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Author Topic: The House That Dripped Blood (1971, Peter Duffell)  (Read 2236 times)


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John Bennett (Inspector Hollaway), John Bryans (Stoker), Denholm Elliott (Charles Hilliar), Joanna Dunham (Alice Hilliar), Peter Cushing (Philip Grayson), Christopher Lee (John), Nyree Dawn Porter (Ann), Chloe Franks (Jane), Jon Pert wee (Paul Henderson), Ingrid Pitt (Carla), Geoffrey Bayldon (Von Hartmann)

An inspector from Scotland Yard investigates the disappearance of a horror film star who had recently purchased a house--a house with a sordid and horrifying past with a history of ghastly murder and death that befell all those who purchased it.

An Amicus anthology film made popular by the studio with their initial outing DR. TERRORS HOUSE OF HORRORS (1965). At the time Amicus was Hammer’s chief rival and their anthology productions provided some stern competition to the renowned studio of horror. Here, director Peter Duffell delivers four horror stories (and a wraparound) from writer Robert Bloch with each retaining an air of the classic and ghoulish EC comics which were banned in the late 50s by the Comics Code for its extreme violent content.

The first tale, “Method For Murder” deals with a horror novelist whose creation comes to murderous life. He sees the visage of the insane killer in his new book at every turn, whether it be atop the staircase in his house or by the riverside along the rear of the mansion. When discussed with his wife, she doesn’t share his plight. One evening during a violent thunderstorm, Charles believes he sees his novel’s murderer, Dominic, strangling his wife. He rushes to her but she proclaims that it wasn’t Dominic but Charles whom tried to kill her. He goes to his psychiatrist for help. As his doctor tells him that he has created a character to carry out actions he cannot do with his “normal” self, a figure enters the room--it’s Dominic. He kills the doctor then Charles. Later that evening, Dominic returns to the mansion to apparently kill Charles’s wife. As he enters the house, he approaches her but instead of strangling her, he embraces her as she asks how it all went. The man removes a mask and false teeth revealing a handsome, young man. At this time, the phone rings delivering the terrible news to Alice. She explains to her lover, Richard, that murdering her husband and the doctor was not part of the plan. Richard then proclaims his name isn’t Richard…but Dominic as he then strangles Alice as well all the while laughing maniacally.

Some very spooky scenes permeate this first story. The most frightening to me occurs in a shot of Elliott pouring himself a drink. In the mirror next to him, a figure suddenly comes into view. He looks up recognizing the figure as the murderer in his new novel. He turns swiftly to face the staircase but the person has vanished. Another shot following this has Elliott discover the drawing of Dominic placed in his drawer has disappeared. An echoed, cackling laugh calls his attention behind him. This story is by far the most EC of the entire quartet. As most stories found in those infamous comics were morality tales of murderous and adulterous individuals getting their comeuppance for their deeds, here it is a philandering wife who has the tables turned on her by the very man whom she was having an affair. The capper being that the house itself, an abode of pure evil, had overtaken Richard changing him into the murderous Dominic.

The second story, “Waxworks” doesn’t deal so much with the house but a sinister wax museum. Philip Grayson buys the evil house and contrary to his statements of never having a dull moment, boredom finally sets in as does memories of a past flame after looking over a picture of a beautiful woman. Philip makes a trip into town and discovers a wax museum. He enters and finds a macabre display of a beautiful murderess holding a large platter with a wax decapitated head on it. Something about the eerie face on the female waxen figure that jostles Philip’s memory. He immediately exits the establishment. The next day, Neville, a friend from years prior looks him up. Neville and Philip venture into town and Neville also wants to check out the wax museum against Philip’s wishes. He comes upon the same disturbing figure and like Philip, becomes entranced by the haunting beauty of the image. The proprietor watches from behind. It is later found out that both Philip and Neville had fought for the affections of the same woman named Salome--the same woman who apparently is the waxen model found in the museum. When Neville cannot help himself for repeatedly going to the museum to stare lovingly at the morbid display, Philip rushes to stop him only to find his head now adorning the platter. The proprietor then shows up wielding a huge axe with which he uses on Grayson to make sure no one will ever possess his Salome.

Some have made arguments that this segment is the weakest of the lot but I found this one to be the most disturbing of them all and provides an even more eerie compliment to the foreboding house of evil. The participation of my favorite actor Peter Cushing helps immensely. The look of Salome’s waxen image is one of the creepiest shots I’ve ever seen in any horror movie even if the endlessly revolving decapitated heads that keep showing up on the platter she carries look fairly unrealistic.

The third segment is the longest. “Sweets To the Sweet” deals with John Reid and his daughter Jane next moving into the malicious mansion. John refuses to allow his daughter to attend public school preferring to have an in-home tutor. The reasons of which are revealed later on. A tutor is decided upon and teacher and student soon hit it off very well. Clues from Jane lend Ann, the tutor to realize that something is not quite right in this family. This comes to the fore when Ann buys Jane some toys; a doll in particular. John instantly rips it from her hands and tosses it into a lit fireplace. Not long after, Jane begins to show interest in matters of witchcraft and the occult.  After repeated abuse perpetrated on Jane, she does in fact take up her mother’s habits creating a wax doll of her father. Stabbing pins into it, John in serious agony recounts to Ann that his wife was a witch and (in so many words) that Jane was kept hidden from society for fear that something terrible might stem from her mother’s devilish activities should they be passed on to her daughter. Ann sees Jane in the hallway clutching the voodoo doll. She rushes to take it from her. Jane runs into the study next to the fireplace. As Ann pleads with her to hand over the deadly doll, Jane tosses it into the fire much like John had earlier tossed her toy doll into the flame. An agonizing scream is heard from John’s room as a sinisterly evil grin forms on little Jane’s face.

Irony fills this episode as the torturous discipline that John implements to keep Jane from contact with the outside world brings about his own downfall. John’s escalating abuse towards his daughter brings about contemptuous feelings which are channeled through the evil mansion. But then, it’s possible that the house itself brought the malevolence to the forefront. In a scene where Ann tells John a story that Jane reveals to her about her mother, John says such a thing is ridiculous as her mother died when she was a baby. And this story conceit brings further irony in that initially, Jane was terrified of fire. Ann helps Jane conquer this fear by telling her the many “virtues” of fire and that if one stares long enough, a person will see things within the swirling flames. It is then that she claims to see her mother in the fire and had Ann not convinced Jane that fire was harmless to look at, it would not have proven fatal for John during the final moments.

The final segment deals with the missing horror star. “The Cloak” has arrogant film actor Paul Henderson cast in a new horror film, ‘The Curse of the Bloodsuckers’. For this production, he wants something authentic. A nightly visit to an off kilter antique dealer proves valuable in that he has something that Paul is looking for. A cloak that will soon prove to be more authentic than Paul had bargained on. As Paul tries on the cloak late one evening, the clock strikes midnight. At that time Paul is shocked to find he has grown fangs! A gust of wind blows through the house as Paul is lifted into the air. He removes the cloak quickly and returns to normal. With much trepidation, Paul is reluctant to utilize the cape in his scenes for the film especially after putting it on and finding he casts no reflection in the mirror! His catty co-star, Carla becomes embittered with him when during a shot, Paul actually bites her on the neck. To repay his mistake, he invites her to dinner at his home. There, he explains to her what actually happens when he places the cloak around his neck. She discounts his story and badgers him to put it on to prove it’s only fantasy. He begrudgingly does at the stroke of midnight only this time nothing happens. He takes off the cape and looks at it noticing that it’s not the same one but a prop from the studio. Carla then suddenly reveals the real cloak to which she places around her neck. Paul quickly ascends the stairs as Carla, now a vampire, reveals that the entire film crew are vampires and that they wish to initiate him into their club of the undead.

This story is told with a certain degree of humor. The best bits have Paul disgusted at the set design for the film, “Look at it…! It’s so flimsy you could shoot peas through it!” he says while reminiscing the realness and style of the horror films of old taking special notice of DRACULA, “The original, not the new fellow.” An odd moment occurs during the final moments when Carla puts on the cloak. If she was already a vampire, then why should she need the cape to do so? And the sudden revelation that the film crew are also vampires isn’t fully explained but like the other inconsistencies throughout the film, you just go with it.

The film wraps up with Inspector Holloway taking a fateful trip out to the mansion at night, eager to see for himself the mystery of the house. He gets more than he bargained for when he finds two coffins in the basement--one containing Paul Henderson and the other houses Carla. Holloway manages to stake Paul but is overcome by Carla. The closing moment has the Realtor named Stoker explaining the horror of the house and what it does to those who decide to take residence there. “The right sort of house…for the right sort of person…”

Originally chosen to be titled DEATH & THE MAIDEN by the director, the producers decided on the more horror sounding HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD. Although the initial title is more artsy and respectable, it doesn’t really fit outside of the wax museum segment starring Peter Cushing. Christopher Lee was originally offered the role of Paul Henderson in the vampire story but declined and was happy when he got the more meatier role of John Reid for the voodoo story. Although achieving a modicum of success in its native Britain (in addition to receiving the best reviews afforded an Amicus production), the film was a hit in America in theaters and frequent play on television which is where I saw it for the first time one Saturday afternoon on a local channel which ran horror or fantasy double features in the afternoon.

A couple of possible anachronistic moments emerge in the film--in the “waxworks” episode it is mentioned that Salome had been guillotined for the supposed murder of the wax museum proprietor’s friend. This being a modern day film, I thought that only France was utilizing this method of execution but it’s never revealed actually where this particular execution took place. Again in the “Sweets To the Sweet” segment, John reveals that his wife was burned at the stake for being a witch. Unless they lived in some secluded village I can’t picture a modern society burning anyone tied to a post surrounded by kindling wood. In the first episode, once Charles drawn his vision of his strangler, it seems to take no time at all for Richard to create the mask to assume the identity of Dominic as it seems very little time passes between the moment Charles shows his picture to Alice and the first instance that he sees Dominic “come to life”.

Regardless of this, THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1971) has long been one of my favorite movies and my favorite anthology from Amicus. It was the first one I ever saw and I hold it in as high regard as TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972). The other anthologies that followed (and the ones before it) I thought were middling or average at best with the worst for me being the torturous TORTURE GARDEN (1967) and ASYLUM (1972) not far behind it. The music in THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1971) is also unique. There’s an eerie and otherworldly quality about it and each segment has its own separate and supremely spooky music whether it be echoes of various ominous sounds or hauntingly unnerving strings or sudden musical stings. A successfully accomplished horror picture that still manages to create an atmosphere of dread and simultaneously make one chuckle at just the right moments.


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Re: The House That Dripped Blood (1971, Peter Duffell)
« Reply #1 on: 30 Apr 2008 - 10:26 »

Watched this recently and enjoyed it very much, even though The Cloak made me laugh rather than scream with horror.  :-X


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Re: The House That Dripped Blood (1971, Peter Duffell)
« Reply #2 on: 19 Jun 2009 - 11:21 »

I used to have a Prism Entertainment tape of this one and kind of liked it when I watched it years ago.  I've seen it again recently in a nice anamorphic widescreen transfer and its still very enjoyable (especially the first two stories).  A lot of care actually seems to have gone into this one stylistically.
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