Writer: Milton Subotsky
Original Music: Elizabeth Lutyens
Cinematography: Alan Hume
Editing: Thelma Connell
Music: Tubby Hayes - composer: jazz music
Kenny Lynch - composer: songs
Jim Dawson Neil McCallum
Mrs. Biddulph Ursula Howells
Valda Katy Wild
Caleb Peter Madden
Ann Rogers Ann Bell
Hopkins Bernard Lee
Jerry Drake Jeremy Kemp
Carol Rogers Sarah Nicholls
Sammy Coin Kenny Lynch
Roy Shine Harold Lang
Biff Bailey’s Band The Tubby Hayes Quintet
Russ Henderson Steel Band as Themselves
Dambala Thomas Baptiste
Eric Landor Michael Gough
Nicolle Carroll Jennifer Jayne
Dr. Blake Max Adrian
THERE ARE SEVERAL SPOILERS SCATTERED THROUGHOUT THIS POST. THAT'S JUST THE WAY IT IS.
“Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors” was released by England’s Amicus Productions in 1965. It is what they call a ‘portmanteau’ film, what we Yanks might call an ‘omnibus’, i.e. several discreet stories surrounded by a linking narrative. It is the same form as the 1945 film “Dead of Night”, which may be the first modern horror movie made in that style. This could also be called an anthology, however that term usually refers to a collection of stories that are not necessarily connected by a wrap-around narrative.
One of the first films made in the omnibus style was from Germany in 1924, "Waxworks" (“Wachsfigurenkabinett”) directed by Paul Leni. He went on to Hollywood and made four films for Universal Studios, including “The Cat and the Canary” and “The Man Who Laughs” before his premature death in 1929.
The story begins in England as five strangers board a train and settle into the same compartment. A sixth man joins them - Dr. Schreck. ('Schreck' means 'terror' in German. Remember the aptly named actor 'Max Schreck' who played the title character in Murnau's "Nosferatu"?) He has an eerily mysterious entrance, but when he sits down appears to be a nice, sweet, mild mannered gentleman. A nice detail – the men arrive in the train compartment in the order in which their stories are told.
The men are intrigued by the old man who introduces himself as a doctor of metaphysics and produces a tarot deck. In spite of his warning that they might not like what they hear, four of the men eagerly ask Herr Doktor to read their futures in the tarot.
The fifth man, Franklyn Marsh (Christopher Lee), resists vehemently. He is very decidedly antagonistic to the doctor, calling him a con man, that the tarot is just a set-up to separate the men from their money, etc. He finally falls for the oldest and most effective dare in the world; equally irresistible in boardrooms and on playgrounds - the Fraidy-Cat Dare. His smug self-satisfied superiority does not protect him from Fate.
Each story has an unhappy ending, natch, and although the final card turned over presents, theoretically at least, a way for the man to escape his fate, the final card is always Death. Finally, Schreck pulls out five cards which would predict his own future. He turns over only the final card, also Death. It seems all six men have the same destiny – Death. And they are all riding on a train. Hmmmm….. The film ends with a nicely underplayed dénouement at a misty railroad station as the men are led away by Dr. Schreck, who turns to reveal that he is indeed Death incarnate.
The architet suspects that Cosmo has returned and is responsible for recent murders. He melts down the ancient sword to make silver bullets. The widow then gives him an unpleasant surprise by revealing that the legend actually states that Cosmo will exact his revenge not on the current owner of the house, but on the last descendant of the family. And, oh by the way, she is Valdemar's wife and has switched the bullets.
|She was such a nice lady....at first.|
Creeping Vine. The second story is of a man and his family who return from vacation to find a strange vine growing beside their house. It defeats attempts to remove or kill it. He goes for help to the government horticultural experts (who also seem to be pretty thick with the defense ministry [?]) who send out one of their own to study the plant. The vine uses deadly tactics to defend itself and quickly grows to surround the house, imprisoning the family.
The expert appears to escape in order to return with help, however as we hear him drive away we see the vine demonstrate intelligence and adaptability which bode ill for humanity. Spoiler – the family puppy is killed – animal lovers be forewarned. I can never watch that scene even though the violence is not actually shown. On the educational side, you also get a short film about the structure of the plant kingdom. That part always takes me back to seventh grade biology and I want to start doodling on my notebook. My favorite bit in this story is seeing the vine cut the telephone wire into the house. Yes, really. I told you it was intelligent.
If this story seems as if it may be the silliest concept – plants developing awareness and animosity – then how about these stories: “The Birds”, “Day of the Triffids”, and even “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”.
Voodoo. The third tale stars Roy Castle as a jazz trumpeter who along with his band is booked at a club in the West Indies.
He unwisely ignores advice about not fooling around with the local customs and spies on a voodoo ceremony. He steals the music, and arranges it in a jazz composition which he and his combo premier back at their club in London.
He finds out that it really, seriously, isn't nice to fool with Voodoo, especially to steal from their gods.
In a funny bit, in his panic he runs past a poster advertising this movie.
I'm never really sure if he actually dies at the end of the episode or just faints. It looks like he faints, and if that is the case he gets off much easier than the other guys.
One thing that bugs me a little about this episode is the blithely ignorant way that Voodoo is presented. But there I am being picky again. Wait a minute….no I’m not.
On a happier note, here is one of the songs sung by Kenny Lynch.
The artist manages to beat the critic at his own game, ridiculing him in public. Marsh is wound as tight as a spool of thread and decides to get even with the artist by running him down with his car. Landor loses his hand in the accident, and when faced with the loss of his livelihood commits suicide.
arsh is stalked by the severed hand which crawls into his car, his apartment, and through the window of his office. It thwarts all efforts to destroy it by fire, being staked, and being locked in a box and thrown into a lake. Marsh receives an appropriately just come-uppance, destroying his career as effectively as he had destroyed the artist’s.
Shots of a real hand are intercut with shots of the fake one, depending on the angle. Even though it is at times patently unreal, seeing the hand crawling along and waiting for it to attack makes for some nail-biting moments. Those scenes have no music score, which makes the suspense particularly effective.
Dr. Carroll does so, and sees her re-enter their bedroom through the window and return to bed in the middle of the night. He is ready with a wooden stake and quickly becomes a widower.
Director Freddie Francis makes some other skillful choices for camera angles and movement. For example, in the Werewolf story he focuses our attention on something in the foreground while the crypt opens in the background. Later he does just the opposite - he lets us watch the hero standing in the back of the shot when Mrs. Biddulph's hands appear directly in front of the camera showing us the bullets. Here our attention is focused by slight misdirection. We are looking at one thing but we know, consciously or not, that something else is going to happen and the tension is lengthened. This raises the movie out of the bland and ordinary.
Donald Sutherland has had a long history in TV, film and theater. Born in Canada, he was living in England and attended London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts. After working on British TV he began making movies in 1964, beginning with “The Castle of the Living Dead”, made in Italy and which starred Christopher Lee. “Dr Terror” was one of four movies he made which were released in 1965, including the horror film, “Die, Die My Darling”.
As Ed Sullivan used to say right before he introduced Topo Gigio (yes, I’m a hundred years old), “And now, for the youngsters…” Here is a quiz:
Mr. Sutherland is of course known for many roles in films such as: “M*A*S*H”, “Don’t Look Now”, “Klute”, “Felini’s Casanova”, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, “Six Degrees of Separation”, and so many others that I don’t have the space or strength to list them all.
|Kenny Lynch with the Russ Henderson Steel Band|
Also in 1963, Helen Shapiro, who was England’s number one female pop singer at that time, toured Britain and took along Kenny Lynch as well as an up and coming band called The Beatles. Lennon and McCartney wrote the song “Misery” while on that tour and offered it to Ms. Shapiro who turned it down. Mr. Lynch recorded the tune for the new album he was preparing.
He remained friends with The Beatles, and appeared on the cover of the album “Band on the Run” by McCartney’s band Wings.
|Kenny Lynch is second from L. behind Paul McCartney. Cool, huh?|
He has performed as a singer, songwriter, dancer, and actor, as well as in comedy. He has worked in management and production, helping many newcomers into the business. This black cockney kid has come a long way appearing very frequently on our TV screens he is such an all-round entertainer that people may associate him with many different things. Although today's "alternative" comedy may be thought to tackle taboo subjects, Kenny would doubtless claim that he's done it all years before. Over the last 5 decades he has been one of the UK's busiest and most popular entertainers and was awarded an OBE in 1971.
I'm spending a little more time talking about Kenny Lynch because, well...I have fallen in love with him. But alas, the stars have not been in the right place for us. Oh well, better to have loved and lost, or something like that. Seriously, he is terrific. Besides his great voice he adds a touch of humor when he tries in vain to warn Biff Bailey about the repercussions of spying on the Voodoo rites.
"Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors” has been one of my favorite (non-Universal) horror flicks. It seems an inexplicable oversight that it has not yet been released on DVD for Region 1. Look for it on-line, it’s worth it.
"Our series of multi-story films came about because I had always thought the British film "Dead of Night" was the greatest horror film ever, and I wanted to do something like it. For the first one, "Dr. Terror's House of Horrors" I wrote five horror stories and connected them with a framework story. That's always the hard part - linking the stories together. But I prefer to do short stories instead of one long picture and I hope that people keep wanting to see them so that we can keep making them."The Horror People, by John Brosnan, New American Library, 1976.