House that Dripped Blood Blu-ray Review (originally published 2018)
After briefly collaborating on John Llewellyn Moxey’s City of the Dead (1960) and struggling to break into the teen musical market, American-born producers Milton Subotsky and Max J. Rosenberg reentered the British horror market under the Amicus Studios banner. They distinguished themselves from the looming shadow of the genre’s greatest champions in the UK, Hammer, by creating a new formula. Instead of churning out Hammer-like Gothic period-pieces, the younger studio stuck closer to contemporary settings. The Amicus model was further defined by a collection of anthology movies, beginning with Freddie Francis’ Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965). Written by Subotsky himself, Dr. Terror set the template with a wraparound segment that features five strangers boarding a train, where a mysterious figure (known here as Dr. Schreck and portrayed by Peter Cushing) tells each of them a prophetic story with the help of tarot cards. Similar bookending devices cropped up in other Amicus “portmanteau” movies, including Francis’ Torture Garden (1967), Tales from the Crypt (1972), and Vault of Horror (1973), Roy Ward Baker’s Asylum (1972), Kevin Connor’s From Beyond the Grave (1974), and this film, Peter Duffell’s The House that Dripped Blood.
The 1971-released middle-child of the series (not to be confused with Stephen Carpenter & Jeffrey Obrow’s 1982 slasher movie, The Dorm that Dripped Blood) was written by Psycho author Robert Bloch with help from Creepy Magazine regular and artist Russ Jones. Bloch worked on a number of screenplays for Amicus, including anthologies Torture Garden, Asylum, and The House that Dripped Blood. In addition, the four shorts that make up the film were adapted from stories Bloch had already written for magazines and other literary collections. Duffell, on the other hand, was not a studio regular, nor did he make many other horror movies. Fortunately, he was talented enough to pull off an evocative and, above all, fun entry in the portmanteau series that surpasses From Beyond the Grave and Vault of Horror, while just about matching the likes of Asylum. Each segment relates (sometimes tentatively) to the titular house, which is under inspection by Scotland Yard for its connection to a series of unexplained tragedies. They procede as follows:
Method for Murder (originally published in Fury #7, July 1962) – Denholm Elliott (probably best known for his role as Marcus Brody in Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981) plays a struggling horror novelist, who temporarily moves into the house with his wife (Joanna Dunham) in the hopes that the spooky surroundings will cure his writer’s block. He is haunted – at first to his delight, but eventually to his terror – by a toothy, mad strangler he names Dominic (Tom Adams). Due to its tidy, twist-a-minute structure and tight pacing, Method for Murder is a good place from which Duffell is able build more extravagant tales upon.
Waxworks (originally published in Weird Tales Vol. 33, #1, January 1939) – Genre favourite Peter Cushing plays an unwed, retired stockbroker and the house’s next victim. He moves in, looking forward to the isolation, but soon finds himself pining for an unnamed woman. While wandering through town, he finds a wax museum and a figure of a murderess that looks exactly like his dream girl. An estranged friend (Joss Ackland) arrives for a visit and is also struck by the statue’s resemblance to the woman, who he also desired...before her untimely death. Cushing’s always classy presence and baneful performance help set Waxworks apart as the anthology’s best segment, alongside its surrealistic, smoke & fisheye dream sequence and generally original plot. Again, the story fills the limited space quite well without dragging or feeling like it could’ve sustained a feature-length movie.
Sweets to the Sweet (originally published in Weird Tales Vol. 39, #10, March 1947) – Cushing’s longtime partner in English horror, Christopher Lee, plays a widower and detached father who moves into the house and hires a private tutor, played Nyree Dawn Porter, to educate his troubled young daughter, played by Chloe Franks (who also appears in Tales from the Crypt). The girl’s fear of fire and her father’s cold demeanor make the teacher think the worst, but all is not as it seems. Sweets for the Sweet hits upon some of the best elements of the evil child subgenre and is smart to cast Lee somewhat against type (as in the audience assumes he’s a bad guy, when he’s merely aloof). However, Porter’s warm, patient portrayal and genuine rapport with Franks are what really drives this episode. As the longest entry in the bunch, it might have worked as a standalone picture, but probably wouldn’t have had the same impact in that capacity.
The Cloak (published in Tales of Mystery along with others, 1939) – In the final episode, Jon Pertwee (the Third Doctor) plays a narcissistic, boorish horror movie actor (surely a stretch…) who rents the house while shooting a vampire picture at a nearby studio. Disgusted by the cheap look of his wardrobe, he purchases a mysterious cloak from a creepy antiques dealer (Geoffrey Bayldon, also of Doctor Who fame). He and his co-star (played by Ingrid Pitt, fresh off of a career-best performance in Roy Ward Baker’s The Vampire Lovers, 1970) soon discover that the cloak instills its wearer with vampire-like powers. The best anthologies usually end with their most outrageous, though not necessarily best episode. In this case, Duffell and Bloch shovel their camp and comedy into this legitimately funny meta-satire of British genre films.
Scream Factory’s new 1080p, 1.85:1 release of The House that Dripped Blood marks the film’s international Blu-ray debut. Previously, it was released on widescreen DVD by Lionsgate, who also prepared a standard definition Amazon Prime streaming version. Based on the good, but not great quality of this transfer, I’m willing to assume that it is an HD version of those SD releases (as well as the same one that recently streamed on Shout! TV). The key issues are a typical – telecine scanner artifacts and other digital noise problems. These are somewhat magnified by cinematographer Ray Parslow’s purposefully soft and diffused photography. This foggy look wasn’t quite an Amicus trademark, but did tend to define the studio’s post-’70s horror pictures. The good news is that the noise isn’t particularly noticeable when the footage is in motion – it even tends to match the texture of the snowy grain that comes hand-in-hand with the fogginess. Shadowy elements are dark without appearing too crushy and color quality is plush, especially during the opulent Waxworks episode. This isn’t as big of an upgrade as some fans may have been hoping for, but it’s still a significant improvement.
The House that Dripped Blood is presented in its original mono and uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 sound. The results are typical for type, yet better than average. The single channel treatment compacts the audio, sure, but the sound design still features a decent degree of layering and depth. Dialogue is consistent and clear without too much tinniness (for some reason the final segment’s dialogue is a bit hissy), the effects are relatively natural, and the loudest elements bear only a hint of distortion. Composer Michael Dress takes a traditional route in terms of his instrumentations (lots of organs, pianos, and timpani), but his melodies are built, augmented, and recorded in a truly modern fashion that gives them that special Amicus flavour. The music is rich and neatly separated, again, despite the lack of stereo channels.
Commentary with film historian/author Troy Howarth – The first track is a brand new Scream exclusive expert track featuring the author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films (Midnight Marquee, 2015). Howarth is on-point, as usual, as he examines the production history, delves into the careers of the cast & crew, and reveals a number of amusing Easter eggs. This track is well-prepped, full-bodied, and never overwhelming, considering the constant barrage of information.
Commentary with director Peter Duffell and author Jonathan Rigby – This second track was originally available on Anchor Bay’s UK DVD and Umbrella’s Aussie DVD. Rigby, the author of English Gothic (Signum, 2015), Euro Gothic (Signum, 2016), and American Gothic (Signum, 2017) helps propel the discussion by basically interviewing Duffell between factoids. Again, there’s a lot of information and surprisingly little overlap between this and the Howarth track.
Interview with Mike Higgins (9:29, HD) – The second Scream exclusive extra is this interview with the second assistant director, who digs into the technical and financial aspects of the production.
A-Rated Horror Film (17:03, SD) – This vintage featurette (also available on the AB and Umbrella DVDs) includes semi-recent interviews with Duffell and actors Geoffrey Bayldon, Ingrid Pitt, and Chloe Franks. It’s not particularly long, but it fills in the basic behind-the-scenes story well.
Trailers and radio spots
Additional Amicus radio spots
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.