil McCallum), is shown how he’ll  be trying to buy back an ancestral home that has fallen out of the family. There are a couple of mysterious figures about the house (a couple of familiar faces in Katy Wild – The Evil of Frankenstein, and Peter Madden- Frankenstein Created Woman, Kiss of the Vampire), and they act very suspiciously. Jim eventually wants to see the basement and after procuring the key from the old man of the house, he heads downstairs. He bangs on the walls with a crowbar (yeah, that is weird), and accidentally bashes in some plaster. He finds a coffin and the old man tells him that it’s the coffin of Count Cosmo Valdemar, a nobleman that owned the house previous to Jim’s family, and swore vengeance against them if he was ever revived!

 

drterror3

The second tale is about Bill Rogers (Alan Freeman), and his family. He and his family are living the mundane life until one day, while doing yard work, they attempt to cut down a mysterious vine that’s begun growing along the house. The vine seems to “fight back,” and Bill is flabbergasted. He takes his story to a couple of scientist friends of his who initially seem skeptical. Eventually though, one of them comes to the house after not only a dog, but a friend is seemingly murdered by the vines.

The third story involves Biff Bailey (Roy Castle), who’s a musician that gets a gig in the West Indies. He’s doing his thing one night, and a local who sings at the same club tells him of the voodoo ceremonies that go on at night. Biff is intrigued, and sets out to watch. He does just that and attempts to write the music to use for his own personal gain. The voodoo priest stops him, but Biff remembers the tune. When he goes back to London, strange things that cannot be explained begin to plague his life.

 

drterror4

The fourth installment features Franklyn Marsh (Christopher Lee) who has shown great disdain for the good Doctor and the notion that any of this is plausible. We watch as Mr. Marsh, who’s pretty much a self-centered jackass, rips apart an artist, Eric Landor (Michael Gough). Landor gives it right back to Marsh and gets some slight revenge by showing Marsh for the conceited jerk he really is and making a monkey out of him. Marsh gets so angry, that when he sees Landor in the streets, he runs him over with his motorcar! Landor’s one hand gets severed, but lets just say that it isn’t the last we or Marsh see of it!

 

drterror6

The penultimate act (but the last “story” in the film) is about Dr. Bob Carroll (Donald Sutherland) and his new bride, Nicolle (Jenifer Jayne – The Trollenberg Terror). The area that they live is being terrorized by a vampire, and it’s up to Dr. Carroll and his friend, Dr. Blake (Max Adrian), to find the culprit and put an end to its reign of terror! That might prove to be quite a problem though when Dr. Carroll finds out who the vampire is!

The last scene in the film is a very good twist, so I’ll stop here, but needless to say, it involves Dr. Schreck and the men in the train car.

 

drterror-katywild

OK, here are my thoughts:

Listen, I’ve stated many times that anthologies really aren’t my cup of tea. That said, this is one that is so good, I’d recommend it to anyone. The beginning and ending sequences in the train car is very solid with dialogue and mood. As for the stories, I’ve already gone into enough detail about them individually, so I’ll just say that the voodoo story and the disembodied hand are the better of the lot. Not to dismiss the others (Donald Sutherland is also very good), but those are tops.

Cushing doesn’t have a ton of screen time, but his ability to creep people out is on full display in this flick. The make-up is kind of cheesy, and unnecessary in my humble opinion, but whatever. The music score is moderate, the sets are very mediocre, but the film is about atmosphere, mood, and pacing, which are all top-notch as far as they can be on a limited budget as was the case with Amicus Productions.

Any horror fan needs to cross this one (sorry, can’t help it with the puns now and again) off their list. Even if you’re like me and don’t love anthologies, the film certainly deserves a viewing or two.

 

drterror7

Click here for the trailer!

Cinema Sunday: I, Monster (1971)

Imonsterposter

 

Title: I, Monster

Distributor: Amicus Productions/British Lion Films/Canon Group

Writer: Milton Subotsky (screenplay)

Director: Steven Weeks

Producers: John Dark, Max Rosenberg, Milton Subotsky

Starring: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Mike Raven, Richard Hurndall

Released: November 1971

MPAA: PG

 

 

To cap off the two Amicus films I promised to review, I give you the adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, from 1971. Now, this film was supposed to be filmed in a newer, more experimental 3-D way, but the money ran out half way before completion, and it was abandoned. Honestly though, the performances still shine through, and with this cast, you kind of knew it had a chance.

When you say Cushing and Lee together, the names carry a weight that cannot be denied. Both men (even back then) had extensive careers, and proven credentials, especially in the horror/sci-fi genres. They carry this film, no doubt about it. Lets get right down to the movie!

 

Imonster (10)

The film opens with a man, Dr. Charles Marlowe (Christopher Lee), working in his lab. He has all sorts of animals for his experiments, and a brilliant mind. We next see a club, and a few socialites, one of them being a friend of Marlowe’s, Frederick Utterson (Peter Cushing). The men are discussing the inner-workings of the mind, and how human behavior is either influenced or as it is from birth. Marlowe believes that people’s minds house both good and evil persona’s, and aren’t really influenced. Utterson and the other chaps believe that influence makes men evil. Marlowe is working on a serum that can separate the good and evil persona’s, but is keeping his results to himself, for now.

 

Imonster#0

Later that evening, Marlowe returns home, and decides to use the serum on his pet cat (after contemplating trying it on himself). The animal goes berserk, and even attacks him! He uses the poker from the fireplace to kill the cat, and does show a huge amount of remorse. Just as this is concluding, a woman shows up at the door. It’s one of his patients, a Miss Diane Thomas (Susan Jameson – image below), looking for some guidance. Marlowe tries to talk to her, but she cannot bring herself to tell him what’s on her mind. She begs him to try something new, and he persuades her to let him use the serum on her (not being 100% honest about what it might do to her).

 

Imonster#2

After Marlowe administers the drug, Miss Thomas loses all her inhibitions, and attempts to sexually seduce Marlowe. He goes to his lab to retrieve some sort of antidote, and when he returns, she’s completely naked. He apparently controls his urge, and administers the antidote. She’s shocked to find out how she acted, but Marlowe tells her that it’s part of her mind, and just normal to have these thoughts. Later on, back at the club, two other colleagues talk about the behavioral acts of people once again. One man, Enfield (Mike Raven – middle of image below), asks if Marlowe has had any success with his experiments. Marlowe admits to trying the drug on his lab animals, and one of his patients. His lawyer, Utterson, advises him to use legal precaution.

 

Imonster#4

The following day, another patient shows up, and demands to get some sort of results out of his sessions with Marlowe. At this point, Marlowe convinces him to let him use the serum on him, and he does. We see that this man was beaten as a youth, and that his anger now stems from those incidents. It’s at this point, that Marlowe decides to use it on himself. We see an immediate change in his attitude. Instead of being stuffy, he acts more wildly and carefree. He decides to cut the head from one of the lab rats, but the chimes of the wall clock throw him off. He then takes the antidote, and calms down. He visits one of his friends from the club, and gets some advice from him.

 

Imonster#1

The next evening, Marlowe uses the drug once again, and it drives him even more mad. He heads out for a walk, and intentionally bumps into a young man. As the man confronts him, he pulls out a scalpel, and threatens the man. He then walks by a window of a shop, and sees a cane he wants to have. Instead of buying it the following day, he smashes the window and steals it. He visits a boarding house, and rents a room. He then bumps into the same man that he threatened earlier, but this time, the other man has a razor. The two fight, and Marlowe almost kills the man, but doesn’t, because for now, the thrill of almost killing a man is enough to satiate his curiosity.

 

Imonster#3

Eventually, Utterson, Enfield, and the others begin to figure out that there’s a connection between a mysterious, new fiend named Edward Blake, and their friend, Marlowe. Will they find out the real secret their friend is hiding, before he goes completely over the edge?

 

OK, here are my thoughts:

This film is one I saw for the first time about a decade ago. For some reason, I didn’t make the Jekyll/Hyde connection right away, but eventually found out through other sources. The quality of the film overall is less than desirable, but Cushing and Lee pull the film to a better than average standing. The supporting cast wasn’t anything to write home about, but Cushing and Lee definitely helped out a ton.

The sets were sub-par, and certainly were something the budget wasn’t aimed to help out with at all. Again, it isn’t a deal breaker or anything, but you can notice the low quality with that aspect of the movie. The music (Carl Davis), actually elevated a few scenes. The filming is kind of odd at a few parts where the 3-D was supposed to be, and that does stick out a bit.

If you get the chance to view this one, don’t hesitate. Cushing and Lee do more than enough to entertain for an hour and a half. You know they will always put forth their best effort!

Click here for the trailer!