October 8, 2009

Horror Hotel

Yeah, yeah, the blog's supposed to be about SketchUp. So sue me, I'm having too much fun with these Halloween posts. Here's another old chestnut that cost me a few nights sleep as a kid. Set in Massachusetts, but shot in England, "Horror Hotel"(1960) stars Christopher Lee and a cast of seasoned Brits doing halfway acceptable American accents.

The story follows Nan Barlowe (cutie-patootie Venetia Stevenson), a college student studying witchcraft. Prof. Driscoll (Lee) suggests that, to really get the facts for her term paper, she should take a trip to the town of Whitewood, were a witch burning actually took place. The town is remote and rarely visited, so the best way for her to get there is to sit behind the wheel of a stationary car while stagehands rock it back and forth and roll scenery past her. Along the way, she stops to pick up creepy hitchhiker Jethrow Keane (Valentine Dyall, 1963's The Haunting.)

Finally, she arrives at the adjoining sound stage (or the eerie, fog shrouded town of Whitewood, whichever one helps you.)

There, she starts nosing around, pestering the locals about witchcraft...

..and well, things go downhill for her pretty quick. I won't give away anymore but it's full of satanic rituals, cobwebs, secret passages, hip jazz, "Psycho" style plot twists and more fog than some movies that actually have the word "fog" in the title. And I know I poked fun a little at the confined-to-sound stage production, but it really helps give the film a sense of claustrophobia and showcases the deep focus camera work of the great Desmond Dickinson. Plus, the sets are terrific. From the tribal masks on Lee's classroom wall to the decaying church facade and graveyard. Finally, and this is important, the whole cast looks like they're having fun doing this, even Lee. That's the element that lifts this one above most of the budget minded studio horror that was being churned out back then, on both sides of the Atlantic.

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SketchUp/Screw-up by Timothy P. Butler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.