Amicus Horror Classic Anthologies - A Brief Discussion with a Review of The House That Dripped Blood and Asylum

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Like Universal Pictures from the 1920s to 1950s and Hammer Films, Amicus is a film production company that will be eternally synonymous with great horror films. Often confused with Hammer due to similar subject matter, Hammer regulars; actors, Christopher Lee (The Horror of Dracula, The Wicker Man ) and Peter Cushing (The Curse of Frankenstein, The Brides of Dracula);

directors, Freddie Francis (The Psychopath, The Skull) and Roy Ward Baker (The Vampire Lovers, Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde) and Hammer music composers, James Bernard and Don Banks. Therefore, on viewing initially it is easy to mistake Amicus for Hammer as I certainly did when I viewed Cushing and Lee in Francis’ Dr Terror's House of Horrors.

Yet what Amicus did, to make their films differ, was to produce a collection of short stories linked by a theme, usually in the form of a storyteller. In Dr Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), Cushing plays the mysterious figure who tells a group of fellow passengers in a first-class carriage on a train, their fate via a deck of tarot cards, each reading becomes a story within the film. In the follow-up anthology, Torture Garden (1967), again directed by Freddie Francis, Dr Diabolo (Burgess Meredith; Batman, Rocky) tells a group of fairground revellers their destiny by viewing a thread and shears held by a model of Atropos, the Greek goddess of fate and destiny.

Burgess Meredith as Dr Diabol in Torture Garden

The concept for horror anthologies came from Amicus producers Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg, both Americans who resided in England from 1962, the year that Amicus Productions started operating at Shepperton Studios, Surrey, England until their closure in 1977.

I am confident in saying that their first two, and other classic horror anthologies : The House That Dripped Blood (1971), Tales from the Crypt (1972), Asylum (1972), Vault of Horror (1973) and From Beyond the Grave (1974) were certainly influenced by the horror comics from their country of birth. Especially EC Comics, The Haunt of Fear, The Vault of Horror and The Crypt of Terror, later named Tales of The Crypt, published from 1944 and 1956. The influence is obvious, as two of their films are named after these comics, Tales of The Crypt and The Vault of Horror.

EC Comics didn’t stop publishing these titles because of a drop-in readership, far from it. No, it was the United States Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, a United States Government body in 1953 which was investigating the problem of juvenile delinquency, who blamed rock ‘n’ roll along with comics and such like, that were corrupting the youth of America. Similar to video games today. This is the main reason why Batman, during the 50s and the 60s, went from being the Dark Knight to a lighter version of himself, DC Comics didn’t want to cease the publication of a successful and lucrative character. Yet EC Comics decided to drop their horror titles and focus on their satire magazine Mad.

Yet when the American kids couldn’t get their hands-on Horror Comics, they turned to the dime horror, crime and suspense pulp fiction books, and a leading light in that genre was Robert Bloch.

Bloch gained a great deal of fame and success after Alfred Hitchcock adapted his novel Psycho into a film. Bloch’s Psycho (1959) wasn’t a number one bestseller prior to the production of the film. It was a book that Hitchcock stumbled upon after his long-time assistant, Peggy Robertson, read a positive review of the book, and suggested that Hitchcock should read it. He did and purchased the film rights from Bloch for $9,500 and as the urban myth goes, Hitchcock ordered Robertson to buy every copy of Psycho so no one would know the ending.

Bloch certainly didn’t make the money that Hitchcock made from Psycho, yet Bloch was able to move to Hollywood in 1960, where he carried on writing fiction, as well as carving a career as a screen writer. Again, he worked with Hitchcock on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, penning several episodes for Star Trek, as well as many films, Freddie Francis’s The Psychopath and The Skull, the latter based on a short story by Bloch. So, it did work out good for Bloch in the end, as his name became associated as a master writer of the mystery and macabre.

Subotsky and Rosenberg were clearly fans of the author, as three out of their seven horror anthologies, Robert Bloch is the screenwriter; Torture Garden, The House That Dripped Blood and Asylum.

Now Second Sight have released The House That Dripped Blood and Asylum (29th July 2019) on Limited Blue Ray.

The House That Dripped Blood, directed by Peter Duffell (Man in a Suitcase, Space Precinct) is a film about a sinister house in the south-west of England, either Surrey or Berkshire. Actor Paul Henderson (Jon Pertwee; Dr Who, Worzel Gummidge) has gone missing. His last known whereabouts is an old country house that he was renting during the filming of a vampire picture at a nearby studio. Scotland Yard send down hardnosed Inspector Holloway (John Bennett; Watership Down, The Infinite Worlds of H.G. Wells) to investigate, in which he interviews the estate agent (John Bryans), who acts as the storyteller as he tells the tales of the fate of previous tenants in four segments. The struggling author, Denholm Elliott ( Trading Places, Raiders of the Lost Ark) in Method for Murder, the widower and kind Peter Cushing in Waxworks, the strict and protective father, Christopher Lee in Sweets to the Sweet and the flamboyant thespian Jon Pertwee in The Clock, which co-stars the beautiful queen of horror, Ingrid Pitt (Countess Dracula, Where Eagles Dare)

Ingrid Pitt in The House That Dripped Blood

What unfolds are four disturbing yet enthralling stories with a twist, which are exciting and pleasurable to watch. The four stories are not original by Bloch, yet cleverly adapted from American horror comics to fit the chronicle of a house with a curse. Cosy horror at its best, and always a joy to watch the mesmerising and tantalizing horror legends Cushing, Lee and Pitt, all talented actors that always gave any film their best. The House That Dripped Blood is a film that I have viewed many times since childhood, and it never bores me.

Asylum, directed by Roy Ward Baker tells the story of Doctor Martin (Robert Powell; Jesus of Nazareth, Holby City) arriving for a job interview, he will never forget or even survive, at an isolated asylum with the wheelchair-bound Dr Lionel Rutherford (Patrick Magee; A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon), who asks the attendant Max Reynolds (Geoffrey Bayldon; Catweazle, Devenish. Bayldon was BBC’s first choice to play Dr Who, in which Bayldon by his own admission regrettably turned down the role) to give Martin a chilling tour of the institution, so he can talk to four of the patients, who in turn tell a disturbing and unsettling segment, performed by a stellar cast.

Frozen Fear with Barbara Perkins (Valley of the Dolls, Puppet on a Chain) as she recalls her plot to murder her lover’s wife. Peter Cushing, as the down on his luck tailor, in The Weird Tailor. Charlotte Rampling ( Swimming Pool, 45 Years) as a women who blames her mishaps on her imaginary troublesome friend Lucy, (mischievously and delightfully played by Britt Ekland; Get Carter, The Man with The Golden Gun) in Lucy Comes To Stay and the final segment as Herbert Lom (The Pink Pather North-West Frontier), as an inmate in Mannikins of Horror, the classic mad scientist who believes he can bring small dolls alive with human face by putting his soul into his creations, who is hell-bent on killing Doctor Rutherford. A disturbed Martin leaves the inmates for a final analysis with the sinister Reynolds.

All four stories and the framework are original material by Bloch, with the four segments being published separately prior to the filming of Asylum. Bloch again ingeniously adapted them to fit the narrative of the film.

Asylum is perhaps the darkest and upsetting of all the previous Amicus Anthologies, not that the others are ‘feel-good factor films’, far from it. Yet Asylum is a real tour de force in terms of horror, as it goes beyond the simple yet effective task of ‘spinning a good yarn’. The viewer feels for the patients, as we know, unlike the institution, they are not insane but poor victims of circumstances, whether jealousy or too good to be true opportunity, we really do get inside their mind, and how they came to such a sad conclusion.

Asylum is bleak and insightful as if written by Fyodor Dostoevsky. An author renowned for the study of human psychology in his work, and I am sure that Bloch was influenced throughout his career by writers such as Dostoevsky. Both films may have dated in terms of clothing, design and such like, but certainly not in terms of plot, both classic and worthy viewing whether for the first time or again.

Peter Cushing in Asylum

From my viewing of these, it is easy to see why the collaboration between Subotsky, Rosenberg and Bloch worked, as all three were masters of what they did, fuelled by passion, and the evidence is right before our eyes.

The Limited Blue Rays are a must for any fans, as both are packed with audio commentary, theatrical trailers, stills gallery, 40-page booklet with essays, original featurettes and much more.

Both Films Available on Second Sight Film

 

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