The British company Amicus found a niche with omnibus horror films that started in the mid 1960s with DR. TERROR'S HOUSE OF HORRORS and TORTURE GARDEN. The latter was comprised of stories by author Robert Bloch (Psycho), who also supplied the literary source and screenplay for 1970's THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD. By this time, the series had found the look and feel that made them so appealing, and it became a notable drive-in hit in the U.S. and it helped spawn the rediscovered trend of terror-filled House movies In the 1970s. Amicus was now churning anthologies out one after the other for a good five years.
The House that the exploitive title refers to is a creeky old gothic residence that links four yarns together – all renters face a gloomy fate. All of the previous inhabitants have met death while residing there, as the real estate agent, A.J. Stoker (John Bryans), will tell you. While investigating the disappearance of an actor, a Scotland Yard police inspector (John Bennett, THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF) is told of the aforementioned grisly happenings. First, in "Method For Murder," a horror novelist (Denholm Elliot, VAULT OF HORROR) believes one of his creations, a madman called Dominick (Tom Adams, FATHOM), is alive and well and stalking him the house. Nobody else sees Dominick, who constantly lurks from the shadows of the house, and the writer's young wife (Joanna Dunham) is in harm's way as she is nearly strangled to death. But who is Dominick, and is he fact or fiction?
In "Waxworks" the great Peter Cushing plays a lonely retired bachelor who visits a wax museum and discovers a figure of Salome that resembles an old flame. A friend/rival (Joss Ackland, RASPUTIN THE MAD MONK) comes to visit and since he shared romantic interest in the same woman, he too is lured to the exhibit. The figure is more than its cracked up to be, and so is the museum's strange owner (Wolfe Morris, THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN), who carried around a medieval hatchet. In "Sweets To The Sweet," the legendary Christopher Lee plays a stern father who fears his own daughter (genre child actress Chloe Franks in probably her best role), as her late mother had rather supernatural, bewitching habits. The child fears fire, and he won't let her play with dolls or interact with other children. An understanding live-in nanny (Nyree Dawn Porter, FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE) comes to the aid, but black magic has already entered the picture.
The last segment, "The Cloak," is a comic spoof that cleverly and amusingly sends up the genre. Veteran actor Paul Henderson (Jon Pertwee, who around the same time was the third TV "Doctor Who" for the BBC) Is tired of playing in horror films below his standard. Fed up with his inadequate wardrobe supplied by the studio, he buys a cloak from an oddball curiosity shop owner (Geoffrey Bayldon, FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED) that transforms him into a real vampire when he dons it. Sultry Hammer veteran Ingrid Pitt (COUNTESS DRACULA) plays Carla, a vampire film starlet who has a nasty habit of spawning fangs and flapping about the house, and she initiates Henderson into her nocturnal world. This segment also brings everything full circle with the wraparound story, and when it's all over, the curse of The House lives on.
THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD could be the best of the Amicus anthologies. Its first-time feature director, Peter Duffell, was a stranger to the genre and has been so ever since, but that hardly shows here. The film can be disturbing (the little girl throwing a wax image of her father onto the fire as he screams in agony), sentimental (the retired man strolling happily through the small English town with strains of classical violin music in the background), and intense (the tormented writer being haunted as a result of his own imagination). The last segment works great as a spoof, and it seems a wise choice to cast Lee elsewhere in the film. As the stuck-up horror actor, Pertwee (with a passing resemblance to Ferdy Mayne in THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS) prances around the studio insulting the inexperienced director, he criticizes the set for being too unrealistic, and he raves about how horror films arent made like they used to be, "Frankenstein, Phantom of the Opera, Dracula - Bela Lugosi of course, not the new fellow" (in reference to Christopher Lee). Similar in-jokes and references to the genre are abound, and the film is constructed with colorful flair, as well as atmospheric scares and style rather than gory shock effects, and the music by Michael Dress is hauntingly unique. The cast of mostly British TV veterans, is superb, handling the fun material so well, and it's great to see Lee and Cushing here as vulnerable everyday types, rather than murderous mad doctors or larger-than-life monsters.
Lion's Gate Films released THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD on DVD in 2003, which is now long out of print. Severin Films had hinted some time ago that it was planning to do a special edition Blu-ray which is yet to materialize, so this DVD from Hen's Tooth Video is a surprising release and an improvement in terms of quality over Lion's Gate. Like the 2003 disc, the film is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement, but the transfer (possibly done in HD, but no indication on the packaging) looks far better. The frequent print speckling and edge enhancement halos on that plagued the Lion's Gate DVD are nowhere to be found here, with the new clean transfer boasting improved color saturation, more accurate fleshtones and far crisper detail, with minor grain detectable in some shots. The mono audio is also much cleaner than what could be found on the Lion's Gate disc, as the background hiss is no longer detectable. Optional English subtitles are included.
There are absolutely no extras found here, so if you're upgrading for the quality, you might want to hang on to the old Lion's Gate disc for the video interview with the late Amicus co-founder Max J. Rosebnberg, as well as a 16mm TV spot which was supplied by your's truly. Keep in mind that the PAL DVD release (which carried an an identical transfer to the Lion's Gate disc) featured a director's commentary with Peter Duffell, a featurette interviewing some of the cast members (including Franks, Bayldon and the late Ingrid Pitt), and other welcomed supplements. All of these goodies are still sadly missed on Hen's Tooth Video's quiet release of this British anthology classic. (George R. Reis)
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