Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors – UK, 1964 – reviews

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Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors is a 1964 British anthology horror film from Amicus Productions, directed by veteran horror Freddie Francis (Nightmare; The SkullTales from the Crypt) from a screenplay by Milton Subotsky (The City of the Dead; At the Earth’s CoreThe Monster Club).

The film was a conscious attempt by Subotsky to repeat the success of Dead of Night (1945). In fact, he wrote the original stories in 1948 when he was employed as a scriptwriter for NBC’s Lights Out series.

Filming in Techniscope was completed on 3 July 1964 and the movie released on 5 February 1965 by Regal Films. The score was by Elisabeth Lutyens and a novelisation by John Burke was issued by Pan Books.

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Main cast:

Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Max Adrian, Ann Bell, Peter Madden, Donald Sutherland, Roy Castle, Alan Freeman, Michael Gough, Ursula Howells, Bernard Lee, Jeremy Kemp, Neil McCallum.

Plot:

Five men enter a train carriage in London bound for Bradley, and are joined by a sixth, the mysterious Doctor Schreck (Peter Cushing) whose name, he mentions, is German for “terror”. During the journey, the doctor opens his pack of Tarot cards (which he calls his “House of Horrors”) and proceeds to reveal the destinies of each of the travellers…

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Werewolf:

An architect, Jim Dawson (Neil McCallum), travels to a Scottish island to his former house to make alterations requested by the new owner, Mrs. Biddulph (Ursula Howells). Mrs. Bidduplh is described as a widow who bought the house to seek solitude to recover from the death of her husband. Behind a fake wall in the cellar, he finds the coffin of Count Cosmo Valdemar, who had owned the house centuries ago…

Creeping Vine:

Bill Rogers (DJ Alan Freeman), together with his wife and daughter (Ann Bell and Sarah Nicholls), returning from vacation to discover a fast-growing vine has installed itself in the garden. When the plant seems to respond violently to attempts to cut it down, Rogers goes to the Ministry of Defence, where he gets advice from a couple of scientists (Bernard Lee and Jeremy Kemp)…

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Voodoo:

Biff Bailey (Roy Castle) is a jazz musician who accepts a gig in the West Indies, and foolishly steals a tune from a local voodoo ceremony. When he tries to use the tune as a melody in a jazz composition back in London, there are dire consequences…

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Disembodied Hand:

Franklyn Marsh (Christopher Lee), an art critic who seems more concerned with his own devastating wit than art itself. Painter Eric Landor (Michael Gough) bears the brunt of one of Marsh’s tirades, but gets even by humiliating the critic publicly. When Landor takes it too far, Marsh responds by driving over him with his car, causing Landor to lose one of his hands. Unable to paint any more, Landor commits suicide. Marsh is then tormented by the disembodied hand…

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Vampire:

Dr. Bob Carroll (Donald Sutherland) returns to his home in the United States with his new French bride Nicolle (Jennifer Jayne). Soon there is evidence that a vampire is on the loose, and Carroll seeks the aid of his colleague Dr. Blake (Max Adrian), only to find out that his bride is the vampire…

Brand new limited numbered edition release of 4,000 with specially commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys. Includes a ‘Making of Dr. Terror’ documentary by Nucleus Films and a recently filmed appreciation of the life and career of the late Christopher Lee.

Review:

The film feels like a test run for the portmanteau style that Amicus would perfect in later years, not quite getting it right but managing to be entertaining enough in its own way.

The stories manage to be both rushed and plodding at times – sagging in the middle but then rushing towards a weak climax – and the fact that none of the main characters actually die in the stories being told (death is their way out of these situations) is somewhat odd. It’s to the credit of Freddie Francis that he films the movie in a way where this lack of retribution doesn’t feel all that noticeable.

David Flint, MOVIES & MANIA

Other reviews:

“Lee and Cushing add a degree of weight to the film that it would not have had with Gough and Sutherland alone, while another familiar Hammer name, director Freddie Francis, contributes a level of class and craftsmanship that is all out of proportion to the movie’s visibly tiny budget. Even with shitty film stock, cheap cameras, and cut-rate lab processing, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors looks awfully good.” 1000 Misspent Hours and Counting

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Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors was directed by poached Hammer director Freddie Francis, and his talent as a filmmaker shines despite the low production values. The cast and script keep the movie afloat, even through the occasional weak patch, and I would recommend this movie to anyone with an eye for the quirkier end of the horror spectrum.” Best Horror Movies

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“The production suffers from some weak moments (notably the feeble voodoo story with even feebler comedy relief from Roy Castle), but two of the episodes are good; and who can resist the spectacle of Alan Freeman being engulfed by a man-eating plant?” Time Out

 … most of the stories are deadly dull. The last two have reasonable twists, but they aren’t really enough to save the whole from its yawn-inducing first hour. Once upon a time, Dr. Terror was a classic of its type. These days it is more of a curiosity, and a prime example of how badly a film can age.” British Horror Films

“Francis’ direction is expert and his visual flair is often in evidence, particularly at the dénouement.” Alan Frank, The Horror Film Handbook

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Offline reading:

Jonathan Rigby, English Gothic: A Century of Horror Cinema. Reynolds & Hearn, 2000

Allan Bryce, Amicus: The Studio That Dripped Blood, Stray Cat Publishing, 2000

John Brosnan,The Horror People. London, 1976

 

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