Dr Terrible’ s House of Horrible (2001 Britain)

“And you Mr Brocken, are you infirm on you’re wedding night?” “Its just a battle wound, a very large Turk surprised me from behind.” No, its not Shakespeare but one of those very short-lived TV fiascos that fill die-hard fans with expectation then disappears through lack of reaction, viewing audience etc. Shot between a foot and mouth outbreak and 9/11, Dr Terrible was doomed from the start. Some BBC bastard gave it the finger after a mere 6 episodes. As an homage to 1960s/70s British horror movies the series is chock full of in-jokes and references. But each episode comes down to one particular style. Where the series’ genuine pleasures lie are in its far richer gags, the ones which make the more acute references.

Indeed, whilst it is possible to enjoy And Now the Fearing, say, with only a rudimentary knowledge of the “Vault Of  Horror” flick that is being parodied, it does become far more enjoyable if you recognize that Julia Davis’ impenetrable accent is borrowed from Ingrid Pitt and Britt Ekland. Or that Seventies’ genre stars Oliver Tobias (The Stud) and Sheila Keith (numerous Pete Walker efforts) are making cameos. And Now the Fearing, as its title suggests, apes the Amicus anthology typified by a crazed 1970s architect, the rat-faced Denham Denham: an old bore in a flammable suit. He builds a high-rise monstrosity on hallowed gypsy ground near Hackney Marshes (cue flashbacks of toothless hags with tarot cards). The block has a secret 13th floor (of course!), a repository for moaning faceless wretches from the underworld. My favourite line, uttered through clenched teeth by Alexander Armstrong, looking absurd with a curly perm: “And they fitted the wrong fascia.”

From Blackburn 1645 to London 1972, Steve Coogan and cast wickedly parody and skewer various British horror classic formulas. Before each episode we have the titular character, drooling spittle while gibbering non-sequitors. Its a pity his voice isn’t more sinister though. He sounds like a Snooker commentator. But there are some cracking episodes to enjoy. Voodoo Feet of Death is a great take on the type of B-movie that would see a classical pianist lose his hands in an accident, only to have new ones grafted…of course these would always belong to a murderer. The new hands just happen to have a mind of their own as they set off on a new killing spree. Dr Terrible’s send up of this genre exchanges the hands for feet.

What we have then is a genuine love for the material being spoofed and not just some idle, ill-informed buffoonery. Interestingly, this has two effects on the series. On the one hand it makes for an incredibly affectionate viewing experience; paradoxically, even the period perfect misogyny, racism and idea that England is the centre of the world elicit a certain charm – as do the intentionally variable special effects and accents. On the other, however, the pleasures of each individual episode are likely to come down to the viewer. My favourite episode is Frenzy Of Tongs: a most cosy Fu Manchu meets Tom Baker/Dr Who rip off. Our self satisfied hero, Nathan Blaze, is a more swinging version of Sax Rohmer’s Nailand Smith.

He foils Hang Man Chan, the Chinky boss of bosses operating out of Limehouse in good old London town. Woo – woo (Chan’s daughter) remarks “Blaze has been known to thwart.” Cue her dad (played wonderfully by Mark Gatiss): “Then its time for the thwarter to became the thwartee.” I never tire of hearing that line. Or of the Chinese rinky dink muzak playing as back ground noise throughout. Yet Coogan is the star of the series and unmistakably so. There is no attempt on the part of his co-stars to steal his thunder (though Alexander Armstrong does come close in And Now the Fearing) and in most cases they would be futile given the fact that he embodies seven roles along the way. The series underwent a visual correction since the filming process in order to bring out the gaudy colours à la the look of Hammer’s Eastmancolour. Everything looks a little smudgy and blotchy in order to bring out the garishness, though such an effect appears to be wholly intentional. Anyway, just 买吧!



  1. You’ve absolutely hit the nail on the head with this review, especially when it comes to the references (you don’t need to know ’em, but it helps)! Excellent review as always. 😀

    For those of you interested in going in-depth re the series, you can check out my reviews if you search ‘Yip Yip Studios’ on YouTube (I’ve covered two episodes so far):

    Liked by 1 person

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