Thursday, 3 December 2020

The House That Dripped Blood

Dwelling Point

The House That Dripped Blood
UK 1971 Directed by Peter Duffell
Amicus/Second Sight Blu Ray Zone B

The House That Dripped Blood is the third of the famous Amicus portmanteau style horror films, following on from Dr. Terror’s House Of Horrors (reviewed here) and Torture Garden (reviewed here). There had been a bit of a longer gap between this and the previous film but the format is more or less the same, we just don’t have Freddie Francis in the director’s chair. Instead, we have Peter Duffell working from a script by Robert (Psycho) Bloch, who had also written Torture Garden (for better or worse).

This one is kind of in between the previous two in terms entertainment value, I believe. It’s not quite as adventurous or intriguing in concept as Dr. Terror’s House Of Horrors but it’s certainly not as dull as the first hour or so of Torture Garden. In the previous films you had linking stories consisting of a train carriage and a wax museum fortune teller respectively... this one has a story about a police inspector who is trying to find out why a big film star has gone missing from his home, the titular dwelling which, despite that title, doesn’t once drip blood and, indeed, was nearly awarded an A certificate from the UK film censors if the film makers hadn’t pleaded for a stronger rating, fearing that the lack of credibility of a movie which such a light rating would harm its chances with horror film fans.

So each story is of somebody telling the inspector about one of the previous inhabitants of the house and the demise which was visited upon them. Actually, the house seems to have absolutely nothing to do with things at all other than at the insistence of a policeman and the estate agent (a Mr. Stoker, if vampire fans are paying attention). I’m guessing that setting the vast majority of the action of each tale there, where the main characters of each segment found themselves back at the house between adventures, was appealing because you didn’t have to go to go out and shoot on other locations quite so much.

The five segments are Method For Murder, Waxworks, Sweets To The Sweet, The Cloak and the framing story... Framework. Here’s a quick run down of the stories as they appear:

In Method For Murder, Denholm Elliot plays a crime/horror writer who rents the house and moves in with his wife to give him the proper atmosphere to write his next best seller. Early on he devises a new character, Dominik, an escaped strangler from a mental asylum. Alas, not long after he creates him, he starts seeing Dominik around the house and grounds. I have to say, the 'gaslighting' plot is pretty obvious here and the final reveal is thoroughly expected. Perhaps that’s why, after this reveal, something else is piled on which, to be honest, seems a little hasty and somewhat of a clumsy attempt to add an extra bite to the proceedings. Not the best idea but the segment plays along nicely up until then.

The second segment, Waxworks, follows the adventures of Peter Cushing, who moves into the house for his retirement, looking forward to reading, music and gardening his remaining years away pleasantly. However, when he visits a local Wax Horror Museum, he is enthralled by the exhibit of Salome, who startingly resembles a woman he obviously once loved but lost. He is told by the owner of the waxworks that the model is based on his own dead wife, who was a murderess. Joss Ackland, a friend from Cushing's past and an equally unsuccessful rival for the same girl, it transpires, drops by on a visit and also discovers the enchanting Salome. Needless to say, with both gentlemen under the spell of the wax model, something is amiss and there are some violent (but in no way graphic) resolutions in store for certain characters.

Up until now, the stories feature killers rather than anything or anyone that would bring this film into the horror genre but, luckily, the next two segments do stray back into that classification, starting with Sweets To The Sweet, featuring Christopher Lee as a widower who moves into the house with his young daughter, who he won’t let have a normal childhood. Instead, he hires a new 'live-in' tutor played by Nyree Dawn Porter but, although the teacher and the little girl hit it off, the real villain of the piece is not necessarily who you think it might be. Well, okay, it was for me but I’m sure some people will not be expecting the way this one goes.

Finally we have the fourth segment, The Cloak... which dovetails also into the resolution of the framing story. This is the story of a famous star of horror films, played by Jon Pertwee not long after he started playing the lead role in Doctor Who. He moves into the house and is in a new movie with an actress played by the stunning Ingrid Pitt (who also played in Countess Dracula, reviewed here and The Vampire Lovers, reviewed here). The tale tells of the pompous actor who is working on sets that are not good enough for him and with costumes he doesn’t think will do. So he goes to a local shop to buy a decent cloak for his vampire character. And it’s nice that the owner of the shop, who sells Pertwee the cloak, is none other than Catweazle himself, Geoffrey Bayldon. Of course, less than a decade later, the two would be regularly starring opposite each other in Worzel Gummidge, with Pertwee as Worzel and Bayldon as The Crowman. Anyway, Pertwee gets more than he bargained for because, whenever he dons the cape he gets the urge to suck blood, casts no reflection and, in a scene which really pushes the comic nature of this last segment (horror and comedy have always been natural bedfellows), levitating and flying around his room. Pertwee really does a great job here and, as usual, relishes his over-the-top comic performance (which would sometimes come out in his Doctor Who work from time to time too). The end of the segment has a twist reveal and a case of vampirism that is then, more or less, repeated less than ten minutes later in the wrap up to the film, followed by the estate agent breaking the fourth wall and asking if, perhaps, a member of the audience would like to rent the house next.

And, it’s not brilliant but it is fairly entertaining and, with a cast that strong, a pleasure to watch. There were some nice little touches and references to both film and horror history and, strangely, a bit of unintentional future casting foreshadowing, as there is a scene where Christopher Lee is reading the exact same paperback edition of Lord Of The Rings that my father used to read and revisit again and again in the 1960s and 70s. Who knew at the time that he would, decades later, go on to play one of the main characters in that work.

There’s also some nice camerawork and shot design throughout. This isn’t brightly coloured with primaries like some of the films which it can name as its kin, instead relying on a mostly subdued colour palette throughout, barring a scene or two at the Horror Museum where it strays briefly into Italian giallo/horror territory. However, the director does do some nice things with the camera which offsets the lack of dynamic colour in the film. For instance, a shot of Christopher Lee’s head front and centre of the screen when he answers a phone call is contrasted by the big staircase and landing around the hall, which we can see up and above past Lee’s head as his daughter walks around it. Another really nice moment is where the Inspector is being told about one of the previous owners of the house and he is in extreme foreground with his head on the right of the shot and with his arm coming up from the left of the shot, holding a cigarette. The policeman telling the story is also in deep focus in the middle groove of the shot made by the negative shape of the foreground character and his arm. So, yeah, some great shot ideas here.

The music, by a guy I’d not heard of called Michael Dress, is serviceable and appropriate throughout most of the film, really coming into its own in the framing story whenever anyone goes inside the gloomy house, where he manages to weave a quite creepy and subtle atmosphere into the music. This matches a visual device of the director, who tends to sometimes cut around to sinister objects in the house by way of short breaks from scene to scene to imply a time transition. The composer seems to have died only a few years after this, at the tender age of forty years old, so I guess that’s why I’ve not come across him before.

And I don’t have too much more to say about The House That Dripped Blood, to be honest. I enjoyed this much more than Torture Garden and am really looking forward to watching the next film in this unofficial series of Amicus Portmanteau horrors. That will hopefully be sometime very soon as one of the segments also brings it into the realm of... ‘Christmas movie’.

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