Dr Terror's House of Horrors Blu-ray

Monday, 09 November 2015 00:00 Written by 

Dr Terror's House of Horrors - out now as a limited edition Blu-ray SteelbookIt soon becomes a crowded train carriage in the opening scene of this anthology movie. First we have well-known DJ Alan Freeman sorting himself out, before Neil McCallum joins him. Then Roy Castle (a late substitution for what would have been Acker Bilk), followed by Christopher Lee, and Donald Sutherland. Finalising those in there is Peter Cushing, complete with Doctor’s bag carrying the initials ‘WRS’. He drops it, and it spills open, spreading a deck of Tarot cards across the floor. Not something his fellow passengers are familiar with, but this is Dr Schreck, who offers to foretell the futures of the five other passengers.

This is a 1965 British horror classic from Amicus Productions, who would go on to spearhead the two Dalek movies of the 1960s, both of which followed this one. In charge was Milton Subotsky, and here we have a digitally restored release on Blu-ray from Odeon Entertainment, with a smattering of superior special features to give the full flavour and importance to this star-laden movie. It’s a positive joy to watch, and the ‘star spotting’ on offer here is prolific, even beyond the half a dozen names already mentioned.

In effect, we have a framing device for five anthology stories which, as is noted in the special features in this package, borrow heavily from other films from the 1940s. Dr Schreck predicts what will happen to his fellow travellers by reading the Tarot cards, after each one (save for Christopher Lee’s character), taps the deck three times. He speaks of ‘twin destinies’, the natural and the supernatural. The cards are attracted to the latter, and forewarn what is to come, their predictions being the ‘House of Horrors’. The first four cards from the pack define what is about to befall the person, while the fifth reveals what they can do about it to change their destiny.

Prediction 1 – “Werewolf”

Neil McCallum (Dr Pierce in “Thunderbirds are Go” [1966], and an occasional voice artist on Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons) plays Jim Dawson, and architect who is asked by Mrs Deirdre Biddulph (Ursula Howells – Barbara in Father, Dear Father), a rich widow, to make alterations to what used to be Jim’s family home, located in the Hebrides. Her husband was an archaeologist, and she wants to make the place a museum to his memory. In checking on the safety of knocking down a wall between connecting rooms to make a ballroom, Jim finds a compartment behind a recent thinly plastered wall in the cellar.

Prediction 2 – “Creeping Vine”

Alan Freeman is Bill Rogers, about to set out on holiday with his wife Ann (Ann Bell – Marion Jefferson in Tenko), daughter Carol (Phoebe Nicholls – Dr Allerdyce in Fortitude) and dog Rusty. When they return, strange vines have suddenly appeared outside their house. Ministry scientists are called in by Bill to investigate – Hopkins (Bernard Lee – the original ‘M’ in the James Bond franchise) and Drake (Jeremy Kemp – Queller in Space: 1999 “Voyager’s Return”). Could it be that this is a mutated new form of insectivorous plant, and if it has no weaknesses how can it possibly be defeated? Especially as it can cut through telephone wires…?

Prediction 3 – “Voodoo”

Roy Castle is Biff Bailey, the trumpeter in his own jazz sextet, whose agent turns up to tell them he’s landed the group a gig at the Flamingo Club in Dupont in the West Indies. Biff’s ‘cod’ West Indian accent is more Indian than anything, and Roy Castle doesn’t play the trumpet himself, despite him being able to, as fans of The Record Breakers will know only too well. When the band get to their new club residency, Biff befriends singer Sammy Coin (Kenny Lynch), who’s actually with the same agent and comes from the East End of London. Biff’s fascination with a ring worn by a cigarette seller stops the live music that’s playing around them in its tracks. It is an image of Dambala, a voodoo god, and it is then that Biff sees that its image is everywhere. Fascinated by tales of semi-naked rituals, Biff goes to find the ceremony, and loves the beat of the music he hears playing there. When captured, he is not put off by warnings not to take the tune back home with him. Not taking this seriously, he returns to a gig in England, with Sammy now joining his band, and the dangers of tangling with voodoo become very clear.

Prediction 4 – “Disembodied Hand”

In perhaps the best of the segments, Christopher Lee plays universally sceptical art critic and journalist Franklyn Marsh. At an exhibition, he is lambasting the work of artist Eric Landor (Michael Gough – Alfred in the four “Batman” films of the 1980s and 1990s) to anyone who will listen. Landor has the last laugh when his assistant (Isla Blair – Claire Carlsen in The Final Cut) brings in a painting which Marsh waxes lyrical about, only to be stunned when the artist is revealed. So begins a hate campaign against Marsh by Landor, which drives Marsh to distraction, and he decides to take revenge. In the battle of pretentious artists and even more pretentious critics, things are not going to end well for either.

Prediction 5 – “Vampire”

Donald Sutherland plays Dr Bob Carroll, just married to French girl Nicolle (Jennifer Jayne – Hedda Tell in William Tell), and we meet the couple as he carries her over the threshold of his American home. While he thinks nothing when he cuts himself with a can opener opening a tin of Heinz baked beans. Soon after, Dr Blake (Max Adrian – Ludicrous Sextus in Up Pompeii) comes to pick him up for work. The pair go to see little kid Johnny, who has a pair of small punctures on his neck. Bob asks Mrs Ellis, the mother (Irene Richmond – Mrs Gratton in “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning”) if he can stay over and watch the child overnight. All this happens as the same time as Bob watches increasingly inexplicable and erratic behaviour in Nicolle, the combination of events which begin to give Bob cause for concern.

There are some superior special features with this release, which has been scanned at 4K and restored in 2K by Pinewood Post Production. First off there’s a freshly commissioned Steel Book art by the renowned Graham Humphreys, plus a new, specially commissioned hour-long feature documentary “House of Cards” by horror film director Jake West of Nucleus Films. It features interviews with Reese Shearsmith of The League of Gentlemen, Jonathan Rigby (author of “English Gothic”), Jo Botting (Senior Creator of Fictoon, BFI National Archive), and Kevin Lyons (Editor, eofftv.com).

There’s also a commentary track, too, featuring director Freddie Francis and Jonathan Sothcott - author of “The Cult Films of Christopher Lee”.

Another documentary, “Christopher Lee – Legend of British Stage and Screen” is also included, running for a very healthy 47 minutes. There’s also a seven minute image gallery, and the one minute original theatrical trailer to flesh out what’s on offer in this set.

There’s some grand old trivia nuggets in amongst these extras. “The City of the Dead” was one story which Milton Subotsky was going to include in the anthology, and the title “Dr Terror’s House of Horrors” was originally used for a 1943 anthology production, which has long since disappeared from the vaults. Subotsky was almost certainly also influenced by the 1945 Ealing film “Dead of Night”.

For the technically minded, there will be some understanding that having been filmed in Techniscope there is a little more grain to the print than may be expected, as this was very much a budget way of filming back in the 1960s.

This collector's version is strictly limited to 4,000 individually numbered Steel Books, which also include a 12 page appreciation booklet by horror writer, Johnny Mains.

“Dr Terror’s House of Horrors” is out now from Odeon Entertainment. The main feature has a running time of 93 mins approx, a ‘PG’ certificate, and a RPP of £24.99, or get it for less at www.culttvstore.com

 

Last modified on Monday, 09 November 2015 16:11

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