Anthology films in the horror genre have cycled in and out of style over the decades. Amicus Productions, for instance, released several such anthology films in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The success of Creepshow spawned a few attempts at re-visiting the anthology film in the 1980’s. In the last decade, horror fans have been treated to the Trick R’Treat, The ABCs of Death, and the V/H/S films.
Generally, the problem that arises with most horror anthology films concerns pacing and tonal consistency. A film comprised of several shorter stories often has one stand-out segment balanced out with a weaker segment that drag down the proceedings. Earlier this year, Scream Factory released British horror anthology film The House That Dripped Blood. Boasting an impressive cast of British thespians and segments written by Robert Bloch, The House That Dripped Blood was a rainy Sunday afternoon favourtie on cable television back in the day. Directed by Peter Duffell, this British anthology films tells the haunting stories of four different tenants of an old rental house.
Method for Murder
Denholm Elliott, a second-rate horror novelist and his wife, are the first tenants in the old house. Elliott’s Charles has been struggling with writer’s block and hopes the house’s Gothic atmosphere will kickstart his flagging novel. When Charles invents the fictional crazed strangler, Dominick, his novel finally takes shape. Yet Charles begins seeing Dominick lurking in shadows. Has his fictional creation come to life or is Charles going crazy?
Method for Murder has the kind of intriguing premise that is perfectly suited for an anthology film. While it’s difficult to imagine the idea being stretched over 90-minutes, it plays well with limited time. Indeed, Method for Murder has, by far, some of the creepiest moments in The House That Dripped Blood. Tom Adams’ Dominick is suitably spooky and the segment offers some genuine mystery. Things are derailed somewhat by an abrupt ending and unnecessary twist, but the opening segment is still a fun kickoff.
Horror royalty Peter Cushing plays Phillip Grayson, a retired and lonely bachelor and the house’s second tenant. Despite Cushing’s presence, Waxworks is the weakest entry in the anthology. Grayson and an old friend, discover a local waxworks shop and both become entranced by a sculpture of Salome, the historical figure from the execution of John the Baptist.
Waxworks suffers from a convoluted story that undermines any payoff from its conclusion.
Waxworks suffers from a convoluted story that undermines any payoff from its conclusion. At times I felt like I had missed some crucial detail in the storytelling. Do the two lonely men really know the woman in the sculpture? What connection does the waxworks shop have with the house? None of this really matters as this segment lacks any real chills or scares. Most anthology films have a filler segment and Waxworks is definitely filler.
Sweets to the Sweet
In Sweets to the Sweet, the new tenant is widowed father, John Reed, played by another horror icon, Christopher Lee. Reed has a rather strange and cold relationship with his daughter, Jane. He refuses to allow her to play with other children or toys and keeps her isolated in the house. New tutor, Ann, is horrified by the situation and aims to introduce some changes. But is John Reed a cruel father or just a man afraid of something else?
An improvement over Waxworks, Sweets to the Sweet plays on the ‘creepy kids’ trope. It suffers a little from predictability; contemporary horror fans seeing it for the first time will probably guess the twist early on. In the 1970’s, Sweets to the Sweet’s twist may have been more shocking. In spite of its predictability, the segment more fully embraces the atmosphere of its setting and, as a result, introduces a few chills and some dread. Lee convinces as a frightened father and child actor, Chloe Franks, has an appropriately ‘creepy kids’ smile that should send shivers up the spine.
Doctor Who fans will rejoice with the fourth and final segment, The Cloak. Jon Pertwee, the Third Doctor in Doctor Who, plays arrogant horror film actor, Paul Henderson, the house’s final tenant and missing actor from the anthology’s bookend segments. For his latest vampire film, Henderson finds the perfect cloak from a rundown costume shop. Much to Henderson’s dismay, however, he quickly discovers that the cloak transforms him into a vampire whenever he wears it.
The Cloak fully embraces the silliness of its concept and is all the better for it. This is the best of the segments in The House That Drips Blood, balancing out its kitschy humour with a couple of surprisingly creepy moments. Like most of the film, there are no real scary moments in The Cloak, but similar to most British horror from the 1960’s and 1970’s, it has a mood that makes it well-suited for late-night viewing. Another Hammer Horror favourite, Ingrid Pitt, has fun with her role. The final twist also works much better here, letting the viewer feel like they were in on the segment’s joke.
The Framing Story
As a framing segment, it accomplishes what it needs to for the audience …
All four segments in The House That Dripped Blood are framed by an investigation into the missing actor, Paul Henderson (from The Cloak). A police inspector questions a real estate agent for the house, who shares the tragic tales of the four previous tenants. As a framing segment, it accomplishes what it needs to for the audience – weaving four stories into a single film – but doesn’t offer much else.
A Minor Entry in British Horror
As a fan of 1970’s British horror, The House That Dripped Blood is a minor horror entry that will probably be best enjoyed by older genre fans with an appreciation for nostalgia. It suffers the aforementioned problem that plagues most anthology films – the segments vary in their quality, though not remarkably so. Not the best of anthology horror films released during the time period, The House That Dripped Blood is still worth adding to an avid horror fan’s collection.