Neil Young’s Film Lounge – The House That Dripped Blood
THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD
An enterprising if cash-strapped rival to Hammer, British independent studio Amicus made half-a-dozen portmanteau horror movies in less than a decade – Dr Terrors House of Horrors (1964), Torture Garden (1967), this one, Tales from the Crypt and Asylum (1972) and Vault of Horror (1973) most of which featured Peter Cushing and/or Christopher Lee. Though the two 1972 entries are the pick of the bunch, all were hit-and-miss affairs and House that Dripped Blood based on short stories by Robert Bloch, author of the novel on which Hitchocks Psycho was based is more hit-and-miss than most.
The limp framework story sees a jaded copper (John Bennett) investigating the mysterious disappearance of horror-movie star Paul Henderson (Jon Pertwee), who’d been renting a large detached house on his patch. One of the coppers junior colleagues relates a trio of grim tales about events that befell the houses previous tenants. The local estate-agent then provides the fourth story.
1) Method for Murder. A writer (Denholm Elliott) starts to believe that one of his fictional creations a maniacal strangler has come to life and is lurking around the house with homicidal intent. Pretty standard sting-in-the-tail stuff familiar to viewers of Roald Dahls Tales of the Unexpected from TV. One or two effective shock moments when director Duffell zooms into the stranglers deformed face, but somewhat underpowered and plodding.
2) Waxworks. A solitary old gent (Peter Cushing) becomes fascinated with a waxwork of Salome in the towns wax museum. Problems ensue. Easily the most incoherent, cobbled-together and dated of the quartet. Fails to deliver suspense or shocks, but campy laughs are fairly thick on the ground Cushings pseudo-trippy, dry-ice-infested dream sequence has to be seen to be believed. Groovy threads sported by both Cushing and Joss Ackland as his old pal who pays a visit. The moment when they greet each other at Cushings door will be of interest to football fans, especially adherents of Manchester United.
3) Sweets to the Sweet. A hyper-strict father (Christopher Lee) employs an attractive widow (Nyree Dawn-Porter) to look after his mollycoddled little girl (Chloe Franks). But why is Daddy so scared of the moppet? Despite the meaningless title, this is an effective little chiller in the mould of The Innocents and The Others. Lee has played unpleasant characters for decades, but this one beats the lot: Saruman, Dracula and Dooku would surely cross the road to avoid this martinet. The scene where he hurls his daughters new doll into the fire prefigures Mommie Dearest. Dawn-Porter suggests this action is somewhat cruel. But necessary! Lee shoots back. Dawn-Porter struggles to get a handle on her role, but big Lee and teeny-tiny Franks go at it and each other hammer-and-tongs.
4) The Cloak. Im afraid, sir, I do not patronise the kinema rasps Geoffrey Bayldon as a very Transylvanian costume-shop proprietor, engaging small-talk with Pertwees Henderson as the latter, filming Night of the Bloodsuckers nearby, purchases an unusually authentic vampires cloak. Problems ensue. Pretty much played entirely for laughs, this is the most enjoyable of the four episodes with Pertwee in a dry-run of the dynamic-dandy mode later seen in Doctor Who a scream as a British Vincent Price type. The greatest Who there never was, Bayldon only appears in the one scene, but its a classic and not just because its Worzel Gummidge sharing the screen with Catweazle. Ingrid Pitt pops up essentially playing herself, and there are some nice little throwaway gags on the set of the exceedingly tawdry-looking Bloodsuckers movie. Not exactly Targets, of course, but it’ll do.
A film of two halves then, with the latter two stories making the whole thing worth the bother. Obtaining the services of Cushing and Lee (though this is one of those annoying films that features both but never together in the same scene) presumably took a massive chunk out of the available budget. Special effects are of the shoestring variety, when they exist at all the bat shadow technique during The Cloak pretty much defines cheap-and-cheerful.
We get a reprise of this not-so-speciall effect at the end, when the hard-headed copper unwisely pays a visit to The House and finds more than he’d bargained for. Then the estate agent appears to address us directly: Have you worked out the houses secret yet? Precisely! Nobel Prizes have been awarded for solving less complex puzzles. Because the main problem with The House that Dripped Blood is that the house doesn’t drip blood at all the premises in question are, at best, tangential to the films action, and in the Waxworks story, the house barely features at all. At least the framework was trying something different from the inevitable they’re all dead and/or damned used in Dr Terror, Torture Garden, Crypt and Vault but it isn’t a patch on the genuinely creepy framing-device from Asylum. While this one never convinces as a chiller, it remains serviceable late-night-TV fare.
29th March, 2004
(seen on TV, 28th March)
by Neil Young