Saturday, 5 January 2008

Dr Terror's House of Horrors (1965)

Dr Terror's House of Horrors, made in 1965, was the first of the horror anthology films made by Amicus Studios in Britain in the 60s and early 70s (although there had been earlier British films of this type such as the superb 1945 Dead of Night). Five travellers on a train encounter a mysterious stranger who tells their fortunes using a deck of tarot cards. The five segments that make up the movie are the stories of these five men. That the movie succeeds at all (and it was very successful at the time) is mostly due to the stylish and lively direction by Freddie Francis and the fact that each segment is so short there’s simply not enough time to get bored. In fact the material is pretty thin. The only story that is really memorable is the one featuring Christopher Lee as a pompous art critic. It has some genuinely effective twists, and Lee’s performance is odd but amusing. The other segments involve a very standard werewolf story, a vampire tale that just doesn’t work at all despite a fairly decent performance by a young Donald Sutherland, a killer plant story (the highlight of which is Bernard Lee’s absolutely deadpan delivery of some stupendously embarrassingly dialogue) and a story of a musician who falls foul of a voodoo god. Peter Cushing is very sinister as the mysterious stranger on the train, and the framing story works moderately well. The idea of the anthology film was a good one, and some of Amicus’s other efforts in this vein are a lot better – especially Asylum which I think is one of the most underrated of British horror movies. Dr Terror's House of Horrors is entertaining enough as long as your expectations aren’t too high.

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