Oh, Amicus Productions, how I love thee. Why film just one movie on a standing set when you can film four? You’re the British answer to American International Pictures.
The House that Dripped Blood (1970) is one of Amicus’ classic portmanteau films, an anthology of four or five movie shorts wrapped up inside a framing story. As the title suggests, the four films in this picture are all centered on a lonely country house and its inhabitants. Each occupant moves into the home only to find themselves confronted with the supernatural: a writer finds his villainous creation seemingly come to life; a lonely bachelor discovers a figure in the local wax museum is identical to the woman he loved and lost; a widower is far too strict in the raising of his young daughter for good reason; and a declining horror actor acquires an opera cloak which possesses unfortunate properties. All these stories are revealed by a Scotland Yard detective’s investigation of a missing person.
The film has a stellar cast of B-list British actors, many slumming from Hammer Productions. Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing turn up (unfortunately in separate stories), as does Denholm Elliot (last seen as the Antichrist’s uncooperative father), Jon Pertwee (The Third Doctor Who), Geoffery Bayldon (Catweazle), and Hammer bombshell, Ingrid Pitt. The stories are the work of Pyscho author Robert Bloch, so they have a solid horror pedigree, even if they’re a little predictable to modern sensibilities.
Of the four, “Waxworks” with Peter Cushing is my favorite. The wav museum as the setting for a horror story is old hat and this tale brings nothing new to the table. Cushing’s performance, however, as a retired bachelor whose plans to “read, listen to music, and do some gardening” are upended by a trip to the museum and the unexpected arrival of an old friend is wonderful. Cushing brings a humanity to the role, and I identified strongly with his character in many ways.
“The Cloak” with Pertwee and Pitt is more comedic than the rest, making it a bit off-key from the rest of the shorts, but Pertwee is enjoyable as the pretentious horror actor, Paul Henderson. Whovian fans will enjoy his vampire costume, as it’s almost identical to his Doctor Who outfit. And he’s not above throwing a little shade in a co-star when Henderson declares “That’s what’s wrong with the present day horror films. There’s no realism. Not like the old ones, the great ones. Frankenstein, Phantom of the Opera, Dracula – the one with Bela Lugosi of course, not this new fellow.” The new fellow in 1970, being, of course, Christopher Lee.
“Sweets for the Sweet,” which features Lee, while being a fine story, also includes a treat for Tolkien fans. Christopher Lee famously read The Lord of the Rings every year, and the film contains a brief scene with his character sitting before the fire, reading from a copy of Tolkien’s masterpiece, which appears well-worn for a movie prop. Perhaps it’s Lee’s own copy taken from his dressing room?
I watch a lot a terrible movies each October, but it is movies like The House that Dripped Blood which make it all worthwhile. I occasionally discover one of these long-overlooked (by me) gems that provides 90 minutes of pure enjoyment. While not the greatest film ever made, The House that Dripped Blood earns a solid 4 skulls out of 5 for being a wonderful example of early 1970s British horror film-making.