The House That Dripped Blood Review
The House That Dripped Blood was the third of the horror anthologies produced by Amicus, a low-budget British operation which was the most serious rival to Hammer Films during the 1960s and early 1970s. Amicus produced a variety of films ranging from the two Doctor Who movies to the mad-as-toast SF-horror extravaganza Scream And Scream Again, but it is for their anthology films for which they are most fondly remembered. The first one was Dr Terror’s House of Horrors - also soon to be released by Anchor Bay – but The House That Dripped Blood is one of the best and a fine starting point for anyone who wants to delve into the anthology movies. It’s a low-key, intelligent and sometimes very funny film which hasn’t dated anything like as badly as some of its counterparts.
The framing story is all about a house in the Home Counties which seems to have an unusually high turnover of owners. Following the disappearance of its current owner, horror film star Paul Henderson (Pertwee), a Scotland Yard detective (John Bennett) is called in to find out exactly what has happened. He discovers that the three previous owners of the house have all come to particularly unpleasant ends and it is these stories which form the first three quarters of the film.
Method For Murder
The first story sees a writer of horror stories (Elliott) move into the house, with his young wife (Dunham), in order to find a quiet place in which to finish his latest novel. He is very proud of his creation, a psychotic strangler named Dominick, but becomes increasingly unnerved as he begins to see Dominick (played by carpet salesman extraordinaire Tom Adams) making appearances in his everyday life. Gradually, Dominick starts to loom larger and it’s not long before his homicidal behaviour in print begins to spill over into reality.
This is a good opener, adapted by Robert Bloch from his own short story. Bloch, who wrote the whole film from his own stories, was always particularly good with psychotic characters and at describing the mental states of people on the edge of a breakdown. Denholm Elliott takes this and runs with it, giving a bravura performance as the writer tipping over into madness and he’s given fine support by Peter Duffell’s splendidly atmospheric direction. One or two scenes, in which Dominick appears through the darkness to surprisingly scary effect, are lit to perfection and credit should certainly go to the cinematographer Ray Parslow. The twist in the tail, an obligatory part of all Amicus anthology stories, isn’t bad and, to be fair, is only predictable if you’ve seen plenty of the Psycho inspired thrillers which proliferated during the 1960s. Special mention should go to Tom Adams whose presence throughout much of the story is memorable enough to distract you from the fact that he destroys any illusion of being sinister the moment he opens his mouth.
The great Peter Cushing features in the second story as Philip Grayson, a lonely bachelor who has retired to the country in order to enjoy some peace and quiet. But he’s incessantly haunted by memories of the woman whom he loved and lost many years before. One afternoon, he visits the town and enters a small waxwork museum, “Jacquelin’s Museum of Horror”, where he becomes obsessed with the figure of Salome who seems to resemble the lost love. His efforts to avoid the museum are doomed to failure when his old friend, and rival in love, Neville (Ackland), arrives and becomes as obsessed with Salome as is Philip.
A real slow-burner, Waxworks is a story which gets better the more you watch it. On first viewing, it seems a little too floridly romantic and melodramatic to be convincing but closer acquaintance reveals it to be full of small pleasures; the poignant atmosphere, enhanced by the use of Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden”; Cushing’s brilliantly controlled evocation of loss and jealousy, probably made even more real by the fact that the actor was facing the impending death of his wife; Wolfe Morris’s amusing performance as the sinister waxworks proprietor; Joss Ackland’s poignant reflection that “we could never have won her, you know”. Bloch’s dialogue sparkles here and Duffell pulls off a fine conflagration towards the end, along with a slightly risible but enjoyable dream sequence. Mention must be made of the extraordinary costumes worn by the two leads. Cushing, in particular, sports a cravat with impeccable style.
Sweets To The Sweet
In this episode, one of the highlights of the Amicus anthologies, and a beautifully achieved short film in its own right, Christopher Lee gives a fine portrayal of stiff-backed disciplinarianism as a father who is terrified that his small daughter (Franks) may have inherited her dead mother’s unsavoury hobbies. He engages a governess (Porter) to look after the girl but is appalled to learn that she doesn’t believe that there is anything to worry about and that she is actively encouraging the girl to engage in the very pursuits, apparently innocent, which might prove most dangerous.
Although it shouldn’t be, it still seems amazing that a cheap horror movie such as this one can throw up something as purely lyrical and elegantly subtle as this story. Robert Bloch’s script is packed with clever little ironic touches and suggestively unnerving dialogue as he plays around with audience sympathies, ensuring that the strict father is never particularly likeable and that the little girl is never obviously sinister. This is helped enormously by the careful performances of Lee – gleefully playing a real martinet - and Porter and, most of all, by Chloe Franks who is one of the least unbearable child actors I’ve ever seen on film. Her watchful eyes are used very cleverly by Duffell and the story builds up to a really shattering conclusion. For once, the twist isn’t the point – it’s not hard to guess really but it’s the way in which the story leads up to the ending that it so effective. Some gorgeously lush photography of the English countryside here and clever use of low angles.
In a role originally offered to Vincent Price, Jon Pertwee plays Paul Henderson, the aforementioned missing actor, who arrives at the house as he prepares to appear in his latest opus “Curse of the Bloodsucker”. Irritated at the low quality of the production values, Henderson declines the moth-eaten cloak he is offered for his costume and insists on obtaining one of his own. Visiting an obscure costumier called Theo Von Hartman (Bayldon), he acquires a much more convincing cloak. All too convincing in fact, as Henderson discovers when, upon putting it on, he turns into a vampire. This is a considerably inconvenience to him and a veritable pain in the neck for his leading lady (Pitt).
Although this episode is more amusing in outline than on the screen, it’s full of clever in-jokes about low budget horror movies and the shortcuts which Amicus (and Hammer) were forced to use in order to make a small budget stretch a long way. Jon Pertwee and Ingrid Pitt play very well together and Pertwee, already well into his four year run as the Doctor in “Doctor Who”, is a resourceful comedian who can get laughs from his delivery even when the lines aren’t all that good. Duffell’s comic timing isn’t great, sadly, and the slapstick scenes are heavy handed but the twist in the tail is a lot of fun and it’s hard not to raise a smile at Pertwee’s extraordinary gurning.
On balance, The House That Dripped Blood is one of the two best Amicus anthology films – along with Kevin Connor’s excellent From Beyond The Grave - and it sustains the interest surprisingly well. The framing story isn’t great but it’s serviceable and John Bennett does very well as the unsympathetic Inspector Holloway.. Robert Bloch’s screenplay is consistently good and the actors respond with enthusiasm. Peter Duffell’s restraint is admirable and, as he has pointed out, the title is a misnomer for a film where not a single drop of blood is actually spilt. It’s a shame that his later career didn’t bring him more success.
Anchor Bay have released The House That Dripped Blood along with Dr Terror’s House of Horrors as tasters of their upcoming Amicus box set which also includes three other mouthwatering titles - Asylum, And Now The Screaming Starts and the deliciously lunatic The Beast Must Die. Although the film suffers from certain problems which result from the quality of the print used for the transfer, it still looks better than I’ve ever seen it look before.
The film is transferred in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and has been anamorphically enhanced. It generally looks great. I say that up front because I really have never seen the film look anything like as good as this. The picture is sharp and clear and packed with fine detail. Colours are beautifully defined with nice differentiations between shades of green, blue and brown. It’s a shame, in the circumstances, that the print used for the transfer contains so much minor damage. There are no jumps or obvious scratches but there is a lot of white speckling and ‘popping’ and this becomes slightly distracting as the film goes on. Obviously, the only way to correct this kind of thing is major restoration and that was never on the cards for this film but do be aware that my comments about the quality of the image do come with this qualification. Believe me, if you’re a lover of Amicus, then you will not be disappointed with the way this disc looks.
There are three soundtrack options. Anchor Bay have, somewhat redundantly, gone to the trouble of remixing the original mono sound into Dolby Stereo 2.0, 5.1 Dolby Surround and DTS 5.1 Surround. Now, given the elements they have to deal with , it’s not at all surprising that the best of these – to my ears – is the Dolby 2.0 track. It’s supposedly stereo but it sounded decidedly monophonic to me. With the Dolby 5.1 and DTS options, you get the original mono sound pumped through the five channels to not particularly impressive effect. This is par for the course with Anchor Bay and I wish they’d just include a nicely restored version of the original mono sound. It’s a matter of taste I guess and one should emphasise that all the soundtracks sound crisp and clear with no crackling or distortion.
The main extra on the disc is a splendid audio commentary from Peter Duffel and expert of British horror, Jonathan Rigby – author of the essential text on the subject “English Gothic”. There are no dead spots and the two men chat away in a very civilised and enjoyable fashion. Rigby supplies the scholarship and Duffell backs this up with some anecdotes about the filming. This is a model of what a good audio commentary can be like in the hands of people who know, and care, about what they are doing.
We also get a brief featurette on the making of the film with interviews from Peter Duffell, Ingrid Pitt, Chloe Franks and Geoffrey Bayldon. This is engaging but not as valuable as the commentary. It’s always nice to see how the actors have aged but they don’t add anything which is particularly interesting.
The disc also contains quite well written biographies of six of the actors and Peter Duffell, some excellent film notes by Mark Miller and a digest of the reviews which the film received at the time. Finally, we get a fascinating photo gallery which includes publicity and behind the scenes shots along with some contemporary articles and reviews.
There are simple but enjoyable animated menus and 18 chapter stops. Yet again, and this is the most disappointing aspect of the disc, there are no subtitles. Presumably, Anchor Bay have decided that non-English speaker, the deaf and the hard of hearing don’t want to watch horror films of this kind. They really need to reconsider this policy.
The House That Dripped Blood is a treat for all fans of British horror. It may have been made cheaply (roughly £400,000) but it’s packed with professionalism and inventive touches from a director who never quite lived up to his promise. This Anchor Bay DVD is a very good package, despite the slightly disappointing print used for the transfer, and I certainly recommend it.
The House That Dripped Blood is released to buy on the 27th October