‘Horror Hotel’ (1960) was a refreshing change of pace from the recent horror films I’ve seen of late. The black and white photography fits the colonial timeframe of the picture perfectly, and it does a great job giving you a sense of isolation, maybe even that you are lost in time.
But don’t let the pretty pictures fool you, things are definitely not right in Whitewood, Massachusetts. Witchcraft is the order of the day for college student Nan Barlow (Venetia Stevenson) who is visiting the town to do research for her term paper. She is studying under Prof. Alan Driscoll (Christopher Lee) and he has sent her to this little town as it has some historical significance; years earlier, a witch by the name of Elizabeth Selwyn was burned at the stake for witchcraft there.
However if there is one thing “research” usually leads too, it’s sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong. She discovers a witch’s cult in Whitewood and in doing so becomes an unwilling participant in this year’s Candlemas ceremony.
Later, Nan fails to show up at a party she was expected at and her family and friends start to worry. They invade the town of Whitewood to find out what happened. With Candlemas Eve past them and the Witches’ Sabbath only days away, they have little time to find out the doings of the witch’s cult that has roosted in Whitewood for centuries before others go missing as well.
Venetia and Betta St. John (who plays Patricia Russell) both give good performances as does Norman Macowan who plays the town’s pastor, Reverend Russell. Christopher Lee is always exceptional and although his part here is minor compared to others, it still stands out as a great role for him. The music in the film is decent as well and it manages to do a great job of adding to each scene in which it is present, truly atmospheric.
But still, the fog shrouded town of Whitewood is the stand out of the movie. With what is apparently a population of fewer than 15 people, the buildings (all shot on sets, no location shooting) and residents do an outstanding job of placing you in the colonial era and letting you know all too well that you are not welcome in their quaint little town. This is a witchcraft practicing town that intends on staying that way. That is, unless Nan’s friends have anything to say about it.
If witch stories, colonial period pieces, and just a tad bit of fright is your thing, ‘Horror Hotel’ (or as it was originally titled, ‘The City of the Dead’) is a definite see. Just don’t go into it expecting the next great ‘Drag Me To Hell’ movie or you will be very disappointed. This 1960 film was released the same year as ‘Psycho’ and, like it’s Hitchcock peer, shows its age when watching by newcomers to that era of horror film.
The movie is embedded below for your viewing.