Saturday, 31 January 2009

The House That Dripped Blood (1971)

I’m not as fond of the Amicus horror anthology movies as a lot of other people, but I must admit to enjoying The House That Dripped Blood quite a bit. Robert Bloch’s script isn’t that brilliant, but director Peter Duffell approaches his task with a great deal of enthusiasm and manages to breathe life into even the most tired horror movie cliches. And he gets great performances from his cast - none of these actors were simply turning up to collect their pay cheque. And it is an extraordinarily strong cast.

The linking story is that a particular rather gothic-looking house seems to have a fatal effect on its tenants. The first story involves a writer whose creations threaten to take on a life of their own, with Denholm Elliott being wonderfully jumpy and neurotic. The second story is a fairly predictable tale about a waxworks and a wax dummy, but Peter Cushing’s almost unbearably melancholic performance as a man whose loneliness is overwhelming adds an unexpected emotional resonance. Joss Ackland is also very good, as Cushing’s sometime rival in love.

The movie really hits its stride with the third story. A middle-aged man (Christopher Lee) and his seven-year-old daughter (Chloe Franks) rent the house. The man doesn’t believe in sending his daughter to school, or allowing her to mix with other children. He employs a governess (Nyree Dawn Porter) to educate her. It’s set up so that Christopher Lee appears to be playing a typical Christopher Lee character - a bit pompous, a control freak - but the twist is that things are not as they seem. Lee and Nyree Dawn Porter are both splendid, but they’re unlucky in having to share the screen with Chloe Franks, a truly remarkable child actress.

With the final story the tone changes markedly. This one one is pure campy fun. An ageing third-rate horror movie actor is the house’s latest tenant. To give his performance in his latest vampire movie more authenticity he purchases a cape, a cape that looks the way a vampire’s cape should look, from a mysterious theatrical costumer’s shop. Jon Pertwee as the actor and Ingrid Pitt as his co-star are delightfully over-the-top, gleefully chewing any scenery they can get their hands on. Geoffrey Bayldon is equally outrageous as the owner of the costumer’s shop. The special effects are ludicrously bad, but deliberately so, and they add to the fun.

Ray Parslow’s cinematography gives the movie a nicely queasy look. Asylum remains my favourite Amicus movie, but this one really is a lot of fun.

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