Finally, the Ingrid Pitt Files is back and with a movie that is extremely near and dear to my heart. Let’s get right to it.
The House That Dripped Blood is one of those things that makes life worth living: an Amicus anthology movie. Now, in general, I’m not really a fan of Amicus. Too much imitation of Hammer for a cash grab. But Amicus is also a puzzle to me. They make a movie and I’m like, “meh, whatever.” They make an anthology movie and I’m like, “THIS IS AMAZING! NOTHING COULD BE BETTER THAN THIS!” because, frankly, a not so good Amicus anthology movie was better than 90% of what came out in the 70’s (yeah, I said it). I don’t know what goes on in my head either.
We’ve got four stories in this movie. They’re all set in the same house (and we’re told right from the start that the house is, shall we say, an issue) and they’re all adaptations by Robert Bloch of his own works (Robert Bloch basically supported himself in the 70’s by adapting his own stuff for Amicus, right?) with a framework story about a cop investigating the disappearance of the actor featured in the last story.
Since the movie is four separate stories, I’ll look at each of them separately.
The first, “Method For Murder,” tells the story of Charles and Alice Hillyer (Denholm Elliott – whom you may know as a regular in the Indiana Jones franchise along with a bazillion other things – and Joanna Dunham – British television veteran) who move into the house (which is in the country, by the way) in hopes of clearing up his writer’s block. Charles is a horror writer (who specializes in murder, a.k.a. he writes slasher books. Ugh. I dislike this guy already). But his new villain, Dominick, a strangler who escaped from an asylum (don’t look at me, I would never strangle people), is becoming more and more vivid. Charles sees him and hears him while his wife claims he’s imaging the whole thing. Charles’ visions of Dominick escalate until he attacks his wife and she demands he see a psychologist. Unfortunately, during a session, Dominick arrives and strangles the psychiatrist. We cut away and it’s revealed that Dominick is very real and is actually Richard, Alice’s lover. They planned to drive Charles insane, take his money and run away together. But after the police tell Alice that Charles has been strangled too, Richard reveals that he’s snapped, thinks he is Dominick and strangles Alice.
Frankly, this story did nothing for me. It’s in that William Castle tradition of “I’m gonna say it’s supernatural until I reveal at the end that it was just normal people pulling off completely implausible things and doing it all for money” that I am not a fan of. Only this didn’t have Castle’s charm.
This one was just a big pile of blah for me, so we’ll move on.
Because the second story, “Waxworks,” is where the money is, baby.
Philip Grayson (played by my beloved Peter Cushing, now you know why I love this one) is a retired stockbroker who moves into the house to enjoy some peace and quiet. He’ll also be enjoying some alone time as he is not married and is actively pining for someone. One day Neville (the mighty Joss Ackland who has rocked our worlds in many, many rolls), an old friend who was a rival for Philip’s intended before she passed, arrives. They bury the hatchet with no problem but a situation arises when they discover that a small wax museum in the village has a display of Salome presenting the head of John the Baptist and Salome looks exactly like their lost love. Neville becomes obsessed with it and refuses to leave town. When Philip tries to help, he discovers Neville’s head on Salome’s silver platter and the owner of the museum ready to change out the display again with Philip’s head this time around.
Now, this story has two things that mean I was gonna love it no matter what: 1.) Peter Cushing and 2) a wax museum. I’m a sucker for both. So while this, in reality, is not a very good segment, I still love it. Peter acts the hell out of it (and is once again game for a dream sequence that is totally not a direct consequence of 1965’s The Skull), Joss Ackland doing crazy is a joy to watch. It’s thin on plot and characterization, but don’t care.
The third story, “Sweets To The Sweet,” is the gem here.
John Reid (Sir Christopher Lee) moves into the house with his little daughter Jane (Chloe Franks, who is ridiculously cute and perfect). He refuses to allow her any interaction with other children and hires a live-in governess, Ann Norton (Nyree Dawn Porter, another prolific TV actress). Norton comes to suspect Reid is being abusive toward his daughter. She wears Reid down so he makes some nice gestures, such as allowing Anne to buy toys, but when Reid freaks out and burns a new doll right in front of Jane, the child turns from brow beaten acceptance to lashing out. Reid reveals that Jane’s mother was a witch and he fears Jane will become one too. His attempts to isolate the child have all been in support of this. Ann doesn’t believe any of it until John gets sick with arm, then chest, pains and Ann catches Jane with a wax doll with a pin in it. Jane chucks the doll into the fire and, in the next room, John screams in agony as he somehow burns to death in his bed.
General consensus is that this is the best story in the movie and I agree. This story is such a simple and powerful statement on how cruelty begets cruelty and how children have had to bear the brunt of the mistakes, real and perceived, that parents have made. Not to mention the whole “the path to hell is paved with good intentions” thing, and the nature vs. nurture argument.
The casting here is brilliant. Christopher Lee is the perfect choice. We tend to think of him as being imperious so the moments where the vulnerability slips through really hit home. The angelic little girl, Franks, is too saccharine sweet to do anything but be crushed by this imposing will. There’s something almost satisfying when the tables are turned and the man so firmly in control is brought low by the tiny little thing he thought he had power over.
Now, this is the Ingrid Pitt Files, you may be thinking. So where is Ingrid?
She’s in the fourth and final story, “The Cloak.”
Paul Henderson (played by the magnificent Jon Pertwee who also was playing the third Doctor while making this movie) is a prima donna horror actor, a petty tyrant who longs for the days when horror wasn’t cheap and tawdry and who makes the lives of everyone on the set of his newest horror picture, Curse of the Bloodsuckers, hell. All except his girlfriend and co-star Carla Lind (Ingrid), who we get the feeling is a low-key diva in her own right. In a snit, Paul complains about the cloak he has to wear for the movie not looking right and decides to find one on his own. A business card mysteriously left in his dressing room leads him to a curio shop where a weirdy (the ever brilliantly cast Geoffrey Bayldon) with a black cat and nothing to hide sells Paul a cloak for 13 shillings and seems very happy about it. Paul soon discovers that it’s no ordinary cape. While wearing it he has no reflection, grows fangs, can fly, and actually bites Carla while filming a scene. During an apology dinner afterward, Carla teases Paul about the cloak before putting it on even though Paul begs her not to. The cape doesn’t effect Carla though, she’s already a vampire. She and her vampire buddies like Paul’s movies so much, they want him to become one of them!
This story is just silly. But it’s supposed to be and that’s fine. I think this portion is hysterical and I laugh through the entire thing every time I watch it.
Also, this is the only one of the stories in this movie where I have read the source material, though it was by accident. I bought a book that had this story it in and as I’m reading it I’m thinking, “this is really familiar. Why is this familiar?” and I eventually figured it out. The short story is played straight and not for laughs so it has a different tone.
In this story as well, the casting is great. Apparently they tried to get Vincent Price to play Henderson and a lot of people say he would have been better. I love Vincent something fierce, but I could not disagree more.
Jon Pertwee is a joy to watch. He was born to ham it up. The look he gives the real estate agent who says his name is Stoker is worth the whole movie on its own. Pertwee also apparently based his portrayal of Henderson on Christopher Lee and Lee didn’t know that, which makes the whole set up really funny.
I also think this role frees up Ingrid. Ingrid is best when there’s a silliness to what she’s doing and this movie actually makes me wish she’d done more comedy. Watching her and Pertwee, side by side, feeding off each other’s over-the-top-ness is food for my soul and I could eat it all day.
In terms of Ingrid, what is also interesting about this movie is that she is never better put together and presented than she is here. This segment, visually, has a different look. The rest of the movie is rather drab. Nothing about the costumes stands out (except for that horrid yellow Joss Ackland always seems to be wearing. Who put him that?! STAAAAHP!). Then we see Ingrid in the back of a Rolls Royce (probably a 20’s model) in a bright blue dress with a fur stole, the biggest white hat you’ve ever seen and a fucking cigarette holder that she is actually using to smoke.
LOOK AT ME! I STILL THINK IT’S 1925!
She is consistently in that shade of blue, which is usually the brightest thing in any given scene until the end so she draws the eye.
Her hair and make up, especially the make up, are perfection. There’s nothing special to it, it’s just a basic look done really, really well. Her skin glows, her eyes are perfectly shaped and her lip liner only look, which would look trashy on anyone else (and looked trashy for the entire 1990’s when everyone did it) is actually a nice play on the eventual reveal of her vampirism, because it kept her face pale without washing her out and still made her lips look full.
And I’m not going to lie, her cleavage is admirably well arranged in every single scene she’s in. Like, Elvira well arranged and the collars of her dresses were draped perfectly to display everything while not looking like they fit awkwardly.
Look at that. Even the pearls know their job.
Which brings us to the final scene when she’s in that black satin dress with the fur stole going for the classic femme fatale look and I am genuinely confounded as to why that dress is not a legendary horror queen dress. Ingrid looked like she was posing for a 30’s Universal press still the entire scene!
LOOK *clap* AT *clap* THAT *clap* DRESS! *clap*
This should be more famous! Someone has been sleeping on the job here! I demand to speak to a manager about this!
Okay, back to the movie. The framework story, which has a lot of people swearing the house is bad, the cop (John Bennett) scoffing, going to the house, staking vampire Paul Henderson then getting got by Ingrid (in one of the most famous vamp shots in film history) was unnecessary to me, though I liked its implications that the house was sentient (I’m a big fan of sentient houses).
There was one thing I did really hate about this movie and that was the music. It was overly serious at times and goofy the rest of the time and the repeated pounding on the wooden block works my nerves to the limit every time I watch this.
This movie will always be near and dear to my heart because this was the first movie I saw Ingrid in. Seeing her looking glamorous and having fun captured my interest right away. Then I learned about her and fell in love.
I rented the movie, watched it, then went out and bought it that night, before I’d even returned the rental. I’ve watched it countless times since. It still stands as one of my favorite Ingrid performances.
Now, can we talk about the British tendency to buy houses “already furnished” (i.e. full of crap) and never get rid of anything, but somehow to never have stuff of their own? Is there one communal pool of old things all British people furnish their houses with or what?