Cinema Sunday: Dr Terror’s House of Horrors (1965)

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Title: Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors

Distributor: Amicus Productions/Regal Film Distributors

Writer: Milton Subotsky

Director: Freddie Francis

Producers: Milton Subotsky, Max Rosenberg

Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Donald Sutherland, Michael Gough, Ann Bell

Released: February 1965

MPAA: UR

 

As I promised recently, I wanted to take a look at another Amicus film, to give them their due! In this anthology film, we get a cast that rivals just about anything else in the genre at this period in time. And not just well established guys either, you get a few fresh faces that ascend to rather steep heights.

Although Amicus didn’t have the sheer volume of films as say, Hammer Studios, but their impact certainly made them the main rival to Hammer, especially for the simple fact that they were able to steal most of their actors and actresses (not really steal; the actors weren’t under exclusive contracts and didn’t make a ton of money and simply had to make a living). Seeing the faces of the perennial favorites will easily get you in the mood as soon as they appear on-screen. Well, let’s get down to business!

 

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As the scene unfolds, we see a busy train yard in England. One man is already aboard, and looking at a doll that he’s purchased for his daughter. Just then, another man enters the car, followed by four more. The last man, who introduces himself as Dr. Schreck (Peter Cushing), is a bit odd but friendly nonetheless. One of the men to enter the car, is renowned musical critic, Franklyn Marsh (Christopher Lee). He seems very uptight, and quite like a curmudgeon. Dr. Schreck falls asleep, and his carry-on bag falls over. The contents fall all over the floor, and the men help him gather his things. One man notices his a deck of cards, and Marsh identifies them as Tarot cards. He tells the other men that the cards can tell the future, and that he’s willing to use his talents to show them theirs!

 

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The first one to volunteer, Jim Dawson  (Neil McCallum), is shown how he’ll  be trying to buy back an ancestral home that has fallen out of the family. There are a couple of mysterious figures about the house (a couple of familiar faces in Katy Wild – The Evil of Frankenstein, and Peter Madden- Frankenstein Created Woman, Kiss of the Vampire), and they act very suspiciously. Jim eventually wants to see the basement and after procuring the key from the old man of the house, he heads downstairs. He bangs on the walls with a crowbar (yeah, that is weird), and accidentally bashes in some plaster. He finds a coffin and the old man tells him that it’s the coffin of Count Cosmo Valdemar, a nobleman that owned the house previous to Jim’s family, and swore vengeance against them if he was ever revived!

 

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The second tale is about Bill Rogers (Alan Freeman), and his family. He and his family are living the mundane life until one day, while doing yard work, they attempt to cut down a mysterious vine that’s begun growing along the house. The vine seems to “fight back,” and Bill is flabbergasted. He takes his story to a couple of scientist friends of his who initially seem skeptical. Eventually though, one of them comes to the house after not only a dog, but a friend is seemingly murdered by the vines.

The third story involves Biff Bailey (Roy Castle), who’s a musician that gets a gig in the West Indies. He’s doing his thing one night, and a local who sings at the same club tells him of the voodoo ceremonies that go on at night. Biff is intrigued, and sets out to watch. He does just that and attempts to write the music to use for his own personal gain. The voodoo priest stops him, but Biff remembers the tune. When he goes back to London, strange things that cannot be explained begin to plague his life.

 

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The fourth installment features Franklyn Marsh (Christopher Lee) who has shown great disdain for the good Doctor and the notion that any of this is plausible. We watch as Mr. Marsh, who’s pretty much a self-centered jackass, rips apart an artist, Eric Landor (Michael Gough). Landor gives it right back to Marsh and gets some slight revenge by showing Marsh for the conceited jerk he really is and making a monkey out of him. Marsh gets so angry, that when he sees Landor in the streets, he runs him over with his motorcar! Landor’s one hand gets severed, but lets just say that it isn’t the last we or Marsh see of it!

 

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The penultimate act (but the last “story” in the film) is about Dr. Bob Carroll (Donald Sutherland) and his new bride, Nicolle (Jenifer Jayne – The Trollenberg Terror). The area that they live is being terrorized by a vampire, and it’s up to Dr. Carroll and his friend, Dr. Blake (Max Adrian), to find the culprit and put an end to its reign of terror! That might prove to be quite a problem though when Dr. Carroll finds out who the vampire is!

The last scene in the film is a very good twist, so I’ll stop here, but needless to say, it involves Dr. Schreck and the men in the train car.

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

Listen, I’ve stated many times that anthologies really aren’t my cup of tea. That said, this is one that is so good, I’d recommend it to anyone. The beginning and ending sequences in the train car is very solid with dialogue and mood. As for the stories, I’ve already gone into enough detail about them individually, so I’ll just say that the voodoo story and the disembodied hand are the better of the lot. Not to dismiss the others (Donald Sutherland is also very good), but those are tops.

Cushing doesn’t have a ton of screen time, but his ability to creep people out is on full display in this flick. The make-up is kind of cheesy, and unnecessary in my humble opinion, but whatever. The music score is moderate, the sets are very mediocre, but the film is about atmosphere, mood, and pacing, which are all top-notch as far as they can be on a limited budget as was the case with Amicus Productions.

Any horror fan needs to cross this one (sorry, can’t help it with the puns now and again) off their list. Even if you’re like me and don’t love anthologies, the film certainly deserves a viewing or two.

 

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Click here for the trailer!

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