Title: The City of the Dead
Release Date: September 1960
Director: John Llewellyn Moxey
Production Company: Vulcan
This is a horror film that is earnestly built on the premise that the people executed as witches in the hysteria of 1692 were not only actually practicing witchcraft but were in league with Lucifer himself. In the present day, the fictional town of Whitewood, Massachusetts is home to a coven of the survivors of the panic where nearly 300-year-old witches still practice their dark rights. College student Nan Barlow (Venetia Stevenson) visits the remote and mysterious town to conduct ethnographic research with the encouragement of her creepy professor Alan Driscoll (Christopher Lee). Nan stays at the Raven’s Inn run by the mysterious innkeeper Mrs. Newless (Patricia Jessel).
Strange things happen. The plot is straightforward, predictable, and kind of cheezy. But for whatever else this film lacks it makes up for it with atmosphere. The black & white cinematography and the rickety wooden buildings of the set are suitably spooky. And the budget for artificial fog must’ve been enormous. I thought the film was largely a dud but if you’re a fan of old-fashioned horror films you could do a lot worse.
The movie was released in 1960, so similarities with Psycho (woman protagonist stays at a hotel and goes missing halfway through the movie and her family and friends team up to find out what happened to her) are coincidental. I do wonder if Monty Python watched this film, because the scenes of the witch burning ritual in this film and in Monty Python and the Holy Grail are shot in almost identical ways. The City of the Dead was made in Britain so I suppose they can be forgiven for the inaccuracy of people driving around with their windows open and only wearing light coats in February in Massachusetts. But they also make the common error of depicting witch burning when witches were only executed by hanging in New England. Nice American accents though.