Lions Gate Entertainment offers a real treat this Halloween in the form of The House That Dripped Blood, an omnibus of horror stories written by Robert Bloch. The big surprise is that this low-profile title has been given an unexpectedly superlative 16:9 transfer, and even includes a fun interview with co-producer Max J. Rosenberg. Fans of classic science fiction and horror films have been all abuzz about the Ray Harryhausen movies from Warner Bros. and the Hammer titles from Paramount, but this minor gem has pretty much slipped under the radar.
Beginning with Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965), Amicus Productions cornered the market for horror film anthologies. 1972's Tales from the Crypt was perhaps the best of and most famous of these, but like all anthology films, the classic 1945 Dead of Night included, pulling together multiple stories within a single film has its own unique set of problems, and Amicus's production of The House That Dripped Blood is not immune. The film is composed of four tales, tied loosely and unconvincingly around a supposedly cursed house, but the stories themselves are uneven. The first three are generally quite good, but the last is played for laughs and severely undermines the atmosphere and intelligence carefully achieved in the earlier stories.
In Method for Murder, horror novelist Charles Hillyer (Denholm Elliott) and his wife, Alice (Joanna Dunham), rent the house so that he can finish his latest book, about a psychotic strangler. The killer is so vivid in Charles's mind that he's even done a portrait of the character and the words seem to flow from his fingertips. But soon Charles begins seeing the strangler in the window of his study and on the grounds of the estate. Is he going mad? This is the best-realized of the four segments, a solid thriller with a nice unraveling performance by Elliott (Raiders of the Lost Ark, A Room with a View) and a surprising resolution well staged by director Peter Duffell (The Far Pavillions).
Waxworks finds old friends Philip Grayson (Peter Cushing) and Neville Rogers (Joss Ackland) both drawn to a local Chamber of Horrors where a wax figure of Salome reminds them both of a lost love. Previously adapted as an episode of "Thriller," this version's effectiveness is nearly undone by the wax figure the men gush over – it's neither as lifelike as it needs to be, nor does it remotely resemble the women of their past, which is seen in photographs. However, the piece works quite well as a study of loneliness and obsession, with excellent performances by both Cushing and Ackland. Of tangendental interest is a wax figure of Christopher Lee's Dracula, which lingers in the museum's background.
Sweets to the Sweet stars Lee himself as a seemingly stuffed-shirt widower whose icy demeanor seems to be the root of 10-year-old daughter Jane's (Chloe Franks) learning problems. Lee hires teacher Ann Norton (Nyree Dawn Porter, who went on to play Margot Fonteyn in Hilary and Jackie before her untimely death in 2001) to try and reach the girl. This tale then moves into the unexpected, thanks once again to excellent performances, with Lee's casting cleverly used to manipulate audience expectations.
In The Cloak, a veteran horror movie star (Jon Pertwee), looking to add authenticity to his current role as a vampire, buys an old cloak from a Renfield-like antiques dealer (Geoffrey Bayldon). The cloak, however, has the effect of turning the star into the real thing. The segment also finds Ingrid Pitt, sandwiched between starring turns in both The Vampire Lovers and Countess Dracula already spoofing her image as a fanged femme fatale.
Linking all this together is a police inspector (John Bennett, who resembles Lance Henriksen) investigating the movie star's disappearance, who learns of the house's history from a local policeman (John Malcolm). A final confrontation between Pertwee and Bennett ends brings the film to an abrupt end; apparently this sequence was heavily cut prior to the film's release. The stories are also linked by the home's landlord (John Bryans), whose name, A. Stoker, is one of the picture's many in-jokes. The house itself, incidentally, never actually drips blood.
The last segment and the wrap-up with the inspector falls flat – it's neither funny as a vampire spoof or as a satire on horror movie-making. Pertwee, best remembered from TV's "Dr. Who," is a funny man, but the episode might have played better with an actor like Vincent Price – who, of course, was already well-established as a real-life horror star – in the role.
This doesn't take away from the previous three segments, however, which are written and directed with as much intelligence as could reasonably be mustered for a 30-day, $400,000 production. Duffell, whose first feature this was, seems to have focused his energies to the horror and suspense sequences, which have solid blocking, good camera angles, and are well cut together. Duffell's work is aided by the unusual but effective score by pianist Michael Dress. Although the minimalist orchestrations were probably a result of the picture's low budget as anything else, its avant-garde quality adds much to the film. Effective use is also made of Schubert's Death and the Maiden during the Peter Cushing segment.
Video & Audio
The House That Dripped Blood has been given a very nice 16:9 anamorphic transfer. Inherent in the film elements themselves is some age-related speckling, particularly near the end of reels, but this is very minor flaw, and does not detract from the film itself. The image is clear with extremely good color. Director Duffell seems to have used primary colors mainly for emphasis and the use of reds and greens here is particularly vivid. Easy-to-read English and Spanish subtitles are offered. The jacket lists the show as being in stereo, and while that may be true of the Rosenberg interview, the movie itself is definitely monaural.
The disc includes an interview with co-producer Max J. Rosenberg, recorded this past summer with the American Cinematheque's Dennis Bartok at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. The 89-year-old producer seems to sabotage his own interview, however, taking most of the credit for the film's success, and completely dismissing the contributions of longtime partner Milton Subotsky. He never mentions either Cushing or Lee during the interview though does offer fond recollections of author Robert Bloch. The 7 1/2-minute interview is presented in 4:3 full frame format.
The House That Dripped Blood is one of five Amicus titles being released in Britain in PAL format by the UK arm of Anchor Bay. Whether this suggests that these other titles -- Dr. Terror's House of Horrors, And Now the Screaming Starts, The Beast Must Die, and Asylum -- will likewise find a DVD release through Lions Gate is unknown to me. But I hope so. None of these films are first-rate horror films. They are, however, absolutely perfect for Halloween.