Horror Hotel

August 7, 2011 at 6:50 pm (9 Heads, Horror Hotel)

Horror Hotel (City of the Dead in England) is a British flick featuring Christopher Lee and set in New England. With overwhelming atmosphere and unflinching satanic themes, Horror Hotel is a minor masterpiece.

A college girl studying witchcraft visits an isolated village deep in the fog-shrouded woods of Massachusetts. Mysterious occurrences begin immediately. Grim villagers stalk her, discordant midnight chanting is heard, and a blind priest warns her to flee for her life. In a Psycho-like twist (both premiered the same year), the girl is captured by a coven of witches and sacrificed to Lucifer midway through. The girl’s brother arrives to investigate and is soon ensnared in the same dark happenings. Wielding a holy cross, he destroys the witches in a fiery climax.

Gripping atmosphere is Horror Hotel’s best asset. Shadowy high-contrast lighting combines elegantly with beautifully layered compositions. The austerely decrepit sets are shrouded in billowing waves of fog. In fact, I’ve never seen more fog machines. Sound also holds great significance. Both silence and Foley (crackling fires, ticking clocks, singing) are used to powerful effect. The music isn’t so bad either.

All these elements merge to create haunting scenes. A phantom hitchhiker (presumably Old Scratch himself) waits ominously by a dark crossroads. Hooded cultists are consumed by roiling flames before the cross. And my favorite: The lurking villagers stare with cold menace as outsiders pass. By modern standards Horror Hotel seems overwrought, but the eerie ambiance still chills.

Horror Hotel is a classic on par with better-known genre greats.  Despite nearly a hundred credits each, director John Llewellyn Moxey and cinematographer Desmond Dickinson made few horror flicks. A shame since their talent and enthusiasm is obvious.

Rating: 9/10 Shrunken Heads. See it or see it again.

Obeah’s Obscure Note: Hey Metalheads. Horror Hotel is sampled in a Rob Zombie’s “Dragula”. Clips appear in the videos for Iron Maiden’s “Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter” and King Diamond’s “Sleepless Nights”. Rock on.

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