Monday, December 29, 2008
The House That Dripped Blood (1970) review
THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1970)
John Bennett (Inspector Holloway), John Bryans (Stoker), Denholm Elliott (Charles Hilliar), Joanna Dunham (Alice Hilliar), Peter Cushing (Philip Grayson), Christopher Lee (John), Nyree Dawn Porter (Ann), Chloe Franks (Jane), Jon Pertwee (Paul Henderson), Ingrid Pitt (Carla), Geoffrey Bayldon (Von Hartmann)
Inspector Holloway from Scotland Yard is assigned to investigate the sudden and mysterious disappearance of horror film star, Paul Henderson, who had leased a house while shooting a picture. Henderson's disappearance isn't the only macabre occurrence to take place within the walls of the ominous and isolated mansion. Possessing a sordid and horrifying history, ghastly murder and death befall all those who purchase The House That Dripped Blood.
Another anthology film from Amicus studios made popular with their initial omnibus outing, DR. TERRORS HOUSE OF HORRORS (1965). At the time Amicus was Hammer’s chief rival and their anthology productions provided some stern competition to the renowned studio of horror. After DR. TERROR, Amicus released TORTURE GARDEN (1967), possibly the weakest entry in the studios series of cinematic compendiums.
For me, THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD perfectly captures a modern Gothic aura as well as a horrific irony and darkly humorous sense of purpose absent from some of the other anthology movies. Here, director Peter Duffell delivers four horror stories (and a wraparound) from writer Robert Bloch. Each retains an air of the classic and ghoulish EC horror comics which were banned in the late 50's by the Comics Code for its extreme violent content.
The first tale, “Method For Murder”, deals with a horror novelist whose creation comes to murderous life. He sees the visage of the insane killer featured in his new book at every turn, whether it be atop the staircase in his house, or by the riverside along the rear of the mansion. When discussed with his wife, she doesn’t share his plight.
One evening during a violent thunderstorm, Charles believes he sees his novel’s murderer, Dominic, strangling his wife. He rushes to her but she proclaims that it wasn’t Dominic but Charles who tried to kill her. He goes to his psychiatrist for help. His doctor tells him that he has created a character in his mind to carry out deeds he cannot do with his “normal” self.
While the doctor talks, the murderous Dominic enters quietly from behind. He kills the doctor, then Charles. Later that evening, Dominic returns to the mansion to apparently kill Charles’ wife. As he enters the house, he approaches her but instead of strangling her, he embraces her. Alice asks how it all went. The stranger removes a mask and false teeth revealing a handsome young man. The phone rings delivering the terrible news to Alice about her husband. She explains to her lover, Richard, that murdering Charles and the doctor was not part of the plan; they were to drive him insane and receive residuals from the sale of his books. The man then proclaims his name isn’t Richard, but Dominic. Thunder and lightning fill the sky as the maniac then strangles Alice all the while laughing maniacally.
Some very spooky scenes permeate this first story. The most frightening occurs in a shot of Charles pouring himself a drink. In the mirror next to him, a figure suddenly comes into view. He looks up recognizing the figure as the murderer in his new novel. He turns swiftly to face the staircase but the figure has vanished. Another shot following this has Charles discover that the drawing of Dominic in his drawer has disappeared. An echoed, cackling laugh calls his attention behind him.
This story is by far the most EC of the entire quartet. As most stories found in those infamous comics were morality tales of murderous and adulterous individuals getting their comeuppance for their deeds, here it is a philandering wife who has the tables turned on her by the very man whom she was having an affair with. The capper being that the house itself, an abode of pure evil, has overtaken Richard changing him into the murderous Dominic.
The second story, “Waxworks”, doesn’t deal so much with the supernatural house, but a sinister wax museum. Philip Grayson (Cushing) moves into the title abode and contrary to his statements of never having a dull moment, boredom finally sets in. Not long after, memories of a past flame resurface after he happens across a picture of a beautiful woman while going through some photos. Philip makes a trip into town and discovers a wax museum.
He enters and among the many waxen figures of serial murderers and homicidal maniacs, Grayson finds a macabre display of a beautiful woman holding a large platter with a wax decapitated head on it. Something about the eerie face on the female waxen figure jostles Philip’s memory. He immediately exits the establishment.
The next day, Neville, a friend from years prior, looks him up. Neville and Philip venture into town and Neville also wants to check out the wax museum against Philip’s wishes. He comes upon the same disturbing figure and like Philip, becomes entranced by the haunting beauty of the morbid image. The proprietor watches from behind. It is later found out that both Philip and Neville had fought for the affections of the same woman--the same woman who apparently is the waxen model found in the museum.
When Neville cannot help himself from being drawn to the museum to stare lovingly at the ghoulish display, Philip rushes to stop him only to find his head now adorning the platter. The proprietor then shows up wielding a huge axe with which he uses on Grayson to make sure no one will ever possess his Salome.
Some have made arguments that this segment is the weakest of the lot but I found this one to be the most disturbing of them all and provides an even more eerie compliment to the foreboding house of evil. The participation of my favorite actor, Peter Cushing helps immensely. The look of Salome’s waxen image is one of the creepiest shots in any horror movie even if the endlessly revolving decapitated heads that keep showing up on the platter she carries look fairly unrealistic. There's also a nightmare sequence wherein Cushing enters the museum, now engulfed in fog. Going over to the Salome exhibit, the female features have been replaced by a skull. Cushing was also involved in a nightmare sequence on a much darker scale in the 1965 Amicus production, THE SKULL.
The third segment is the longest of the four. “Sweets To the Sweet” deals with John Reid (Lee) and his daughter, Jane being the next occupants of the malicious mansion. John refuses to allow his daughter to attend public school preferring to have an in-home tutor. The reasons of which are revealed later on.
A tutor is decided upon and teacher and student soon hit it off very well. Ann, the tutor, soon realizes that something is not quite right in this family especially after Jane displays an aversion for fire. This comes to the fore when Ann buys Jane some toys; a doll in particular. John instantly rips it from her hands and tosses it into a lit fireplace. Not long after, Jane begins to show interest in matters of witchcraft and the occult.
After repeated abuse on the little girl, Jane creates a wax doll of her father using some of his hair and a number of candles. Stabbing pins into it, John knows now what has happened. One night, and in serious agony, John recounts to Ann that his wife was a witch and (in so many words) that Jane was kept hidden from society for fear that something terrible might stem from her mother’s devilish activities should they be passed on to the daughter.
Ann sees Jane in the hallway clutching the voodoo doll. She rushes to take it from her. Jane runs into the study next to the fireplace. As Ann pleads with her to hand over the deadly doll, Jane says, "He said I couldn't have a real doll. This isn't real...it's only wax." She tosses it into the fire much like her father had tossed her toy doll into the flames earlier. An agonizing scream is heard from John’s room as a sinisterly evil grin forms on little Jane’s face.
Irony fills this episode as the torturous discipline that John implements to keep Jane from contact with the outside world brings about his own downfall. Also, Jane has a fear of fire till Ann convinces her otherwise and this, too, aids in John's gruesome death at the end of the episode. Christopher Lee is in fine form as the cold, but terribly frightened man, John Reid. All the performers, including little Chloe Franks and Nyree Dawn porter are also very good. When the tale ends, Stoker opts a reasoning for the house's malevolence, "It wasn't the man...or the child...or what either of them believed that caused the tragedy. It was the house."
The final segment deals with the missing horror star; the object of Holloway's investigation. “The Cloak” has arrogant film actor, Paul Henderson cast in a new horror film, ‘The Curse of the Bloodsuckers’. For this production, he wants something authentic. A nightly visit to an off kilter antique dealer proves valuable in that he has something that Paul is looking for. A cloak that will soon prove to be more authentic than Paul had bargained on.
Paul tries on the cloak late one evening just as the clock strikes midnight. The self centered actor is shocked to find he has grown fangs! A gust of wind blows through the house and Paul is lifted into the air. He removes the cloak and everything returns to normal. With much trepidation, Paul is reluctant to utilize the cape in his scenes for the film especially after putting it on and finding he casts no reflection in the mirror!
His catty co-star, the seductively alluring Carla, becomes embittered with him when, during a shot, Paul actually bites her on the neck. To repay his mistake, he invites her to dinner at his home. There, he explains to her what actually happens when he places the cloak around his neck. She discounts his story and badgers him to put it on to prove it’s only fantasy.
He begrudgingly adorns the cursed cloak at the stroke of midnight only this time nothing happens. He takes off the cape and notices a tag that reads, 'Property of Shepperton Studio'. Carla then unveils the real cloak to which she places around her neck. Paul quickly ascends the stairs pleading with her to remove the cowl. Carla reveals that the entire film crew are vampires and that they wish to initiate him into their union of the undead; "Welcome to the club!"
This story is told with a certain degree of humor, a very dark shade of humor. The best bits have Paul disgusted at the set design for the film, “Look at it…! It’s so flimsy you could shoot peas through it!” he says while reminiscing of the authenticity and style of the horror films of old taking special notice of the Universal DRACULA, “The one with Bela Lugosi, of course, not the new fellow.”
An odd moment occurs during the final moments when Carla puts on the cloak. If she was already a vampire, then why should she need the cape to do so? And the sudden revelation that the film crew are also vampires isn’t fully explained but like the other inconsistencies throughout the film, you just go with it. The 'Dominic' mask from the first story is seen twice being worn by one of the players from the 'Curse of the Bloodsuckers' production.
The film wraps up with Inspector Holloway taking a fateful trip out to the mansion at night, eager to see for himself the mystery of the house and possibly some traces of the fate of Paul Henderson. He gets more than he bargained for when he finds two coffins in the basement-- one contains the now vampirized film star and the other houses Carla.
Holloway manages to stake Paul but is overcome by the female creature of the night. The closing moment has the Realtor named Stoker explaining the horror of the house and what it does to those who decide to take residence there-- “It reflects the personality of whoever lives in it...and treats him accordingly. I hope it finds a proper tenant soon. Perhaps you would like it? There's nothing to be afraid of....if you're the right sort of person. Think it over."
Originally chosen to be titled DEATH & THE MAIDEN by the director, the producers decided on the more appropriately horror sounding, THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD. Although the initial title is more artsy and respectable, Duffell wanted that moniker as his segments featured women at the center of all the horror. Having read the directors thoughts on this, it all makes sense, really. However, having seen the movie around a dozen times, I never made this connection till having read Duffell's reasoning.
Christopher Lee was originally offered the role of Paul Henderson in the vampire story but declined and was delighted when he got the more meatier role of John Reid for the voodoo story. Although achieving a modicum of success in its native Britain (in addition to receiving the best reviews afforded an Amicus production), the film was a hit in America in theaters and frequent play on television which is where I saw it for the first time one Saturday afternoon on a local channel which ran horror or fantasy double features on the weekends.
The music in THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1970) is also unique. There’s an eerie and otherworldly quality about it and each segment has its own separate and supremely spooky musical motif. Whether it's echoes of various ominous sounds, piercing, unnerving strings, or sudden musical stings the musical score is to horror what Morricone's trademark musical stylings are to spaghetti westerns. The house itself is part of the moody and unusual score with its creaking doors, floors and unsettling grandfather clock.
THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1970) has long been one of my favorite movies and my favorite anthology from Amicus. It was the first one I ever saw and I hold it in as high regard as Amicus' production of TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972). The other anthologies that followed (and the ones before it) I thought were middling, or average at best, with the worst for me being the torturous TORTURE GARDEN (1967) and ASYLUM (1972) not far behind that one.
With such a lurid title like THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD, you would expect ample use of the red stuff, yet there isn't a drop shed from any of the participants. It's a successfully accomplished horror picture that still manages to create an atmosphere of dread and one that makes viewers chuckle at just the right moments. It's definitely one horror house fans can lease out for a pleasing night of terror television.
This review is representative of the Lionsgate region 1 DVD. This disc also contains an interview with producer, Max Rosenberg.