Friday, April 2, 2010

One of the best horror anthology films

The House That Dripped Blood (1971)
Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Denholm Elliot, Nyree Dawn Porter, Jon Pertwee, Ingrid Pitt, John Bryans, Joanna Dunham, and John Bennett
Director: Peter Duffell
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

An arrogant Scotland Yard Inspector (Bennett) goes to investigate the disappearance of a famed horror movie actor. Locals, including real estate agent A.J. Stoker (Bryans), claim the actor disappeared because the house his rented was cursed. They tell him for tales of strange tragedies that took place there--a horror writer (Elliot) who rented it for some peace and quiet while writing his new book found himself haunted by his latest villainous creation; a retired stockbroker (Cushing, nursing a broken heart and hoping to recover in the country, vanishes as mysteriously as the actor the did; a reclusive widower (Lee) and his daughter's tutor (Porter) encounter strange and mysterious forces; and, finally, there's the horror actor (Pertwee) who vanished with his co-star (Pitt). The detective dismisses the stories as nonsense and goes to see the house... at Midnight. Will he uncover the secret of the house that dripped blood, or will he himself become an unsolved mystery?

"The House That Dripped Blood" is an excellent horror anthology that features some truly great actors in four spooky tales with a framing sequence. A couple of the stories themselves are a bit shaky, but the acting is excellent all around. The camera work and lighting are mostly studiously bland, so much so that when there are some flourishes to underscore a horror scene, they work with great effectiveness.

Something that really helps this film succeed are little touches scattered throughout the film, an extreme attention to detail that makes the fantastic stories even more believable. My very favorite of these is the final one where Pertwee and Pitt's characters have to contend with a cloak that turns those who put in on into vampires. The story is played mostly for humor, but I loved the touch of the vampire lifting into air... and leaving her shoes behind on the floor. It's funny and creepy all at once.

Of the four stories, the one featuring Pertwee ("The Cloak") and Lee ("Sweets for the Sweet") are the strongest; Elliot piece ("Method for Murder") featuring a cute twist on what was otherwise a fairly standard ghost story. The tale starring Cushing ("Waxworks") is probably the weakest and most nonsensical of the bunch, but, as with virtually everything I've seen Cushing in, his presence is almost enough to make even this flimsy, confused story work.

"The House That Dripped Blood" was the first in a string of anthologies from Amicus Pictures that collected some of the greatest horror actors of the Sixties and Seventies. It's not the best of the batch, but it is still worth seeing for the excellent performances by the actors. (And, as always, the beauty of an anthology film is that if one story doesn't work for you, there's probably others that do.)

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