Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors is currently available on instant Netflix.
“Ominous prophet Dr. Schreck (Peter Cushing) informs five train passengers — including art critic Franklyn Marsh (Christopher Lee) and physician Bob Carroll (Donald Sutherland) — about the grisly details of their imminent deaths in this anthology of eerie vignettes. Schreck tells Marsh that he will be maimed; that Carroll’s new bride has a supernatural secret life; and that architect Jim Dawson (Neil McCallum) will be attacked by a werewolf.”
“The more exact translation would be terror, an unfortunate misnomer for I am the mildest of men.”
Amicus Productions found a niche alongside better-known Hammer Films by setting most of their horror films in the modern era. Most of their horror films are of the portmanteau variety, telling a series of four or five stories in a framework linked by a mysterious character.
Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors is the first horror movie from Amicus. The framing sequences work very well but the individual stories suffer a bit from being rather simplistic. This is evident in the names of the stories, “Werewolf”, “Creeping Vine”, “Voodoo”, “Disembodied Hand”, and “Vampire”. Later Amicus productions would improve screen time by limiting the stories to four.
All of the stories in this and Amicus’ other portmanteau films are horror but none of them are intended to be scary. Most are told in a rather tongue-in-cheek fashion. I find all of the Amicus films to be entertaining but avoid them if you are looking for actual frights.
Another part of the Amicus formula would be to pack as many stars as possible into each film. Peter Cushing is a delight as the mysterious Dr. Schreck, who tells the fortunes that form the basis for each story. Christopher Lee is fun as an irascible art critic. Michael Gough appears as an artist in Lee’s segment. A very young Donald Sutherland anchors the vampire story. Look for Bernard Lee, ‘M’ in the James Bond series until Judi Dench took over, as Hopkins in the plant story.
Strangely, one of the reasons I most recommend this film is that it has never received a DVD or Blu-Ray release in the United States. This may be the only chance you get to see it. Unfortunately this is a pan and scan (not widescreen) transfer and is in relatively poor condition. It is better than VHS quality but not quite up to today’s standards.
People Watch: Isla Blair debuted here as ‘pretty girl’ in the ‘Disembodied Hand” storyline. She would go on to a long and distinguished career in British television (The Final Cut, A Touch of Frost, Fall of Eagles). She has been married for the last 44 years to actor Julian Glover and even played wife to his character in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Sequel-itis: Amicus, the studio behind Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, found that the multi-story horror format worked so well for them that they spent the next decade churning out portmanteau films. Dr. Terror was followed by Torture Garden (1967), The House that Dripped Blood (1971), Asylum (1972), Tales from the Crypt (1972), Vault of Horror (1973), From Beyond the Grave (1974) and finally The Monster Club (1980). All of them except Vault of Horror and The Monster Club starred Peter Cushing.