The House That Dripped Blood: “All Things to All British Horror Fans”
In the 1950s and 60s British horror was booming. Most of the fame and infamy was enjoyed by Hammer but forever in their shadow was Amicus. Amicus was known for horror anthologies, a production model based on not being able to afford name actors for a whole shoot. Instead, they hired big name actors for a day and made a short film as part of a feature. Amicus was also more prone to take a gamble on young directors, and gave Peter Duffell a chance that he fondly reminisces about in an interview bundled away in the extras of this fresh Second Sight release.
Much like any portmanteau or anthology film, these shorts were based around a simple idea or theme. The House That Dripped Blood was based on stories by Robert Bloch and all of it was located within one mysterious house. The wrap-around sees Scotland Yard’s Inspector Holloway (John Bennett) brought in to solve the mysterious disappearance of an actor from a local house; upon arriving he is regaled with tall tales about things that have happened in the titular house. Later, local estate agent A.J. Stoker (John Bryans) elaborates further. In the first story, Method for Murder, Denholm Elliott and his wife Joanna Dunham move into the house so he can finish his horror novel about a mysterious strangler – a strangler who becomes real and haunts Elliot, driving him to madness. Next is Waxworks in which retired stockbroker Peter Cushing and his friend, Joss Ackland, become infatuated by a figure at a local waxwork museum that shares an uncanny resemblance with an old flame.
Then comes Sweets to the Sweet, where Christopher Lee moves in and their live-in tutor (Nyree Dawn Porter) stumbles upon the family secret that his daughter (Chloe Franks) isn’t as innocent as she seems. And last is the Cloak, in a plot that isn’t a million miles away from In Fabric. Jon Pertwee plays a veteran Horror actor who has been hired to star as Dracula in a low-budget film. Being a bit of a primadonna, he expresses his hate of his costume – so, he takes it upon himself to find a new cloak. After a card was put on his dressing room mirror he finds a spooky shop in which the peculiar shopkeeper (Geoffrey Bayldon) basically gives away one he had in stock. And, again, things aren’t as they seem as people start dying in weird circumstances.
This may sound contrarian but, on the evidence of the select few Amicus titles I have seen thus far, I prefer the smaller of the two British purveyors of horror. Hammer are all fine and well, but there’s a more satisfying closed loop in the work Amicus put out. No servicing of franchises or star egos, no, nothing like that, instead their work centred on stories that featured actors from all walks of life and just because they had name recognition it didn’t mean that they’d be avoiding violent ends. There’s a liberating, short form freedom in that. I wouldn’t just level this criticism at Hammer, I’d also use these terms to discuss most post-Night of the Living Dead horror. The House That Dripped Blood, like so much of Amicus’s work, calls back to an era of heightened drama and storytelling that has been all but forgotten. It’s an odd irony made all the more satisfying by the fact that Amicus weren’t doing this out of some deep respect for classical dramatic values, but out of cost cutting and cutting corners wherever they could find them.
I referenced Night of the Living Dead because, as important as it was for social reasons, it also serves as a fork in the road with horror becoming much nastier, darker and nihilistic after it. Not that there is anything wrong with those traits: it’s through those that I became the fan of horror that I am today. But to stick with that metaphor of the fork in the road, before Romero horror enjoyed a lightness of touch – not to the extent that stakes and tension are negated, more on a level of accessibility. Even if the title suggests differently, The House that Dripped Blood is a very accessible horror movie that follows the style of horrible, ironic punishments that made the Twilight Zone so iconic, only low-budget and very, very English.
Look far and wide and no matter what film in what style you watch, the curse of the anthology is that you have to trade your quality shorts for some bad ones. Be it Wild Tales, Tales from the Hood, Creepshow or anything in between, it’s an inescapable truth. For The House that Dripped Blood that is no different. While there are no outright bad sections, it must be said that Jon Pertwee’s choice overacting cannot save The Cloak, likewise for Denholm Elliot and Method for Murder. They are both overall dull and forgettable.
The best work comes from the middle two which, ironically, house two Hammer legends. Waxwork museums are a great source for horror, and for the short that trades it in here to include Peter Cushing obsessing over the face of one of the models is great value for money. His character has left the big city for the relative quiet of the titular house, only for him to run to the nearest waxwork museum like a giddy teenager desperate to look at that figurine just one more time. It emphasises both the skill and the playfulness he brought to his signature genre, much in the same way that Vincent Price did in Theatre of Blood.
Also fun is the very idea that Mr Dracula himself, Christopher Lee, is terrified of his tiny, adorable daughter. The suggestively titled Sweets to the Sweet also trades in witchcraft and voodoo-adjacent trickery making it the most outright folk horror short included in either of Second Sight’s Amicus releases (the other being Asylum). And there is the real treat of anthologies like this – they can include horror of all kinds in compact, perfectly honed stories. I won’t say all things for all horror fans – they don’t reach that far – but I will say all things to all British horror fans, and Second Sight have rolled out the red carpet for a really generous blu-ray release.