When most people think of the British horror film, they probably – almost invariably – think of Hammer Studios, and for good reason; Hammer was indeed something of a relentless factory when it came to producing well-crafted horror fare in the late 1950s to early ‘70s. But the studio did have its rivals, one of the foremost of those being Amicus Productions. Formed by two American producer/screenwriters, Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg, the studio was active from 1962 till 1977, and was responsible for such wonderful horror fare as The Skull (1965), Scream and Scream Again (1970), and The Beast Must Die (1974). But today, the studio is perhaps best remembered for the series of horror anthology pictures that it came out with from 1965 to 1974. Seven of these “portmanteau” pictures were produced, all following in the footsteps of the granddaddy portmanteau horror film, 1945’s Dead of Night. Those seven pictures were Doctor Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), Torture Garden (1967), The House That Dripped Blood (1971), Tales From the Crypt (1972), Asylum (also from 1972), Vault of Horror (1973), and From Beyond the Grave (1974). In today’s Shocktober column, I would like to take a look at five of those seven films, each of which contains four or five stories for the viewer’s delectation. I have not seen Doctor Terror’s House of Horrors since I was a wee lad, and thus cannot comment on it properly, and have yet to see the final film, From Beyond the Grave, although I sincerely hope to do so one day soon. Need I even mention that all five of these films would make perfect fare for this Halloween season?

Torture Garden horror film reviewsTORTURE GARDEN (1967) horror film reviewTORTURE GARDEN (1967)

In this typically marvelous collection of grisly shudders, a carnival attraction, the eponymous Torture Garden, is run by the leering, taunting Dr. Diabolo, played with Penguin-like juiciness by Burgess Meredith. With the assistance of his waxworks dummy Atropos, the goddess of destiny, Diabolo shows four customers their possible futures, changeable only if they have the requisite strength of inner character (which is doubtful with this lot). In “Enoch,” a bounder of a nephew kills his wealthy uncle and comes under the demonic possession of the house’s resident black cat. This is a sinister, suspenseful tale, woefully underlit, that concludes with an appropriately grisly finish. In “Terror Over Hollywood,” a young starlet (Beverly Adams) discovers the secret behind the success of so many of Tinseltown’s most enduring talents. More sci-fi than horror, this section fails to scare but is fun nonetheless. In the film’s weakest tale, “Mr. Steinway,” a jealous piano takes vengeance on its composer’s new lover. A tad silly, this segment still manages to elicit some shivers, when Euterpe the piano commences to play that funeral march. In “The Man Who Collected Poe,” easily the best of the bunch here, Jack Palance eliminates Peter Cushing to possess himself of an incredible assortment of Poe memorabilia, and gets a lot more than he bargained for. Palance’s over-the-top performance contrasts nicely here with Cushing’s customary urbanity, and the segment is filled with all kinds of neat directorial touches from Freddie Francis. In all, four fun tales from the pen of RobertPsychoBloch, if a touch off the mark as compared to some of those other Amicus anthology titles. The film’s final moments will be a surprise to only the slowest of viewers, but still provide good devilish fun. “Do You Dare See What Dr. Diabolo Sees?” the film’s poster asked back in 1967. My advice would be to go see…

The House That Dripped Blood horror movie reviewsTHE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1971) horror film reviewTHE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1971)

In The House That Dripped Blood, a Scotland Yard investigator searches for a missing film star, and listens to four stories concerning the quaint old country house that he had been leasing. In “Method for Murder,” the most atmospheric of the bunch, a writer (Denholm Elliott) moves into the house with his hottie wife (Joanna Dunham) and begins to see the fictional strangler character in his latest novel. A double twist ending caps off this very chilling tale. Next, in “Waxworks,” the typically dapper Peter Cushing plays a retired stockbroker who moves into the abode and becomes enthralled by a female wax figure in the local town’s horror museum. A surreal dream sequence and the film’s most grisly windup are the hallmarks of this section. In “Sweets to the Sweet,” Christopher Lee (Mr. Tall, Dark and Gruesome, who sadly shares no screen time in this film with Cushing) is the house’s next occupant; a widower who lives in mortal fear of his pretty young daughter (the remarkable child actress Chloe Franks) … and, as it turns out, for good reason! Finally, in “The Cloak,” we learn of the fate of that missing film star (Jon Pertwee), who buys an actual vampire cloak to assist himself in a new production and soon changes into a … guess what? This segment is easily the most humorous of the bunch, and contains the film’s single funniest line, when Pertwee compares Bela Lugosi to “this new fellow.” The inspired casting of luscious Ingrid Pitt, close on the heels of her classic turn in The Vampire Lovers, adds to this section immensely. In all, terrific fun, with a playful script by Robert Bloch, more-than-capable direction from Peter Duffell, and a discordant and unusual score by Michael Dress. This film left me happily grinning from ear to ear, and is nicely presented on the Lions Gate DVD that I recently watched. More than highly recommended!

Tales from the Crypt horror movie reviewsTALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972) horror film reviewTALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972)

The five stories dished out in the Tales From the Crypt omnibus, directed by Freddie Francis, have as their linchpin Sir Ralph Richardson as the urbane Crypt Keeper (a far cry from the cackling HBO demon so many folks might be expecting), who looks into the minds of a group of lost tourists and sees their gruesome stories: In “And All Through the House,” a particularly gorgeous Joan Collins plays cat & mouse with an escaped psycho Santa. “Reflection of Death” shows us what happens to philandering husband Ian Hendry after he and his mistress are involved in a nasty car wreck. Horror icon Peter Cushing, in “Poetic Justice,” plays a kindly old man victimized by his neighbors, but who manages to deliver one horrible Valentine’s Day surprise. In “Wish You Were Here,” a variation of the old “Monkey’s Paw” tale, a widow learns that it really is imperative to be careful for what you wish. And in “Blind Alleys,” Patrick Magee and the other sightless residents of an old-man’s home take a particularly grisly vengeance on their new martinet superintendent, played by Nigel Patrick. All five of these tales feature some startling and horrific bit of business; indeed, the film is memorably shocking in parts, and I was amazed at how much of the picture I recalled, after not having seen it for over 35 years. The impressive cast of British actors seems to be enjoying itself immensely, and that spirit of fun is certainly communicated to the viewer. Indeed, while watching Tales… for the first time in all those years, I found myself happily grinning from ear to ear. From the opening strains of horror-film standard Bach’s “Toccata & Fugue in D Minor” to its creepy final query from the Crypt Keeper himself, the film is nothing deep, nothing demanding, nothing innovative; just good fun. And oh … look out for that fire poker!Asylum horror movie reviews

ASYLUM (1972) horror film reviewASYLUM (1972)

Here, in a rather clever framing story, a young doctor applies for a position at the Dunsmoor Insane Asylum and is given a very unusual test for qualification: He must interview the asylum’s four inmates (a very exclusive crew, given the size of this pile!) and determine which of them is the residence’s ex-head doctor, who had recently gone mad. Thus, the interviews reveal four highly interesting tales. In “Frozen Fear,” a woman (beautiful Barbara Parkins) tells of the homicide that she and her lover (Richard Todd) had perpetrated on his wife (yummy Sylvia Syms). This is a suspenseful segment with a good number of jolts. The grisliest tale in the film, it nonetheless contains the picture’s most amusing line: “Rest in pieces.” Next, in “The Weird Tailor,” Barry Morse (unrecognizable here) tells of the weird customer he had made a suit for recently. That customer, portrayed by the great Peter Cushing, unfortunately turns out to be short on cash but well loaded with horrible secrets. Some sympathetic characters and a chilling windup really put this segment over. In “Lucy Comes to Stay,” a woman (scrumptious Charlotte Rampling) tells of the murders that her best friend Lucy (not-bad-looking Britt Ekland) committed on her brother and nurse. But does Lucy really exist, or is she just a figment of a disturbed young woman’s mind? This tale blurs the fine line between fantasy and reality most effectively … until its conclusion, that is. Finally, in “Mannikins of Horror,” an inmate (Herbert Lom) tells the young doctor of his experiments in placing his own soul into a foot-high look-alike doll that he has created, leading to some inevitable mayhem. Asylum features some very effective direction from Roy Ward Baker, a playful and quite ingenious script from Robert Bloch, an excellent score by Douglas Gamley, and a sicko surprise ending that I doubt anyone will see coming. Thus, I’d say that a person would have to be crazy NOT to check into this Asylum!

The Vault of Horror horror movie reviewsVAULT OF HORROR (1973) horror film reviewVAULT OF HORROR (1973)

The vignettes here were all inspired by tales that had appeared in the fondly remembered EC Comics of the 1950s. Vault of Horror wastes little time with its obligatory framing story, as five men, strangers to one another, are shanghaied via elevator to a luxuriously appointed subbasement chamber and, over drinks, discourse on their respective nightmares. In “Midnight Mess,” a brother (Daniel Massey) kills his sister (real-life sister Anna Massey) over an inheritance but must later face the neighborhood’s very unusual nighttime denizens. In “The Neat Job,” a compulsive neatnik (Terry-Thomas) subjects his new wife (Glynis Johns, 50 here and still adorable in this, one of her last theatrical films) to more aggravation than Felix Unger ever dished out to Oscar … until poor Glynis can’t take it anymore, that is. In “This Trick’ll Kill You,” a husband-and-wife team of magicians (Curt Jurgens and Dawn Addams) steals a magic rope in India, only to have things go terribly wrong afterwards. In “Bargain In Death,” two men (Michael Craig and Edward Judd) attempt an insurance scam involving a faked death and premature burial, leading to quite a messy situation indeed. And in “Drawn and Quartered” (great title, that!), future Dr. Who portrayer Tom Baker plays an artist living in Haiti who uses voodoo to take vengeance on his enemies. All five of these stories are compact, occasionally humorous but nonetheless quite grisly affairs, more than competently directed by Amicus veteran Roy Ward Baker. The film’s conclusion will surprise only the most naive of viewers, but remains wholly satisfying. In all, a pleasing quintet of shudders. Oh … this is the only film of the seven mentioned above that does NOT feature the talents of the great Peter Cushing. But since he did appear in The Creeping Flesh, The Satanic Rites of Dracula, And Now the Screaming Starts AND From Beyond the Grave that same year, I suppose all can be forgiven! “All the things that make life worth leaving,” the trailer for Vault… proclaimed in ’73. Indeed, indeed…

Anyway, folks, there you have it: five films, 22 stories, all of which would make for perfect viewing for the entire family one dark and stormy October night … or over a series of nights. I sincerely hope that you get to experience these classic films from Amicus Productions as this Halloween season progresses…



  • Sandy Ferber

    SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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