Saturday, June 8, 2013

"City of the Dead" (1960) d/ John Moxey

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Tonight's entry is a beauteous little British number, an early atmospheric Psycho-esque horror piece known as 'Horror Hotel' in America; boiling over with artificial fog, witches' covens, and human sacrifice set in New England, as evidenced by the odd forced regional dialects affected by the British actors, with iconic genre baddie Christopher Frank Carandini Lee providing the most serviceable of the lot. As Lee has always been tops among my favorite actors, I've always gotten special satisfaction from repeated screenings of this one, whether it was on late night cable in the seventies or recently on the big plasma screen , with much more dialog than he was afforded later in his career once he'd been typecast as that Count fellow. In addition,  British television staple Patricia Jessel is memorable as Newless/Selwyn, and sexy blonde Venetia Stevenson  is an eyeful during her scenes. Vulcan Productions would later become Amicus, probably the steepest competition for British genre giants Hammer during their heyday.

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This look means you're failing Witchcraft class. I know, I had him for French in college.
After we see a witch named Elizabeth Selwyn(Jessel) burned at the stake for witchery in 1692, we fast forward to present day and a young coed named Nan (Venetia Stevenson) who ditches her winter vacation to research her senior paper on witchcraft in a creepy little burg named Whitewood, upon the suggestion of her professor(Lee), and against the wishes of her boyfriend, Bill (Tom Maitland). C'mon, what's the worst that could happen, old man? It's not like she's gonna get marked by a coven of ancient witches for sacrifice on Candlemas Eve or anything. Well, actually, yeah, it is exactly like that. Among the hooded cultists at the altar are Mrs. Newless(Jessel) from the Raven's Inn (Newless... Selwyn, don't you ever watch vampire movies, chick?) and Professor Driscoll himself! Hopefully he'll give her posthumous extra credit towards her final grade for her troubles, eh.

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"Kookie, lend me your comb. Kookie, Kookie?"
When Nan is a no-show at the party held at her her brother Richard's (Dennis Lotis), he and Bill decide to investigate her puzzling disappearance, leading them both inevitably to Whitewood, where the blind reverend's daughter(Betta St. John) has been marked for sacrifice on the witches' Sabbath. The soupy fog proves too much for Bill, who wrecks his wheels on the drive into town, while Richard gets snatched up by hooded cultists in the graveyard as they wait for the thirteenth toll of the clock's bell to plunge the hulking dagger into the chest of their unwilling offering. A busted up Bill finally makes the scene, and gets said dagger thrown into his back for the effort, but he manages to loosen a cross from one of the graves and set the witches aflame with it's shadow, as per required. Selwyn escapes the righteous judgment only to age hundreds of years and slump dead underneath the plaque commemorating her burning at the stake on the Raven's Inn, to the dismay and horror of our surviving protagonists...

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"Watch me dissect this hooker, Driscoll. Her blood is well groovy."
Moxey also helmed 'The Night Stalker' (1972), genre-wise, during a long career in television, while it would be another seventeen years before Lee would turn down the role of Sam Loomis in John Carpenter's Halloween and take his place in horror history as the narrator in the unforgettable Meatcleaver Massacre(1977). While you're laughing at that, try to remember that the immutable 91 year old has only appeared in over two hundred movies to date, and counting. You can't expect farcical cgi light saber battles with Yoda, every time outta the gate, y'know. Three wops.

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"No, no, of course I don't fault you, seeing how 'pail of water' sounds like 'oversized cross' when you think about it, old chap..."
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