DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS. (1965) MADE BY AMICUS PRODUCTIONS. PRODUCED BY MILTON SUBOTSKY AND MAX ROSENBERG. WRITTEN BY MILTON SUBOTSKY. DIRECTED BY FREDDIE FRANCIS.
STARRING PETER CUSHING, CHRISTOPHER LEE, MICHAEL GOUGH, DONALD SUTHERLAND AND KATY WILD. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
This is one of the brilliant anthology films created by Amicus, the brainchild of Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg. Amicus were Hammer’s rivals, but they were actually pretty much every bit as good as Hammer. They were certainly terrific at doing deliciously creepy little portmanteau films like this one.
There’s also THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD, starring Christopher Lee and Ingrid Pitt; TALES FROM THE CRYPT, in which a stunning young actress called Joan Collins gets chased through her house by an evil Santa Claus on the night before Christmas; and its follow-up THE VAULT OF HORROR. This one features brother-and-sister actors Daniel Massey and Anna Massey in a tale of vampires who terrorise a small town after dark. ‘THEY come out at night…’
Most of these films begin with a small group of random people, who don’t know each other to begin with, all coming together in the same place. TALES FROM THE CRYPT features a bunch of folks who’ve come to see a tourist attraction.
THE VAULT OF HORROR features five middle-aged businessman whose elevator has conspired to bring them to a particular room in their office building which they didn’t know existed before today. While they wait for the stalled lift to work again, the fun happens…
THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD is the story of various people who have all consecutively rented the same isolated house in the country, and in DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS we have five gentlemen who all share the same railway carriage together.
They don’t really have those any more, do they? Railway compartments for five or six people, I mean. (Maybe just for the Queen and her mates.) I’ve never been in one but I would have loved to travel that way, by private carriage that you could lock with a bed in it for overnighting. Such luxury!
Now you have to sit on the public seats like everyone else, breathing in the foul, fetid cough-and-cold germs of your fellow passengers and listening to their music (if you can hear it, it’s too loud!) and inane mobile phone conversations. Bring back the old days, I say!
Anyway, Peter Cushing as the mysterious and enigmatic Dr. Schreck (it means terror in German; remember Max Schreck as Murnau’s Nosferatu in 1922?) is the common denominator that brings the five male travellers together in DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS. When Dr. Schreck, the sixth and final passenger to enter the carriage, is revealed to have a deck of tarot cards about his person, it excites considerable comment amongst the other men.
Pish-posh, what utter tosh! There’s no such thing as reading peoples’ futures from a silly deck of cards, you’re off your bleeding trolley! This is the opinion of one of the men, Christopher Lee’s character Franklin Marshall, the esteemed art critic.
He is utterly sceptical and scornful of Dr. Schreck’s profession, calling the soft-voiced man with the foreign accent a charlatan, a spoofer and other unflattering names intended to convey disbelief. He’s quite rude to the fellow, in fact.
You’re entitled to your own opinion, concedes Dr. Schreck with a mild smile, but nonetheless I bet you guys that these cards can accurately predict all of your futures, care to take a chance and let me do a reading for each of you? He refers to his cards as his ‘House of Horrors,’ by the way.
The men are doubtful at first, but then one chap, a Mister Jim Dawson, agrees that it might be a bit of a lark. Dr. Schreck dutifully shuffles the cards after Mister Dawson has tapped ’em three times. It’s all part of the ritual, see?
We see a vignette then in which Dawson, an architect, travels to a house on an island in the Hebrides on which he has already done some work for the owner Mrs. Biddulph, an attractive middle-aged widow.
She lives alone in the house except for the staff, an old man called Caleb and his grand-daughter Valda, played by the actress Katy Wild who will be familiar to fans of Hammer’s brilliant horror film THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN.
She- Mrs. Biddulph- apparently now wants some major structural work done on the house to accommodate her husband’s collection of artefacts pertaining to… well, I forget what. Something, anyway. Fair enough. Mister Dawson duly gets to work.
During the course of these structural alterations, an ancient coffin is unearthed buried in the walls of the house’s equally ancient cellar. It’s the resting place of a chap from the Olden Days called Cosmo Valdemar (what a magnificent name, sounds very Vincent Price-ish!) who was murdered by an ancestor of guess who’s…?
You’ll never believe this but Cosmo Valdemar was murdered by an ancestor of Mister Dawson’s, the very architect who’s charged with doing up the house now. The house, in fact, was once Mister Dawson’s family home before it was sold to Mrs. Biddulph and he grew up there. It’s a bit of a coincidence but there it is. Maybe that’s why Mrs. Biddulph gave Dawson the job of fixing up the house in the first place, because he knew the joint so well, see?
Anyway, it was a bad move on Dawson’s part to disturb the earthly remains of Cosmo Valdemar, who figures that now is a good time to avenge himself on the conveniently in-situ descendant of the man who killed him. Poor old Dawson is a sitting duck all right, but is there more to the legend surrounding Cosmo Valdemar than he’s aware of…?
‘Something came out of that coffin tonight. Something evil and strange…’
The next one is short but fun, and resembles nothing so much as a kind of miniature version of sci-fi movie THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS. A family consisting of a Mum, a Dad, a little girl and a playful and curious dog called Rusty, return from a holiday to realise that the vine growing at a ferocious speed on the side of their house has a mind of its own.
It’s a carnivorous mutation along the lines of a Venus Fly Trap, in fact, only much, much worse and more aggressive. When Man’s Best Friend is found strangled to death by the malicious vine, much to the distress of the family, the scientists are called in. They’ll really need to be on fire, however, to defeat this murderous freak of nature…
‘A plant like that could take over the world…’
There’s a sentence you don’t hear every day.
In the next vignette, a really annoying jazz musician called Biff Bailey, who seemingly never listens to the advice he’s given, travels to the West Indies with his band for a gig. They love the local calypso music. It conjures up images of tall, frosty-cold drinks with umbrellas in them on the beach. We could all use some of that this time of year.
Anyway, Biff in particular gets super-excited when a local musician fills him in on the strange and frenzied goings-on that occur when the natives are performing one of their voodoo dances. Biff unwisely decides to spy on one such session, where the native girls are alleged to strip off most of their clothing and get really uninhibited, if you get my drift.
He doesn’t see too many titties, but he’s certainly very taken by the wild music they’re performing so frenziedly, so he starts scribbling down the musical notes. He doesn’t take it too seriously when the chief warrior bellows at him:
‘YOU WROTE DOWN THE MUSIC OF THE GREAT GOD DEMBALA? IF YOU STEAL FROM HIM, THE GOD WILL BE REVENGED!’
It’s just a load of old native superstition and codswallop and mumbo-jumbo, right? Wrong, so wrong. When Biff returns home to good old Blighty, he finds that he’s accidentally brought a little bit of the West Indies home with him. And I don’t mean the venereal disease he’s almost certainly picked up as a result of the fraternisation he’s undoubtedly engaged in with the native ladies, the dirty fecker.
The next story is my favourite one because it’s got Christopher Lee in it. He plays the snobby and superior art critic Franklin Marshall, the guy who’s openly sceptical of Dr. Shreck’s profession.
Remember this? ‘Foretelling the future with a pack of cards? What rubbish!’ The narcissistic and unbearably pompous Franklin is nonetheless publicly pressured into tapping the magic deck of cards three times to bring forth a reading…
When he is bitterly humiliated by artist Eric Landor (Michael Gough: DRACULA, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA) and a really cute monkey- yes, I said monkey!- Franklin Marshall, now a laughing stock in his own profession and a nervous wreck to boot, decides to take his revenge.
(Never mind that Eric Landor only does what he does to pay back Franklin for publicly eviscerating his work!) But vengeance turns to a nightmare when a series of terrifying events cause Franklin to take his eyes off the road. Could Eric Landor possibly have had a ‘hand’ in it…?
Finally, a ridiculously handsome and young-looking Donald Sutherland plays a doctor called Bob Carroll who has just brought his new French bride Nicole to his New England home.
When an outburst of vampirism seems to take place shortly after Nicole’s arrival, can the disturbed new hubby trust the opinions of the local medic, Dr. Blake, who seems to be suspiciously well up on his vampire lore? A bit too well up, I’d say…
There’s a bit at the end that ties up all the loose ends and the five men find out what fate really has in store for them. Beware the haunted tarot cards of the mysterious Dr. Schreck. They don’t call him Dr. Terror for nothing.
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
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