The film opens in the year 1692. An angry mob storm through the small American town of Whitewood, in search of Elizabeth Selwyn (Patricia Jessel, NO KIDDING). When they find her, they accuse her of witchcraft and drag her screaming towards a stake.

Bound to the stake, Elizabeth is set afire to rabid chants of "Burn witch burn!" from the onlookers. All but one - a witchhunter who, under his breath, asks Lucifer to save her. As she burns and a storms brews in the skies above, Elizabeth tells the villagers she has vowed her soul to Satan and a curse will be struck upon their town for all eternity.

Cut to modern times, and the implausibly serious professor Alan Driscoll (Christopher Lee, HORROR OF DRACULA) is holding a lecture on 17th century witchcraft - funnily enough, he's actually telling his class all about the legend of Elizabeth Selwyn.

Driscoll keeps pretty young American student Nan (Venetia Stevenson, ISLAND OF LOST WOMAN) behind after class to tell her how well she's doing with her history course. Nan's delighted with the compliments from her lecturer, and tells him she wants to travel to America for "first hand research" on 17 th witchcraft.

Despite the disapproval of her brother, fellow lecturer Richard (Dennis Lotis, SHE'LL HAVE TO GO), and her gormless boyfriend Bill (Tom Naylor, DANGER ON MY SIDE), Driscoll gives Nan the address of an inn in Whitewood and soon she's on her way, alone.

Nan arrives at Whitewood at night, naturally, in dense fog. She drives there, picking up a mysterious stranger who tells her "times stands still" in the town when she comments on it looking like something straight out of the 17th century.

Far from having the jitters by this point, Nan checks into the Raven's Inn, oblivious to the fact she's about to learn that witchcraft is very much alive and well in Whitewood ...

Shot in stark contrasting black-and-white, THE CITY OF THE DEAD works so well because it is hugely atmospheric. The melodramatic score, and over zealous acting on all parts only add to the dark atmospherics, creating a heightened sense of the odd and paranormal as Nan unwittingly walks straight into Hell.

The film boasts a superbly suspenseful mid-section, but nosedives a tad towards the end. And yet, at only 77 minutes in length, THE CITY OF THE DEAD roars along at breakneck speed throwing in hysterical witches, ugly Victorian-style villagers, stake-burnings, blood-drained corpses and a rescue mission that inevitably goes awry. And Lee is put to good use too, his overacting suiting the lurid B-movie stylisms of the story's telling.

John Llewellyn Moxey (THE NIGHT STALKER) is a good director who tempers the pulp plot with the aforementioned stunning black-and-white photography, lending visual style to otherwise preposterously OTT scenes such as the opening witch-burning.

Curiously dated, yet utterly enthralling and much more enjoyable than Hammer's releases from the same year (1960), THE CITY OF THE DEAD is a great example of British horror from it's period.

Redemption's 2-disc Special Edition offers more than any other title in their growing library.

Disc 1 serves up the uncut film in its original 1.66:1 ratio, albeit not 16x9 enhanced as the cover suggests. Still, images are sharp and well-contrasted making this an excellent transfer.

The English mono audio holds up well with minimal crackling or hiss, resulting in a clear and loud track.

Static menus include access to the main feature via 6 chapters. Sadly the commentary from Lee that's advertised on the cover is not present.

Over on disc 2, we've got some pretty substantial interviews.

The first is a conversation with Lee, conducted by Brad Stevens in London. It's an excellent 45-minute discussion which finds Lee in full luvvie mode, namedropping for England. Still, he's a likeable chap and one of the few remaining genuine living legends of cinema.

Next is an interview with Stevenson, where she recounts how she was plucked from an appearance on TV's Jukebox Jury to appear in this film (20 minutes), and a 26-minute interview with director Moxey addressing the camera from his home in Los Angeles.

The interviews were all conducted for the US DVD release, and were filmed back in 2001.

There's also the original theatrical trailer, also presented in non-anamorphic 1.66:1. It looks great, and is as sensational as all the horror trailers from this era were.

Redemption have also included two trailers for other titles on this disc - REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE and LES DEMONIAQUES.

Finally, there are brief promo art and stills galleries.

A thoroughly enjoyable slice of vintage British horror with visual style to spare, and a great silly performance from Lee. Redemption's disc may simply port the extras from a previous US DVD release, but for British consumers that may well be more enough to entice their hands into their wallets.

It's just a shame the Lee commentary didn't transpire.

Review by Stu Willis

Released by Redemption
Region All - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review