The House That Dripped Blood (1971)

The House That Dripped Blood (1971) movie poster

director  Peter Duffell
viewed: 04/07/2017

This Amicus horror anthology starts out weakly, with little actual horror, but then turns comic and almost redeems itself. The House that Dripped Blood has a none-too-clever wrap-around story featuring a man from Scotland Yard investigating the disappearance of a famous actor and comes to find that many who have stayed in said house have come to unusual ends. Only the house itself has little to do with it.

My favorite of the stories is “Sweets for the Sweet” featuring Christopher Lee as one of the meanest dad’s ever. He isolates his little blonde Jane (Chloe Franks) from the world and won’t let her have dolls. Her new nanny Ann (Nyree Dawn Porter) is shocked by his behavior and works hard to fight for the little girl. Only she turns out to be EVIL!!!

Actually, this is where the film becomes really quite funny. There is such absurdity and archness to Lee’s unkind papa and his maniacal witchy daughter that it’s just super funny.

The final segment goes more clearly intentionally funny, wrapping up the wrap-around in more purely comic ways. And while I don’t always appreciate humor when I’m hoping for horror, somehow this all turned my mind on the film a bit more positive.

Robert Bloch scripted this one, as he had Torture Garden (1967) a few years earlier for Amicus. It made for a rock-solid movie poster too.

Torture Garden (1967)

Torture Garden (1967) movie poster

director Freddie Francis
viewed: 03/15/2017

It seems that nobody particularly loves the Amicus anthology horror film, Torture Garden. And I guess I’m not going to be the first one to break with the herd on it. It’s mediocrity at best, pretty stupid at worst, and yet certainly not unworthy of viewing.

Robert Bloch scripts the stories and the wrap-around here, and even with the likes of Jack Palance, Burgess Meredith, and Peter Cushing, there isn’t too much vibrance.

Meredith stars in the wrap-around as Dr. Diabolo, who runs a sideshow tent with an extra bit of fortune telling horror stories. Visitors are asked to gaze upon the “shears of fate”, which is kind of weird. The best of these stories includes both Palance and Cushing as Edgar Allan Poe buffs.

I just recently started re-watching Rod Serling’s Night Gallery episodes, which ran from 1969-1970, and this film felt of its ilk. This is neither praise nor criticism, though I always preferred The Twilight Zone to its later cousin. Other Amicus anthologies have proven better, particularly Asylum (1972).

The Creeping Flesh (1973)

The Creeping Flesh (1973) movie poster

director Freddie Francis
viewed: 10/17/2016

I like to think that we all have our “holy grails” of childhood movies that we saw in our youth, affected us greatly, and have longed to see again.  For me grails is definitely plural, and some of those holy grails are still more difficult to seek out than others.

Freddie Francis’s 1973 The Creeping Flesh starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee is absolutely one for me.

I saw it like a hundred years ago, and I can’t fully explain how this strange story about a giant Neanderthal skeleton that grows flesh when exposed to water struck my brain.  It’s all too true that the movie isn’t quite as amazing as one might remember or have imagined it.  Meaning that the flesh doesn’t creep quite as much as you’d like and the skeleton creature is more of promising intrigue than fully formed monster.

But still, it’s strange and weird, full of Freudian psychology, sex and repression, wonderful fantastical pseudo-science and pseudo-psychiatry.  And a big phallic finger to rule them all.

The Creeping Flesh just happened to be coming on TCM just as I turned it over to it, a type of synchronicity and frisson that virtually never happens.  My holy grail bucket list is one less item long.

Incense for the Damned (1970)

Incense for the Damned (1970) movie poster

director Robert Hartford-Davis
viewed: 08/10/2016

Obscurity is at a premium these days, but after watching “Freedom Seekers” a.k.a. “Bloodsuckers” a.k.a. Incense for the Damned, I might have nailed it.  This strange and pretty crummy film seems indeed lesser known on ye olde internets.

Adapted from a novel called  Doctors Wear Scarlet by Simon Raven, it’s a post-Manson trippy hippie vampirism flick with Patrick Macnee and Peter Cushing slumming along.  Cushing is an Oxford don, whose son has run off with some strange young woman and a cult in Greece.  The team that is sent to rescue him from the cult find him to be well under its sway, either by drugs or indoctrination.  Whether they are vampires or just really think they’re vampires is a fuzzy notion.

But it’s possible that there could be a compelling story lurking below the surface here, of youth culture rejecting roles of established society, being under the sway of things both real and imagined.

But it’s cheap and choppy, flailing at high-mindedness.  On the positive side, it skitters through camp, and almost becomes genuinely worthwhile.  Though, in the end, that worth may still be reliant upon its obscurity than its actual qualities.

Packaged by Something Weird with Blood Thirst (1971) in 2001 and maybe no longer in print, the double feature DVD made it worth my while.

The Gorgon (1964)

The Gorgon (1964) movie poster

director Terrence Fisher
viewed: 08/07/2016

I had meant to watch The Gorgon as a Hammer double feature with The Reptile (1966), but given the vicissitudes of life Netflix, it didn’t work out that way.  I will tell you, though, that it’s a decent idea for a double feature.

“She had a face only a Mummy could love!”  Why, that’s just swell.

Having been indulging in Hammer fare of late, I recognized the re-used matte paintings that I was so impressed by from The Evil of Frankenstein (also 1964).  I love a good matte painting in traditional FX, and there are a couple of doozies here.

I have yet to watch a truly bad Hammer film since I picked up this thread a few weeks ago.  Not to say that I haven’t seen some lulus before.

The Gorgon has some mediocre qualities but it does have both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, the latter in odd make-up and a slightly goofy role.  Frankly, it’s kind of hard to go wrong with Hammer.

Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)

Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) movie poster

director Terrence Fisher
viewed: 08/01/2016

Hammer’s funny but not exactly timely response to Roger Vadim’s And God Created Woman (1956) is the latest entry in my summer of Hammer.  It’s the fourth film in the series, the last one that I hadn’t seen that Netflix still carries on DVD.

People seem to complain about the series, which spanned 17 years and 8 films, the lack of continuity between installments.  But oddly enough, I think that may be one of the series’ unusual strengths.  Rather than picking up where we left off, the films range all around.  Frankenstein is no one-trick pony.  Sometimes he creates a monster or revives his monster, other times he’s trying freeze brains for transposition from head to head, or even reviving a troglodyte!

Interestingly, he does not “create” woman in this film, though you could see where they were going, the Bride of Frankenstein is an element of Mary Shelley’s original novel.  He literally creates a woman (out of parts of other women).  But no, here he’s capturing the “soul” and taking it from one dead guy into his old dead girlfriend’s head, bringing her back to life, and even fixing some nasty facial scars that had diminished her life.

But the soul of the vengeful beau convinces the lovely Christina (Susan Denberg) to hunt down her father’s killers, the men for whom the young Hans (Robert Morris) took the fall for.

Peter Cushing is back as the doctor, supported by the affable Doctor Hertz (Thorley Walters).  And though the film isn’t overly amazing, it’s surprisingly affecting.

The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)

The Evil of Frankenstein (1964) movie poster

director Freddie Francis
viewed: 07/30/2016

In retrospect, I should have carried on with my exploration of Hammer horror films back when I first watched The Curse of Frankenstein (1957).  Nine years ago, Netflix still had an extensive DVD offering.  They had started culling perhaps, but I probably could have gotten all the films and watched them in order.

Instead, nearly a decade later, I find myself catching as catch can with the Hammer Frankenstein series.  Just last week, I watched Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969), the fifth of seven films.  And now?  Hammer Frankenstein #3, The Evil of Frankenstein.

It seems that this is a less popular installment.  It’s the only one featuring director Freddie Francis, cinematographer turned director, who did a sizable amount of work for both Hammer and Amicus in the horror arena.  Mostly, people seem annoyed at the break in narrative between Evil and its predecessor 1958’s The Revenge of Frankenstein.  I don’t have that one available, so I can’t speak to that issue.

Frankly (har har), I liked this one quite a bit.  I’ve seen a bunch of these as a kid and they’re totally jumbled in my brain.  It’s only after re-watching that various elements and images spring to mind.  In this case, Rena the beggar girl (Katy Wild) joggled my memory among other things.  But also, maybe it’s Francis’s visual aesthetic, I thought the film looked really nice as well.

I’ve invented for myself a bit of a “summer of Hammer” here, kind of by accident, but I do plan to follow it on out.  Randomizing order makes things maybe further jumbled, but with six intervening years between Revenge and Evil, it doesn’t seem that odd to have restarted a bit.  These days they probably would have replaced Peter Cushing with the latest young Brit and re-booted the whole damn thing in total.

Captain Clegg (1962)

Captain Clegg (1962) movie poster

director Peter Graham Scott
viewed: 07/30/2016

Not every Hammer film was a horror film.  Looking at the poster for Captain Clegg, or as it was known in the U.S., Night Creatures, it would be easy to see where confusion could lie.  Really, this poster with the skeletons riding skeleton horses is like prime Haunted Mansion style stuff.

But Captain Clegg, a far more appropriate title by the way, is a movie about 19th century British booze smugglers on the Kentish coast.  Captain Clegg was the nom de guerre of a now retired pirate, who once terrorized the seven seas but is now masquerading as a reverend, using his bounty from illegal booze runs to help his local community.  It’s a character adapted from early 20th century novels of Russell Thorndike, names changed to avoid legalities.

We’ve got Peter Cushing starring here as Parson Blyss/Captain Clegg, alongside Oliver Reed and Michael Ripper.  And while the story isn’t at all a horror film, it has some rather pleasing horror elements, namely the skeleton riders scaring people from the marshes and the creepy inhabited scarecrow.  But more than anything, it’s just a pretty darn entertaining film.

Though the film opens with the de-tonguing of a “mulatto” rapist, and the suggestion that the pirate captain is a cruel villain, really it’s utterly the other way around.  Clegg turns out quite the noble bad guy, and the cruelly tortured mulatto is actually a true scoundrel.

A kind of surprisingly pleasing film.

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969) movie poster

director Terence Fisher
viewed: 07/26/2016

I always liked declarative titles like Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed or Destroy All Monsters.  Maybe it’s that verb: destroy.  I dunno.  I gets me.  Here.

It’s kind of sad but it’s been almost a decade ago that I set myself the plan to watch the Hammer horror cycles of Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Mummy.  Starting with The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), there are only 7 movies in that cycle.  But in the interceding years, for the hundreds of movies I’ve watched, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed is only the second of the films (5th in the series) that I’ve watched.

As a kid, I’m pretty sure I’d seen them all at one point or another.

My intent had been to watch them in order, but that didn’t happen.  So I can’t contextualize this one in comparison to the others.  What is interesting about it, though, is that it seems to carry forward on a through storyline from the prior films, all of which starred the inimitable Peter Cushing as the villain Dr. Frankenstein.

Here, in London, he doesn’t even have a monster.  He’s hiding in plain sight, trying to recover the mind of a fellow mad scientist who has actually gone mad.  He’s trying to recover the means to freeze a brain so that it can be transplanted into a new head.  In his pursuit, he forces young man and his fiancee into aiding and abetting his misdeeds.

Like a number of these films, Terence Fisher steers the ship, and the film carries along at a decent clip, never stalling out, keeping things moving.  It’s not overly stylized but largely entertaining.  Many have noted a very untoward rape scene that feels entirely out of place and unnecessary, apparently added at the producers behest and against cast and crew’s desires.  It does indeed make Dr. Frankenstein more deplorable, but it’s just…yeah.

Not sure where Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed falls in quality ranking of the Hammer Frankensteins.  I thought it was pretty good.

Asylum (1972)

Asylum (1972) movie poster

director Roy Ward Baker
viewed: 07/11/2015

Though I’m familiar with a number of Amicus Production’s horror titles, I don’t know that I’ve seen very many of the British film company’s movies.  Even over the years, I don’t know how many of these I saw or didn’t see, though I’m guessing mostly that I hadn’t seen any.  With films like Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965), The Skull (1965), The Deadly Bees (1966) I, Monster (1971), or The Beast Must Die (1974), chances are I’ve seen a couple.  The only one that I can say for certain that I have seen, one I saw recently, was the Vincent Price flick Madhouse (1974)

These days a lot of them are available on streaming, so catching up might be relatively accessible.  And if any of their horror portmanteau films (Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), Torture Garden (1967), The House That Dripped Blood (1971), Tales from the Crypt (1972), Vault of Horror (1973) and From Beyond the Grave (1974)), films comprised of several shorter stories, are as good as the 1972 Asylum, then I’m all in.

In fact, Asylum is terrific.  Directed by Roy Ward Baker (Quatermass and the Pit (1967), The Vampire Lovers (1970)) and adapted by Robert (Psycho (1960)) Bloch from his own horror stories, the it is truly a good descendant of the British horror portmanteau classic Dead of Night (1945).

The wrap-around story tells of a doctor who arrives at an isolated psychiatric hospital and is told that the former director is now one of the patients and he has to interview several inhabitants to figure out which of them might be the lone sane member of the asylum.  Featuring a cast including Peter Cushing, Charlotte Rampling, Britt Ekland, Robert Powell, Herbert Lom, Barry Morse, and Patrick Magee sprinkled throughout the tales, the stories are all inventive, eerie, and surprising.

Really, if anything, I was surprised how much I liked this movie and how good it was.  Top notch stuff!