Arguably the best of several horror-anthology films that Amicus Productions made in the ’60s and ’70s, The House That Dripped Blood benefits from a droll sense of humor, glossy cinematography, and a cast filled with some of the best actors borrowed from the stable of Amicus’ predecessor in the British-horror market, Hammer Films. Like nearly all the “portmanteau” pictures that Amicus made, The House That Dripped Blood is much more frothy than frightening, benefiting from a (mostly) brisk pace and a varied mixture of supernatural signifiers.
Written by Robert Bloch (author of the novel Psycho, which was adapted into the Hitchcock film of the same name), The House That Dripped Blood concerns a U.K. mansion where tenants experience macabre tragedies. The perfunctory wraparound device involves a Scotland Yard detective who has traveled to the area surrounding the house in order to investigate the most recent death. As he’s given the case histories on previous mortalities, flashbacks illustrate the creepy goings-on at the haunted abode.
The first story, “Method for Murder,” is about a crime novelist (Denholm Elliot) who believes a homicidal character he invented has come to life. In “Wax Works,” a retired gentleman (Peter Cushing) discovers that a wax museum near the house contains a likeness of the gentleman’s lost love. “Sweets to the Sweet” follows a stern father (Christopher Lee) as he tries to control the life of his angelic-looking daughter, who, naturally, has a dark secret. “The Cloak,” the only full-on comedy vignette of the batch, portrays the adventures of a pompous movie actor (Jon Pertwee) whose quest for authenticity in a vampire role goes too far, and whose buxom costar (Ingrid Pitt) goes batty for him.
Director Peter Duffell and cinematographer Ray Parslow shoot the hell out of the movie, using ironically selected foreground objects and elaborately moody lighting to create a colorful look that both captures and satirizes the cartoonish visuals associated with classic screen horror. And except for “Sweets to the Sweet,” which takes too long laying groundwork before things get evil, Duffell paces the movie elegantly. In so doing, he gives his seasoned performers room to mug and scowl, which works well since florid acting is yet another staple of vintage fright films. (In fact, stylized horror acting is overtly lampooned in “The Cloak.”)
Of the four stories, “Method for Murder” is probably the best simply because it gets down to business immediately and creates actual tension during scenes in which the novelist thinks he’s going crazy. (It also helps that Elliott is masterful at conveying barely contained anxiety.) “The Cloak” is whimsical, if not laugh-out-loud funny, and the combination of Pertwee’s flamboyance and Pitt’s sensuality works well. (Pertwee played the title role in the enduring Doctor Who BBC series during the early ’70s, and Pitt starred in various eroticized features for Hammer.) Made at a time when horror movies were getting nastier by the minute—more gore, more skin, more violation of every kind—The House That Dripped Blood is cheerfully old-fashioned entertainment.
The House That Dripped Blood: GROOVY