Pictured above is the cover of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND #40. You'll note that one of the cover features is a film entitled HORROR HOTEL. The article and photos in this issue were my first exposure to this British horror film from 1960. It was a film that I wanted to see when I was a youngster but never did. I finally did see it on video tape with my buddy Kelly Greene several years ago. I watched it again this afternoon on DVD.
The film was originally entitled THE CITY OF THE DEAD in Great Britain (a better title, don't you agree?). It was released in the U.S. as HORROR HOTEL. The film was produced by the company that would eventually become Amicus Films, a second tier British film studio that specialized in horror films. Amicus was the "little brother" to the far more successful and well-known Hammer Studios. HORROR HOTEL was made at Shepperton Studios over the course of three weeks but star Christopher Lee filmed all of his scenes in one day.
It's amazing how much you can get out of simple, stark sets and a fog machine. All of the film was shot on a sound stage and the black and white cinematography creates a terrific atmosphere of dread and foreboding. HORROR HOTEL mirrors PSYCHO (from the same year) in a similar narrative structure: a pretty young blond checks into a remote and not-quite-right hotel run by strange and slightly sinister characters. The blond is abruptly murdered early in the film and it falls upon her relatives and other loved ones to investigate her disappearance and find out the truth about what's really going on. There's even a scene at the end of the film involving the dessicated corpse of a woman in a chair which causes the heroine to scream when the woman's burned countenance is revealed.
But instead of housing a serial killer, this horror hotel is the home of a coven of witches who must make human sacrifices twice a year to their dark lord. Christopher Lee is his usual imperious, magnificent best and the supporting cast, comprised of lesser known British actors, are all first rate.
HORROR HOTEL is no masterpiece but it's an effective, earnestly mounted, tight little movie that delivers what it promises. I enjoyed watching it and I think you will too. Recommended.