The City Of The Dead Limited Edition (1960) (Blu-ray film review).

April 27, 2018 | By | Reply More

It was interesting checking on this film and discovering that there are 3 films called ‘The City Of The Dead’. Just to clarify things, this is the first from 1960 and stars Christopher Lee. I haven’t seen the others but they appear to only be related by name.

In 3rd March 1692, it is Quaker New England and Elizabeth Selwyn (actress Patricia Jessel) is declared a witch and burnt at the stake. Her consort then denies her but joins her in cursing the villagers that she will come back for all eternity, as you do. Well, if you’re going to burn a real witch, you can’t not expect retribution.

It is now the present, all right, 1960 present, and at university, Professor Alan Driscoll (actor Christopher Lee sporting a regional American accent) is relating events to his students about Whitewood, where it happened. Nan Barlow (actress Venetia Stevenson) is encouraged by Driscoll to visit the town for some research on witchcraft. You can tell when a fog is along route that you know something murky is going to happen, especially when she offers Jethrow Keane (actor Valentine Dyall) a lift en route. In the town, he suddenly vanishes from the car.

Getting a room in the local hotel, the Raven’s Inn, was a little hard but Nan mentioning Driscoll gets her a room from the nice landlady, Mrs. Newless. Nan goes to explore the town and meets the blind Reverend Russell (actor Norman MacOwan) at the church who explains that evil rules Whitewood. With all the spooky people around, Nan visits the book sale conducted by Patricia Russell (actress Betta St. John) and discovers that Driscoll was born there. With all this pedigree, you know something bad is going to go on. Back at the hotel, Nan finds her locket is missing and Mrs. Newless promises to look for it. The dumb cleaner, Lottie (actress Ann Beach in her first film) is thwarted from giving Nan a warning.

Mrs. Newless invites Nan to the dance in the bar but when she gets there, they are all gone. People vanish very quickly and Nan wants to find out what is going on, especially when she finds the key to the cellar below her room only to be captured by some members of the coven for a little sacrifice.

Two weeks later, back at the university, Nan’s brother and scientist, Richard/Dick (actor Dennis Lotis), is concerned. More so when he finds there is no hotel of that name in the telephone directory. However, he gets the police to investigate, although Patricia Russell doesn’t know what happened to Nan. The message gets back to the university that Nan checked out two weeks ago.

Richard visits Driscoll and discovers where he was born. Patricia/Pat Russell visits Driscoll looking for Nan’s family to return a locket that Lottie gave her. Meeting Richard and student Bill Maitland (actor Tom Naylor), delivers the locket and some background info about the witchcraft book she lent Nan. She returns the same night, although Richard says he’ll follow after classes the next day. On the way back, she ends up giving Jethrow Keane a lift and, again, he vanishes.

Richard discovers there is only one way into Whitewood and gets a room in the hotel and pays Nan’s bill. Mrs. Newless clarifies that Nan just vanished not that she checked out. He later meets the Patricia and Reverend Russell, discovering that the Sabbath is tonight and that the town is evil. Richard goes to see Mrs. Newless again and the Russells find witch’s sign in their house. They can’t flee because Patricia’s car has been fixed. Getting back to the Reverend, Richard discovers Patricia has been taken for sacrifice. Running through the graveyard, Richard also comes across a gravestone for Alan Driscoll. Richard also finds his way under the village. Unlike his sister, Richard is at least armed, little good that does him but he does rescue Patricia for the little good that does him as they are captured again. From here, you’re on your own.

Removing a key character mid-way into a film has a shade of Hitchcock about it, as he did a similar thing in ‘Psycho’ (also released in 1960). This film really is a missed classic and really spooky as it raises the tension. Oddly, although Chris Lee has a couple significant scenes, he doesn’t appear much. This is a Vulcan Film not a Hammer film but is equal to them. I reckon the place name was cursed, sir.

The extras are down to the trailer and a 45 minute interview with Christopher Lee. The later is pure gold and its interviewer rarely asks questions but lets Lee loose on a variety of topics. Amongst there, he discusses working with directors Orson Welles and Terrance Fisher, acting and the failures of the British film industry. With the latter, what he describes as ‘upward failing’ as people move up in the film industry, I would call the Peter Principle but who’s going to argue with him. He does think CGI can get in the way of acting if it isn’t used wisely. Find yourself time to watch this all in one sitting.

I’ve never come across ‘The City Of The Dead’ before and it’s so rewarding when old low budget films exceed expectations. Just don’t upset the local witch.

GF Willmetts

April 2018

(region 0 blu-ray. Pub: MVD Visual. 1 blu-ray disk 78 minute black & white film with extras. Price $12.89 (US). ASIN: VC19036)

cast: Christopher Lee, Patricia Jessel and Dennis Lotis

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Category: Films, Horror

About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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