Monday, 11 March 2013

Amicus Horror Anthologies - Dr Terror's House of Horrors (1964)

During the 60s and 70s, British film makers Amicus productions made a series of films containing several short horror stories, linked by a framing story.
Starring many big names (for the time), these low/medium budget films told several stories mainly concerning ghosts and the supernatural in a typically British way, and usually featured some sort of twist ending.

The first of these was "Dr Terror's House of Horrors", released in 1964.

Framing story
Five men (Neil McCallumAlan "Fluff" FreemanRoy CastleChristopher Lee  and Donald Sutherland ) are sharing a train coach together when they are joined by the mysterious "Dr. Shreck" (Peter Cushing), who over the course of polite conversation reveals that by using his deck of Tarot cards,which he refers to as "the house of horrors", he can divine each mans fate, and possibly show him how to escape it. Initially disbelieving his claims, especially Mr. Marsh (Lee), Shreck tells them all they have to do is tap the deck 3 times, shuffle it and then the first 4 cards they draw will tell the story, while the fifth card will tell them what they need to do in order to escape it. The men agree to give it a try, simply to pass the time on their long journey....

Story #1 - "The Werewolf"
Jim Dawson (McCallum) is a Scottish architect now living in London. He accepts a job to renovate his old ancestral home, which he sold a a Mrs. Biddulph, who intends to use the house as a museum to her late husbands life and achievements.
Dawson approaches the task with some gusto, as he believes he will be paid handsomely for the job, but while he is looking the place over, he finds a coffin hidden behind a fake wall in the cellar, which contains the body of the late Count Cosimo Vandemar, an old enemy of the Dawson family whom he blamed for swindling out of his house. Legend has it that Count Vandemar swore revenge on the Dawson family and would return as a werewolf to exact revenge on the family until they and anyone who owned the house were dead.
That night, the housekeeper is killed after she tries to warn Dawson that something is amiss, and Dawson decides that the werewolf has indeed returned to kill both him and Mrs. Biddulph. He melts down an ancient silver cross used by his ancestor to kill Count Cosimo and makes silver bullets out of it, as they are the only thing that can kill a werewolf. That night, the werewolf attacks them and Dawson manages to shoot the werewolf six times, but yet it doesn't die.
Mrs Biddulph reveals that she swapped his silver bullets for normal ones, and that in fact she is the wife of Count Cosimo, and has been kept alive for centuries thanks to his black magic. She also reveals that she had lured Dawson to the house so that the werewolf could kill him and complete his revenge against the Dawson family, Dawson screams as the werewolf once again appears and attacks him....

Back in the train carriage, Shreck draws the fifth card from his deck, revealing it to be "Death". He quickly hides the card and asks if anyone else would like to have their fate divined.....

Story #2 - "The Creeping Vine" 
Bill Rogers (Freeman) returns from a holiday with his family to find that a strange ugly vine has sprouted in his garden. He attempts to cut it down but finds that every time he does so, the vine seemingly responds violently, on one occasion even physically knocking the shears out of his hands.
He informs some of his scientist friends who work for the Ministry of Defense about the strange plant, and they hypothesise that maybe the vine is some sort of new breed of plant that has learned to defend itself from any attempt to eradicate it, and that such a plant could, in theory, be very dangerous to mankind if it was allowed to grow uncontrolled.
Rogers manages to get a sample of the plant to examine under a microscope, and finds that each cell of the plant contains a tiny brain, meaning that the plant is actually a highly intelligent form of life. As he makes this discovery, the vine kills the family dog, who was at the time digging up the plants roots.
Rogers decides action must be taken, but as he has just finished calling the MoD scientists to come and help him get rid of the plant, a vine snakes in through an open window and strangles him. His friends arrive and find themselves trapped in the house as the vine spreads to cover the doors and windows, but one of the scientists finds that the plant, like most forms of life on Earth, is scared of fire, so he vows to go get help as he rushes out to his car carrying a burning newspaper, leaving the others trapped inside with the vine slowly surrounding them....

Back in the carriage, Rogers looks shocked, and once again when Shreck draws the fifth card, it is revealed to the audience to be "Death", but he quickly hides it and moves on to the next man....

Story #3 - "VooDoo"
Biff Bailey (Castle) is a down on his luck leader of a jazz quintet, who cant believe his luck when their agent offers them a well paying gig in the West Indies.
Two weeks later and the band have arrived to begin their new job. As they sit and have a drink with the outgoing band leader, Bailey makes a rude comment about a piece of jewellry worn by one of the waitresses which shows an ugly golden face. He is given a friendly warning by the other band leader that most of the locals are practitioners of VooDoo magic, and that after dark he should stay in his hotel room and not interfere, or even pass any comment about the VooDoo religion or its patron god, "Damballa".
Bailey completely ignores this warning and goes out after dark to investigate the sound of drums he can hear coming from the woods, where he stumbles across a VooDoo ceremony in progress. He becomes aware of the catchy beat used by the drummers, and decides to write down the music as he hears it, unaware that he has been surrounded by a group of angry looking natives, who take him prisoner and bring him before the high priest.
The priest asks him what he was doing, and Bailey replies that he was listening to the music and wanted to know if he could use it in one of his songs, to which the priest tells him that if he dares to steal the sacred music then Damballa will exact a terrible revenge.
Several weeks later Bailey and his band return to London and Bailey insists on using the VooDoo music as part of  his bands set, which results in the club being trashed by powerful gusts of wind. When he returns home, the wind again causes the doors and windows in his living room to slam closed, and the power cuts off. While Bailey is fiddling with the lamp, the high priest suddenly appears and scare Bailey to death, then leaves, taking the music sheets with him.

Once again, when Shreck turns over the fifth card, it is revealed to be "Death", but this time he admits that everyones fifth card thus far has been the same. Marsh (Lee) loudly dismisses Shreck as a charlatan and a con man, so Shreck offers him the deck....

Story #4 - "The Disembodied Hand"
Franklyn Marsh (Lee) is a pompous and arrogant art critic who has a particular loathing for an artist named "Eric Landor". One night while appraising some works in an art gallery for his newspaper, Marsh is challenged by Landor to appraise his latest work (an avant-garde piece which bears some resemblance to a rorshach ink blot test), which Marsh immediately denounces as being "crude and unimaginative". Landors assistant brings in a canvas and states that it is the work of a new and upcoming young artist and would Mr. Marsh give them his opinion of it, to which he agrees. Marsh looks at the painting(which contains nothing but a few childish smears of coloured poster paint) and declares that the artist is a genius, showing creativity and imagination in an interesting fashion. Landors assistant asks if Marsh would like to meet the artist, and he says he would be delighted to, but then everyone, including Landor, has a good laugh at his expense as the artist turns out to be a chimpanzee.
Over the next few weeks Landor continues to embarrass and humiliate Marsh by turning up at events at which Marsh is delivering speeches and distracting him by pulling stupid faces and holding up paper cutouts of monkeys, so much so that Marsh decides to silence him once and for all.
As Landor leaves his gallery one night and crosses the street, Marsh hits him with his car, which causes Landor to lose his right hand. No longer able to paint, Landor commits suicide not long after.
Marsh reads about Landors death in the news, and seemingly feels guilty, however things take a more sinister turn as Marsh begins to be stalked everywhere by Landors severed right hand, which resists all attempts to destroy or contain it. Eventually, as Marsh is driving home, the hand attacks him in his car, causing him to have a crash. As he is loaded into the back of an ambulance, the doctor remarks that although Marsh will live, he is now totally blind..Marsh screams in horror...

Back aboard the train, Marsh once again dismisses Shreck as a fraud, and says that no doubt he will expect them to give him money at some point, but he soon goes silent when Shreck once again reveals that the fifth card is "Death".
He then offers the deck to the final man, Dr. Carroll (Sutherland)

Story #5 - "The Vampire"
Dr. Bob Carroll (Sutherland) returns to his home in New England from travelling in Europe with his beautiful new French wife Nicole.
Everything seems idyllic until one day a boy is brought into the clinic he works in seemingly suffering from unexplained blood loss, his collegue, Dr. Brookes says that it could be a simple case of anemia, but Carroll disagrees and says it looks like the boy was bitten on the neck and the blood drained out of him.
Brookes suggests that maybe Carroll should keep an eye on his wife, as the boy only got ill after she had arrived in town, and that night, when Carroll is pretending to be asleep, he watches in horror as his wife turns into a vampire bat and flies out of the window.
He tells Brookes what he saw, and Brookes says that the only way he can put an end to the problem is to kill his wife by driving a stake through her heart, even handing Carroll a wooden stake as he talks. Carroll agrees to do the deed and that night when his wife returns after her nightly feed, he kills her.
The police come at his request and find his stories about vampires to be ridiculous, but when Dr. Brookes arrives he says that he will be vindicated, but Brookes denounces Carroll as a madman and the police take him away for murdering his wife. As the police car drives away, Brookes addresses the audience and says "This town isn't big enough for two doctors...or two vampires!" before himself turning into a vampire bat and flying away laughing...

Back on the train, the assembled men laugh at the story, until Carroll reveals that he indeed was on his way to meet a French girl called Nicole whom he intended to marry, and the men fall silent.
Now all terrified and fully believing in Shrecks fortune telling, Rogers angrilly demands that Shreck divine his own fortune, which he does, and reveals his fifth card is also "Death". Dawson panics and says that they are all going to be killed in a train crash, and moves to pull the communication cord until Marsh stops him by pointing out that that act on its own could cause a fatal accident. Shreck calmly says that death is certain for everyone, and that the only way that they can escape their fates is to die before they happen, to which the men angrilly demand to know who he is. The lights suddenly go out as the train enters a tunnel, and when they come back on, Shreck is gone, leaving behind only his tarot cards, with the "Death" card displayed on top.
Suddenly the train stops, and the men rejoice in the fact that their journey is at an end, and they all hurridley leave the train, stepping out on to a deserted platform. Startled, they also notice that the train has vanished, and then a piece of newspaper flutters down from the sky, bearing the headline "TRAIN CRASH - FIVE MEN KILLED". Marsh spots Dr. Shreck walking away from them and calls after him, but as he turns around, the men find themselves staring into the face of Death himself, and realise that they are in fact dead, and Death has come to claim their souls.

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