Amicus curiae: horror movies viewed

From the early 1960s on into the 1970s, Amicus Productions was known as the British horror-film company that wasn’t Hammer Films. Unlike Hammer, which favored period pieces, Amicus films were almost entirely contemporary. They also liked anthologies, one of the company heads believing it was easier to sustain a horror premise in a sprint rather than a full-length work. As I like their films, I picked up a three-DVD set with some of my Christmas money.

ASYLUM (1972) is the film I really wanted in the set. Based like most of their anthologies on Robert Bloch’s short stories, this opens with Robert Powell as a psychiatrist applying for a post at a mental hospital. Unfortunately the doctor who hired him is now insane, having fabricated an entirely new personality and history; his replacement (Patrick Magee) offers to hire Powell provided he’s sharp enough to identify which of four patients is the doctor. This leads to interviews with Barry Morse, Charlotte Rampling, Barbara Perkins and Herbert Lom, after which Powell thinks he’s identified the doctor — but has he? All the Amicus anthologies interwove the stories with the framing sequence, but the frame here is the best; Peter Cushing and Brett Eklund are among the cast. “Run — hide from the truth like the idiot downstairs.”

AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS (1973) was a rare Amicus period piece, set in 1795 as newlyweds Stephanie Beacham and Ian Ogilvie arrive at the latter’s country mansion. The idyllic honeymoon soon goes south as a homicidal hand and an eyeless ghost keep appearing to Beacham, despite which everyone insists there is absolutely nothing to worry about (the hand deals with those who try to tell the truth). This starts slow but gets more effective as it goes along, and it’s well cast (Peter Cushing, Herbert Lom and Patrick Magee round out the cast). However it unpleasantly embodies the woman-as-property attitude toward rape: Ogilvie’s grandfather raped one man’s virgin bride so Beacham must be violated in retribution. “That’s twice you’ve raised your hand to me today — I’ll see to it that it doesn’t happen again.”

Amicus billed THE BEAST MUST DIE (1974) as a horror murder mystery with a thirty-second break before the climax for us to guess who among the cast is a werewolf. I don’t think that’s actually such a startling idea, as lots of horror movies have a mystery element (both Howling V and Doctor X have a list of suspects who could be the movie’s monster), but it works here: Calvin Lockhart plays a millionaire game hunter who’s decided tracking and killing a werewolf would be the ultimate challenge (“A creature no hunter has ever faced before.”), so he’s invited a number of individuals linked to suspicious killings, including lycanthropy expert Peter Cushing. Fun, even though there’s no real way to deduce who the wolf turns out to be. “Tonight, the beast must die — and it will.”

This seemed like a good week to rewatch another of their Bloch anthologies THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1970), which studio co-head Max Rosenberg says was their second most successful film ever, which he credits to his choice of title (the director’s preference was Death and the Maiden). Investigating the disappearance of horror star Jon Pertwee from his country estate, a cop learns that the house has a history of unpleasant incidents: thriller author Denholm Elliott becoming convinced his latest villain has come to life, Peter Cushing and Joss Ackland becoming obsessed with a waxwork figure of Salome (as you can see from the poster, Cushing quite loses his head over her) and Christopher Lee warning governess Nyree Dawn Porter that there’s a reason he’s so abusive to his little daughter. And then there’s Pertwee’s fate … TYG bought this for me while we were dating, and found 1970s fashion (“Purple paisley shirts, nooooo!”) scarier than anything else in the movie, but it’s actually quite entertaining. “There is little I don’t know about the subject of the supernatural.”

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One response to “Amicus curiae: horror movies viewed

  1. Pingback: Pulp heroes, comics heroes and movie reference: this week’s books | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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