Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965)

Freddie Francis directs the first of the Amicus anthology horrors, starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. ABUK R2 boxset release.

The Film

Five passengers board a train, but just before it departs, a mysterious sixth man appears (Peter Cushing). He drops his bag and some Tarot cards fall out; the man introduces himself to the other travellers as Dr. Schreck and offers to read their futures for them. Werewolf: Jim Dawson is an architect who has been summoned by the new owner of his old family home to help with plans to rebuild part of the property - however, he soon discovers that something strange is buired in the cellar. Creeping Vine: When Bill Rogers returns from a family holiday, he discovers a strange plant has grown up near his house that resists all efforts to cut it down, and soon starts to trap them inside their home. Voodoo, Bill Bailey (Roy Castle) is a jazz musician on a tour in the Carribean who goes into the jungle to spy on a Voodoo ceremony, he writes down the music they use, and plays it as part of his set back in Britain, but soon finds that the Voodoo spirits are protective of their music. Disembodied Hand - the famous art critic Franklyn Marsh (Christopher Lee) and the painter Eric Landor (Michael Gough) repeatedly clash, but when Landor repeatedly embarrases Marsh, he gets his own back by running the painter down, causing him to lose his hand and leading him to kill himself - but this hand soon comes back to seek revenge. Vampire, the doctor Bob Carroll (Donald Sutherland) returns home to his small town in America with his new wife, but he soon discovers that she is in fact one of the undead. The story ends as the men discover the real meanings of all their fortunes....

Dr. Terror's House of Horrors was the first of the Amicus anthology films, and set the format that the rest would closely follow. As would usually be the case, the stories presented range from good to bad, with some wasted opportunities and others that simply do not work, but some that fit the format exactly. The first story is one that could have been extended up to a full feature length film, we get a framework story, but never any characterisation or atmosphere - when one of the characters is killed, it seems rather irrelevant - a real wasted opportunity. The creeping vine is simply daft, but it is well paced for the format, and would have made a good break between serious stories, but the next story is also a comic relief, Voodoo is similarly daft, but this time it is dragged out a little too long and uses up time that could have been better used by some of the other stories.

Disembodied Hand is doubtless the best story in the film, although probably only for the superb acting - although the idea is interesting, creeping limbs are too silly to ever actually 'work' in a horror film. The pacing is pretty good, but some extra runtime would certainly not have hurt it. The final story is a decent one, although it really could have used some extra time to build up characterisation and atmosphere. Fortunately it is enjoyable, with a good ending. The link stories are often a weak point on the Amicus anthologies, but this one works pretty well, with a very fitting conclusion.

Director Freddie Francis had made his name as a cinematographer, but had gained some directing experience with Hammer's psycho-horrors, and their misguided Evil of Frankenstein (1964). He does some good work here, some of the shots in Werewolf especially, offer an effective gothic atmosphere, while he works well to hide the low budget sets and small casts in the rest of the stories. Elisabeth Lutyens provides the standard orchestral soundtrack, that sounds very similar to some of the James Bernard Hammer scores.

The big advantage of the anthology format for Amicus, was that they could advertise several big name stars, and only need to hire them for a few days filming - this first film is no exception. Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee were big names by this time, boosted by a string of Hammer Horror films (plus a number of movies shot in Europe for Christopher Lee). Cushing plays the titular Dr. Terror with a curious German accent, but manages to keep his performance straight faced, despite a lot of potential for over-acting in the role. Lee is cast opposite Hammer occasional Michael Gough and they both give superb performances, making their story the best in the film, and one of the best in the Amicus cycle. The entertaining Roy Castle and Neil McCalum give fitting performances, and James Bond star Bernard Lee makes a brief appearance. Most interesting is the casting of a young Donald Sutherland in the lead role for the final story, he gives a good performance in what was only his second feature film.

The anthology format is always very hit and miss - here we get one 'hit', along with two interesting titles, and two that although poor, are daft enough to be entertaining. A strong cast means that there is consistantly good acting, and the direction is solid throughout. An enjoyable film, and a great introduction to the anthology format and Amicus horror films, although it is not their best effort.

In Brief

Anyone famous in it? Christopher Lee - best known for his Hammer work, he also worked in Europe, including Eugenie (1969)
Peter Cushing - the most regular Amicus star, who also appeared in Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965).
Directed by anyone interesting? Freddie Francis - a two time Oscar winnings cinematographer (including Glory (1989)), he worked on several Hammer and Amicus horror films including Tales from the Crypt (1972) and Evil of Frankenstein (1964).
Is it scary?There are a couple of scenes that might prove scary, but nothing much.
Any violence/gore? Nothing vivid.
Any sex? None.
Who is it for?
A great place for Amicus newcomers to start, and of interest to all classic horror fans.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour.
The print is very good, some minor damage and grain. End credits are from another source and low quality.
Audio English original mono sounds good, plus rather unnecessary 5.1 and DTS remixes.
Subtitles None.
ExtrasThe disc includes:
  • Audio commentary with director Freddie Francis and Jonathan Southcott - some interesting dialogue and various facts about making the film.
  • Audio commentary with Allan Bryce, author of the 'Amicus Studio that Dripped Blood' book. Some interesting facts, but rather flat.
  • Photo and stills gallery, manual scrolling, runs to 33 images.
  • Text notes about the film, plus biographies of Francis, Lee, Cushing and Donald Sutherland.
AvailabilityThis version only available in the Anchor Bay UK Amicus Collection boxset.
The same print is available on an ABUK stand-alone disc, although this does not include the bonus features.
Region Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL
Other regions? Available on DVD in Italy, France and Germany, the Italian and French discs have forced subtitles while watching the English track and none include the bonus features.
Cuts? The film is missing a 30 second shot from the very end before the end credits (fortunately this is not a plot scene, but provides some extra music and atmosphere after the big denoument). The print used, including the opening titles is German langauge.



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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 1st September 2007. Part of Horror September 2.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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