Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Dr Terror's House of Horrors


Having just watched this film (on rented DVD) for the first time since the Seventies, I was pretty impressed. It really is one of the best portmanteau horror movies. It doesn't match up to DEAD OF NIGHT, but what could? Indeed, it's interesting to note that, while similar in some ways, the two films do have a radically different approach to storytelling. But first, a ludicrously OTT trailer.

DTHH takes the basic format of a group of people thrown together who are told a series of spooky tales by a mysterious stranger (Peter Cushing's eponymous Tarot reader). Milton Subotsky penned the five tales, and their titles show that subtlety was not on his mind. We start with 'Werewolf', move on to 'Creeping Vine', meet the 'Voodoo God', clutch at the 'Disembodied Hand', and finally get in a flap about the 'Vampire'. Lest I sound too facetious, these are all well-done. Even the weakest story, the killer plant, is enjoyable enough. And each tale moves the overall sense of doom a little nearer in a clever way.

DEAD OF NIGHT, you may recall, contains a couple of stories - the golfers and the little girl at the party - which are not especially horrific. These provide a breather, or at least padding, before the nightmarish finale, in which we move from the ventriloquist dummy story into the final revelation. DTHH contains no 'breathers' (thought the voodoo story is partly played for laughs - and not very successfully). Instead, each story's protagonist is a little more guilty than the last - a little more deserving of some grim fate.

Thus in 'Werewolf' the character's only transgression is to be born into the wrong family - one that comes saddled with a curse. In 'Creeping Vine' the ordinary family are taken aback to find an unsightly plant growing in their garden when they return from holiday, and decide to kill it. In the voodoo story Roy Castle's musician steals a sacred tune, having been warned to leave well alone. When we come to the fourth story, Christopher Lee's arrogant art critic commits a truly monstrous crime and his punishment seems well-deserved, albeit a tad Old Testamenty. And finally, Subotsky takes the idea of responsibility full circle, with Donald Sutherland's undeniably good and innocent doctor presented with a hideous choice.

All in all, DTHH stands up well, not least thanks to Freddie Francis' direction and the stellar cast. It's always a pleasure to watch Lee and Cushing, especially when neither is being typecast. If you haven't seen this Brit horror classic,  make a point of seeking it out.

For me it brings back the thrill of being allowed to stay up late to see the film everyone would be talking about at school the next day.

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