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  Dr. Terror's House of Horrors It's In The Cards
Year: 1965
Director: Freddie Francis
Stars: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Neil McCallum, Roy Castle, Alan Freeman, Donald Sutherland, Bernard Lee, Kenny Lynch, Ursula Howells, Michael Gough, Jennifer Jayne, Max Adrian, Ann Bell, Katy Wild, Peter Madden, Jeremy Kemp, Harold Lang
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: Five men board a train from London, and settle down for the journey. However, they are joined by a sixth, an elderly gentleman who, as the train embarks, dozes off, causing his travelling case to fall to the floor and spill its contents. The others help him retrieve his papers, and one passenger notices an unusual pack of cards the man, who introduces himself as Dr Shreck (Peter Cushing), has been carrying. They are identified as Tarot cards, and Dr Shreck suggests telling the future of the five men to pass the time. But according to the Tarot their futures are not as rosy as they would like them to be - in fact, the cards predict disaster for each and every one of them...

This is the movie which started off the Amicus habit of releasing compendium films of horror stories, all with a twist. As inspired by the lurid E.C. comics of the fifties, Dr. Terror's House of Horrors was scripted by co-producer Milton Subotsky, and set the pattern of success that would see the Amicus company right into the next decade. Get a bunch of stars and celebrities, put them each in a short tale of doom, and stick them all together - what could be simpler? And it was a formula that worked, as can be seen in this film, where established horror stars Christopher Lee and Cushing mingle with the likes of DJ Alan Freeman and musician and light entertainer Roy Castle, all to charming effect.

The first victim to get his future foretold is Neil McCallum, playing an architect who returns to the family home in the Hebrides, setting up an old dark house plot with a werewolf twist, when he discovers that the house he is supposed to be renovating is cursed. It's not a bad start, reasonably atmospheric, but a little too conventional and uninspiring. Next, in the wackiest segment, Freeman battles a killer vine that has taken over his house and strangled his dog, leaving his family in peril. There's an agreeably lunatic tone to this one, even if there's no room for any development and the murderous plant really needs a Venus flytrap mouth to gobble up its victims.

In the weakest part, trumpeter Castle has to battle the forces of voodoo when he steals a forbidden song he has heard in a religious ceremony while playing in the West Indies (although judging by his attempt at the accent, he thinks the West Indies is in India). This is presumably the light relief, with Castle cracking jokes, doing a little slapstick, and stopping for musical interludes. Just when you think things are going downhill, Lee's story arrives, providing a shot in the arm for the film with a cruel tale of an art critic who gets his own back on an artist (an on-form Michael Gough) who has humiliated him. The crawling hand is a persistently effective tormentor, and the twist is suitably nasty.

Lastly, North American import Donald Sutherland plays a new doctor in a village who has suspicions about his wife when he accidentally cuts his finger and she lovingly sucks the wound. Yes, she's a vampire, and he enlists the help of the local doctor to find out how to combat her. Again, another conventional effort, but it leads up to a neat punchline and has a pleasing simplicity. After all that, the five men discover what they're really doing on the train, and you should have been reliably entertained. Dr. Terror's House of Horrors captures a lively mood and variety that marks it out as one of the better chiller anthologies; it's not Dead of Night, but it's unpretentious and won't test your patience. Music by Elizabeth Lutyens.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Freddie Francis  (1917 - 2007)

A much respected cinematographer for decades, British Francis made his way up from camera operator on films like The Small Back Room, Outcast of the Islands and Beat the Devil to fully fledged cinematographer on such films as Room at the Top, Sons and Lovers (for which he won his first Oscar), Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, and The Innocents (a masterpiece of his art).

He then turned to direction, mostly in the horror genre, with familiar titles like Paranoiac, Nightmare, The Evil of Frankenstein, Dr Terror's House of Horrors (the first recognisable Amicus chiller anthology), The Skull, The Psychopath, Torture Garden, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, camp favourite Trog, Tales from the Crypt, The Creeping Flesh, Tales that Witness Madness, Legend of the Werewolf and The Ghoul.

Late in his career, he returned to cinematography with David Lynch's The Elephant Man, The French Lieutenant's Woman, Dune, Glory (winning his second Oscar), the Cape Fear remake and The Straight Story, his final work and one of his greatest.

 
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