The Mondo Esoterica Guide to:

Amicus Productions

    About Amicus:

Between the 1950s and early 70s the first name in British horror and fantasy film making was Hammer, whose Gothic horror movies inspired a generation of film makers across the world, and whose ventures into everything from science fiction to adventure films proved highly popular. However, Hammer did have rivals in Britain, and the most notable of these companies was Amicus.

The company was established by two Americans: Milton Subotsky, a fantasy loving dreamer who was working in the film industry, with ambitions of being a screenwriter and editor, and Max Rosenberg, a rather more down to earth, and already well established producer. During the 1950s the duo first worked together on a pair of low budget rock and roll musicals, and with great ambitions Subotsky penned a Frankenstein script. It was send for consideration to producer Eliot Hyman, who was unprepared to fund such a venture but sent it on to the British Hammer Films company where the concept was met with some interest in light of their success with X-rated sci-fi horror films in the mid-1950s. However, the script was considered to be very weak, overly ambitious for a low budget, and too similar to the Universal Frankenstein films of the 1930s, so Hammer had the storyline completely rewritten by their own screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, leaving Subotsky and Rosenberg uncredited. The pair were eventually able to claim a payment for their contributions, but it left Subotsky in particular with a lifelong hatred of their rival studio.

With the sudden boom in gothic horror, resulting from Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Subotsky and Rosenberg quickly decided to cash in, and at the same time, taking advantage of a British Government incentive that forced cinemas to show a quota of British made films and offered tax breaks to British based productions. The result was City of the Dead (1960), which although set in America, was filmed in Britain, and starred the Hammer made star Christopher Lee. As would be a familiar pattern down the years, Rosenberg would negotiate the finances, while Subotsky took care of the creative side, rewriting part of the script, and editing the film. The film was well received in Britain, but its black-and-white stock made it hard to find a distributor in the US, where it was eventually released as Horror Hotel. The duo quickly realised the potential for film making in the UK and set up residence, working on two more rock-and-roll musicals - however these met with little success, and they soon returned to horror.

Founding Amicus Productions, Subotsky and Rosenberg began work on the anthology horror film Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965), using a selection of short stories penned by Subotsky. The advantages of this format soon became apparent when they were able to cast the classic Hammer pairing of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in important roles, but only needing to pay them for a couple of days shooting, something they would repeat frequently and effectively down the years. The film was a success, and Amicus were quickly at work on a second horror film, this time a straight forward narrative story - The Skull (1965), starring Peter Cushing in the lead, with a small role for Christopher Lee alongside the veteran character actors Nigel Green, Patrick Wymark and Michael Gough. Although not as successful as their anthology horror production, the film was a success, and helped to build the Amicus name.

Despite their horror successes, their next film was to be a complete change of tack. The BBC television serial Doctor Who had been first broadcast in 1963, and proved an immediate hit. Amicus were quick to move in and secure the rights to make three films based on stories from the television show, although they produced the films under the name Aaru Films to avoid confusion with their X rated horror productions. Doctor Who and the Daleks (1965) came first, its widescreen technicolour an amazing contrast to the television show, and in Britain it was a major hit with the young audiences. In order to avoid confusing audiences overseas who had not yet seen the television serials, Subotsky had considerably rewritten the basic format of the show, removing a lot of the background to the Dr. Who character, to avoid any complex exposition (the Time Lord becomes a simple eccentric inventor with the surname Who), and giving the lead role to Peter Cushing, a much bigger international name than the television actor William Hartnell who usually played the role - despite this, however, the film was not particularly successful in America. Fortunately the good domestic box office returns saw a sequel quickly commissioned with an almost doubled budget and the end result was Daleks Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. (1966), with Peter Cushing returning in the lead role, joined by Andrew Keir and Bernard Cribbins. Very successful again in Britain, problems with the distributors in the US saw it get only a very small scale release and the option on a third film would never be exercised.

The next couple of years would be marked by some very undistinguished films from the studio, none of which were met with anything of the box office success of their first films and most of which have now disappeared into obscurity. A return to the horror genre came first, with The Psychopath (1966), a psychological thriller scripted by Psycho writer Robert Bloch and filmed by Freddie Francis who would return to shoot The Deadly Bees (1966), an experience he described as being so bad as to make him want to leave the industry. A duo of ultra-low budget sci-fi films came and went, as did Danger Route (1967), a James Bond style thriller, beset by problems, including the illness of director Seth Holt. Two arthouse style films, including The Birthday Party (1968) from director William Friedkin were similarly unsuccessful, while The Mind of Mr. Soames (1970) was an interesting story of a man with the mind of a child, that was overshadowed by the Oscar winning Charly (1968).

Eventually, Amicus returned to their most successful format, the horror anthology film, and writer Robert Bloch was put to work adapting four of his short stories into scripts for what was to become Torture Garden (1967). The finances were largely supplied by Columbia, who replaced the suggested Cushing/Lee pairing, with American actors Burgess Meredith and Jack Palance, with Peter Cushing kept on to play a role in one of the stories. The film was again directed by Freddie Francis, but fed up of constant fighting with Subotsky, it would be his last project for the company for several years. Released on both sides of the Atlantic in 1968, the film proved a big success and confirmed their focus on horror titles as the correct one. Their next project was a fusion of horror and sci-fi and was the first of their films to be co-funded by the American producers AIP - Scream and Scream Again (1969) was initially based on a Peter Saxon novel about aliens colonising earth, but director Gordon Hessler disliked the script, and backed by the AIP board, had it partly rewritten, much to the chagrin of Milton Subotsky. AIP's contract star Vincent Price was cast alongside Christopher Lee (who had been successful in AIP's earlier British made film The Oblong Box (1968)), and Peter Cushing was brought in for a cameo role to make this the first of only two films to feature all three actors (the other being Pete Walker's House of Long Shadows (1981)). Upon release the film proved a limited success, although critics and audiences were baffled by its often incomprehensible storyline.

The sequel to Torture Garden finally went into production the next year, entitled The House that Dripped Blood (1970). Again using some Robert Bloch stories, it had the familiar pairing of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee (although this time they never meet), with the newly popular Ingrid Pitt (from Hammer's The Vampire Lovers (1970)). The film proved a critical and box-office success, but despite this, Subotsky decided to try something very different for the next Amicus project. I, Monster (1971) was a twist on the Jekyll and Hyde formula (although with the characters bafflingly renamed to Marlow and Blake), which they attempted to film in an experimental 3-D process. Christopher Lee took the main role (his last for Amicus), with Peter Cushing giving a brief supporting appearance. The film was eventually released, with all attempts at 3-D abandoned, to poor reviews, and only had very limited runs on either side of the Atlantic. A final unconventional effort was What became of Jack and Jill (1972), a modern drama about a young couple who kill a grandmother to take her money - a rather depressing film, it did very poorly at the box office.

Finally, Subotsky allowed a return to the ever popular anthology films that had always proven successful for the studio. Based on a series of horror comics from the 1950s, Tales from the Crypt (1972) saw the return of director Freddie Francis and the casting of Peter Cushing in one of his most sympathetic performances as a tortured old man. Although not well received by critics, the film proved to be their most successful film to date. Asylum (1972) followed quickly, an anthology based on more Robert Bloch short stories with a role again for Peter Cushing, alongside Herbert Lom and Britt Ekland with the veteran director Roy Ward Baker at the helm. The film proved to be yet another success for the studio, with the biggest domestic box office takings of any of their horror films and it didn't do too badly in the US. However, writer Robert Bloch became tired of his scripts being altered by Subotsky and did not work with the studio again.

In the early 1970s, Hammer tried to update their flagging gothic horror franchises with modern day settings - Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972) was an accordingly unimpressive experiment. Seeing a gap in the market, and despite their previous failures with feature length horrors, compared to their anthology formats, Amicus set to work on And now the Screaming Starts (1973). Roy Ward Baker returned to direct, and Peter Cushing and Herbert Lom made appearances. Probably Amicus' best horror film, it sadly underperformed at the box office - the era of The Exorcist (1973) had begun, and period horror was firmly on the way out. Unfortunately their next film performed equally poorly - Vault of Horror (1973) was the follow up to the popular and successful Tales from the Crypt, but Bill Gains, the owner of EC Comics loathed this second project and refused them the rights to make any more films from his stories. The lack of a big name on the cast meant that despite good reviews, the film soon disappeared into the low ranks, and the box office returns were poor - Christopher Lee was too expensive for Amicus now, while Peter Cushing was away filming Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974) making this their only horror film not to feature him. The feature length Madhouse (1974) was yet another under-performer; a co-production with AIP, it starred two big names, Peter Cushing and Vincent Price, but was critically mauled upon release on both sides of the Atlantic.

With their horror films performing poorly, Subotsky and Rosenberg began to look into non-horror projects, eventually adapting several Edgar Rice Burroughs stories, but did set to work on two final horror projects first - From Beyond the Grave (1973) was a return to the anthology format with Peter Cushing and Donald Pleasance on the cast; it marked the directoral debut of Kevin Connor who would become a major player in Amicus' later years. Very popular with the crowds in Britain, the American distributors Warner were unwilling to release it for several months, and it received only a limited theatrical run. The Beast Must Die (1974) was something completely different - a mystery identity werewolf film with an all star cast including Anton Diffring, Charles Gray and the ever dependable Peter Cushing, with the lead role for Calvin Lockhart in deference to the blacksploitation boom at the time. Although highly enjoyable, the film was savaged by the press, and only received limited releases on either side of the Atlantic. It would be the last Amicus horror film.

The first of the Edgar Rice Borroughs adaptations came next year with the AIP funded Land that Time Forgot (1975). Doug McClure took the lead role, Kevin Connor took the director's chair and the film proved to be massive hit. AIP were quick to commission a sequel, keeping the ingredients the same - so McClure, Connor and Borroughs were back, but Subotsky was not. Ever tempramental, he finally left in 1975 leaving the company in the hands of Rosenberg and producer John Dark, who by now was all but running the show. At the Earth's Core (1976) was the follow-up film, with Peter Cushing joining the Amicus ranks for the last time and it was another big success, leading quickly to a third film - The People that Time Forgot (1977) with McClure joined by Patrick Wayne. However although begun as an Amicus film, the studio was disbanded mid-way through production, when Rosenberg realised that the company could exist and operate perfectly well without him and elected to leave.

The People that Time Forgot (1977) was eventually released by AIP, the film was another success, and John Dark with Kevin Connor, went on to produce the very well written Warlords of Atlantis (1978) with Doug McClure, and finally the fantasy film Arabian Adventure (1979) with Christopher Lee and a brief appearance by Peter Cushing. Milton Subotsky would continue to work in cinema, producing anthology films The Uncanny (1977) and Monster Club (1980), neither of which met with much success, and he died in 1990. Max Rosenberg returned to his American production company and has continued to work actively since. Although, since their demise in the 1980s, Hammer Studios have been passed from pillar to post via dozens of owners, there have been few attempts to revitalise the Amicus name has, like most of its films, it has been forgotten by all but a few loyal fans.

   Amicus Productions DVD Reviews

And Now the Screaming Starts (1973)
Anchor Bay UK Region 2 DVD
A straight forward ghost story that manages to be very scary and effective thanks to superb acting and direction.
Highly recommended.
Asylum (1972)
Anchor Bay UK Region 2 DVD
One of the lesser anthology films, with no particularly outstanding stories despite getting the longest run times of any of the films.
Only for fans of the studio.
At the Earth's Core (1976)
UK Cinema Club Region 2 DVD
An enjoyably daft fantasy adventure film with a great eccentric performance from Peter Cushing.
The Beast Must Die (1974)
Anchor Bay UK Region 2 DVD
The last Amicus horror film, an entertaining if rather daft werewolf film with a good cast.
Partly recommended.
City of the Dead (1960)
US VCI Region 1 DVD
The first horror film made by the producers, under the Vulcan Pictures name and a very effective and creepy film.
Highly recommended.
Daleks Invasion Earth: 2150 AD (1966)
UK Optimum Region 2 DVD
The second Dr. Who film and a lot more successful and enjoyable - a good cast, including Peter Cushing, Andrew Keir and Bernard Cribbins.
Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965)
Anchor Bay UK Region 2 DVD
The first of the studio's anthology horror films is quite hit and miss, but always enjoyable, with a good cast.
Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965)
UK Optimum Region 2 DVD
An enjoyable family film, although often rather brief on plot detail. Makes a lot of changes from the TV series mythos.
Partly recommended.
The House that Dripped Blood (1970)
Anchor Bay UK Region 2 DVD
Probably the strongest overall Amicus anthology, with their best comic story, and three good horror tales, with some superb direction.
The Land that Time Forgot (1975)
UK Cinema Club Region 2 DVD
A noticably poorly thought out script lets down this otherwise entertaining fantasy adventure film.
Not recommended.
Madhouse (1974)
US MGM Region 1 DVD
Peter Cushing and Vincent price star in this film with an interesting idea but no drive and over-long.
Not recommended.
Tales from the Crypt (1972)
US Fox Region 1 DVD
The studio's biggest success, but a rather weak film, the two good stories are surrounded by some real duds.
Worth watching for Peter Cushing's chapter alone.
Torture Garden (1967)
UK Sony Region 2 DVD
A typcial Amicus portmanteau horror, boasting two good stories, and two less impressive. With an unusual cast, including Jack Palace.
Recommended for fans of the studio.
Vault of Horror (1973)
US Fox Region 1 DVD
The sequel to Tales from the Crypt, and far more effective, with a real comic book atmosphere throughout, and two very good stories.

- books used in compiling this article.
Special thanks to Ted Newsom for various corrections and useful comments.
Return to main menu.

Return to people/genre page.

All text on this page written by Timothy Young - August/September 2007. Part of Horror September 2.
Text from this site not to be used without authorization.

Please contact: