Our movie for the 6th Day of Halloween is the classic CITY OF THE DEAD (1960) otherwise known here in the colonies as HORROR HOTEL. What would Halloween be without a lot of witches running around. Although, more correctly, these are Satanists complete with hooded robes and sacrificial altar. This is without doubt one of the best horror films of the 1960's (and that's saying something). Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey (who would later helm the history-making highest-rated TV movie "The Night Stalker") gives us a classic spookfest from beginning to end. The film also features Christopher Lee as well as creepy, sepulchral-voiced Valentine Dyall and incredibly witchy Patricia Jessel.
The movie opens with witch Elisabeth Selwyn (Patricia Jessel) being burned at the stack as her satanic buddy Jethrow Keane (Valentine Dyall) watches on helplessly. Selwyn naturally curses the entire town of Whitewood (like any good card-carrying Satanist should) and cackles as she goes up in smoke. Fast forward to the 1960 college classroom of Christopher Lee retelling the story. His one student Nan Barlow (Venetia Stevenson) wants to write a research paper about witchcraft in New England and her thoughtful professer Christopher Lee suggests his old home town of Whitewood; where Selwyn burning took place. Bad idea.
On the drive in (through fog so thick it practically dents her fender), Nan picks up a hitchhiker -- why, if it isn't ole Valentine Dyall!!! After providing Nan with a cryptic conversation, he vanishes from the car like he was never there. The town of Whitewood Nan finds herself in is shrouded even MORE heavily in thick fog and looks like it oughta be condemned. Strange folk wander VERRRRRRRRRRY SLOWLY through the streets shooting Nan strange looks. The hotel Nan's staying in is suitably called "The Raven's Inn" and is run by a Mrs. Newlys. Are you good at Scrabble??? Then you should already know that Newlys is Selwyn and SHE'S played by good ole Patricia Jessel! Things aren't looking good for are blonde co-ed. In fact, you may be quite surprised at what happens next . . .unless you've seen Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, of course.
The atmosphere in "CITY OF THE DEAD" practically oozes out of your television set. In fact, right now where I am it's actually foggy outside -- and I didn't even plan it this way. All the performances in the film are top notch and lend a lot of weight to the goings-on. One note about Venetia Stevenson -- her real life is almost as unbelievable as her surroundings in "CITY OF THE DEAD". Venetia is the daughter of Robert Stephenson (director of many Disney films from "Mary Poppins" to "Bedknobs and Broomsticks") and Anna Lee (venerable Lila Quartermain on General Hospital and co-star of "Bedlam" and "The Man Who Changed His Mind" both alongside Boris Karloff). But that's not all. Venetia Stephenson was first married to Russ Tamblyn (you know -- "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers", "West Side Story", the classic ghost movie "The Haunting" and "Twin Peaks") . . .divorced him, then married Don Everly (of the Everly Brothers). The daughter who resulted from this marriage was Erin Everly -- who would later marry Axl Rose and inspire the Guns N' Roses song "Sweet Child of Mine". So, after all this, Venetia Stephenson was Axl Rose's mother-in-law!
So, if you've never seen "CITY OF THE DEAD", you owe it to yourself to catch it. . . because I can't think of anything more Halloweenier!