Seeing some social media questions circulating lately concerning the viewing of gothic witch stories, a few comments mention Mario Bava’s Black Sunday (1960) and others noted The Love Witch (2016) the latter is more horror-comedy, although many point to The Witch (2015) however omitted from the lists this often overlooked and relatively unknown production. There are many witchcraft horror themed movies, but few contain true gothic elements, and produced on a shoe-string budget with increasing difficulty to find a clean version to view.  Director John Llewellyn Moxey (The Night Stalker [1972])  helmed this ambitious project with screenwriter George Baxt (Burn, Witch, Burn [1962]) and Milton Subotsky who created the story. For those aware of Euro Horror offerings, Milton’s name may sound familiar, well he and Max J. Rosenberg produced this project under Vulcan Productions which a few years later changed names to Amicus Productions, that made anthologies such as Dr. Terror ‘s House of Horrors (1965) and rival Hammer Studios. The film while opening in UK in September 1960, it took another two years before it hit the US markets, but under a new title called Horror Hotel. Both Moxey and Bava helped to cement a new subgenre involving storylines of witches, Satanic covens and sinister towns, that still carries onward today.

It opens in Whitewood, Massachusetts during the 17th century, as the hysteria of fear surrounding witchcraft, a forbidden practice and religion, by the puritans who sought religious freedom among other things.  A Local woman Elizabeth Selwyn (Patricia Jessel) finds herself tied to a stake, and the flames set by townsfolk condemn her to damnation, however she succumbs to them she reveals her pact with her savior Lucifer cursing the town and all in who reside in it. As the scene transitions, we learn its part of Professor Alan Driscoll’s (Christopher Lee (The Satanic Rites of Dracula [1973]) lecture to his students. Nan Barlow (Venetia Stevenson) is a young student who becomes intrigued and with her professor’s encouragement ventures to this town to learn more about their history for research considered for a term paper. She begins her travels to the remote village and of course she disregards all the typical warning signs, upon her arrival she notices the locals act extremely standoffish, but checks into The Raven’s Inn run by Mrs. Newless, she notices a plaque hanging on the wall, which states Elizabeth Selwyn was burned at the stake for witchcraft on March 3, 1692. It doesn’t take long for her to discover that some of secrets of the town hold their connection to the past, while the occult reigns supreme in this one place. Namely human sacrifices still take place so that the coven can remain immortal and continue to worship their true master and Lord. After a period of time when Nan doesn’t return her brother Richard (Dennis Lotis) and her annoying boyfriend Bill (Tom Naylor) go to the same town in search of her thereby meeting a book shop owner Patricia (Betta St. John (Corridors of Blood [1958]) that Nan had disappeared suddenly. The second half of the film adds increasing amount of suspense and dives further into the depths of the coven and their pact.

First, it is very true that the film contains no gore, or blood spillage, and while not a scary the movie it ranks very high with gothic atmosphere and shows what set-designers can do with the limited funds. There’s plenty of clever usage of lighting and shadows to create spooky graveyards and town-settings, especially with an extremely high-level of fog usage, its eerie and evenly maintained all adding to this very lost classic horror flick. The movie isn’t perfect there are a few scenes of awkward acting, but the dread and suspense factors to cover those aspects, however a nagging issue exists, if the cross can harm the coven why allow them to exist anywhere in the town. Of course the primary reason fans enjoy the film so much is because Christopher Lee stars in it, who was already honing his acting skills and his talents for sinister roles becoming more established as time marched onward and his popularity grew with the fans.

While this flick, does help to establish the cinematic display of horrific witches, it’s actually and obviously inspired by history the hypocrisy of religious freedom seekers and the numerous witch-hunts that caused chaos in Europe before embarking on newfound territory with the infamous Salem Witch Trials. Historical situations often become inspiration for the horror genre that lead to Mark of the Devil (1970) to low-budget movies including the long running franchise Witchcraft (1988), which has 15-sequels and smattering of others in direct to DVD and television movies for example Bay Coven (1987) which is about coven needing a sacrifice to maintain their eternal life. Nevertheless this film’s influence transcends the screen, and was featured in music video for Iron Maiden’s “Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter”, in 1990. While Christopher Lee’s voice is heard quoting lines on the beginning of Rob Zombie’s track “Dragula”. This overall is an exciting film to air during a stormy night and especially in the fall season, just refrain watching the colorized version stick with the black and white film.

TAGLINES:

  • This key will answer your questions to these screaming mysteries…(next to a skeleton hand holding a key)
  • The Thrills – The Chills of Witchcraft Today
  • A Tingling Drama of Witchcraft Today!
  • 300 years old! Human blood keeps them alive forever!
  • SCREAM With Guests From The “Other World” When You Ring For DOOM SERVICE!
  • Alive forever!
  • Horror Hotel, next to the graveyard

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0053719/

IMDb Rating: 6.8/10

Baron’s Rating: 7.0/10