Friday, April 6, 2018

THE CITY OF THE DEAD (1960) (VCI Remastered Limited Edition Blu-ray Review)

THE CITY OF THE DEAD (1960)
Remastered Limited Edition 

Label: VCI Entertainment
Region Code: A
Rating: Unrated 
Duration: 78 Minutes
Video: B/W 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1) 
Audio: English LPCM Mono 2.0 
Director: John Moxley 
Cast: Christopher Lee, Dennis Lotis, Betta St John, Patricia Jessel, Venetia Stevenson

Synopsis: College student, Nan Barlow is researching the history of witchcraft. Taunted by her brother and fiance, who have voiced their concern over her silly notions, Nan arms herself with resolve and drives into the small New England village of Whitewood. She is glad that at least she was able to count on the support of her professor. A bit anxious but consumed with curiosity, she will soon embark herself on the journey of her life! 

John Moxley's Gothic chiller The City of the Dead (1960) opens in the 17th century with a witch hunt in a deeply fog-drenched forest, Elizabeth Selwyn (Patricia Jessel) is accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake, before dying she makes a vociferous pact with Lucifer for her soul, cursing the descendants of those who have condemned her to a fiery death. Years later young college student Nan Barlow (Venetia Stevenson) travels to the village of Whitewood, Massachusetts over winter break on the recommendation of her college professor Alan Driscoll (Christopher Lee, Horror Express) to do research for her term paper on historical witchcraft in the area. Arriving she finds a room at the Raven's Inn, the creaky old place is occupied by some strange occupants indeed, namely proprietor Mrs. Newlis (Patricia Jessel in a dual-role), the apparent reincarnation of the infamous witch Selwin. Young and naive Nan unknowingly finds herself marked for sacrifice by a coven of modern witches, she going the way of Psycho's Janet Leigh with an early departure.  When Nan goes "missing" her concerned brother Dick (Dennis Lotis), friend Lottie (Ann Beach) and boyfriend Bill (Tom Naylor) descend upon Whitewood in hopes of finding what has become of their friend and sister.
is black and white British chiller is an old school horror movie drenched in wafts of fog, cobwebs and loads of intense creepy atmosphere. It's a film that hearkens back to when horror was more creepy and not dripping with blood and gore, as such those with preconceived notions of something a bit more gruesome may be turned off by it. However, those in the mood for a well-paced atmospheric chiller are in for a wonderfully eerie treat, directed by John Moxley, a director who wold go onto direct the classic '70s TV movie The Night Stalker, which sewed the seeds for what would become the seminal horror TV series Kolchak: The Night Stalker. The movie has a top notch cast which included the legend Christopher Lee as Professor Driscoll, who is more deeply involved in witchcraft than would first appear, natch. I thought Patricia Jessel was fantastic as the virgin murdering witch, by far she was the stand-out performance for me, very intense. Young Venetia Stevensen draws you in right from the beginning of the story as the sweetly naive Nan who meets an unfortunate end, and the slow build-up pays off at the end with a wonderfully amped-up finale that left me satisfied. 

Audio/Video: The uncut British version of The City of the Dead (1960) arrives on Blu-ray from VCI Entertainment for a second time, their 2016 Blu-ray was a bit of a botch with poor contrast levels, marred by an overly bright image and aggressive digital-scrubbing than rendered it waxy and bereft of grain. This new remastered version is a new 2K restoration, though I am not sure from where this has been sourced. I remember reading in various forums when this release was announced that it was rumored to have been sourced from the same Coen Film Collection restoration which was the source of the region-b release from Arrow Video, but I am not seeing any confirmation or proof top suggest as much. Regardless, this new 2K restoration is vastly superior to the 2016 release, framed in 1.78:1 widescreen, as opposed to Arrow's 1.66:1, the image looks very filmic with a nice looking layer of grain, the fine detail is excellent and contrast is much better with deep blacks all around, extremely pleased with the upgrade. I'm not sure which is the proper framing to be honest, but VCI's 1.78:1 looks comfortably tight without looking forced never drawing attention to itself. 

Audio comes by way of a lossless linear PCM Mono 2.0, the dialogue is crisp and clean for the most part, the atmospheric Douglas Gamley score sounds great, he was a composer would go onto to compose scores for many noteworthy Amicus productions including The Vault of Horror, From Beyond the Grave and Madhouse among others. Unlike the previous version of the film from VCI there are no subtitle options, which is a let down.  

While I am pleased theta VCI have rectified the image quality with this gorgeous looking limited edition release I am less pleased with the extras, this release has only two, the 45-minute interview and the audio commentary with legend Christopher Lee which also appeared on the 2016 Blu-ray. Missing from this version are two more audio commentaries, one with director John Moxley and the other with British author Bruce Hallenbeck, both of which appeared on the 2016 Blu-ray. Also missing is the truncated 76-minute American version under the title Horror Hotel version, plus over an hour's worth of vintage interviews with stars Christopher Lee, Venetia Stevenson and Director John Moxley, so you might want to hang onto that previous release for the extras. It would have been ideal if they'd carried-over all the extras for this new limited edition release so there would be no reason to hang onto the inferior release, but there you have it. 

This single-disc Blu-ray release comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with a one-sided sleeve of artwork which looks to be a version of the original Horror Hotel one-sheet, the disc features an excerpt from the same key art. 

Special Features: 
- Audio Commentary by Director John Moxley
- Interview with Christopher Lee by Brad Stevens (45 Mins) HD 
- Original Theatrical Trailer (2 min) 

The City of the Dead (1960) is a classic British chiller, notably it's a direct precursor to Amicus Films, produced by Milton Subotsky and his future Amicus partner Max J. Rosenberg, a company that would go onto rival Hammer in terms of output, making a slew of '70s anthology horror movies. The new Remastered Limited Edition Blu-ray from VCI is vastly superior to their previous effort, this is probably one of their best looking transfers/encodes to date. I do hope that after a series of encode/transfer issues that has plagued recent releases that they continue on this path, they have a fun catalog, and I look forward to seeing more HD upgrades

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