THE CITY OF THE DEAD

Director:  John [Llewellyn] Moxey

Starring: Christopher Lee, Venetia Stevenson, Patricia Jessel, Dennis Lotis

The City of the Dead (perhaps better known by its American title, Horror Hotel) is a neglected British horror classic; one that hasnít had the benefit of the Hammer label to bolster its fortunes through the decades since it was made, in 1960. Itís a film that deserves more exposure, and now, thanks to this superb new disc from American company VCI, it might finally get the recognition it deserves. The film, a contemporary tale about witchcraft in New England, was actually shot at Shepperton studios, and features a mainly British cast, including Christopher Lee, who stars as an American professor, whose most promising student (Venetia Stevenson) visits a small village to further her academic studies into the black arts.

The film has been available in a variety of versions and formats before (including a couple of American DVD editions), but VCIís Region 0 (NTSC) disc effectively makes all of them redundant. This is the first time anyone has transferred the film from 35mm elements (in this case, the virtually pristine ones kept the British Film Institute), and it looks terrific, with superb contrast and fine detail, presented in 1.66:1 ratio, with anamorphic enhancement. Ths audio is Dolby Digital mono (at 192kbps). This is also the first time the film has been made available on disc in the original British version, which adds a couple of minutes that were removed from the various Horror Hotel presentations.

If the improvements to the image quality and the uncut print arenít enough to persuade you to upgrade, then the discs supplements should get you salivating. The disc is graced with two commentary tracks; the first, from Christopher Lee, is typically erudite and urbane; the other, from John Moxey, is relaxed and informative. Lee is also featured in an exclusive new video interview (45 minutes) conducted by estimable video guru Brad Stevens, who barely says a word, allowing Lee to freewheel on various subjects, including his thoughts on typecasting, and about working with directors as diverse as Orson Welles (for the 1955 play Moby Dick Rehearsed) and Peter Jackson (on The Lord of the Rings). There are also interviews with Venetia Stevenson (20m), whose brief career stalled shortly afterwards, and Moxey (26m). The presentation is topped off with a trailer, a photoí gallery and production notes.

Before the disc was released, VCI held an online poll, offering voters a choice of sleeve designs. The disc was eventually issued with a reversible sleeve, keeping everyone happy. (The two designs are pictured, left).

This is a disc that VCI should be very proud of, and one that comes highly recommended.

 

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