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Home of the Grave: The House That Dripped Blood and Asylum on Blu-ray

  For a while in the nineteen-sixties and seventies, Amicus presented itself as a very credible rival to the big daddy of British horror moviemakers, Hammer, and though by the end of that latter decade they were both on the way out, the pretender to the throne had produced a number of very respectable fright flicks. But it will always be a very particular format they will be best recalled for, the anthology, or portmanteau horror, where producer Milton Subotsky, who took care of the creative side (his partner Max Rosenberg was the money man), assembled a collection of sources to draw inspiration from.

Two of Amicus' portmanteaus have been released on Blu-ray, 1970's The House That Dripped Blood being the earliest of the pair. It followed Subotsky's format by hiring a bunch of popular names, securing their services for a few days, then stringing the results together in the editing room, and here they boasted three big names of horror: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Ingrid Pitt, though they did not appear together in the same story. Indeed, none of them appeared in the first story at all, as author Denholm Elliott got over his writer's block by inventing a new murderous character for his latest work. But then he starts to see him hanging around the house...

That'll be the house that dripped blood, then, except this was a surprisingly bloodless experience as director Peter Duffell relied on the script of Robert Bloch to provide any chills, Bloch labouring under his "author of Psycho" label, but not above cashing in on it if it guaranteed him work. These were tricksy tales, all with a twist at the end that you may or may not see coming, but in the second Cushing played a lonely, retired businessman who has taken up residence in the lodge and starts pining for a lost love. When he visits a waxworks in the village, he is struck by the resemblance between her and the model of Salome.

Then his pal Joss Ackland shows up (also resplendent in eye-catching neckwear, as a few men are in this) and he visits the waxworks too, not put off by the creepy owner, and also captivated by Salome. There is a reason for that in a melancholy but nicely played piece, representing a deepening of the tone to contrast with the build-up/punchline format of the opener. In the third segment, Lee was the star, moving into the house with his little daughter Chloe Franks (briefly a fixture as the creepy kid in British chillers) who he forbids to play with other children, or even her own toys. Tutor Nyree Dawn Porter is brought in to teach the girl, and is appalled.

But, ah, you're expecting a twist and you get one when the real motive for Lee’s cruelty is revealed, well, sort of, as there was as much backstory here as there was in Adam Ant's Friend or Foe video of ten years later, which may have been influenced by this section. This was a shade slow in the setting up, but its final images were pleasingly nasty. Lastly, Bloch exercised his love of comedy, up to a point, for while it starred Jon Pertwee as an arrogant male diva of a horror movie star, it wasn't really hilarious, more amusing, despite the actor's grounding in humour. He had become Doctor Who the previous year, and though first choice Vincent Price might have been more apt, Pertwee's pairing with Pitt was artistically successful, and there was a sense of fun rare in Amicus.

Unless you count Asylum, another Bloch script with another four stories, which was fun all the way in a sick fashion. This was from 1972, and Amicus' fast turnaround meant it took less than four months from start to release to get this done and dusted and putting the wind up the British public. It did play around with their format a little, as technically there were three self-contained tales and the fourth was incorporated into the wraparound plot, which had psychiatrist Robert Powell arriving at the titular county house and meeting with doctor Patrick Magee, here in a wheelchair as he often seemed to be (though he had full use of his legs in real life).

Magee decided that Powell will get the job as the new shrink there if he can pass a test, because that's a reasonable and professional way to go about hiring staff at a hospital for the "incurably insane" (as this doc keeps referring to the patients). That test? Simply interview four patients about their background, then work out which is the actual doctor who has gone... incurably insane! Yes, him too! If Powell gets it right, the position is his, though to generate suspicion in the study of the mind, he is one of those progressive medical folks with brand new ideas about treating the mentally ill, and he will not be impressed with this establishment.

The patients are to all intents and purposes locked up twenty-four hours a day and left alone to stew in their anguish; the first we see is Barbara Parkins who ominously keeps her back to the camera as she relates her issues with a murder plot that she was involved with. Her lover was Richard Todd (no fan of this film) and he chops up his wife (Sylvia Syms) and neatly wraps up the body parts in brown paper and string, which shows a tidy mind. He's not posting them anywhere, he's putting them in his new chest freezer, but oh dear, thanks to the power of African magic Syms had been studying, the parts return to life and wreak revenge.

Next up, Barry Morse, soon to be of Space: 1999, is a tailor who is behind on his rent and must secure a decent income lest he lose his shop, so as luck would have it Peter Cushing arrives and asks him to run up a suit for him (this also offers the opportunity to hear Cushing pronounce the word "suit", which is always a joy). However, there's a caveat: Morse must use this fancy glowing material, and only work after midnight. When the tailor discovers the reason for this, it spells his doom, and the reason he has been locked away because no one will believe him when he says the dummy came to life and... well, you'll have to see for yourself.

Charlotte Rampling was a curious addition to the Amicus roster of talent, but here she was in the third yarn playing someone who had just come from an asylum and returning home with new medication that will make her right as rain. Believe that if you like as her childhood friend Britt Ekland "somehow" gets into her bedroom and encourages her to make plans to get away again, so it's not Charlotte's fault when someone ends up on the wrong end of a great big pair of scissors, is it? Or is it? In truth, this was the most blatant of the lot, not so much a twist as a tale of the very much as we expected, but it was amusing to see the two leads together.

Last up, really was the conclusion to the opener where Powell meets the last of the patients and he's Herbert Lom who has been manufacturing little dolls which he claims are alive. This is the final straw for Powell, and he demands to see Magee again to give him a piece of his mind. Unfortunately, Lom has been giving his Mini-Me a piece of his own mind and is psychically controlling the robot, so when it gets hold of a scalpel... Asylum, despite or maybe because of the bad taste air around the subject matter, was possibly the most entertaining of the studio's portmanteau efforts, ably directed by Roy Ward Baker who had an unfussy but indulgent way with Bloch's screenplay that has made it stick in the memories of many who saw this on late night television way back when. The House That Dripped Blood is good and very indicative of their output, but Asylum was the real gem.

[These two titles are released on Blu-ray by Second Sight, special editions stuffed with features.

The House that Dripped Blood

SPECIAL FEATURES:

Audio Commentary with Director Peter Duffell and Author Jonathan Rigby
Audio Commentary with Film Historian and Author Troy Howarth
Interview with Second Assistant Director Mike Higgins
"A Rated Horror Film" - Vintage featurette featuring interviews with Director Peter Duffell and Actors Geoffrey Bayldon, Ingrid Pitt and Chloe Franks
Theatrical Trailers
Amicus Radio Spots
Stills Gallery
Reversible sleeve featuring new artwork by Graham Humphreys and original artwork
Optional English subtitles for the hard of hearing

LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS:

Rigid Slipcase Featuring New Artwork by Graham Humphreys
40 page booklet with new essays by Allan Bryce, Jon Towlson and Kat Ellinger
Reversible poster featuring new and original artwork

Asylum

SPECIAL FEATURES:

Audio Commentary with Director Roy Ward Baker and Camera Operator Neil Binney
'Two's a Company': 1972 On-set BBC report featuring interviews with Producer Milton Subotsky, Director Roy Ward Baker,
Actors Charlotte Rampling, James Villiers, Megs Jenkins, Art Director Tony Curtis and Production Manager Teresa Bolland
Screenwriter David J. Schow on Writer Robert Bloch
Fiona Subotsky Remembers Milton Subotsky
'Inside The Fear Factory' Featurette with Directors Roy Ward Baker, Freddie Francis and Producer Max J. Rosenberg
Theatrical Trailer
Reversible sleeve subtitles for the hearing impaired

LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS:

Rigid Slipcase Featuring New Artwork by Graham Humphreys
40 page booklet with new essays by Allan Bryce, Jon Towlson and Kat Ellinger
Reversible poster featuring new and original artwork
featuring new artwork by Graham Humphreys and original artwork
Option English.]
Author: Graeme Clark.

 

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Last Updated: 31 March, 2018