GORE IN THE STORE
Film, DVD, Blu-Ray & Streaming Reviews - By Fans For Fans
DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS ***
Directed by Freddie Francis.
Starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Roy Castle, Alan Freeman, Donald Sutherland, Kenny Lynch, Neil McCallum.
Horror, UK, 98 mins, cert PG.
Released in the UK on DVD & Blu-ray via Fabulous Films on 5th December 2022.
With the return of the horror anthology to mainstream consciousness, thanks to the likes of the V/H/S series, THE ABC’S OF DEATH movies and the like, it is little wonder that the archives are being raided to bring back some of the old favourites for Blu-ray releases. Back in the 1960s and ‘70s, as well as being rivals to Hammer, Amicus became well known as a production house for horror anthologies and DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS was their first, originally released in 1965 and beginning a series of portmanteau films that would include THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1970), TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972) and FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE (1974).
DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS begins with five strangers sharing a train carriage on an unspecified journey. As the train departs they are joined by the mysterious Dr. Schreck (Peter Cushing), named after the German word for ‘terror’, although, as the good doctor says, this is “an unfortunate misnomer, for I am the mildest of men”. Schreck produces a pack of tarot cards and begins to read the fortunes of the five men in the carriage, giving us our five tales of terror and the template for future anthology movies.
The first tale, titled WEREWOLF, is the weakest of the bunch and sees Jim Dawson (Neil McCallum) returning to his former Scottish homestead where the new owners want his advice for renovation work. Whilst checking out the house Dawson discovers a coffin buried deep under the house and unwittingly becomes caught up in a family curse involving werewolves coming out of the grave to wreak havoc. It’s an odd story, seeing as werewolves aren’t known for rising from the grave to go on the rampage, and quite dull but the 1960s décor looks fantastic and Ursula Howells gives a compelling performance as the new owner of the house.
CREEPING VINE is the second story and features radio DJ Alan Freeman as Bill Rogers , a family man who returns home one day to find a strange plant growing outside of his house. As time goes on the plant begins to spread and when Rogers tries to cut it down it becomes sentient and deflects the shears. Seeking the help of expert botanist Hopkins (Bernard Lee), Rogers is soon held hostage in his home by the plant until they discover the one thing that may help them escape. More fun than WEREWOLF, CREEPING VINE is as daft as it sounds but is helped along by some ludicrous science and Bernard Lee looking like he was missing working on JAMES BOND movies (and consoling himself with a bottle or two). Quite why Bill Rogers was targeted by a killer plant is never made clear as he isn’t a flawed character like the rest of the train carriage’s occupants, but otherwise CREEPING VINE is a fun but forgettable little story.
Musician and TV presenter Roy Castle is the lead for VOODOO, a more deliberately comical tale of jazz musician Biff Bailey (Castle), who gets the chance to go to the West Indies to play in a hotel for the locals. There he meets Sammy Coin (British entertainer Kenny Lynch) who warns the cocky Bailey to keep clear of the voodoo ceremonies, but Bailey gets intrigued by a particular tune played as part of a voodoo ritual and despite warnings from a voodoo priest, takes the music back to London and plays it for an audience there, with disastrous results.
Featuring charming performances from Roy Castle and Kenny Lynch, VOODOO is where DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS begins to step up and offer something other than what were at the time traditional horror movie threats (although Castle’s cod-West Indian accent could have been left on the cutting room floor). The music is fantastic, and although Castle was an accomplished musician he was actually miming to a backing track, but he does it well and this segment is a colourful and fun middle section that sets up the following two stories.
Story number four is called DISEMBODIED HAND and sees the cynical art critic Franklyn Marsh (Christopher Lee) being publicly humiliated by artist Eric Landor (Michael Gough). Marsh becomes convinced that Landor is stalking him and takes revenge by running him down in his car and severing his right hand. Unable to take not being able to paint Landor kills himself but his amputated hand lives on and begins to torment Marsh. Of course, Lee is magnificent as always, clearly relishing the chance to play a victim (of sorts) for once, and although this section is a little darker and features some dodgy special effects – look out for the seam on the fake hand during once unfortunately angled scene - it is still a fun romp.
And finally onto VAMPIRE, which features a young Donald Sutherland as Bob Carroll, a newlywed who has taken up the position of GP to a small rural community. A young boy with bite marks on his neck is brought into the surgery and Bob, along with his colleague Dr. Blake (Max Adrian), begins to suspect that there is a vampire at work in the community. Quite what this has to do with Bob’s wife Nicolle (Jennifer Jayne) is anyone’s guess, but she does get out of bed a lot in the night.
VAMPIRE is another fun story that takes a little suspension of disbelief but there isn’t long to tell it so all can be forgiven. Sutherland is fine with what he has to work with but it is Max Adrian who steals this section as the doctor who, conveniently enough, knows how to deal with vampires.
And after the five stories are told and our characters know their fate there is one more twist to be had, although you’ll have to watch the movie if you want to know what it is. To be honest, it isn’t that difficult to work out but in the mindset of a 1965 audience it would probably have worked a little better. Also included on the disc is an hour-long documentary about the film that features, amongst others, author Jonathan Rigby and THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN star Reece Shearsmith talking about its influence and some interesting production details. There are also some archive cast interviews, an image gallery and trailers, plus the bonus of a double-sided poster featuring artork by Graham Humphreys.
The movie features a decent clean (for the most part) picture that benefits more during the brighter scenes, such as in VOODOO, but overall, the film doesn’t quite stand up against the later efforts from Amicus, being a little too lightweight and cheesy when put up against darker material like FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE. As an introduction to horror anthologies it does the job, but whether it is one you’ll want to return to too often is debateable as it only really picks up on the third story. Still, the ratio of good-to-bad sections is still higher than in whole V/H/S series, if that is anything to go by.
Film, DVD, Blu-Ray & Streaming Reviews
By Fans For Fans