Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors

Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors is currently available on instant Netflix.

Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965)

“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.

Don’t Look Now – Amazon Prime Week

Don’t Look Now is currently available on Amazon Prime.

Don’t Look Now (1973) – Rated R

“On a trip to Venice, a young couple whose daughter has just died meet a psychic who leads them into a frightening and suspenseful experience. Based on a novel by Daphne Du Maurier.”

“The churches belong to God, but he doesn’t seem to care about them. Does he have other priorities?”

Turn off your iPad. Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now is a very complex movie with a lot going on (even if it appears to be slow-moving) and you need to pay attention. You cannot do justice to this film if you are doing something else at the same time. It is based on a Daphne Du Maurier short story from the book

There are innumerable films about love. There are almost as many about vengeance. Many horror films are designed to produce fear and some are actually about fear. Don’t Look Now is a rarity, a film about grief. The event that sets this in motion is brilliantly filmed – rapidly cutting between the child Christine playing at the pond and the parents in the house.

Don’t Look Now is a joint English-Italian production filmed, not surprisingly, in Italy and England. The majority of the film takes place in picturesque Venice. Roeg wisely avoids a cliched view of tourist Venice and opts for a more workmanlike view, including the decaying churches, dilapidated buildings, and rats. In spite of this, Venice looks wonderful and this perhaps the best use of the city in film, outside of the brief portion in A Little Romance.

Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie star as our grieving parents, John and Laura Baxter. As long as you can get past their distracting 70s hairstyles (Sutherland’s is a wig), the performances are quite good, very real. Sutherland reels in his out-sized personality to give one of his most natural performances.

Don’t Look Now was infamous for a sex scene involving Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie. In addition to the controversial nature of the cunnilingus (seriously all of two seconds), there have been persistent rumors that the sex was not simulated. Roeg brilliantly intercut the sex scene with a scene of the couple recovering from sex. This technique apparently helped the film get rated but visually it works wonderfully as well.

Peter Bart, a Paramount executive when Don’t Look Now was filmed, claimed in a recent book that he was on set and Sutherland and Christie really had sex. Sutherland released a statement stating that Bart was not on set and that the claims were false. Producer Peter Katz backed Sutherland’s version.

Marriages rarely survive the death of a child. It is not surprising that one parent would be ultra-rational and the other would be grasping at straws. Faith is tested. Alternatives may be sought. Heather and Wendy are sisters played by Hilary Mason and Clelia Matania. Heather is a psychic but blind. Laura becomes convinced that Heather can ‘see’ her dead child.

Don’t Look Now can be enjoyed as a treatise on grief, an exercise in recursive storytelling (past and future events bleed into the present), or even just as a travelogue on Venice. This is a film that influenced Alfonso Cuaron, Steven Soderbergh, Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, David Cronenberg, and Danny Boyle. Even Ryan Murphy admits he was influenced by it in making the show, American Horror Story.

The Great Train Robbery – Trains = Money week

The Great Train Robbery (1978) – Rated PG

Victorian rogue Edward Pierce (Sean Connery) crafts an ambitious plan to stage England’s first hold-up of a moving train. To get to the 25,000 pounds of gold bars on board — which are well-guarded by a complex key system — Pierce enlists a bedmate (Lesley Anne Down), a safecracker (Donald Sutherland) and a tough guy (Wayne Sleep). Director Michael Crichton adapted the script from his novel by the same name, which is based on actual events.

“Now, on the matter of motive, we ask you: Why did you conceive, plan and execute this dastardly and scandalous crime?” – “I wanted the money.”

In addition to directing, Michael Crichton wrote the screenplay based on his own novel. He has a fine eye for detail without bogging things down. The film feels fun and Geoffrey Unsworth’s Victorian cinematography is gorgeous. This film is dedicated to Unsworth’s memory.

Sean Connery is delightful (and clearly having fun) as Edward Pierce. Yes he really does run on top of the train while it is moving at 40-50 mph. Lesley-Anne Downe is quite good as Miriam, his love interest and accomplice.

Donald Sutherland gets to play his normal delightfully goofy 70s self, the robber Agar – thankfully reined in just a bit by Crichton. Wayne Sleep plays the fourth robber, Clean Willy and was a member of the Royal Ballet Company.

This is first and foremost a caper film and follows the standard tropes associated with that subgenre, even though it takes place in the mid-19th century. Crichton delights in both the details and language of the 19th century criminal underclass. You can learn quite a bit simply by paying attention to this film and yet it doesn’t come off as preachy. Crichton also manages to throw in a wonderful double entendre conversation for Connery and a fun ending to bring the film together.

People Watch: This was the last film of Hammer regular Andre Morell. He plays the Judge.