A Bloody Good Time: Review of The House That Dripped Blood
By Mark Slade
“TERROR waits for you in every room in The House That Dripped Blood.”
That’s the tag line for this great anthology horror film The House That Dripped Blood (1971)
There are four tales that make up this film written by one of the greatest writers to ever hold a pen or tap at a typewriter key, Robert Bloch. It also includes one of the best ensemble casts in horror and Science Fiction. The greats, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Jon Pertwee (The Doctor of Doctor Who) and of course the first lady of Hammer studios, Ingrid Pitt. But this isn’t a Hammer Production. This film comes from another great English Horror house: Amicus. They took the early ‘70s by storm with films like Asylum (another film written by Bloch) Tales from the Crypt, From Beyond the Grave, and a few others. They were a solid film studio who knew there audience. An audience, I have to say, left them in the lurches just as they did Hammer.
All the stories have wrap around stories. The opening of the film we see DIC Holloway investigating the disappearance of film actor Paul Henderson. He goes to the Police headquarters in the village where the strange house stands. He gets the skinny on previous tenants and the stories begin.
In the first tale called “Method for Murder,” it stars Denholm Elliot as a horror writer Charles Hillyer, Who is struggling to finish his latest book. He and his wife (Joana Dunham) take up residency in the house. The house inspires him and he creates the murderous villain Dominic. At every corner, he sees Dominic. Things get even weirder when he sees Dominic strangling his wife, but she accuses the writer of trying to kill her. So off he goes to a psychiatrist. The twist in this story is pure Robert Bloch.
The second story is “Waxworks,” staring legendary Peter Cushing. Two friends (Cushing and Joss Ackland) are enchanted with a wax figure of Salome holding a plate with John the Baptist’s head on it. The two friends remember a time when both were in love with Cushing’s wife and they discover the wax figure looks just like her. The owner of the wax museum tells Cushing his wife was both a murderess and a murder victim.
Unfortunately, this is the weakest of the four stories. As usual, Cushing’s acting is a tour de force. Also as many times it is proven, his acting abilities cannot save the pictures he appears in. That’s the case with this segment. Something else should have been added or perhaps; something from the original short story was deleted that was needed. In any case, I will say the director of this film sure had a flare for camera movements and almost gave this segment a shot in the arm.
The next story is called “Sweets to the sweet.” It stars the prodigious Christopher Lee as a widower looking for a quiet get away for him and his eight year old daughter. He decides to hire a Tutor for his daughter to avoid sending her to school. Lee hires an ex-school teacher (Nyree Dawn Porter) and we quickly find out his daughter is afraid of fire, withdrawn, (even forbidding her owning a doll) probably because Lee’s character is so harsh on her. Porter takes the job and makes very good progress with the little girl. Porter convinces Lee to let his daughter have some toys. In this conversation, we learn his daughter does not play well with other children, but he does agree she can have some toys. Porter does a great job with the little girl, too good of a job in fact. The ending gives caution, social services would be the wrong decision here.
The performances are wonderful in this segment. Even the little girl gives a heart wrenching presentation in the beginning. Of course you get a masterful act from Lee, and it seems one of the few roles he received without it being more sinister. And Porter was perfect as the Tutor. It seems her career was spotty, a lot of TV (a two year stint on a soap opera with Ian Hendry of The Avengers fame) but not much else. It’s a shame. She was a solid character actor as the viewer could see in this segment. This segment has to be my second favorite in the film.
Now for my favorite. Last but not least, “The Cloak.” There’s a few reasons this one stood out to me. Ingrid Pitt is one reason (Vampire Lovers, several Hammer films). But the main one was Jon pertwee. It’s always fun to discover actors in roles they did before the one that made them famous. I’m talking about Doctor Who. Pertwee played the character from 1970 to 1974. I’m pretty sure this film was made before or just as he was cast and audiences had not discovered this cherished actor as yet.
The story, as said in a few paragraphs before, concerns the disappearance of high and mighty, egotistical horror film actor Paul Henderon (played by Pertwee to perfection). Holloway has finally made his in the investigation to interview Stoker the real estate agent. The agent tells Holloway the story of what happened to Henderson. The agent has rented the house to Henderson while he works on a film.
Henderson arrives on the set of his newest movie, The Blood-suckers. He sees everyone in charge or involved, are nit-wits who can’t even get set pieces right. He storms off to his dressing room and discovers a card left for him by a weird antiques dealer. Henderson calls on the dealer looking for an authentic Vampire cloak. He buys the cloak at very low price and the dealer says he is closing shop for good and is very glad the cloak will be put to good use.
Cut to filming on the set. Henderson is to kiss his leading actress Carla (Ingrid Pitt) and a few seconds later, bite her as per instructions of the director. He does so in such a hammy(and hilarious way) that it brings the best and worst of Vincent Price( who by the way was first approached to star in this film, but turned it down because of contract agreements with A.I.P.) A few seconds later, Henderson dons the cloak and teeth are bared and he bites Carla to shock on lookers. A little later, Henderson discovers there are powers in this cloak.
This story was just too much fun and the ending (both endings of the film and segment) you wouldn’t see coming. This movie is a lot of fun. Okay, so there isn’t any gore, as a matter of fact there no blood in this film at all and the title came from the producers to spice things up. The movie did well in America, but barely made a dent in England in its initial run. Years of TV and internet play has been kind to it. Placing it among the honor of becoming a cult film, as most of Amicus productions ended up. The company first folded in the early eighties as did its rival, Hammer studios. Just like Hammer, the studio has resurfaced in the 2000’s, even producing Stuart Gordon’s film Stuck.
Raise a cup of blood and toast both Hammer and Amicus for producing great films and even greater actors.