I had never seen The House that Dripped Blood — at least that I can recall. That’s a glaring omission crying out for correction. How could I have missed an Amicus film starring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Denholm Elliot? Preposterous! Absurd! Yet, inexplicably, it happened. And even more incredible, I’ve had it on DVD since the French Revolution or something. Okay, that’s a bit of hyperbole, but I have had it a rather long time.
The thing I love about Amicus films is that, though they are not Hammer film, they are like something Hammer might make. Amicus movies are like bite-sized little Hammer horror movies all boxed together; they are, if you will, a Whitman’s Sampler of Hammer horror movies. Some of the stories are good, some are not. The less palatable stories can be easily forgiven as the next one will be better . . . and not filled with that chalky bleecch whip.
Just in case you are not in the know, Amicus was an UK studio famous for making horror anthologies in the 1960 and early ‘70’s. The formula was four or five short tales of terror bookended by a larger containing story that ties them all together.
The House that Dripped Blood has four stories and a bookend story all of whom share an English country house as the location. Each of the stories in about a different renter; bookended bythe story the a police investigation. The disappearance of Paul Henderson, a famous horror film actor recently in residence at the house has caught the attention of Scotland Yard. Inspector Holloway questions Mr. Stoker, the real estate agent who rents the house. Stoker explains; the house is a conduit through which certain kinds of people will meet a bitter end. Holloway is skeptical. Stoker tells Holloway four different tales to illustrate his point.
The first story stars Denholm Elliot as Charles Hillyer, a horror writer with a beautiful wife and a sweet car. I can relate. He and his wife have rented the drippy house while he writes his newest horror novel. The first thing that enters my mind when I see Denholm Elliot is that this character is either a weak-kneed puddle of fear or an alcoholic — or both. Hillyer becomes caught up in his own tale of terror.
The second story features the always excellent Peter Cushing. He plays a retired business man who has taken the house in order to enjoy the things he never had time for while he was working: music, reading, gardening and wearing scarves. On a trip to town, he encounters a wax museum with an unexpected display.
Story three has Christopher Lee as stern city gent John Reid, who hires a tutor for his young daughter. The girl is polite, quiet and withdrawn. Reid comes off as tyrannical and overbearing. As the tutor, Ann Norton, becomes more familiar with the Reids, it is increasingly clear that there is something not quite right about either of them.
The final story leads us back to the bookend story. Paul Henderson (Jon Pertwee) is an aging horror icon reduced to working on B pictures. Shooting a movie nearby, he rents the drippy house. While on set he laments the quality of contemporary horror films and punctuates each of his complaints by poking holes in the backdrop with his cane. The set and costumes lack authenticity, he bellows, they look like studio props.
On his way home, he comes across an antique store and is sold an old cloak by a very curious shopkeeper. The cloak is cursed, of course.
Everything is as you’d expect. Christopher Lee roars his lines. Peter Cushing is understated. Jon Pertwee is silly and bit hammy. Denholm Elliot is Denholm Elliot. Each story has a twist ending that wouldn’t be very twisty if you thought too hard about it. This is to say the twists came as a surprise to me as I don’t try to guess the endings. I want to go along for the ride.
The Amicus anthologies are sentimental favorites. They are to film what a box of silver age horror comics is to literature. They take me back to a time and place lost, gone and half remembered. I recommending tasting each one, savoring them all, even the chalky ones.
Nyree Dawn Porter