The House that Dripped Blood (1971)

Robert Bloch (1917-1994) is one of my favourite writers. I discovered him at a very early age and I doubt I’ll ever be able to let him go – but how can you not love an author who once quipped, more or less:

“I may seem scary, but I have the heart of a little child. I keep it in a jar on my desk.”

Luckily for us he was not only funny and scary but highly prolific as a short story writer, novelist and screenwriter. He adapted many of his own short stories for the screen, most notably perhaps in the anthology films he wrote for Amicus, such as The House that Dripped Blood.

I submit this review for Todd Mason’s Tuesday’s Overlooked Movie meme at his fab Sweet Freedom blog as part of the celebrations for the centenary of Robert Bloch, who was born on 5 April 1917.

“Terror waits for you in every room …”

Despite the lurid title, this is a very restrained portmanteau – there is in fact no blood on display at all, though there are plenty of ingenious murder methods and plenty of scares, as well as several laughs. Bloch was supplied with a basic premise by producer Milton Subotsky around which he then added four of his pre-published stories. The basic premise sees Detective Inspector Holloway from Scotland Yard (a dyspeptic and impatient John Bennett) called in, to his displeasure, to investigate the apparently trivial but high profile disappearance of a movie star from the house he was renting in a small village. He learns from the local constabulary that other tenants have had problems when staying at the house. There will be four tales, the final one dealing with the missing movie star, which then leads into the climax of the film. We begin with the Inspector being told the first tale by the desk sergeant …

Method for Murder (first published in Fury, 1962)
Starring: Denholm Elliott, Joanna Dunham, Tom Adams, Robert Lang

The first segment is about a horror author suffering from writer’s block (a typically edgy performance from Denholm Elliott) who starts to believe that he is being stalked by Dominick (Tom Adams), the crazed strangler he is writing about. He starts seeing an analyst but becomes increasingly unnerved – is the house exerting a supernatural influence, or is something else going on? Following the original short story very closely, this is a clever tale, shot with flair by director Peter Duffel, and one that ends with a clever pair of neat reversals, kicking the film off very nicely.

Waxworks (Weird Tales, 1958)
Starring: Peter Cushing, Joss Ackland, Wolfe Morris,

Peter Cushing stars in the more reflective and melancholy second segment, playing a stockbroker who has retired to the country and who is pining for a woman he once loved While visiting a local museum of horrors, he is reminded of her in a wax figure of Salome. He is then visited by an old friend (Joss Ackland) who, it turns out, was also in love with the same woman. They both go back to the museum to see the wax figure, leading to a nightmarish climax for an unusual story of longing, sexual jealousy and revenge that for its focus on three sad and lonely men is surprisingly touching and affecting at times (especially once you get past their terrible taste in cravats).

Sweets to the Sweet (Weird Tales, 1947)
Starring: Christopher Lee, Nyree Dawn Porter

Lee stars as the touchy father of a ‘difficult’ daughter who has been trouble hanging on to a nanny. Nyree Dawn Porter takes on the role but starts to believe that Lee is lying about why the child is being kept out of school. And why have candles been going missing? But why is he doing it and why is the daughter (played by precocious poppet, Chloe Franks) so troubled? Bloch kept the basic plot and situation but changed the characters in the story quite a lot, which in fact works much better for Lee’s portrayal, working against his established screen persona. The original story ends with a memorable snap that justifies the title and sadly this has been removed, perhaps it was thought to be just a bit too gruesome in its implication …

The Cloak (Unknown, 1939)
Starring: Ingrid Pitt, Jon Pertwee, Jonathan Lynn, Geoffrey Bayldon

Jon Pertwee (in a role originally offered to Vincent Price) plays a demanding actor who is starring in a low-budget horror movie, Curse of the Bloodsuckers,  who purchases a cloak to play the vampire but who starts to believe the garment is the real thing when he stops being able to see his reflection when wearing it!

He looked at himself in the mirror, and there was no one there!  – from Bloch’s original 1939 short story

Other than the premise and the essential payoff, Bloch’s script changed the original story almost completely, turning a story about a man buying a costume for a Halloween party into a satire about the fakery of the movie business. Unusually for the Amicus anthologies, this final segment, while it does have a few scares, is mostly played for laughs, mainly at the expense of actors and the British film industry in general – and really is a delight. And of course we also have gorgeous Ingrid Pitt playing a gorgeous actress and who is also briefly seen dressed up as a vampire. This provided her with what is now her most iconic image with fangs flaring and décolletage in full flow, though in context it is not meant to be taken seriously at all. In fact, she is giggling the whole time as she bares her fangs!

While he had completely overhauled his original story already, Bloch in his autobiography (Once More Around the Bloch) gives credit to the director for changing the tone of the script for the final segment (who also made some other changes he was less keen on apparently). ‘The Cloak’ in fact originally was meant to be played straight. This segment is great fun and leads into the finale in which the Inspector goes to visit the basement of the house and which leads to a coda that once again shows the debt that these films owed to Subotsky’s favourite film, the classic Ealing omnibus film, Dead of Night.

Although Tales from the Crypt (1972; adapted by Subotsky from EC comics) was the most financially successful of the film, it’s the three written by Bloch that i like the best =- here is a list to the whole lot of them (though technically The Monster Club was not an Amicus film, though made by  Subotsky very much in that style).

The Amicus horror anthologies

  1. Dr Terror’s House of Horrors (1965; written by Subotsky)
  2. Torture Garden (1967, written by Bloch)
  3. The House That Dripped Blood (1971, written by Bloch)
  4. Asylum (1972, written by Bloch) – review
  5. Tales from the Crypt (1972; adapted by Subotsky)
  6. The Vault of Horror (1973; adapted by Subotsky)
  7. From Beyond the Grave (1974)
  8. The Monster Club (1981)

DVD Availability: The film has been released at various times on DVD in Europe and the US. The best edition features an audio commentary with historian Jonathan Rigby and the director, Peter Duffell. This used to be available part of an Amicus box but I have the English-friendly German release. The image quality is very satisfactory (the image grabs contained in my review are from that version and are used purely for the purposes of criticism and review).

The House that Dripped Blood (1971)
Director: Peter Duffell
Producer: Max J Rosenberg & Milton Subotsky
Screenplay: Robert Bloch
Cinematography: Ray Parslow
Art Direction: Tony Curtis
Music: Michael Dress
Cast: (for the wraparound ‘framework’ story only) John Bennett, John Bryans, John Malcolm

***** (3 fedora tips out of 5)

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51 Responses to The House that Dripped Blood (1971)

  1. Colin says:

    I have a soft spot for these Amicus movies, a style of filmmaking very much of its time, and not always wholly successful, and wonderfully attractive either because of or despite that. This is one of the best of them and is quite consistent throughout – I like the lighter feel of that last segment as it’s done with real fondness.
    I had in mind that perhaps the Lee section was one of the weaker parts but it’s been a while since I last viewed the film and my memory may well be playing tricks on me.

    • Well, regarding Lee I think the story is improved overall apart from the snap at the end. They come from a modest era of medium budget genre filmmaking that I love too. This one has a certain melancholy to it that I like. They all have strong women though too though ASYLUM may be better in that regard

      • Colin says:

        I’d need to watch them again before I could say if I’m of the same opinion there, though I daresay you’re probably right. I must dig into the boxes and retrieve these for another watch though – faults and all, they’re a real pleasure.

  2. Fine review, as ever, Sergio. It’s interesting that they put together a collection of stories ‘wrapped up’ with a theme. Sometimes that can be a bit disjointed, but it sounds as though it works here.

    • Thanks Margot – this works fairly well though ASYLUM also by Bloch probably is the best.

      • Todd Mason says:

        Using another Bloch story, “A Home Away from Home”, as the framing story in ASYLUM helps, but I’ll still suggest that the first Bloch anthology film from Amicus, TORTURE GARDEN (despite the title), is the best…the least fiddled-with of the Bloch scripts, apparently.

        • Yes, I think you are probably right Todd, Asylum has the best narrative hook but a rather silly ending tends to scupper it. On the whole, I suspect that TORTURE GARDEN should come first, followed by ASYLUM and then HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD.

  3. Santosh Iyer says:

    All the above 8 anthology films are available with me. I will see The House That Dripped Blood again before giving further comments.

  4. Santosh Iyer says:

    The Cloak by Robert Bloch which is in public domain is available at http://www.unz.org/Pub/Unknown-1939may-00075?View=PDF

  5. le0pard13 says:

    Kudos, Sergio. Yesh, Robert Bloch is a fine one, and love that quote. 😉

  6. Mike says:

    Well done Sergio. This is among the first horror films I ever watched, screened I think on ITV late one night and recorded for posterity on Betamax. I was absolutely terrified and riveted at the same time – the first segment for some reason was one I had to watch through fingers, the latter with Pertwee and Pitt had that awful, claustrophobic quality of the former being trapped by the lovely, advancing Ingrid, fangs bared, that appalled my childish sensibilities.

    Watched years later and of course it’s very tame stuff, yet never less than entertaining and for me a milestone introduction to the genre. Thanks for re-sparking those old memories matey 🙂

    • My pleasure Mike -this is one that I only came to comparatively late – I saw TORTURE GARDEN at a very young age and that is the one that really got me going as a result! The latter just came out on Blu in the US in a cheap but apparently not especially good edition. Might get it anyway if I can though may be Region A locked!

  7. Santosh Iyer says:

    I have again seen the film.Though I enjoyed all the 4 stories, in my opinion the first episode Method For Murder is the best. The final twist here is really shocking.
    I agree that the title of the film is a bit inappropriate since not a drop of blood is seen in the entire film !
    Regarding the third episode, the original title of the story Sweets To The Sweet is meaningless for the film because of the changed ending. You mention that the ending may have been changed because of its gruesomeness, but in my opinion (SPOILER), being burnt alive is as gruesome as being eaten alive !

    • Glad you enjoyed it Santosh – I suppose it’s a question of the action itself (just chucking something on the fire seems no big deal) but I am only speculating here. Pardon the pun, but it was probably just a question of taste 🙂

  8. tracybham says:

    Sounds good, Sergio. Sad to say I have not read anything by Bloch. I may try reading Psycho someday just because it is not too long. Do you have any recommendations?

    • Ah, Well, Todd Mason in your man really but … Psycho is really good but so well known so why not try THE SCARF or NIGHT WORKS NIGHT-WORLD, both terrific suspense novels. And then there are the hundreds of short stories 😀

      • tracybham says:

        Oh yes, The Scarf, I could swear I read about that somewhere recently but can’t remember where. That one does sound like a good one to try. The advantage of Psycho is I already have a copy but I love the vintage pb covers for The Scarf.

        If the short stories are more on the horror side, not so sure about that. But on the other hand, I should definitely try some.

        • Psycho is a great book, but the movie does allow it pretty closely, so you won’t find too many surprises. Bloch wrote a lot of horror in the 1930s especially, when he was a youngster and publishing in Weird Tales. After that he wrote quite bit of SF and humour though most would be classed as suspense really. I reviewed The Scarf here; and his best known short story, Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper, here;

          • Todd Mason says:

            And in that other title I think you might be thinking of NIGHT-WORLD. The last line curls its fist and socks the reader…just by flatly reminding that lucky person of everything they just read. AMERICAN GOTHIC, given how much more H. H. Holmes/Herman Mudgett has carwled back into our consciousness since Bloch wrote his novel about the Devil in the White City, might also be another novel option, as certainly is THE KIDNAPPER. And if Bloch had had his way, THE STAR STALKER would’ve been a longer novel, the first of a trilogy, and as ambitious as anything James Elroy or Daniel Woodrell have attempted.

            As it is, PSYCHO is a fine novel, far more subtle than the film, which tries to wrap up quickly, and with a rather goofy coda, about 2/3 through the narrative as presented in the book. Makes a good pairing with THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, which came out the same year. Twin monuments, and good films (and terrible remakes) follow.

          • NIGHT-WORLD is definitely what I meant – stupid auto correct! Never though of comparing PSYCHO to the Jackson but of course, now that say it, she genius idea!

          • tracybham says:

            Thanks to both of you for your suggestions. I am convinced that I have to try something by Bloch. I will probably start with The Scarf or Psycho.

          • I rarely would venture to say “you won’t be disappointed” … but you won’t! 🙂

  9. Bradstreet says:

    Very fond of those Bloch/Amicus movies. The one with the strongest framing story is probably ASYLUM, although each one of the films has some gems. Many years ago I was at a Sci-Fi convention and got talking with Jon Pertwee. This film came up in the conversation. “Oh, that was the one where I played Christopher Lee…Oh, sorry, I mean Paul Henderson”. Apparently it was a source of some amusement amongst the crew that Pertwee was parodying the Horror star.

    The DVD has a commentary track with Duffell. According to him the WAXWORKS story was more or less rewritten on set in order to give it more depth. It’s more moving than it deserves to be, although the idea of the segment is so slight that it doesn’t quite work. The bit with the most ‘jump-out-of-your-seat moments is probably the opening segment. Tom Adams gives a splendidly unsettling peformance with hardly any dialogue. I always felt that he was a far better actor than a lot of people (including himself) gave him credit for.

  10. Santosh Iyer says:

    Incidentally, in the last segment, Paul Henderson is seen reading the book The Vampire, His Kith And Kin by Montague Summers (screenshot here);

    This is a real book still available. It can be purchased from Amazon. It can also be read free here:
    http://www.sacred-texts.com/goth/vkk/

  11. I’ll have to track down those Bloch/Amicus movies. Love your reference to: precocious poppet, Chloe Franks!

  12. Paula Carr says:

    If it’s even half as good as “Dead of Night” I’ll enjoy it!

  13. Enjoyed reading your review, Sergio. I have not read Robert Bloch or seen any of the Amicus horror films though I know I’d like the latter. I have read EC’s “Tales from the Crypt” and “The Vault of Horror” comics with more than a cursory interest. I like reading these vintage comics with their old-fashioned, and often gaudy, illustrations.

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