Monday, 12 December 2011


The British company Amicus found a niche with omnibus horror films that started in the mid 60s with DR. TERROR'S HOUSE OF HORRORS and TORTURE GARDEN. The later was comprised of stories by author Robert Bloch (Psycho), who also supplied the literary source and screenplay for 1970’s THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD. By this time, the series had found the look and feel that made them so appealing, and it became a notable hit in the U.S. and it helped spawn the rediscovered trend of “House” movies In the 70s. Amicus was now churning anthologies out one after the other for a good five years.

“The House” that the exploitive title refers to is a creeky old gothic residence that links four stories together--all renters face a gloomy fate. All of the previous inhabitants have met death while residing there, as the real estate agent, Stoker (John Bryans), will tell you. While investigating the disappearance of an actor, a police inspector (John Bennett) is told of the aforementioned grisly happenings. First, in "Method For Murder," a horror novelist (Denholm Elliot) believes one of his creations, a madman called Dominick (Tom Adams), is alive and well and stalking the house. Nobody else sees Dominick, who constantly lurks from the shadows of the house, and the writer's young wife (Joanna Dunham) is in harm's way as she is nearly strangled to death. But who is Dominick, and is he fact or fiction

In "Waxworks" Peter Cushing plays a lonely retired bachelor who visits a wax museum and discovers a figure of Salome that resembles an old flame. A friend (Joss Ackland) comes to visit and since he shared romantic interest in the same woman, he too is lured to the exhibit. The figure is more than it’s cracked up to be, and so is its the museum's strange owner (Wolfe Morris). In "Sweets To The Sweet," Christopher Lee plays a stem father who fears his own daughter (child actress Chloe Franks in probably her best role), as her late mother had a supernatural background. The child fears fire, and he won't let her play with dolls or interact with other children. An understanding nanny (Nyree Dawn Porter) comes to the aid, but black magic has already entered the picture.

The last segment, "The Cloak," is a comic spoof that intelligently sends up the genre. Veteran actor Paul Henderson (Jon Pertwee, who around the same time was the third TV "Doctor Who") Is tired of playing in horror films below his standard. Fed up with his inadequate wardrobe, he buys a cloak from an oddball shop owner (Geoffrey Bayldon) that transforms him into a real vampire. Ingrid Pitt plays Carla, a vampire film starlet who has a nasty habit of spawning fangs and flapping about the house, and she initiates Henderson into her nocturnal world. This segment also brings everything full circle with the wraparound story, and when it's all over, the curse of “The House” lives on.

THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD could be the best of the Amicus anthologies. Its first-time feature director, Peter Duffell, was a stranger to the genre and has been so ever since, but that hardly shows here. The film can be disturbing (the little girl throwing a wax image of her father onto the fire as he screams in agony), sentimental (the retired man strolling happily through the small English town with strains classical violin music in the background), and intense (the tormented writer being haunted as a result of his own imagination). The last segment (known as “The Cloak”) works great as a spoof. As the stuck-up horror actor, Pertwee prances around the studio insulting the inexperienced director, he criticizes the set for being too unrealistic, and he raves about how horror films aren’t made like they used to be, "Frankenstein, Phantom of the Opera, Dracula - Bela Lugosi of course, not the new fellow" (in reference to Christopher Lee).” Similar in-jokes and references to the genre are abound, and the film is constructed with colorful flair, with atmospheric scares and style rather than gory shock effects, and the music by Michael Dress is hauntingly unique. The cast is superb, handling the fun material so well, and it's great to see Lee and Cushing here as vulnerable everyday types, rather than villains or monsters.

Recently, Lion's Gate has released THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD on DVD in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. The film looks far better than the old Prism VHS release. The picture has crisp detail, and the bold colors are well-defined. The only major problem here is some print damage in the form of frequent speckling blemishes, and some minor edge enhancement halos. Needless to say, Amicus fans and those who have seen the film in the past will not be disappointed with the transfer, as it's truly never looked better. The audio is 2.0 stereo, and aside from some background hiss, serves the film satisfactory.

The disc includes an interview with Amicus co-founder Max J. Rosebnberg which also incorporates footage of him at a recent screening in California. The interview is brief but a nice addition, as he recalls (with a sharp sense of humor) Amicus Films, how it got its name, the writing of Robert Bloch, director Peter Duffell, etc. There is also a trailer for the film (which is actually an American TV spot), and trailers for HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, CABIN FEVER and BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR (you can access all of these by selecting the Lions Gate logo on the main menu). As part of an Amicus box set, Anchor Bay in the U.K. is about to release THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD as well. Those with multi-region players who are diehard fans of this title (and of Amicus) will want to look into it. Although it contains an identical transfer, it includes a director's commentary, a featurette interviewing some of the cast members, and other welcomed supplements. All of these are sadly missed on the Lion's Gate release, and it's a damn shame that stateside consumers have to miss out.

George R. Reis

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