Five strangers board a train and are joined by a mysterious fortune teller who offers to read their Tarot cards. Five separate stories unfold: An architect returns to his ancestral home to find a werewolf out for revenge; a doctor discovers his new wife is a vampire; a huge plant takes over a house; a musician gets involved with voodoo; an art critic is pursued by a disembodied hand.
Released back in 1965 through Paramount Pictures, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors was the first of many horror anthologies production company Amicus Productions would go on to make. These included such classics as Tales From the Crypt, Vault of Horror and The House That Dripped Blood.
Beginning its life as a British T.V. show concept, Dr Terror’s plot is simple, 5 people are on a train when a mysterious sixth individual boards. After making small talk, the mysterious man introduces himself as a tarot reader named “Dr. Schreck”, and refers to his deck of cards as his “house of horrors”. One by one, he goes around the passengers, reading their fortunes and revealing their blood curdling and ghastly futures, and as I'm sure you can work out, each “reading” makes up one segment of the anthology.
With Freddie Francis(a veteran of genre movies, and also an acclaimed cinematographer) in the director’s chair, the film was made for a modest £105,000(estimated) and starred many esteemed names in the world of genre acting, most notably Peter Cushing, Sir Christopher Lee, Donald Sutherland, Alan Freeman and Michael Gough.
The film holds its own through its five segments, imaginatively(!) named; “Werewolf”, “Creeping Vine”, “Voodoo”, “Disembodied Hand” and finally “Vampire”, with the content of each being self explanatory. Obviously, like all anthologies, some segments work better than others.
The first segment, Werewolf, focuses on an architect called Jim Dawson(Neil McCallum). Jim gets a call from a woman(played by Ursula Howells) looking to have alterations made to her house, which is located on an isolated Scottish Island where Jim grew up. When Jim arrives on site, he finds a newly built wall in the cellar which is hiding a mysterious coffin, owned by Count Cosmo Valdemar. Legend has it the Count once owned the house, but was killed during a feud with the owners ancestors. Jim believes he has now returned as a werewolf and is back to get his revenge!
Moving on to Creeping Vine, in which a guy called Bill Rodgers(Alan Freeman)is the focus. When he returns home from holiday with his family, he attempts to do some work on his garden. While attempting to cut down a vine, it somehow manages to defend itself and knocks the garden sheers from his grip! When he reaches out to a team of scientists for help and explains what went on, one of the scientists decide to investigate further, but unfortunately, as the vine continues to grow, it goes on a gruesome murder streak.
The third section is entitled Voodoo. Biff Bailey(the legendary Roy Castle), is a Jazz musician on a tour of the West Indies and happens upon a strange voodoo ceremony. Inspired by the strongly hypnotic music performed at the ceremony, he steals it and decides to perform it in a club back in London. Unfortunately, in a twist Mr. Magoo could have seen coming, playing the music comes with grave consequences.
Our penultimate segment is called Disembodied Hand and stars the peerless Sir Christopher Lee. Lee plays an art critic called Franklyn Marsh. Franklyn is one of those critics that seems to just want to belittle the artist than critique his work. When he is extra cruel to an artist named Eric Landor (Michael Gough), taking shots at him at every opportunity, but eventually Landor gets even with his tormentor by embarrassing him in public. An enraged Franklyn runs the artist down in his car, causing the artists to lose his hand. The hand, then decides to get is revenge!
Finally, its Vampire, which follows Donald Sutherland’s Dr.Carol. When he returns to his small town home with his new french bride(Jennifer Jayne), Dr.Carol, examines a young man with a strange blood disorder. Along with a colleague, the two doctors believe they have a vampire on their hands. Unfortunately for Dr.Carol, the vampire may just be a little closer to home than he first thought.
Like I say, you will find that some segments are more enjoyable than others, but for the most part, the film really does work and flows together nicely. If I had to choose a weak link, it would probably be the second segment(Creeping Vine), but not because the tale is not entertaining, but it is a little sillier than the others. Voodoo, on the other hand has the most depth out of the collection, even though on the surface it seems a little comedic and has the least amount of classic horror elements.
The director has done a fantastic job with this film and it looks great, and some of the cinematography is top class
which makes the film appear better funded than it actually was. To be fair, this shouldn’t come as a surprise when the director has won two Academy Awards for cinematography.
The acting is at a level that you would expect for a horror film from this era. While Peter Cushing plays his part as the titular “Dr.Terror” fantastically, and exudes class, the rest of the cast really ham it up, and for me it really adds to the charm of these kind of films. It wouldn't be the same without Sir Christopher Lee and Donald Sutherland’s scenery chewing performances.
The blu-ray transfer of the film I watched made it look great, and I didn't notice any pixillation or blurring. The sound was great too, with minimal hiss and no dropouts.
To sum it up, this is a well acted anthology which is brilliantly directed with some amazing cinematography. I’d honestly recommend this film to anyone. My son watched it with me, and while he usually turns his nose up at anything not made in HD(kids, eh?), he happily sat through this and actually commented that he thinks he will watch it again. So, whether you are a fan of movies from this era, a collector or just want to watch something from yesteryear, then please, give Dr.Terror’s House of Horrors a whirl, as I think you will be pleasantly surprised!