The City of the Dead
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Llewellyn Moxey (as John Moxey)
Screenplay byGeorge Baxt
Story byMilton Subotsky
Produced bySeymour S. Dorner
Max Rosenberg (uncredited)
Milton Subotsky
Donald Taylor
StarringChristopher Lee
Venetia Stevenson
Betta St. John
Dennis Lotis
Valentine Dyall
Patricia Jessel
CinematographyDesmond Dickinson
Edited byJohn Pomeroy
Music byDouglas Gamley
Ken Jones (jazz)
Distributed byBritish Lion
Release dates
  • September 1960 (1960-09) (UK)
  • 1961 (1961) (US)
Running time
78 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget£45,000[1][2] or £47,341[3]

The City of the Dead (U.S. title: Horror Hotel) is a 1960 supernatural horror film directed by John Llewellyn Moxey and starring Christopher Lee, Venetia Stevenson, Betta St. John, Patricia Jessel and Valentine Dyall. The film marks the directorial debut of Moxey.[4] It was produced in the United Kingdom but set in America, and the British actors were required to speak with North American accents throughout.


In 1692 in fictional Whitewood, Massachusetts, a witch named Elizabeth Selwyn is burned at the stake. Before her death, Selwyn and her accomplice, Jethrow Keane, sold their souls to Lucifer for eternal life and revenge on Whitewood in return for providing the Devil with two yearly virgin human sacrifices on the Hour of Thirteen during Candlemas Eve and the Witches' Sabbath.

In the present day, following his lecture on witchcraft, a university history professor, Alan Driscoll, advises an interested student named Nan Barlow to visit Whitewood during her vacation to slake her interest in witchcraft by studying Whitewood's history. Nan settles in The Raven's Inn, a hotel owned by eccentric Mrs. Newless, becoming acquainted with the only normal-seeming local resident Patricia Russell, who loans her a book on witchcraft. Reading the book, Nan learns that this night is Candlemas Eve.

She is lured down to the basement and is restrained on a satanic altar by Mrs. Newless and members of her coven. Mrs. Newless reveals herself to be Elizabeth Selwyn before proceeding to sacrifice Nan.

Two weeks later, Nan's concerned fiancé, Bill Maitland, and her brother, Richard, learn The Raven's Inn does not exist in any phone directory. They are visited by Patricia, who is also concerned with Nan's disappearance. The men travel separately to Whitewood, and Bill barely survives a car crash caused by an apparition of Selwyn.

Richard reaches Whitewood and meets up with Patricia before visiting her grandfather, Reverend Russell, who reveals that Whitewood is under the control of Selwyn's coven. Soon after, Patricia is kidnapped as the coven's sacrifice, and Richard attempts to save her before they are cornered in the graveyard. Professor Driscoll is revealed to be a coven member. A severely-injured Bill arrives at the last minute and succeeds in extricating a large wooden cross from the ground. After being gravely wounded by Selwyn, Bill uses the last of his strength to burn the coven members alive under the cross's shadow. Selwyn escapes during the chaos. Her pact with the Devil has been undone by the intervention, and Richard and Patricia find her charred corpse in the hotel which was earlier revealed to have been built on the site of her burning.



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The script was originally written by George Baxt as a pilot for a television series starring Boris Karloff. The producer Milton Subotsky rewrote it to be longer, including a romantic subplot about the boyfriend who goes looking for Nan after she goes missing. Financing was obtained from television producer Hannah Weinstein, along with money from the Nottingham Forest Football Club.[citation needed]

Production began on 12 October 1959 at Shepperton Studios with a budget of £45,000. Milton Subotsky was credited as the film's executive producer. The film was produced by Vulcan Productions, although because it was made by Subotsky and producing partner Max Rosenberg it has been considered the first of their Amicus Productions.[2]

Deleted lines

Some dialogue was removed from the American version of the film,[citation needed] including the following lines in the opening sequence which clarify the plot. They are retained in the original British version, which has been shown on Turner Classic Movies:


U.S theatrical poster.

The City of the Dead was released in September 1960 in the United Kingdom.[5] It was a box-office disappointment, although it did make a small profit.[1] It was not released in the United States until 1961 under the title Horror Hotel.[citation needed]


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Heavy metal band Iron Maiden used scenes from the film in the music video for their 1990 song "Bring Your Daughter... to the Slaughter".[6]

King Diamond also used clips in his "Sleepless Nights" video, as did punk band UFX in the video to "Bitch", while Rob Zombie used Christopher Lee's opening words to similarly preface his track "Dragula" from Hellbilly Deluxe. In addition, the punk band Misfits wrote a song called "Horror Hotel" (the American release title). In 2017, heavy metal band In This Moment also used the opening lines by Christopher Lee in their song "Witching Hour", from their album Ritual. Uncredited footage from the opening scene is used in Evil Calls: The Raven to represent the death of Lenore Selwyn (Elizabeth Selwyn in the original).

See also


  1. ^ a b Hamilton, John (2013). X-Cert: The British Independent Horror Film 1951-70. Hailsham, England: Hemlock Books. pp. 72–77. ISBN 978-0955777455.
  2. ^ a b Bryce, Allan, ed. (2000). Amicus: The Studio That Dripped Blood. London, England: Stray Cat Publishing. pp. 12–15. ISBN 978-0953326136.
  3. ^ Chapman, J. (2022). The Money Behind the Screen: A History of British Film Finance, 1945-1985. Edinburgh University Press p 359
  4. ^ "Horror Hotel (1960) - John Moxey, John Llewellyn Moxey | Review | AllMovie".
  5. ^ Chibnall & McFarlane 2009, p. 238.
  6. ^ Mills, Matt (2 October 2023). ""The BBC showed one minute and 10 seconds of it!" Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter: How a banned, censored and divisive song became Iron Maiden's only UK number one single". Metal Hammer. Bath, Somerset: Future Publishing Limited Quay House. Retrieved 1 February 2024.