The Film: The House That Dripped Blood (1971)
The Principles: Written by Robert Bloch & Russ Jones Directed by Peter Duffell Acted by Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Nyree Dawn Porter, Denholm Elliott, Ingrid Pitt and Jon Pertwee.
The Premise: The titular house brings some “Money’s Paw”-style vengence down on its inhabitants with four tales of terror in this classic anthology. In “Method For Murder,” a writer (Denholm Elliot) is haunted by a fictional lunatic he dreams up. In “Waxworks,” a retired stockbroker (Peter Cushing) lusts after a murderous wax figure that bears a striking resemblance to a woman he once knew. In “Sweets to the Sweet,” a young nanny cares for the neglected child of Christopher Lee, only to discover the insidious reason behind his cruelty towards the girl. And finally in “The Cloak,” an aging horror star buys a vampire’s cloak for a low-budget movie and…well, you can probably guess.
Is It Good?: Earlier this week I talked about how WNUF Halloween Special isn’t particularly scary for a horror movie, but that I liked it regardless. The same goes here. If you’re a horror fan of any measure, you’re going to have to eventually make peace with the fact that the majority of the genre isn’t going to send you cowering in fear and that quality isn’t in anyway related to the circumference of the pee stain on your pants/skirt. Likewise, your prior knowledge of genre tropes doesn’t always have to be a roadblock for something that traffics in cliche, especially when you have top tier actors lending their talent to a project like this.
But let’s get away from generalities and talk about why this movie is so much fun. First, it’s beautifully photographed by Ray Parslow, who did similar, if lesser work, on the Vincent Price film, Madhouse. The scenes in the house radiate a fireside warmth that’s so vital to ghost story-telling, while maintaining a sharp level of contrast throughout. The stories, written by Robert Bloch (Psycho), are a nice blend of “true crime” and the supernatural, often blurring the lines between the two. Without giving away any particulars, you can’t write off any of the stories as one thing or the other until the very end of each (with the exception of “The Cloak,” which telegraphs pretty much everything in the first few minutes).
And though it seems like I may be picking on “The Cloak,” there really isn’t a bad story in the bunch. The two best are the first and third, in large part because they stay mostly within the confines of the house. That set is such a sharp piece of atmospheric production design, I missed it every time the story takes us elsewhere. And with respect to Peter Cushing and Ingrid Pitt, those aforementioned stories also have the best acting. Seeing Denholm Elliot a full decade before Raiders of the Lost Ark is a treat, as well as a reminder that Spielberg was a horror geek too, once upon a time. But the MVP of the film is Lee, who oddly gets the least screentime and nevertheless looms large throughout his segment. He’s played a lot of villains over the years and there’s something perversely funny about watching him exercise those same muscles as a single dad (think about that for a minute). He leaves it all on the court here, from icily throwing his daughter’s doll into the fire to writhing around on the ground in a lunatic bout of voodoo agony. The man is a fucking champ.
Random Anecdotes: Okay, let’s say some nice things about “The Cloak.” As the only out-and-out comedy, it’s allowed a few bits of genre deconstruction and in-jokes. Like the moment when Jon Pertwee slags off the “new” Dracula (i.e. Christopher Lee).
Peter Cushing plays bruised so well. He’s even able to make you believe in the strange longing he feels for a wax figure and the eventual love quadrangle that spills out of it.
Edgar Wright must love this movie, because the killer in the first segment looks a hell of a lot like Rory McCann’s (The Hound!) character in Hot Fuzz (“Yarp”).
We need more witches/voodoo dolls in modern horror. There’s a rich, untapped vein to mine.
Is It Worth A Look?: Hell yes! It’s currently streaming on Amazon Prime, so if you have that service, this is a no-brainer. It’s also up on YouTube (for now) so the less intrepid of you also have ridiculously easy access at the moment.
Cinematic Soulmates: Tales From The Crypt, The Vault of Horror, From A Whisper To A Scream, Creepshow.