Pros: Creepy,well acted
Cons: A bit cliched and predictable
On one of those 3-Movies on 1 disc DVDs I got for #1, Horror Hotel was the first movie on the '3-Classic Horrors of the Silver Screen Volume 1' disc, so I figured it would probably be a good place to begin with this huge backlogue of movies I have now.
Opening in the 1600s, in Whitewood New England, a witch named Elizabeth Selwyn(Patricia Jessel - Model For Murder) is about to be burned at the stake by the locals, but with some help from her accomplice Jethrow(Valentine Dyall - The Beast Must Die), she gets her master,Lucifer, to place a curse on the town, a curse that will lead to the deaths of the daughters of all of those who burned her at the stake.
We then jump to the 1960s, where College lecturer Prof.Driscoll(Christopher Lee - Gremlins 2) has been teaching his students a lesson on witchcraft, and in particular Elizabeth Selwyn. One student in particular seems keenly interested in the subject, and expresses interest in going to New England to research for her final paper, the girl, Nan Barlow(Venetia Stevenson - Island of Lost Women), announces this, much to the disdain of her boyfriend and her brother, who both see this entire witchcraft subject as being utter nonsense. Driscoll is delighted to have found a pupil with such interest, and gives her directions to a town named Whitewood, telling her to go to the Raven Inn, and tell the owner, Mrs. Newless, that he sent her.
After a short drive through a very foggy area, she picks up a man, also headed for Whitewood, who introduces himself as Jethrow, when they arrive in the town, he disappears from her car. Spooked, she goes to the Raven, where Mrs.Newless proves less than welcoming until she mentions the Professor, and then she is given a room with no problems. Strangley, Mrs.Newless mute-helper Lottie(Ann Beach - King Ralph) seems determined to ward her off, but every time she tries to communicate, Mrs.Newless hurries her away. Wandering around the town that evening, she meets the angry old Priest(Norman Macowan - Whisky Galore!), who tells her to leave the town now, and that he is God's only follower here. Failing to heed his advice, she goes next-door, and meets his more pleasant daughter Patricia(Betta St.John - Corridors of Blood), who lends her out a book on the subject of Witchcraft and Devil Worship from her antique shop.
However, things start to get strange back at the Raven, as Nan starts to hear voices chanting below her room, and sees mysterious cloaked figures in the neighbouring graveyard, will she escape the horror hotel alive?...
The first thing that requires saying about the plot of the movie is that it seems incredibly cliched, but to be honest, I can't say how much of that would actually have been cliches at the time of release(1960), and what movies like this one went on to establish as staples of the genre. So while the movie is pretty predictable, it isn't entirely it's own fault.
What is rather unsettling, and not in the intended sense of a horror picture, is the manner in which the main character is killed off halfway through the movie, and replaced by people who were support players for the first half. I suppose the sudden shift could be in some ways commended for being different, but at the same time, it kind of disjoints the movie.
With all of that said, I have to say that I actually rather enjoyed Horror Hotel, and it's story actually caught my attention well, and I never grew tired, despite it's somewhat predictable nature. The sets were well made and eerie, especially the cemetery, and it had enough rather chilling scenes to actually qualify it as quite a hit in my book, especially when Nan is captured by the hooded witches.
The fact that the level of acting here is actually, for the most part, pretty good, helps matters out. Christopher Lee, who sadly gets sparse screentime, and looks unsettlingly like Mick Jones from the Clash, was already a veteran of horror pictures, so he knew what he was doing, and Jessel does well with her role(s) too, proving for quite a scary witch.
Stevenson is unnaturally, for the time of this release anyway, sexy, and has a scene in her corset that must have been the 60s equivalent of the 'gratuitous nudity' we get in horror movies nowadays.
In general, the only actor who I wasn't keen on was Tom Naylor playing Nan's boyfriend, who just got on my nerves with his shouting of lines and obnoxious nature. It was pretty hard to root for him.
The music in Horror Hotel is minimal, but effective, with it only being used on specific occasions, and used with purpose, to scare the viewer, to which it does pretty nicely.
Effects are pretty non-existant, apart from flaming witches, which look good, if strangley amusing, and the sets of Whitewood, which as I said are excellent. I did find the fact that the town was constantly under 2 feet of fog pretty funnym but at the same time it does kind of help the atmosphere building that is taking place.
On the whole, I have to say, that despite it's somewhat cliched and predictable nature, not to mention the slight problem caused by a character's death, I have to say that I actually enjoyed Horror Hotel quite a bit, and for a movie that doesn't carry much reputation or name, I found it to be of a high standard of entertainment, and I would recommend it to fans of classic horror. 4 out of 5 may seem a little much, but I do have to say I found the movie quite gripping, and that isn't something that can be said about most vintage horror pictures that aren't classics.
While Horror Hotel falls slightly short of classic status, I would still recommend it, as it is a slicker than average vintage horror movie, that I'm sure will appeal to a lot of fans of the genre.
Review also posted on DooYoo.co.uk