Saturday, July 25, 2015

Movie Reviews: The House That Dripped Blood

The House That Dripped Blood
directed by Peter Duffel
Amicus Productions was a British film company that was actually owned by Americans. In many respects it was a Hammer Films ripoff. Well maybe ripoff is an unfairly harsh term. Rather I should say that the look and feel of the company's films were often similar to those of Hammer. This was made more so by the fact that apparently Hammer had neglected to sign many of its most notable stars to exclusive contracts so quite a few of them showed up in Amicus films. In this film for example, quite bountiful cleavage is provided by Hammer Films va-va-voom icon Ingrid Pitt. Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee also show up for to add their usual gravitas to the proceedings. The major difference between the two companies was that Amicus was much better than Hammer at producing interesting films set in the present day while Hammer of course tended to shine at period films, Regency or otherwise. This film is an interesting time capsule of the looks and styles of early seventies Great Britain. Anyway this is another film in a packet sent to me by my brother. I think it was the best of the films included therein. It's an anthology of four short stories all of which revolve around the titular home. Robert Bloch, the noted American horror author of Pyscho, wrote the stories and screenplay for this film. So there's quality writing, solid actors and decent direction. And the film is just a little short of two hours. So even the infrequent down times don't last very long. Despite the title there's very little depiction of blood shown in the movie. In fact I think there might not be any. So if you are the sort of person who avoids horror movies because you can't stand the sheer nastiness and explicitness of much of the genre, you might be interested in checking this out. Or on the other hand if you are turned off by the ubiquity of nudity, spurting blood, shaky camera work, jump cuts and crushed heads that have become common place in modern horror films you may be intrigued by a slower paced horror film that really presents itself as a mystery and avoids too many overt shocks to the system. The director had a background in television which turned out to work well with the episodic nature of this movie. The special effects are not so great and are not even state of art for the time. But there is a definitely a tongue in cheek feel to the proceedings, particularly when Pitt is on screen. Some of the cheesiness is probably quite deliberate. All the same, it's Bloch's writing and pacing which make this movie work.

Detective Inspector Holloway (John Bennett) is looking into the strange disappearance of an horror film actor. The actor was last seen in the house. The real estate agent Stoker (John Bryans in one of many shout outs to horror luminaries) has some strange stories to tell about the house. Despite his disbelief in anything that can't be quantified and enumerated, Holloway is willing to listen. Each story is opened and ended with Holloway looking less sure of himself and casting worried glances at the real estate agent. Could there be something really wrong with the house? Or are all of these incidents mere coincidences? Watch the movie and find out. 
Method for Murder
Could it be that this story inspired Stephen King's The Dark Half? Dunno. I think Koontz might have written similar works as well. Anyway in this tale a horror writer (Denholm Elliot) is concerned that his fictional creation of a mad strangler named Dominic (Tom Adams) is actually alive and threatening both him and his wife (Joanna Dunham). He's hearing strange noises around the house and seeing things. His wife thinks that he's gone round the bend. She suggests rest and seeing a shrink. The writer starts to question his grip on reality. Does Dominic really exist? Is he Dominic?
This story could be subtitled Eleanor Rigby were that song actually written about a man. But loneliness is hardly limited by gender is it. In this short, Peter Cushing is a desperately lonely gentle retired bachelor who has watched life pass him by. His only joys are listening to classical music and taking long brisk walks around town. It's probably not a reach to suggest that his long brisk walks are substitutes for other more pleasant activities he'd rather be doing but which require another person. Anyway on one of his jaunts about town he discovers a wax museum with surprisingly realistic figures. Cushing's character is entranced by the wax figure of Salome. This version of Salome looks like a woman he used to know. Cushing's character may be wistful about missed opportunities with women but Cushing also plays the role in a deliberately prissy fey manner. The leering owner of the museum (Wolfe Morris) seems to know more about things than he lets on while another man (Joss Ackland) tries to warn the Cushing character away from the museum while slowly falling under some sort of strange spell himself.
Sweets to the Sweet
In almost all of his Dracula movies for Hammer, the late Christopher Lee didn't get to do much more than snarl, grimace and intone portentously. One could forget that he was a pretty damn good actor, as he often showed in his non-Dracula Hammer movies and here in "Sweets for the Sweet". This is a great little short which will definitely make you question who is the hero and who is the villain. John Reed (Lee) is an imperious dominant giant of a widower (Lee employs his full 6'5" height in most scenes) who appears to be needlessly cold, harsh and downright mean to his only child, his daughter Jane (Chloe Franks). Reed has employed a new tutor/governess for Jane, Ann (Nyree Porter). He doesn't care to explain his frigid parenting style to Ann or go into detail about why he forbids Jane to have any dolls or toys. This short is subtle and enjoyable. I think this was probably the best of the four shorts. Paternal authority is necessary but it can also be extremely frightening, especially if your father happens to be a sneering type who's quick with discipline and a cutting remark.
The Cloak
This piece is the campiest of the bunch. It sends up Amicus, Hammer and some serious actors, e.g. Christopher Lee, who were occasionally annoyed at being typecast in what they considered work beneath their talents, like for example horror films. Paul Henderson (Jon Pertwee) is a famous horror film actor who has somehow fallen on somewhat hard times. Nevertheless the show must go on, not least because Henderson is too old to do anything else. So he's off to do another vampire movie. Still, although Henderson's annoyed at the crappy scripts, laughable sets and ridiculous special effects he's forced to work with, he's in his heart of hearts a true horror fanatic. He appreciates horror and knows the history. So when Henderson has the opportunity to increase his character's verisimilitude by purchasing an antique graveyard cloak from a rather disturbing shop owner (Geoffrey Balydon), he leaps at the opportunity. Things don't quite work out. Ingrid Pitt steals this short just by, well being Ingrid Pitt. She's Carla Lynde, Henderson's companion. She seemingly doesn't have much to do besides display herself but she's obviously in on the joke. There's a sudden shift from camp to attempted serious horror which didn't quite work for me. Fright Night did this sort of thing much better fourteen years after this work. All in all The House That Dripped Blood was a decent horror flick if you are a Pitt, Lee or Cushing fan or are just curious about how people made horror films before they could amp up the gratuitous sex and violence.
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