A while back I reviewed one of Amicus’ horror films – the 1972 Tales of the Crypt movie. For the first of my October horror film reviews, I have another Amicus anthology to review: Doctor Terror’s House of Horrors.
As with the later Tales of the Crypt, this is a horror anthology film – and this film also features Hammer veterans, not one – but two. Peter Cushing is present in the frame story as Doctor Schreck, or “Doctor Terror” – the presenter for each of the tales in this anthology. The frame narrative here is five men get on a train – architect Jim Dawson (Neil McCallum), family man Bill Rogers (Alan Freeman), jazz musician Biff Bailey (Roy Castle), art critic Franklyn Marsh (Christopher Lee), and physician Dr. Bob Carroll (Donald Sutherland). They are joined by Schreck, who bills himself as a doctor of the paranormal, and offers to do a tarot reading for each of the passengers. They are initially skeptical, but eventually each agrees, leading into the five stories.
Unlike Tales of the Crypt, these are more conventional horror stories instead of EC Comics style semi-morality plays, where bad people do bad things and are punished in a horrific manner for their actions. The frame narrative implies each story ends in some form of death, though some stories have more open ended endings than others.
The anthology opens strong with “Werewolf” and “Creeping Vine.” These are some of the more conventional horror stories, focusing on, well, a Werewolf and a Killer Plant respectively. The following two, “Voodoo” and “Disembodied Hand”, are more in the realm of EC Comics. Voodoo has Biff learning the dangers of cultural appropriation, while “Disembodied Hand” has Franklyn learning the price of being a dick.
“Disembodied Hand” of the stories thus far, is kind of the weakest of the stories in this collection. It does the stupid writing thing of throwing in a “take that” at critics – by having an antagonist be a self-centered critic who is more involved with wit than appreciating their medium. This isn’t to say that these kind of critics don’t exist, but taking pot-shots at critics is not a good look (as Lady in the Water and State of Fear will demonstrate), though I realize I’m biased.
The final story, “Vampire”, is decent enough, though the featured actor – Donald Sutherland – feels underutilized. The material works well enough, but he isn’t given enough material to work with. I don’t know if this has to do with how early this is in his career (as he’d been only acting on screen for three years by this point), the director, or how much time they had to shoot his scenes in the film.
The film is pretty decent. It’s less consistent in its quality than Tales from the Crypt is, as most of the stories here are new to the film, but what we get is still worth watching, especially this October.