A really fun Blu-Ray reissue of a cult horror from 1971, The House That Dripped Blood may only be a certificate 12, which tells you all you need to know about how violent and gory it is (it isn’t!), but don’t let those modern day preconceptions put you off, because this is a well-crafted classic that has stood the test of time, despite a few hokey melodramatic moments along the way.
This was originally released by Amicus, a British production company that did their best to battle from under the shadow of Hammer during the Sixties and Seventies, and had a penchant for the anthology film, i.e. a collection of shorts linked together by a central conceit. These are great if you have a short attention span, or if one of the sections isn’t that captivating (you only have to put up with it for fifteen or twenty minutes!), but they obviously don’t lend themselves to in-depth character development. But no matter, because for the kind of schlock horror that Amicus peddled, you just need a few minutes to acclimatise to the next setting and you’re off again.
Actually ‘schlock’ is selling this rather short, because it was written – as were several other Amicus portmanteaus – by Robert Bloch, who of course penned Psycho, and the cast list is starry beyond belief given that this was director Peter Duffell’s debut outing. ‘Surprisingly good’ is the phrase that springs unbidden to mind, when considering The House That Dripped Blood in retrospect and high definition, with lots of atmosphere and plenty of familiar genre faces gleefully chomping the scenery.
The film is based around a detective investigating mysterious happenings at the eponymous spooky old house, and – a bit like Salems Lot, really – it soon becomes apparent that an evil house attracts evil people. The first short story revolves around a horror writer’s immersion in his latest character (a night-time strangler that looks uncannily like Odd Bod Junior from Carry On Screaming!), the second sees Peter Cushing haunted by a wax model that looks just too much like a woman he once loved, and the third features Christopher Lee as a rather unpleasant, seemingly overbearing father… but his daughter is not all that she seems, as their new nanny finds out to her detriment.
These shorts are all fine, spooky and rather entertaining examples of British gothic horror, but it’s the fourth segment where The House That Dripped Blood really comes to life. The Cloak stars Jon ‘Doctor Who’ Pertwee and the delectable Ingrid Pitt as a pair of jaded actors hamming it up as vampires, until an antique stage costume brings some real authenticity to their performance. This story also features one of the most OTT turns ever by Catweazle actor, Geoffrey Bayldon… you need to see his eyebrows to believe them.
Yes, it’s all as daft as it sounds, but full of that peculiar charm so often missing from modern horror. Younger viewers will probably dismiss it as a creaky relic, and for good reason without any perspective, but for those who grew up with these actors and this style of film, it’s a welcome reminder of how enjoyable British horror used to be. Ian Glasper