British horror factory Amicus certainly knew its way around a florid title. During their 1970s heyday, they put out movies with monikers as deliciously scandalous as And Now The Screaming Starts and The Beast Must Die. Perhaps the pick of the bunch, though, was the 1971 anthology The House That Dripped Blood, penned by Psycho author Robert Bloch and starring an A-list ensemble including horror icons Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, as well as then-Doctor Who leading man Jon Pertwee. It’s an onslaught of flamboyant excess, packed with scares and silliness.
The movie focuses on the inhabitants of a mysterious house, with a cop (John Bennett) searching for missing actor Paul Henderson (Jon Pertwee). Estate agent Stoker (John Bryans) recounts four stories of supernatural terror involving the house’s occupants, including a horror writer (Denholm Elliott) tormented by one of his killer creations, a retired stockbroker (Cushing) who becomes obsessed with a waxwork of a woman, a harsh widower (Lee) who has an unusual relationship with his angelic daughter and, finally, Pertwee’s poncy actor and a cloak with vampiric qualities.
Each of the tales that make up The House That Dripped Blood is a masterful act of tonal balancing, delivering comedy, knowing silliness and an often impressive twist. The highlight is opening story Method for Murder, in which Tom Adams delivers a terrifying performance under make-up as Dominic – the real life personification of a killer the pretentious protagonist has created for his latest novel. Director Peter Duffell conjures some real chills in what is definitely the scariest chapter of the anthology.
Elsewhere, it’s a somewhat campier affair, largely elevated by the likes of Lee and Cushing playing it deadly straight even as ridiculousness unfolds around them. Cushing’s tale Waxworks builds to another killer twist out of left field, while Lee’s story Sweets to the Sweet is a more traditional, slow-burning chiller with witchcraft at its core. It’s in the final story – the Pertwee-starring The Cloak – that the Amicus campery flies free, with disappearing reflections, bat transformations and sprouting fangs.
Pertwee is hugely enjoyable in his story, sending up the absurdity of an ultra-posh thespian imposing his pretension upon a trashy horror shoot. There’s even a deliciously barbed swipe at co-star Lee in a line of dialogue referencing the brilliance of Dracula acting – “Bela Lugosi, of course, not the new fella”. He embraces the silliness of the vampire tropes his character begins to embody and delivers the standout turn of the movie’s ensemble. It’s his bonkers commitment that lingers when the credits roll.
The House That Dripped Blood is the peak of 1970s horror flamboyance, dripping in camp and executing Bloch’s narrative flourishes with the sort of ludicrous excess that characterises the best of Amicus. Pertwee, Lee and Cushing are terrific A-list anchors for a film that, like any anthology, has its highs and lows, but with the chills of Method for Murder and the comedic camp of The Cloak, there are far more of the former than the latter.
Dir: Peter Duffell
Scr: Robert Bloch
Cast: John Bennett, Denholm Elliott, Joanna Dunham, Tom Adams, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Nyree Dawn Porter, Jon Pertwee, Ingrid Pitt
Prd: Max Rosenberg, Milton Subotsky
DOP: Ray Parslow
Music: Michael Dress
Run time: 102 mins
The House That Dripped Blood is available on Blu-ray in the UK from 6th January.