Sunday, September 24, 2006

The House that Dripped Blood – review

DVDReleased: 1970

Director: Peter Duffell

Contains spoilers

The House that Dripped Blood is another Amicus film made up of short horror stories, this time written by Robert Bloch. The vampire segment (The Cloak) is the final section, although it is also part of the story that binds the parts together.

Detective Inspector Holloway (John Bennett) has been called into the unnamed town, from Scotland Yard, to investigate the disappearance of an actor, Paul Henderson (Jon Pertwee). The local copper, Sergeant Martin (John Malcolm), informs him that it is not the first strange event that has occurred to a resident of the house Henderson had rented and, through Martin, we hear the first two tales.

The first is entitled “Method for Murder” and sees a writer, Charles Hillyer (Denholm Elliott) being stalked by his own character. The second, “Waxwork”, sees retired business man Phillip Grayson (Peter Cushing) becoming obsessed with a wax dummy of Salome in a horror waxwork display. Interestingly one of the wax works is of Dracula and looks very much modelled upon Christopher Lee.

Holloway then goes to the estate agent, A J Stoker (John Bryans) – a reference undoubtedly to Bram Stoker – who continues with the tales. We hear the story of John Reid (Christopher Lee) in a segment entitled “Sweets to the sweet”, a story of witchcraft that is the best segment of the film. Finally we get to the vampire story, a segment played very much as a comedy – where the other segments were of a very sombre timbre.

Stoker rents the house to Henderson, a horror actor who is making a film entitled “Curse of the Bloodsuckers”, co-staring Carla Lynde (Ingrid Pitt). Henderson is not happy about the production. The sets are fake and wobbly, the director inexperienced and the costumes aren’t right. There is a wonderful line when Henderson laments the demise of the classic horror movie and mentions Dracula, “The one with Bela Lugosi, of course… Not this new fellow.” An obvious reference to Christopher Lee, who was in the earlier segment, and produced by Amicus’ rivals Hammer Horror.

Henderson has rejected the cloak he has been given and declares that he will find his own. Buying the cloakIn his dressing room he finds a card for a costumers shop, though no-one admits leaving it. He goes to the costumers, a cobweb festooned shop with much occult paraphernalia, and meets the owner Von Hartmann (Geoffrey Bayldon). Von Hartmann shows him a vampire cloak and, rather than offer it for rent, offers it for a very cheap sale. When Henderson leaves the shop Von Hartmann says that now, finally, he can rest.

Back at the studio, the next day, Henderson is getting ready. He puts the cloak on and, to his shock, discovers that his reflection has vanished. When he removes the cloak it reappears but he is called to set before he can fully take in what it means. They film a shot where he is to bite Carla. At the end of the scene the director calls cut but Henderson is still biting Carla, unable to stop until he is pulled off her.

oops - fangsThat night, being something of a student of the supernatural, he tries to research the cloak. Interestingly again, one of the books he uses is Montague Summers “The Vampire: His Kith and Kin”. He puts the cloak on as the clock strikes midnight and develops fangs and then finds himself floating. This scene is played very much for laughs.

The next day there are no scenes with the cloak and, to apologise to Carla, he takes her out for a meal. Carla goads HendersonBack at the house he notices a newspaper report that says that the costumer shop has burnt down and a man’s body was found in a coffin in the basement. He realises that the body was Von Hartmann and tells Carla that he believes that the cloak was actually a vampire cloak, carrying the spirit of the vampire. She goads him into putting the cloak on, to disprove his theory and he does so, again at the stroke of midnight. Nothing happens. Then he realises that it is not his cloak but a prop from the movie. Carla FliesCarla reveals that she has his cloak. She also says, as she dons it, that they have enjoyed his portrayal of a vampire and want him to be like them for ever – indicating that Carla was a vampire, that she left the card and revealing one thing about vampires in the movie, sunlight is not a factor as we have seen Carla in the daytime. It also begs the question, why does she needs the cloak? She flies at him, fanged, and he screams.

Thus ends the segment but the story is not over. Holloway takes the keys to the house from Stoker and goes there, despite Stoker’s warning to wait until daylight. He reaches the house and goes into the cellar, breaking into a padlocked room (question unanswered is who padlocked it). fully undeadA coffin opens and a very grey faced Henderson sits and launches at Holloway, who stumbles backwards, breaks a chair and stakes the actor. A second coffin opens and Carla emerges. We see Holloway attacked by a bat – though we only see the shadow of the bat.

The film then codas with Stoker telling us that the house reflects the personality of the occupier and it awaits a decent tenant.

Ingrid Pitt as CarlaOne of the shames of the vampire segment is that, because it is played as a comedy (we even have a lingering close up of a donate blood poster in the studio) it really does not fit in with the rest of the film. That said, Pertwee is magnificently arrogant as Henderson and Pitt is magnificently beautiful. It was not accidental, I am sure, that all her dresses had plunging necklines and the director ensured there were plenty of cleavage shots.

The story also feels a little forced, especially after Lee’s “Sweets to the Sweet” section. There are logical errors aplenty, including such as why Carla must sleep in a coffin when she presumably didn't before she turned Henderson? That said, the good thing about the segment is the references it contains and the fact that it is self-effacing. All in all I think the vampire segment deserves 5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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