Few anthology films are as well made as “The House That Dripped Blood” though “Dead of Night” from 1945 was the first of this type of film. The horror subjects of witchcraft, vampires, wax museums, and murder are bound by the emotions of fear, jealousy, and greed that provide the basis for this movie. Each story leads to a much darker story, until the final one finally reveals the truth about the house to one man, who is skeptical about the house’s claims, an inspector from Scotland Yard on assignment to discover the missing whereabouts of the last resident, a film actor. Director Peter Duffell manages to create a horror film that is both entertaining and allows the viewer to imagine being a boarding resident in each story. It is difficult to not want to sit in a chair in the living room while watching each character transform into someone totally unexpected.
The film opens with Inspector Holloway (John Bennett) talking to Sergeant Martin (John Malcolm) about the case he is on. Martin attempts to tell Holloway there is much more than meets the eye in the case, and that it is the house itself that has somehow played a role in the deaths of its past inhabitants. Holloway brushes this off as being a fairy tale, nothing that could possibly be based in fact, even though such stories are frequently based on something perceived to be a fact. Martin recounts each story to Holloway, including A. J. Stoker (John Bryans), the house’s leasing agent. Each story has a twist at the end, but the biggest twist of all is at the very end of the vignette of stories.
Charles (Denholm Elliott) and Alice Hillyer (Joanna Dunham) are a young married couple who move into the house so that Charles can concentrate on his work. He is a horror fiction writer who has the talent to make his characters seem real to life. The protagonist in his novel, Dominic, has just that ability but not to the extent Charles expected him to have. Once they enter the front door, they look around. Stoker tells Alice that the house is modern in conveniences, even though it looks like a relic of the past, perhaps even a museum. Just like a museum, the house contains a great many objects that tell a story of their own: dark sculptures of animals both real and mythical, books that evoke an image of evil, and an atmosphere that swallows up each resident into a nightmare. It is not until Charles picks up a book titled “The House of Death” on the bookshelf of the library when he believes that living there can actually help him write a really great horror story. Alice is supportive of him at first but once he starts seeing images of Dominic appearing right before him, that she suggests he gets away from his work for awhile. Charles is anxious to finish the story, for he is working on a deadline and takes time out only to occasionally look out the window or take a brief walk outside in an attempt to step away from his work. Such excursions prove fruitless, though, for Dominic continues to follow him, whether it is on the opposite side of the river, or through the mirror in his own house. Alice finally encourages Charles to see a psychiatrist, which he willingly does. Being nagged by disturbing images of Dominic, the murderer who escaped from the insane asylum in his story, only exacerbates Charles’ attempt to finish the novel. Charles visits Dr. Andrews (Robert Lang) who provides some support to him. What Charles does not know is that his wife is conducting a plan of her own to drive him crazy and eventually acquire the royalties from her husband’s work. Her plan eventually backfires on her with unexpected results.
“Waxworks” has elements of the classic wax museum story with horrific figures and weapons in the small town where the house is located. “Jacquelin’s Museum of Horror” is the full name of the wax museum that receives a visit from Philip Grayson (Peter Cushing), the next resident of the house. Philip is a retired stockbroker who now has the time to devote to his favorite pastimes such as reading, gardening, and music. He enjoys his solitude but it’s not until he sees one wax figure in the museum that bears an uncanny likeness to the woman in a photo that he owns. The figure is very beautiful, the proprietor (Wolfe Morris) tells Philip, and the woman who posed for it was his wife, Simona. After laying his eyes upon her, Philip finds it difficult to get her out of his mind, even as he falls asleep for a brief afternoon nap in the living room of his home. While asleep, he dreams of being in the wax museum, walking past every other figure as if they do not exist, and heads straight for the face of Simona. Just as in a dream, figures and faces appear distorted, yet Simona’s face is remarkably changed: she is no longer beautiful, but a skull. Philip suddenly awakens when he hears a knock on the front door, and discovers it is his friend Neville ((Joss Ackland) who is passing through on a business trip. Philip acts a bit unnerved in front of him, inviting him to stay and keep him company, maybe in an attempt to forget about the face of Simona in the wax museum. Yet even the company of Neville does not help him forget, for soon he too wants to see the museum once they walk into town together.
The proprietor tells Neville the same story he told Philip yet neither man can understand why he would encourage them to appreciate the beauty of his wife when he admits to having killed her and another man who fell in love with her beauty. The man’s head on the silver platter that is in front of Simona does not serve as a sufficient enough warning to Philip or Neville. Neville proves to be the weaker of the two men, knowing he has to return home but wants to remain in town so that he could always be with the face of Simona. Philip is unable to rescue him, and soon he himself falls victim at the hands of the proprietor. It seems the proprietor wants to have his cake and eat it at the same time when it comes to showing his beautiful late wife to the world, yet his jealousy gets the better of him.
Witchcraft has long been a subject of horror films but in the third story, “Sweets to the Sweet”, the subject is not a woman, but rather a child. Jane (Chloe Franks) is the young daughter of John Reid (Christopher Lee), a businessman who is seeking a secluded spot to raise his daughter. At first, Jane seems like an ordinary child, even as she admires a table decoration of herbal flowers under glass. John asks a colleague if he knows of anyone he might be able to hire as a governess for Jane. John finally requests the recommended former teacher to visit him and Jane, to see if she will be compatible with his daughter. John has a secret about Jane that he cannot tell Ann Norton (Nyree Dawn Porter) at first, but eventually does once she witnesses how he treats Jane, which is a rather cold, stern manner rather than a loving father who loves his only surviving family member since his wife’s death. Jane has the potential, John believes, to practice the same evil talents his wife did. He is particular about what she has access to, which includes information on witchcraft, maybe even the very word itself, since he is careful to never mention it in front of her or Ann. He does not allow Jane in the presence of other children, for fear of what she might do to them, and neither is she allowed to own dolls, for a wax doll can easily be used for magical use.
It is not until one night when a thunderstorm breaks when John is downstairs reading while Jane is asleep when Ann asks him about their relationship. The lights go out, prompting John to look for candles. He finds them in Jane’s desk, and to his shock, four of them are missing. Jane is honing her powers at this point, even though her wax doll is well hidden until her father finally sees it the next day. By then it is too late, even as Ann tries to coax Jane into giving her the doll, which the girl throws into the lit fireplace.
“The House That Dripped Blood” explores the nature of vampires in the final story, “The Cloak.” Paul Henderson (Jon Pertwee) is an actor making a movie titled “Curse of the Bloodsuckers” when he rents the ominous house as a place to stay while he makes the film. Paul is the typical perfectionist who wants everything to be genuine, including the set, though it is curious he does not tell his director the house he is staying in might very well be the perfect place to film the scenes in. One costume element of the film Paul is making starts to take over his personality: a vampire cloak which he purchased from a costume shop owned by Theo Von Hartmann (Geoffrey Bayldon). Unknown to Paul, Theo is a vampire seeking the right person to pass on the magical cloak to. Paul starts to suspect something about the cloak when he discovers he cannot see his reflection when he wears it, when he bites his leading lady Carla Lynde (Ingrid Pitt) in the neck on the set, and when he finally grows fangs and levitates at home. So wrapped up in his vampire character, Paul spends a lot of time reading about vampires, something he has portrayed before in his many films. Maybe it is the sight of “The Vampire: His Kith and Kin” by Montague Summers that increases the atmosphere of this story. Summers, an author of books on werewolves and witchcraft, seems only too appropriate to be mentioned in “The Cloak.” Paul and Carla find their lives transformed by the magic cloak in more ways than one, and become the new residents of the house but in a secret room of the cellar.
The vignette of stories leads to a final story Inspector Holloway does not expect to see as he investigates the house, hoping to find some clue as to what happened to Henderson and Lynde. Just as the house appears to have a life of its own, Holloway soon becomes a casualty of the house, just as the former residents did. Stoker gives his input on the house at the conclusion, allowing the viewer to ponder whether a house with a Gothic charm of its own would appeal enough to be lived in or not. It’s not hard for the viewer to find the interior decor appealing, even if it just the books that perfectly line the ceiling to floor bookshelves in the library. Well scored by Michael Dress, “The House That Dripped Blood” is one of the more popular Amicus horror films made during the 1970′s. Written by Robert Bloch, this is one film that will remain popular for its well directed stories and the final twist, as well for the excellent acting by veteran horror stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.