Regular readers know that I have a penchant for schlocky horror movies. Knowing this fact well, Audre Myers, a regular contributor at Nebraska Energy Observer and a frequent commenter on this site, e-mailed me last week with a recommendation to check out Shudder, the horror streaming service. She isn’t the first to recommend the service—a colleague of mine has been singing the service’s praises for several months, but I kept putting it off for the same reason folks are slow to subscribe to my SubscribeStar page: whenever I thought to sign up, I didn’t have the time to do so.
Regardless, Audre sent along a YouTube video by Jade The Libra, a woman dressed like a witch and talking about which stores tend to put out their Halloween decorations first. Jade is some kind of Shudder affiliate, and entering promo code “JADE” gives new subscribers a free month of the service.
With that enticement—and without the lame excuse of lacking time—I signed up for the annual membership. Since subscribing (just about five days ago), I have pretty much only watched Shudder. If I weren’t paying a mere $2.15 a month for Hulu—and sharing it with three or four family members—I’d probably drop it entirely in favor of Shudder. After all, other than Bob’s Burgers, I pretty much only watch horror and thriller films on Hulu (as well as plenty of weird sci-fi flicks).
But I digress. That cloying endorsement of Shudder is my long way of introducing the subject of this week’s Monday Morning Movie Review, which is the second flick I viewed on the service. The film is 1960’s The City of the Dead (known as Horror Hotel in the United States—I like the original title better), a story about a coven of witches who have taken over the town of Whitewood, Massachusetts.
The film is a classic of black-and-white horror films from the late 1950s and early 1960s. As a fan of Hammer films, I really enjoyed this moody, atmospheric film. It also features Christopher Lee, a veteran of Hammer flicks, and best known for his repeated roles as Dracula. In The City of the Dead, Lee portrays a professor studying witchcraft, who convinces his promising young student Nan Barlow to spend her vacation learning in remote Whitewood. Against the warnings of her brother and her fiancé, Nan makes the difficult journey to Whitewood, picking up a mysterious hitchhiker along the way.
As Nan learns more about the small town’s residents, she soon finds herself lured into a satanic ritual, and the innkeeper turns out to be Elizabeth Selwyn, a witch who was supposedly burned at the stake in 1692. When Nan fails to return home after two weeks, her brother and fiancé are concerned, and both attempt to investigate her disappearance by heading to Whitewood.
Like most films from the era, there are more secrets to be revealed, and it all ends with the climactic destruction of the coven, in this case with the holy symbol of the Cross. What sets the film apart, though, is how chillingly and wickedly it depicts the coven’s satanic gatherings. It’s akin to the witch’s sabbath in Rosemary’s Baby (1968), but even more overt.
I think that films about witchcraft and demonology are often far more scary and realistic for Christians: because we believe in the supernatural (the existence of the Holy Trinity, angels, demons, Satan, etc.), we know that Lucifer is quite real, as are his followers. Of course, most people “worship” Satan through their rejection of Christ, whether they are intentionally doing so or not—which is far scarier and more tragic than the existence of active witch covens.
Nevertheless, the possibility of devil worshippers and the practice of witchcraft—the latter of which is on the rise—is spookily real. Film depictions of such might be dramatized for the silver screen, but they must be based in some observable reality—or at least some well-established folk tradition.
It merits further study on my part. That aside, I very much recommend this movie. It’s fun to see Christopher Lee in a non-Dracula role, and the whole premise of traveling to a remote, ancient village possessed a very Lovecraftian feel.
I also heartily recommend Shudder. The annual subscription comes out to $4.75 a month, which is well worth the price.