When we decided to embark on this 30-day marathon of horror movie retrospectives, one of the people I knew I had to reach out to was my old friend William Benton, who has always been a sort of reference guide for me regarding a lot of older films. William, who was at one point an employee at the legendary now-defunct video rental storefront Wild & Woolly actually recommended that I check out The Wicker Man 10 or so years ago, a film that would quickly become a personal favorite of mine. Thanks, Ben! I’m sure he doesn’t know it, but that suggestion changed my life in a small way.
If you’ve been paying attention to Louisville’s punk/indie rock scene at any point over the last 15+ years, you’ve certainly been affected by one of William’s projects. Maybe it was when he was playing bass in the noisy bezerker band Bodyhammer. Perhaps it was when he was playing guitar and singing in weirdo-rock troupe Lucky Pineapple. Or maybe you’ve seen him more recently as Cat Casual as he’s been writing, recording and performing with his two bands The Holy Midnight & The Ordinary Bones. There’s also a good chance you’ve heard his weekly WXOX ARTxFM radio show Cat Casual’s Hotel Boheme which airs Mondays from 2-5PM. God damn, does this guy ever sleep?
Benton has just finished recording a full-length album with the Holy Midnight that will be released in the near future (stay tuned!). It’s also worth mentioning that he will be performing at the Workhouse Ballroom (“The Cave” at 1318 Lexington Road) with The Ordinary Bones on Saturday, November 5th, as part of the Before I Die Festival.
We reached out to William to see if he’d be willing to talk about one of his own personal favorite horror films as part of our LOUISVILLE LOVES HORROR series, and thankfully he was kind enough to participate. Read on as he, in his own words talks about an bona fide classic horror film starring the legendary Christopher Lee, and his own personal experience discovering it as a youth…
Like many people of my age group, I was first alerted to the existence of (and subsequently interested in) the film Horror Hotel due to the song by The Misfits. Glenn Danzig had inserted titles, subjects, characters, and various actors and actresses from some of my favorite childhood sci-fi and horror into many Misfits songs- so any references that I was not aware of, I would want to find and check out.
As it turns out, Danzig borrowed the title and that was about it (though he could have meant an obscure film or television episode that I haven’t come across).
So, like many of my favorite films- I arrived to it by accident or misdirection.
When I think of my favorite horror films, I almost always side with suspense and atmosphere as much as any violence or gore. Horror Hotel (or, its UK title, City of the Dead) has atmosphere in abundance, capitalizing on both the magnificent sets and cast members themselves. Director John Moxey — assuming he was responsible for the casting in some capacity — found both great actors/actresses but also some very interesting and recognizable faces, which is important to the film’s storyline. The aforementioned sets and locations are, from what I can tell, all soundstages but are used to maximum effect with lots of fog, expert use of black and white film (very little visibility with the “exterior” scenes, characters emerging and disappearing into darkness, etc). It feels as if you are watching a play, which I enjoy a lot in a film.
|One of the many foggy, atmospheric scenes in Horror Hotel|
The device of “bait and switch” is not unfamiliar to us at this point in film history (effectively and legendarily used in Psycho, released the same year as Horror Hotel) but Horror Hotel uses it well and early in the film, teasing and torturing the viewer with what you know but the victims do not.
I have intentionally gone this long without mentioning Christopher Lee. Semi-spoilers ahead…
The film opens in Whitewood, Massachusetts, as you witness the execution-by-burning of accused witch Elizabeth Selwyn (Patricia Jessel). As she is lit aflame, Jethrow Keane (the great-voiced/faced character actor, Valentine Dyall) calls upon Lucifer to save Selwyn- to which the skies darken and the crowd hushes. Selwyn curses the town and offers her soul in exchange. (I have always particularly liked the faces in the mob, as well as the use of backwards filming as they tie Selwyn to the stake.)
Watch this scene below:
Cut to “current” 1961 or so, the legendary Christopher Lee plays Prof. Alan Driscoll, who directs his student Nan Barlow (played by the enchantingly beautiful Venetia Stevenson) to visit Whitewood for research on her school paper. He suggests the Raven’s Inn as a place to stay…which, upon arrival, Nan sees that the inn is built upon the execution site of Elizabeth Selwyn, just as she is greeted and checked-in by a Miss Newless (or “Nywles”….if we are to spell “Selwyn” backwards). By that point we are are clued in that all is not-so-well here….