A Scotland Yard Inspector’s search for a missing film star leads him to a haunted house. The house sets the framework for four separate tales of terror, all written by Robert Bloch (Psycho) and starring horror legends Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and Ingrid Pitt. All four stories center on the mysterious fates of tenants who have leased the mansion over the years. A writer’s murderous creation comes to life, a wax figure leads to a fatal argument between two men, a young girl becomes obsessed with witchcraft and, finally, a film star buys a cape that adds more than he expects to his portrayal of a vampire.
eyelights: the cast. the script.
eyesores: the production.
“That’s what’s wrong with present day horror films. There’s no realism.”
I have some affection for Robert Bloch, the author of ‘Psycho‘. Though I haven’t read many of his books, his name holds a dear place in my heart for his 1959 classic, partly because of the impact it had horror cinema. I obviously read the original and also read his sequel (which is entirely different from ‘Psycho II‘) and a novel featuring Jack the Ripper.
But Bloch has written more than just a few novels. He was a prolific writer who published over 30 novels but also penned a countless number of short stories and television and motion picture screenplays. For instance, he wrote “Wolf in the Fold”, one of my all-time favourite episodes of ‘Star Trek’, and a few episode of ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’.
‘The House That Dripped Blood’ is another.
Released in 1972, this motion picture is an anthology of four short stories written for the screen by Bloch. It stars horror legends Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, as well as others, and it is said that Vincent Price was also approached to play a part in the picture. As is tradition, the shorts are held together by a wraparound story.
It consists of a British Police Inspector investigating the disappearance of a famous actor. During his inquiries, he discovers that many tenants have experienced strange incidents at this same house; the Sergeant he’s assigned insists that there’s something wrong with the house, and the real estate agent in charge of renting it concurs.
In turn, they recount some of spooky happenings involving that remote country home.
1. Method for Murder: Two years prior, a couple visits the house with the intention of renting it. He is a horror writer and likes it immediately, being particularly taken with its library. She, however, is not as keen on it, but decides that a couple of months, the time he can finish his work, would be tolerable. The house immediately inspires him: he invents a killer in his mind’s eye and draws him on paper; the result is an eerie-looking, pasty-white man with a sharp, yellow grin. The writer becomes consumed with thoughts of this killer and begins to see him in the mirror, hears him laughing. Then he starts to see the killer everywhere; he becomes disturbed, terrified, losing his grip on sanity. His spouse gets him to seek professional help – but, during a session, the killer comes in and chokes the therapist. Needless to say, this will not end well. I liked this story, though the direction is uninspired. Factoid: the twist was reminiscent of ‘Psycho II’, which is interesting because of the Robert Bloch connection. 7.5
2. Waxworks: A stock broker (Cushing) rents the house. A fan of theatre, he’s haunted by the picture of what looks to be a pretty young actress. He goes to town and pops into a Museum of Horror, filled with waxwork reproductions of murderers. There he sees a statue of a woman holding a severed head on a platter; she reminds him of the actress – though the statue was modeled after the museum curator’s deceased spouse. The stock broker begins to have nightmares about the museum. Then, one evening, his friend Neville pops in unannounced; glad to have his company, he invites him to stay the night. The next day, they go to town and Neville decides to go to the museum. He, too, becomes mesmerized by the statue of the woman, having also been in love with the actress. He secretly returns, but the stock broker catches him. They agree that the place is evil, but Neville becomes obsessed and can’t seem to leave town – so he calls his friend for help. The pair separately decide to go to the museum for what will be the last time… I found this one interesting more for the casting than for the staging, which was a bit dull. 6.5
3. Sweets to the Sweet: Mr. Reed (Lee) is a single father who rents the house for he and his young daughter. He doesn’t want her to play with other kids or to have toys; thus he hires a private tutor to teach her. The little girl is a difficult student at first, but the new tutor befriends her, gaining her trust. The classes go well, and she learns quickly, but the tutor finds herself at odds with the uptight, strict father: he expresses a distrust of the little girl, and of her deceased mother. Soon the girl can now read fluently and becomes fascinated with books of witchcraft – and she starts torturing her father with a wax figure that she’s made from candles. Brrr… Evil children are always creepy – especially when they’re incarnated by pretty little things. 7.5
4. The Cloak: A horror film actor and his young actress friend rent the house. He’s difficult to work with, having high standards, and unfortunately for him the production he’s working on is cheap. Unhappy with it and the costume he’s expected to wear, he goes to a shop filled with black magic items and other arcane artifacts. There he buys a cloak that the owner of the shop claims once belonged to a “real vampire”. He likes it enough to buy it, not realizing just how much the owner is happy to be rid of the cloak once and for all. He soon discovers that, when he wears it, he becomes a very different person. This one would have been better with Vincent Price in the lead, as the main character was clearly designed for him. But at least it co-stars Ingrid Pitt. Rowr. Too bad it’s mired by a sluggish pace and shit rope work, though. 6.5
After hearing the stories, the inspector goes to visit the house even though there’s no power. He uses a candelabra to look around the pretty but rather atmospheric premises. He eventually makes his way to its crypt-like basement, where he finds a padlocked door. Curious, he breaks the lock open to find a mausoleum… and his doom.
Ultimately, despite having a demi-genius cast, and some delightfully spooky stories, ‘The House That Dripped Blood’ doesn’t fulfill its potential. Could it have benefited from Vincent Price (and perhaps Peter Lorre or Boris Karloff)? Probably. Would a better production and a more creative director have improved its lot? Undeniably.
But, on paper, this is chilling stuff.
Date of viewing: September 11, 2016