Elizabeth Selwyn (Patricia Jessel) has been condemned as a witch. In 1692 she is burned at the stake in Whitewood, Massachusetts. She and her lover, Jethrow Keane (Valentine Dyall) both sold their souls to the devil. Before she dies she puts a curse on the town.
Professor Alan Driscoll (Christopher Lee) teaches history. He is currently reviewing witchcraft in seventeenth century New England. He lectures his students about Elizabeth Selwyn and what happened to her. One of his students, Nan Barlow (Venetia Stevenson), is working on her thesis and is looking to gain more information on the subject. She decides to visit a small New England town that dealt with witchcraft and research it through the town’s records. Driscoll recommends the town of Whitewood, Massachusetts.
Nan forgoes a trip with her brother Richard (Dennis Lotis) to visit a cousin and heads for Whitewood. Her brother is not happy about her plans. Nan takes a room at the local inn The Raven’s Inn. As soon as she settles in things start to look strange to her. The owner of the inn is Mrs. Newless (Patricia Jessel), a somber and rather unfriendly woman. The people of the town are all standoffish and stop and stare at her. Even the local pastor is rude and warns her to leave town immediately. In a small antique store next to the church Nan meets Patricia Russell (Betta St. John). Patricia is the granddaughter of the church pastor, Reverend Russell (Norman MacOwan) and is the only one in town that seems normal. Nan borrows a book from Patricia about witchcraft. She also learns from Patricia that Professor Driscoll was born in Whitewood.
According to the legend, on Candlemas Eve, February 1st Elizabeth Selwyn and a coven of witches made a human sacrifice to Lucifer. To ensure their undead status the coven makes two human sacrifices a year, the other being on the Witch’s Sabbath. Today is Candlemas eve. Later that night Nan is sacrificed on a satanic altar by the witches of Whitewood.
Two weeks later when Nan’s fiancé Bill Maitland and her brother Richard haven’t heard from her they go investigating where Nan was last seen, Whitewood.
“The City of the Dead” AKA “Horror Hotel” was released in 1960 and was directed by John Llewellyn Moxey. It is a British supernatural horror film. The movie wasn’t released to the U.S. until 1962. It was produced by Vulcan Productions. Vulcan would later be known as Amicus Productions. It’s a great and fascinating little film, a sort of modern gothic movie full of spooky atmosphere. Elizabeth Selwyn is, of course, also Mrs. Newless and Newless is sort of a variant spelling of Selwyn only backwards.
It’s also an interesting look at how the British view of a small American Massachusetts small town. Although the movie takes place in February the climate in Whitewood is moderate and for some reason always night and foggy. It makes for spectacular atmosphere in the film but the climate is more suited for England than America. The buildings are all old and unpainted, which can happen in some of the more rural American villages but here even the church is unpainted and there is no steeple. Most New England villages have a white church with a steeple. Granted we are talking about a village full of witches but at one time the church would have been kept up. Another difference is that witches in America were not burned at the stake but hung. Many also died in jail waiting to be sentenced. The burning of witches was a European punishment.
The story was originally written as the pilot for a horror television series for Boris Karloff but the pilot never came to fruition. Scenes from the movie were used in Iron Maiden’s music video "Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter" 1990 and as scenes in “The Blair Witch Project” 1999.
Iron Maiden-"Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter" video