They’ve gone the way of the dodo, or a competent England cricket opening partnership, but at one time portmanteau horror movies were, like Kevin Hart’s career, all over the place.
In British terms, the granddaddy of the genre has to be Ealing Studios’ 1945 classic Dead of Night, a terrifically creepy anthology revered by no less than Martin Scorsese. In the 1960’s and 70’s the studio to watch, in portmanteau terms at any rate, was Amicus. If Hammer was the grand old dame of British horror, then Amicus were the upstarts, the noisy neighbours. Hammer was august, stately and historic, while Amicus belligerent proto-punks. Hammer dealt in gothic castles and capes, while the kind of horror that Amicus gave you was contemporary and closer to home.
Fans of the kind of horror that has been lauded by the likes of the League of Gentlemen, can rejoice then, as two classics from the oeuvre get a re-release on Blu-ray: The House that Dripped Blood and Asylum courtesy of Second Sight Films.
In the former, John Bennett’s detective inspector investigates the unusual goings-on at country mansion with an unfortunate history, following the disappearance of a prominent actor. Liaising with the estate agent, he finds that each of the house’s four occupants has come a cropper in strange circumstances. Denholm Elliott’s hack horror writer finds his fiction getting the better of him; Peter Cushing’s retiree finds himself increasingly obsessed with a local waxwork museum; Christopher Lee seems to mistreat his daughter, but also seemingly lives in fear of her; while Jon Pertwee, as the aforementioned actor, works on a horror movie and acquires a unique vampire cloak from a mysterious shopkeeper.
The venerable leads all lend an air of gravitas to their respective stories, with Cushing and Lee floating through with such a sense of easy authenticity you’re reminded of why they’re lauded as two of the greatest horror performers of all time. Denholm Elliott, as a hack going slowly mad, brings a huge amount of authenticity to a story that relies on his ability to convey terror through his reactions. Pertwee, meanwhile, in the concluding, lightly comedic story, brings a sense of froth and liveliness to end the show.
Asylum, a collection of chillers orbiting Robert Powell’s visit to a typically windswept, moor-based hospital for the incurably insane, hasn’t aged nearly as well, though it works as a camp curio. Richard Todd’s voodoo-tinged tale of murder has, initially, an Evil Dead vibe, before it descends into silliness. Cushing returns in a macabre story of a man in need of a suit to bring his dead son back to life in a story that looks great and ticks along nicely before an equally silly denouement. Charlotte Rampling and Britt Ekland have arguably the best of the bunch in a tale that touches upon everyday terror within oneself.
If Asylum is a little hit-and-miss, The House that Dripped Blood has aged, like its stars, with class and élan. Together, they make you pine for the days when such anthologies were commonplace and Amicus was banging out some of the best.
Chris Banks | [rating=4]
Horror | UK, 1972 | 12 | Blu-Ray | 29th July 2019 (UK) | Second Sight Films | Dir. Roy Ward Baker | Peter Cushing, Robert Powell, Herbert Lom, Britt Ekland | Buy Here
Horror | UK, 1971 | 12 | Blu-Ray | 29th July 2019 (UK) | Second Sight Films | Dir.Peter Duffell | Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Ingrid PItt, Jon Pertwee | Buy Here