Saturday, November 9, 2013


Hello, boils and ghouls! October is upon us and that means one thing: HALLOWEEN! While most holidays get a measly day or two of formal recognition, orthodox Monster Kids prefer to celebrate it in the tradition of our people: By watching tons of horror movies. This month at THE COLLINSPORT HISTORICAL SOCIETY, we're going to be discussing some of our favorites every day until Halloween. So, put on your 3-D spex, pop some popcorn and turn out the lights .... because we're going to the movies!was the first film produced by the British studio which came to be known as . From 1960 onward, Amicus competed with bigger, badder Hammer Films for the King of British Horror crown. Though Amicus was known as Hammer's poor relation, the truth is that both studios had their share of hits, misses, classics and stinkers. Iconic superstars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee worked steadily for both companies.

Released Stateside as HORROR HOTEL, is a claustrophobic nightmare which has, at times, drawn comparisons to Alfred Hitchcock's in terms of structure.

Both films were released in 1960. In both, a naive young woman, ostensibly the film's leading lady, comes to a creepy, isolated motel (in ), and an inn (in HORROR HOTEL). During each film's opening scenes, both women are set up as the film's star, putting herself in harm's way so she can be rescued during the final moments by the handsome leading man -- as female leads in these films always are.

Moviegoers were shocked when both ladies were brutally murdered on camera about halfway through each film. As many film historians have pointed out RE: PSYCHO, you don't kill off your leading lady in the middle of the movie. Both PSYCHO and did exactly that.

Did steal this idea from master Hitchcock? It's hard to tell. Released in the USA in September 1961, one year after PSYCHO, CITY had already completed it's British run some time earlier. Perhaps both films used as it's source material. As the filmmakers have long since passed on, we'll probably never know for sure.

Venetia Stevenson (daughter of director ) is good as Nan Barlow, who comes to the isolated Massachusetts town of Whitewood to research the local witchcraft legends for a term paper. Whitewood exists in it's own universe. Everything is dark all the time. The fog is thick, the 300 year old houses and the huge cemetery cast creepy shadows across the town's ancient streets. There's no sense of an outside world. The entire city feels ... dead.

Barlow is staying at an old inn run by creepy Mrs. Newless (a chilling ). Nan soon finds that she's walked into a trap. At midnight on Walpurgis Night, she's sacrificed on the Dark Altar by a coven of witches. Just before the knife enters Nan's body, a hooded Mrs. Newless admits to being Elizabeth Selwyn, who was burned at the stake centuries earlier.

Just as Marion Crane's loved ones went looking for her in Psycho, so do Nan's loved ones come to Whitewood on a dangerous search for her. This leads to a chilling climax in the cemetery. As the witches chant their Satanic prayer, Nan's boyfriend and brother (Tom Naylor, Dennis Lotus) struggle to send the Coven back to hell.

Horror superstar is top billed as a treacherous history professor who knowingly sends Nan to her doom. A strong, imposing actor, he's quite good (as always), but it's the little known Jessel who steals the film. Mrs. Newless is a quiet, yet menacing demonic figure. You can feel the evil oozing out of her even as she offers you a friendly smile. Jessel, around 40 at the time the film was made, was a British stage actress who moonlighted in movies. Her film resume isn't lengthy. She died of a heart attack in 1968 at age 47 -- Horror Hotel remains her one claim to fame all these years later, but I suspect that horror fans will remember her with relish for decades to come.

, a better known character star (113 credits at IMDB) is equally chilling as Jethro, a member of the coven who's polite demeanor and proper English could be a stand-in for Satan himself! Dyall also appeared as Mr. Dudley, the groundskeeper, in Robert Wise's uber-spooky (1963).

(still HORROR HOTEL on DVD) is the kind of old fashioned Gothic masterpiece which mesmerized a generation of monster kids. It's horror is quiet and subtle. The chills build through atmosphere, acting, and intense characterizations. When it's over, the film stays with you. You might feel the need to look over your shoulder hours after that final fade-out. It's a shame that films like this are rarely produced anymore.

's historic significance should not be discounted. It's success enabled producer Milton Subutsky to bankroll his fledgling studio: Amicus went on to make many cherished chillers like (1965), and two earlier entries in the sweepstakes: (1972) and (1966).

Happy Halloween!

is an American/Israeli half-breed who has lived in New York City and Tel Aviv. Currently in San Francisco, his eclectic writing career includes LGBT and other alternative publications, monster mags and Times of Israel.
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