Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965)
Dir: Freddie Francis
Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Roy Castle, Donald Sutherland, Max Adrian, Ann Bell, Peter Madden, Neil McCallum, Michael Gough, Jennifer Jayne, Max Adrian
Run-Time: 98 Mins
The first in a series of seven horror anthologies produced by Amicus from the mid sixties to the mid seventies sees five strangers sharing a train carriage. They are joined by a sixth, the enigmatic Dr. Schreck (Cushing), who claims his name means “Terror” in German. He has a deck of tarot cards (which he calls his “House of Horrors”) and begins to tell the fortunes of his fellow passengers. And thus we have the framing device for the spooky stories.
The beauty of the horror anthology movie (or at least one of the beauties) is that if you don’t enjoy one story, another one will be along fairly shortly. The opener demonstrates this wonderfully as its a fairly dull opener. An architect (McCallum) is invited to a remote Scottish mansion to discuss alterations with the property’s owner. There is a local legend about the house having formely belonged to a werewolf (everyone seems to accept Werewolves as a real, everyday thing) and a curse that will cause the werewolf to rise from the grave. Everything you think happens from that synopsis happens, exactly when you’d expect it to.
The second story is one of the shortest. A family returns home from holiday to find a vine has taken root in their garden. When they try and cut it down, the plant responds with intelligence, and soon has the family and some friends imprisoned in the house until the people try and make a desperate break for freedom. It’s actually a quite well put together short.
It was common for horror anthologies to include a comedic segment for levity and this is what follows next. Roy Castle is a jazz musician who accepts a gig in the West Indies where despite repeated warnings he steals a tune from a voodoo ceremony. It’s never laugh-out-loud funny but it did make me chuckle a fair bit, and the writer Milton Subotsky should be commended for not relying on one type of humour as he mixes slapstick with visual gags and one liners.
Next up is Christopher Lee as Franklyn Marsh, an acerbic art critic who engages in a feud with particular celebrated painter, Eric Landor (Gough) whom he thinks talentless. As the feud escalates, Marsh runs over Landor, a hit-and-run attack which costs Landor the use of a hand. Unable to paint any more, Landor commits suicide. So far it’s been a really well told and intriguing story, enhanced by Lee’s screen presence. Then it falls off a cliff as Landor’s hand comes back from the grave and menaces Marsh until it finally causes a car accident.
Finally, Donald Sutherland plays a Doctor who returns back to America with his new French bride (Jayne). The first few minutes are almost a gentle romantic piece as the newly-weds settle into their home and Sutherland introduces his bride to his colleague (Adrian). Then Sutherland attends to a sick young boy who, in a brilliantly subtle reveal, has two bite marks on his neck. After that, there is one incredibly obvious twist, and one not-so obvious one.
It’s a little bit of a missed opportunity as the false security of the innocent opening and the well handled reveal of a vampire in town suggest something a greater potential for a different kind of vampire story (not to mention a potentially much longer one), but as a whole it’s a good end to the stories.
There is just time for one final twist regarding the identity of Dr. Schreck. If you’ve seen Tales from the Crypt (the fifth in the series) it’s a very similar one.
The Verdict: Overall a solid start to Amicus’ series of horror anthologies. Aside from the first story the scripts are neatly written (if often predictable), and are at worst watchable mindless entertainment supported by a strong and able cast.