Peter Duffell, 1971
Starring: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Jon Pertwee, Denholm Elliott, Ingrid Pitt
Amicus’s third anthology film, after Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors and Torture Garden, is still a relatively early example of the studio’s mastery over the portmanteau subgenre. While I tend to think that they got better as they went along — later efforts like Tales From the Crypt and Vault of Horror are my two favorites — The House That Dripped Blood is a marked improvement over Torture Garden and offers up one of their best framing devices: a disturbing old house that has witnessed many horrors (though definitely does not drip blood at any point during the film) is the focus of a new investigation from a jaded Scotland Yard detective (British TV actor John Bennett). It also boasts one of the best casts out of any of Amicus’s genre films, including some fantastic appearances from British horror stalwarts like Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, as well as Ingrid Pitt, Third Doctor Jon Pertwee, and the delightful Denholm Elliott.
Though regular Amicus director Freddie Francis was absent for this film — replaced by British TV regular Peter Duffel — author Robert Bloch once again returned as screenwriter. The first tale, “Method for Murder,” sets the tone for the series, which is lighter on camp than Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors or Torture Garden, and features a convincing blend of crime and horror. Denholm Elliott plays a horror writer who rents the titular house to break through writer’s block, though he begins to see physical manifestations of the psychopathic character he has created. Spoilers: This story has a particularly fun twist, one that (possibly intentionally?) makes fun of Hammer suspense films. It turns out that the writer keeps seeing his fictional psychopath, because his wife (Joanna Dunham) is having an affair with a young actor (Tom Adams) and wants to steal all her husband’s money. But the joke is on her, because the actor has really become possessed by the spirit of the killer…
The second tale, “Waxworks,” is a bit more plodding — or would be if it wasn’t for the delightful intervention of Peter Cushing, reprising a role similar to the one he played in stand-alone Amicus film The Skull: a reasonable, if not outright likable man who is clearly on a descent into insanity. Cushing’s character, Peter Greyson, is a retiree renting the house to relax and pursue activities like gardening, reading, and staring longingly at the photograph of a beautiful young woman. Soon he comes across her likeness in a gruesome wax museum and it’s clear that he and another friend — played by underrated actor Joss Ackland, fresh off Hammer suspense film Crescendo — have a complicated history with her. One of the weaker links in The House That Dripped Blood, it’s still plenty entertaining thanks to a strong performance from Cushing, who I would watch in anything.
About on par with “Waxworks” is the next story, “Sweets to the Sweet,” which stars Cushing’s regular partner-in-crime, Christopher Lee. He plays a stern father who is mysteriously cruel to his traumatized young daughter. Refusing to send her to private school, he hires a pretty teacher (New Zealander Nyree Dawn Porter of The Forsyte Saga) to help bring the girl out of her shell and give her an education. But the teacher soon learns that he’s not abusive towards his daughter because of some past trauma, but because he fears that the girl has inherited her mother’s violent occult powers. Aside from Lee’s domineering, charismatic presence, this is probably the most forgettable story in the anthology and has sort of a smug approach to witchcraft themes. “Sweets to the Sweet” essentially follows the idea that the child in inherently bad and will cause rampant destruction if allowed to do basic childhood activities like playing with dolls.
The final entry, “The Cloak,” is if not the best of the bunch, at least equal to “Method for Murder.” Though Vincent Price was supposed to star, he was prevented from doing so by his contract with American International Pictures, though the would later collaborate with Amicus on Madhouse which costarred Price and Cushing. Instead, the wonderful Jon Pertwee was cast as Paul Henderson, a genre celebrity who rents the house while working on a local horror shoot. He buys an old cloak from a strange man, but realizes that it makes him act strangely, even inspiring him to bite the neck of his buxom costar (Ingrid Pitt, allowed to be delightfully funny for once). This is one of the best segments in any Amicus portmanteau film, so I don’t want to ruin it.
The House That Dripped Blood comes recommended, particularly for anyone who loves old school horror with liberal doses of camp and humor. It’s also a great place to start if you’ve never seen an anthology film and want to check one out. The film is available on a UK DVD or US DVD, though I’m hoping a Blu-ray box set of Amicus anthology films will come along sometime soon — at least something to rival the Arrow Vincent Price/Roger Corman box set.