Some day, I’m going to get all Sigmund Freud on myself and figure out why I love horror anthologies so damn much. There must be a definite explanation; the excitement that’s visible on my face while I’m watching these films and/or television series is unlike any other. Not even a slideshow of Eliza-Dushku-in-bikini pictures could out-perform the horror anthology in this respect, and that’s both a sad and compelling truth (sad for obvious reasons). The curious thing about this preference is that the majority of genre omnibus projects are faulty, more hit-or-miss works than unanimous successes (Tales from the Darkside and Monsters, for the losses). The Twilight Zone and Creepshow are the exceptions, in other words. While I personally love them, Britain’s old examples Tales from the Crypt (1972) and The Vault of Horror (1973) seem to generate contempt amongst film critics. Fuck if I know why; it doesn’t get any better than seeing Peter Cushing in one chunk of a larger multi-story horror show.
1972’s Asylum has been treated better by analysts, and rightfully so—–it’s a stellar piece of chilliness. Right alongside Asylum, I’ve come to realize, has rested the 1971 Amicus production The House That Dripped Blood (directed by Peter Duffell), though until this past weekend I’d yet to see it. I thought I’d experienced all the British have to offer in terms of horror anthologies, but, alas, I was wrong. The House That Dripped Blood, though awkward and hammy in spots, is a great time, and I have my father to thank for it, oddly enough; he came across an old used VHS copy of it in some mom-and-pop shop in upstate New York and grabbed it for a mere $5, knowing that I’m a sucker for “cheesy horror,” and what other two words come to mind when looking at the film’s cover art:
There he is, the legendary Peter Cushing, in all his decapitated, cheesy glory. His presence in the film was the first immediate hook; learning that it was written by Robert Bloch (great horror screenwriter and author, most known for penning the novel that Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho was based upon) was the nail in the hopeful-coffin. For more, head beyond the jump:
The House That Dripped Blood opens with a detective (who looks like a skinny Boris Karloff) who’s investigating the disappearance of a famous actor; the missing thespian has rented a naturally-intimidating, moss-covered mansion. Turns out, the large mansion has a history of murdered occupants, and we see the stories of all four (including the actor). There’s a novelist tormented by one of his fictional characters, a homicidal strangler; a reclusive fella who, mourning the death of his one true love, becomes obsessed with a wax figure; a stern father (the man himself Christopher Lee) who treats his little girl with tough love for good, supernatural reasons; and the aforementioned actor, in town to film a vampire film that requires an unhealthy dose of Daniel Day-Lewis-like method acting.
The first two entries (featuring the novelist and the wax figure) are quick and enjoyable, despite their lack of cohesion and too-abrupt resolutions, and the final fourth with the vampire-actor culminates in a hard-to-ignore level of lameness that puts it at the bottom of the film’s quality-food-chain. All three are fun, but not enough to bypass criticism. If only they were as strong as the third portion, with Christopher Lee segment; patient and brimming with dread, it’s on par with the collective brilliance of ’72’s Asylum.
As the dates show, The House That Dripped Blood came before Tales from the Crypt, Asylum and The Vault of Horror, and its OG status makes sense—-the film feels like a test-run for the more fine-tuned nature of its followers. Where the kinks were worked out, more or less. The film’s dark humor was mostly abandoned in the anthologies to come, which is fine by me—-the weakest parts of The House That Dripped Blood are those that go for gallows humor but sink in their own silliness (the flying bat-woman scene being its grandest Limburger moment). Even at its goofiest, though, The House That Dripped Blood is a brisk 100 minutes, exactly the kind of unearthed cinema that I long for these days.
In fact, its framing device (a residence that claims the souls of several tenants, recounted by a landlord-type) is quite similar to the horror anthology that’s been brewing in my head for about a year now; when it comes time to finally put finger to keyboard to begin writing my humble opus, The House That Dripped Blood will be a nice reference tool. How about that, huh?
Fuck man, I really need to get on that and start writing.