Dr Terror’s House Of Horrors (1965 Britain)

The first Amicus anthology movie was a sizeable hit on release, and was also liked by the critics. Producer Milton Subotsky dusted off some scripts he’d had knocking around since the late 1940s, but he didn’t make much of an effort to update them for the swinging 60s.  The linking story sees five seemingly ordinary travellers board a train. A sinister sixth traveller boards the train at the last moment. He carries with him a deck of tarot cards. Each traveller taps the cards three times and their fortunes are told. Unlike later entries in the series where everyone would willingly, without objection, subject themselves to such commitments, this opening film shows characters who have doubts or ridicule the whole thing.

Christopher Lee’s performance in the linking story is amusing enough that it almost overshadows that of the great Peter Cushing, who plays the mysterious traveller. Cushing’s performance here is easily one of the best of his career and helps guarantee that the linking story in this film is one of the best, if not the best of the Amicus anthologies. The first story sees Neil McCallum as an architect renovating a house his family once lived in for generations. The house boasts a legend of a werewolf. Soon after, a series of attacks start happening. Has the werewolf come back? Watch and see. This story provides a good start to the movie and is much less restrained than some of the others. Its atmospheric too.

The ending is a superb shocker that still works on repeat viewings. Kudos to the writers and to Mr. McCallum, a fairly unknown actor, who gives the best performance of his career here. The second story sees a miscast Australian DJ named Alan Freeman returning home from a holiday with his wife, played by Ann Bell, and their daughter. Freeman notices vines have started springing up in his garden and tries to cut them down. The vines prove resistant to cutting. Later, they end up killing the family dog as well as a scientist who comes to investigate. This story is easily the weakest in the movie and has an incredibly lame ending. Ann Bell gives a good performance as does Bernard Lee. But Alan Freeman’s performance is flat and lifeless. Ian Hendry would have been a better casting choice for this role.

The third story has a superb mix of humour, dark atmosphere and shock. Roy Castle is a musician who goes to the West Indies with his band. Whilst there, he witnesses a voodoo tribe playing an ancient ritual tune. Despite consistent warnings, Castle decides to write and perform his own variation of the tune. However, the voodoo god comes back for his music! The fourth story is the best one. Christopher Lee is a pompous (as usual) art critic who constantly bashes most artworks he sees. One of the artists receiving criticism from Lee, Michael Gough, decides to make him look foolish by bringing along a painting done by a monkey! Lee likes the painting but quickly walks out with embarrassment when he sees the artist. Gough really rubs his face in it everywhere he goes. Lee decides to get revenge by running him down with his car. Gough loses his hand in the accident.

The hand soon comes after Lee. The ending is suitably ironic. Christopher Lee and Michael Gough play off against each superbly here and make this story compelling viewing. The final story sees Donald Sutherland as a young doctor who returns from his honeymoon. Unbeknownst to him, his wife, played by Jennifer Jayne, is a vampire! Sutherland’s colleague, played by Max Adrian, knows about vampires and advises him on what to do. The unexpected ending is nice to see but the rest of the story is rather flat and nowhere near as good as it sounds on paper. The story is not only very restrained but fails to make proper use of Jennifer Jayne’s talent. Donald Sutherland does at times appear to be sleepwalking through his role.

Max Adrian plays his part well and he is perhaps the best thing to be found in this disappointing final tale. I find most vampire stories tediously repetitive. The twist ending to the linking story would have been very surprising when this movie came out but seems very formulaic for those who have seen other Amicus anthologies. However, it’s still entertaining thanks to superb background music, good camera angles and superb acting performances. Freddie Francis directs the movie well, using rapid zoom camera styles to deliver some superb shocks for a movie of its time, generating suspense in the right places and bringing a sense of dedicated professionalism that helps to cover the absurdity of the second story. Overall, Dr Terror’s House of Horrors is a solid first entry and a must-see for fans of the Amicus anthologies, fans of other Amicus movies or fans of portmanteau horror films.

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Comments

  1. This is my favorite of the Amicus anthologies. I haven’t viewed it in awhile, and your review brought back fond memories. Thanks, Geoffrey!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My pleasure, Gary. Yeah, its my favourite too…probably because of the train setting and the forbidding appearance of Peter Cushing. He looks sinister yet sounds so gentle.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is definitely one of the strongest portmanteaus to ever come from Amicus, your review is spot on!

    Visually this is absolutely my favourite Peter Cushing character. That image of him at the top of your page is iconic, would love to get a poster of it one day. 😈

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks…yeah, I’ve always loved that photo. Actually, I think he could pass for a sinister-looking rabbi in this film. 🙂

    Like

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