Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The House That Dripped Blood (1971)

Come with me, darlings, back to a time when the British horror house Amicus ruled the Cineplex, back to a time where horror movies gave us the pleasantly unpleasant sensation of goosebumps instead of just simply grossing us out with gores. Come, travel back with me to a time of misty moors, of strange noises in the night, of unnamable things in the dark, and even more terrifying still, the evil things that lurked beneath your own eaves.

Come and witness the terror of…The House That Dripped Blood!

After renting an old house out in the English countryside while shooting his new vampire movie, a famous film star (John Pertwee) goes missing. Scotland Yard sends a detective (John Bennett) to investigate and a local police officer (John Malcolm) recounts the sordid past of the house…that dripped blood!

This 1971 film is a must for anyone wanting to relive or experience for the first time the glory days of Amicus Productions. First of all, it’s one of the most well-done horror film anthologies out there, boasting stories by Psycho scribe Robert Bloch and an impressive cast featuring Christopher Lee, Ingrid Pitt, Peter Cushing and many others!

The first segment, entitled “Method for Murder,” stars Denholm Elliot as horror author that buys the house with his wife (Joanna Dunham) so he can focus on writing his next book. Inspiration comes soon enough, and he creates a vicious strangler named Dominic. Trouble is, he keeps seeing him everywhere he goes! Is the author crazy or is Dominic really there? This is a superb, paranoid piece of cinema that really makes you wonder if Dominic (played by Tom Adams) is really there or not. There is a great tension both in the story and how the segment is shot by director Peter Duffell. I also loved that Elliot made his role of the author so believable!

“Waxworks” is the title of the next segment and it features Peter Cushing as a wealthy, retired gentleman that buys the accursed house. One day while in town he visits a wax museum and is startled by a wax mannequin that looks very much like a woman from his past. When his friend (Joss Ackland) shows up, he too visits the wax museum and is transfixed by the same beautiful wax model. We never quite find out who the mystery girl from both their pasts is, but we are treated to a very unnerving and creepy atmosphere. There is a disorienting dream sequence that is disturbing and of course the finale is very well executed.

Christopher Lee stars in segment three, “Sweets for the Sweet,” as a seemingly cruel father who forbids his young daughter from playing with other children and even from having a doll. Her nanny is shocked at his behavior, but soon learns a horrifying family secret that explains everything. Christopher Lee’s character is downright nasty in this one (always a pleasure to see) while the cute-as-a-button Chloe Franks plays his daughter. I loved the interaction between the two, as well as the nanny’s (Nyree Dawn Porter) interaction with the both of them. I felt the story was a bit more predictable than the last two, but wholly enjoyable nonetheless.

The final macabre tale called “The Cloak” brings the film full circle as we return to the detective (John Bennett) who is investigating the latest foul play to befall an owner of the house. The detective leaves the police station to interview the realtor (John Bryans) who sold the famous actor (John Pertwee) the house. The realtor recounts how the actor acquired the house to be close to the set of his latest movie, a vampire film. The actor was dissatisfied with the low-budget props and costumes for the film, so when he stumbled upon an old curio shop that had the perfect cloak for his role, he spared nothing to acquire it. He didn’t have to spare much, as the old proprietor was more than happy to sell him the cloak. There do seem to be some problems, though. Each time the actor dons the cloak he can no longer see himself in a mirror and has a thirst for blood. You see, the cloak turns him into a real vampire whenever he wears it!

Of course the detective doesn’t believe a lick of the story (or any of the others, I imagine) and goes to investigate the house on his own…

The final segment does a great job of tying everything up into a neat and complete package. I loved how the wrapped the whole story up with the overarching storyline of the detective investigating the film star’s disappearance. I also enjoyed Pertwee’s performance of the “prima donna” actor. Ingrid Pitt was equally good as a fellow actress who takes a special liking to the cloak.

Overall, The House That Dripped Blood is an excellent horror anthology. It doesn’t rely on gore or gags to entertain the viewer, but rather on building tension and slowly unveiling the mysteries of the stories. Instead of showing you all its cards at once, it holds back and makes you question exactly what it’s holding. It makes you wonder, it makes you think and it makes you a little spooked…what more can you ask for?

They certainly don’t make many movies like this anymore, and it is a pity. Luckily we have these old gems to look back on and enjoy. If you haven’t been privy to The House That Dripped Blood, I highly recommend you check it out!

Available from Amazon!

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