Posts Tagged With: Amicus

The Asylum That Dripped Blood… Two AMICUS Horror Portmanteaus Arrive On UK Blu-Ray In Limited Editions.

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The House That Dripped Blood. BD. Second Sight Films. Region B. 15
Asylum. BD. Second Sight Films. Region B. 15
Released 29/07/19

Having put their own stamp on the Portmanteau Horror format with the Freddie Francis brace Dr. Terror’s House Of Horrors (1965) and Torture Garden (1967), Amicus honchos Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg attempted to diversify their portfolio with, among others, juvenile Sci-Fi epics (They Came From Beyond Space and The Terrornauts, both 1967) and dramas that were psychologically (The Mind Of Mr. Soames, 1969) or socially (A Touch Of Love, the same year) significant… before returning to tried-and-tested multi-story chills with The House That Dripped Blood (1970), on which Subotsberg saved money by shooting in an around a lodge on the Shepperton Studio grounds and by entrusting the project to moderately talented TV director Peter Duffell. Previous collections having been MCd by Death himself (Dr. Terror) and Old Nick (Torture Garden), writer Robert Bloch came up with an embodiment of real evil to link the vignettes in this one… an estate agent!!! Actually John Bryans (as “A.J. Stoker”… geddit?) isn’t particularly scary and his role in the narrative wraparound is further weakened by the intrusions of a clueless cop (John Bennett) investigating four cases of foul play and mysterious disappearance at the titular abode. 

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In Bloch’s first tale Joanna Dunham plots to send horror author husband Denholm Elliott insane by disguising her toy-boy paramour as one of the writer’s own murderous creations… unfortunately this guy turns out to be a bit of a method actor; romantic rivals Peter Cushing and Joss Ackland develop a mutual obsession with a wax work of Salome… to the extent that they both end up losing their heads over her; Christopher Lee plays a widower whose tyrannical treatment of his cute daughter turns out to be justified, albeit ineffective (at this point Lee was meditating a retirement from horror roles and the plentiful sight and script digs at him throughout THTDB might well have influenced his decision); and in the final, comedic episode, Jon Pertwee essays the role of a lovey darling horror actor (desperately trying to out-ham Ingrid Pitt) who buys a vampire’s cloak which turns out to be all-too authentic.

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The House That Dripped Blood cleaned up at the box office for Amicus, largely no doubt to a lurid marketing campaign based on that title (Duffle had wanted the film to be called “Death And The Maiden”!) The Peertwee section is right up there with Michael Armstrong’s Eskimo Nell as a humorous critique of low budget genre filmmaking but the varying tones of the episodes never really cohere and the all-important wraparound story plods before petering out in anticlimactic fashion. Subotsberg unceremoniously shuffled Duffle (with a minimum of kerfuffle) back to (in Pertwee’s phrase) “the dreary confines of television” TV land, while future entries in the cycle were entrusted to safer directorial hands…

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… e.g. Roy Ward Baker (above left, with Subotsky) on Asylum (1972). Here young psychiatrist Robert Powell auditions for a job at an isolated funny farm by attempting to work out which of the inmates is his predecessor Dr Starr (my money’s on the big-nosed, mop-topped dude with the drumsticks), who’s taken an unfortunate turn for the hopelessly insane. Orderly Geoffrey (“Crowman”) Bayldon treats him to a guided tour of the loony bin, where he meets the inmates and Bloch’s terrifying tales unfold. Barbara Parkins (that’s Parkins, poster guys!) tells of how she egged her lover Richard Todd on to the axe murder of his wife Sylvia Sims, whose dismembered body parts he wraps in brown paper and deposits in the freezer. Having ganged up on and disposed of Todd (a ludicrous but highly entertaining spectacle), the wrapped up remains turn their vengeful attentions on Barbara, who manages to chop half her face off while putting down the unruly limbs. The evidence for this is disappointingly rendered by Hammer make-up nabob Roy Ashton through the simple expedient of drawing some lines on her face with red marker pen!

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Next up, financially strapped tailor Barry Morse attempts to bring back Peter Cushing’s dead son by making up a black magic suit which, when carelessly placed on a mannequin, brings on the stiffest acting since Fluff Freeman in Dr. Terror’s House Of Horrors; Then (allegedly) recovering basket case Charlotte Rampling has an evil friend (Britt Eland) who turns out to be a figment of her imagination; finally, Herbert Lom builds murderous homunculi to get his retaliation in first against Patrick Magee, the psychiatrist who intends to lobotomise him. Powell drastically misses his guess re the ID of the mad medic and is strangled by the real Dr Starr, amid an outbreak of spectacular overacting. Another candidate for the job arrives as the credits roll, another cyclical suggestion of the seminal Dead Of Night (1945).

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Rampling’s episode is the only real weak link in Asylum… viewers can see the “twist” coming a mile off but, compounding the insult, never get to sees Ms Ekland dancing around in the buff (as in The Wicker Man) or masturbating on the telephone (a la Get Carter). Baker was probably too much of an “Old School” director for that, nevertheless piling on the gore and grue with great gusto and the grand guignol is perfectly complimented by selections from the most bombastic orchestral works of Modest Mussorgsky.

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Asylum is just one of those films that’s always going to look rather grainy on blu-ray (there’s little to choose between this transfer and the one on Severin’s recent Amicus box set)… House That Dripped Blood fares a bit better, grain-wise, on this showing. In terms of extras, the Asylum disc carries an audio commentary with Baker and Camera Operator Neil Binney, the Inside The Fear Factory featurette, the BBC’s on-set report Two’s A Company, David J. Schow’s appreciation of Robert Bloch, the reminiscences of Subotsky’s widow Fiona and a theatrical trailer… all of these familiar from other recent editions. There’s a reversible poster and reversible sleeve options, with the choice of vintage or new Graham Humphreys artwork. The booklet, which I haven’t seen, will feature essays by Allan Bryce, Kat Ellinger and Jon Towlson.

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Purchasers of THTDB are marginally better provided for vis-a-vis supplementary materials. A new commentary by Troy Howarth joins the previously heard one from director Duffell and Jonathan Rigby. Second AD Mike Higgins gets to have his say in another fresh featurette. Then there’s the familiar ‘A’ Rated Horror Film short, comprising interviews with Duffell and cast members, also the trailers, radio spots, reversible poster and sleeve options you’d be expecting and another booklet with the assessments of Brycie, Kat and Mr Towlson.

BTW, did anybody out there not guess who Dr Starr was? C’mon guys, get a grip…

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Scream & Scream Again… And Again… And Again! Severin’s AMICUS Box Set Reviewed

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BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

In between my childhood fixation on Ray Harryhausen’s Dynamation epics and subsequent exposure to the world of Exploitation all’Italiana, one of my most fervent cinematic passions was for the portmanteau Horror flicks (e.g. Tales From The Crypt and Vault Of Horror) that Milton Subotsky and Max J. Rosenberg cooked up at Amicus in the ’60s and ’70s. Maybe it was my Catholic upbringing, but there was just something irresistible about the cod moralising of the various crypt keepers, sideshow Satans, card-sharping train-to-Hell commuters and lunatics-turned-asylum keepers dispensing poetic justice to cameoing faded stars, up’n’comers and miscellaneous miscast “personalities” for their assorted lecherous, hubristic and acquisitive transgressions…

Amicus didn’t just do portmanteau horrors, of course, nor even deal exclusively in Horror… their lengthy filmography covered everything from the works of Harold Pinter to those of Helen Shapiro and even, along the way, packed in a few rubber-suited dinosaur efforts that you might know Doug McClure from (and on account of which the aforementioned Mr Harryhausen was unlikely to lose any sleep…)

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Milton Subotsky, Paul Annett & Max J. Rosenberg

On Severin’s Amicus Collection BD box set those multi-story constructions are represented by Roy Ward Baker’s Asylum (1972) and you also get the company’s ill-timed foray into Gothic territory, Baker’s And Now The Screaming Starts (1973) plus Paul Annett’s messy but hugely enjoyable The Beast Must Die (1974). Anchor Bay’s previous DVD collection, as well as coming in an attractive coffin-shaped box, added Freddy Francis’s Dr Terror’s House Of Horrors (1965) and Peter Duffell’s The House That Dripped Blood (1971) to those titles, but Severin make good those omissions with a bonus “Vault Of Amicus” disc, boasting all manner of treats for the Subotsberg-inclined… on which more later.

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Robert Powell’s search for a Starr takes a discouraging turn…

Written by frequent Amicus collaborator Robert Bloch, Asylum involves young psychiatrist Robert Powell auditioning for a job at an isolated funny farm by attempting to work out which of the inmates is his predecessor Dr Starr (my money’s on the big-nosed, mop-topped dude with the drumsticks), who’s taken an unfortunate turn for the hopelessly insane. As orderly Geoffrey (“Crowman”) Bayldon takes him on a whistle-stop tour of the loony bin we learn how Richard Todd and then Barbara Parkins were chased around a basement by the dismembered remains of Sylvia Sims… how financially strapped tailor Barry Morse attempted to bring back Peter Cushing’s dead son by making up a black magic suit which, when carelessly placed on a mannequin, brought on the stiffest acting since Alan “Fluff” Freeman in Dr Terror’s House Of Horrors… how Charlotte Rampling and her imaginary evil friend (Britt Ekland) prefigured the events in Psycho (Bloch penned this one several years before chronicling the murderous antics of Norman Bates)… and how Herbert Lom builds killer homunculi to get his retaliation in first against Patrick Magee, the psychiatrist who intends to lobotomise  him.

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Though a bit of an “Old School” director, Baker piles on the gore and grue with great gusto and the Grand Guignol is perfectly complimented by selections from the most bombastic orchestral works of Modest Mussorgsky. The commentary track (on which moderator Marcus Hearn misattributes a portion of Mussorgsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition to Douglas Gamley) from Baker and camera operator Neil Binney is a little dry and technically fixated,  indeed at times the two old boys are so content sitting back and admiring their handiwork that you can almost hear Hearn  poking them in an attempt to elicit more commentary.

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Freddie Francis’s The Skull, 1965.

Older readers might remember this disc’s bonus featurettes Inside The Fear Factory (including interviews with Baker, Freddie Francis and Max Rosenberg) and Two’s A Company (an onset report featuring Baker, Subotsky, Rampling, James Villiers, Megs Jenkins, art director Tony Curtis and production manager Teresa Bolland) from that Anchor Bay box and even older ones will recall the latter from its broadcast on the BBC in 1972.

In original bonus materials Splatterpunk author (is Splatterpunk still a thing?) David J. Schow gives us the benefit of his considerable Bloch expertise and Milton Subotsky’s widow Fiona (who’s a historian of psychiatry… bet she could have worked out who Dr Starr was!) provides an amusing and touching memoir of the Amicus honcho, in which she relates writing the treatment for Montgomery Tully’s The Terrornauts  (1967) in one night and recalls how Amicus films were so moralistic and conservative, the company often had to beg the BBFC for an ‘X’ to maintain their Horror credibility! Yeah, you get an Asylum trailer, too…

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If RWB seems more animated on the commentary track for And Now The Screaming Starts (as indeed he does) it’s no doubt because he’s in the enlivening presence of Stephanie Beacham, who redefines the term “heaving bosom” in this bodice ripper from beyond the grave. On account of a generational curse rooted in Herbert Lom’s arrogant exertion of droit de seigneur, blushing bride Beacham has hardly arrived at her new husband (Ian Ogilvy)’s) plush ancestral pile (Windsor’s oft-seen-on-screen Oakley Court) before she’s being stalked (and, it is strongly suggested, raped) by a stumpy-wristed ghost, not to mention his (and Subotsberg’s omnipresent) disembodied crawling hand…

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With ANTSS Amicus were staking a clear claim to the period Gothic territory that had recently been vacated by Hammer, without giving too much thought to the possibility that there was a very good reason for their rivals to vacate it (i.e. a radical  change in Horror audiences’ tastes), though the lavish location, period setting and costumes (not least when they are struggling to contain Beacham’s ample charms), as captured by DP Denys Coop, are beautifully presented on this disc, which boasts the best BD trade-off between gain and grain of this collection. Check out also Baker’s early adoption and agile deployment of the Louma crane, a decade (give or take) before Argento went totally bananas with one on Tenebrae.

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In the featurette The Haunting Of Oakley Court, screaming old farts Allan Bryce (editor of Amicus – The Friendly Face Of Fear) and David Flint (co-editor of Fab Press’s Ten Years Of Terror tome) give us a guided tour of that mansion (where Mr and Mrs B spent their wedding night, apparently), taking in the remains of Bray Studios and the Asylum asylum along the way. Denis Meikle gives us the benefit of his thoughts on ANTSS and his audio interview with Peter Cushing. There’s an alternative and very engaging commentary track with Ian Ogilvy plus the expected trailer and a radio slot. Great stuff.

If 1973 was indeed a bad time to movie into Gothic Horror, Subotsberg showed how quickly they’d learned their lesson with the following year’s The Beast Must Die, pretty much the Amicus equivalent of Hammer’s Dracula A.D. 1972 and like Alan Gibson’s film, its contemporary trapping have only made it age all the more awkwardly… which is, of course, a significant part of the ongoing appeal of both pictures to aficionados of such kitschy fare.

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Tom Newcliffe’s search for a werewolf is also about to take a discouraging turn…

Calvin Lockart (above) stars as Tom Newcliffe, equal parts Shaft, Sherlock Holmes, James Bond and Count Zaroff. Having narrowed down his search for a werewolf to a motley crew of characters (including Peter Cushing, Charles Gray, Anton Diffring, Michael frickin’ Gambon and Tom Chadbon as a particularly effete hippy type), he invites them round to his gaff for a weekend of hi-surveillance investigation while he ponders their lycanthropic credentials and waits for the full moon to bring out the hairs on the guilty party’s knuckles. It’s preposterous codswallop, of course but hugely enjoyable, not least for the moment when the film grinds to a halt and the sepulchral tones of Valentine Dyall talk us through a gimmicky climax “freely adapted”from William Castle’s Homicidal, 1961…

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In his bonus interview and feature commentary, debutant feature director Paul Annett (who, perhaps wisely, returned to a solid career in TV directing after TBMD before passing away last year) relays his astonishment at copping a first glimpse of “the werewolf break” during an early public screening of the picture. The other bonus materials on this disc comprise a trailer and Troy Howarth’s video essay And Then There Were Werewolves, which takes the unexpected but entirely appropriate tack of treating Annett’s film as yet another (albeit decidedly oddball) screen adaptation of the Agatha Christie yarn now best referred to as “Ten Little Indians”, pointing out along the way that George Pollock’s 1965 rendering of the same tale (produced by Harry Alan Towers) featured (“for the first time in film history”) a “whodunnit break”.

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This box is rounded out by the appropriately named Vault Of Amicus disc, a veritable cornucopia of collected resources for Subotsberg devotees. Dr Terror’s House Of Trailers comprises over an hour of Amicus coming attractions and TV spots, encompassing the company’s de facto maiden effort, John Llewellyn Moxey’s City Of The Dead / Horror Hotel (1960, above… officially a Vulcan Films production) and taking in such post-split Subotsky slight returns to the portmanteau format as Denis Héroux’s The Uncanny (1977) and Roy Ward Baker’s The Monster Club (1981), in which the spectacle of B.A. Robertson doing his sub Frank N. Furter routine makes, admittedly, for pretty horrific stuff. Once you’ve enjoyed all of those you can go right back to the beginning and enjoy them all over again with a Kim Newman / David Flint commentary track that combines insight, opinion and humour to good effect.

“All” that remains after that is four hours (!) of audio interview, three-quarters of which are given over to selected highlights from the late Phil Nutman’s 1985 audio interview with Milton Subotsky, followed by approximately 60 minutes of Max Rosenberg’s reminiscences, as elicited by Jonathan Sothcott. Keep your wits about you and you’ll discover a nice Easter egg too, featuring several scuzzy looking but rather jolly TV spots.

Grab this box or its constituent parts over at Severin’s website and tell ’em I sent you…

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Happy Christmas!

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How Do You Like Your Clots? VAULT OF HORROR Reviewed

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BD. Region B. Final Cut Entertainment. 15.

After Dr Terror’s House Of Horrors (Freddie Francis, 1965), in which it’s difficult to fathom precisely what some of the damned commuters had done to merit their respective gristly fates, Amicus portmanteau horror epics increasingly focussed on bad people getting their just desserts, a tendency that would only be consolidated in their adaptations of EC’s notoriously moralising comic strips… the Peter Cushing segment in Francis’s Tales From The Crypt (1972) is entitled “Poetic Justice”, fer Chrissakes! Taking their cue from those comics, the aforementioned bad people would, furthermore, be increasingly identified with rapacious capitalism, making you wonder if the suppression of EC’s wares in the States during the mid-50s had more to do with this critique of The American Way than with any alleged tendency to inspire juvenile delinquency or whatever.

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Similar subversive tendencies are apparent in the title sequence of Roy Ward Baker’s companion piece to Tales, Vault Of Horror (1973), which locates the epicentre of evil as the Palace Of Westminster, alongside other Thames-side pillars of the establishment. Another mismatched bunch of geezers find themselves marooned in the basement of a Canary Wharf-type sky-scraper. There’s no sign of the hitherto mandatory malevolent Master of Ceremonies, but while they take advantage of the champagne, cigars and canapés that somebody has thoughtfully laid on, our boys settle down with great alacrity to a discussion of their recurring nightmares, all adapted from original strips in EC’s Tales From The Crypt and Vault Of Horror comics. In the opener Midnight Mess, Daniel Massey stabs his sister (real life sibling Anna) to secure an inheritance but makes the unfortunate decision to celebrate in what turns out to be a vampire restaurant… the penny drops when his waiter ask how he’d like his clots, Massey spits out his starter in disgust and curtains are hastily withdrawn from the mirrors to reveal that he’s the only one in the joint with a reflection. His sibling turns up to savour the irony while her vampire mates savour his blood (“Good vintage!”), freshly drawn from a tap inserted in his neck.

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In The Neat Job, the comic episode that has been mandatory in these things since Dead Of Night (1945), neat freak Terry-Thomas makes wife Glynis Johns’ life a misery with his fussy ways until she cracks and dismembers him, neatly bottling his various constituent organs on a shelf in the workroom to comply with his mantra “Everything in its place and a place for everything”. This is the one episode of VOH in which the punishment seems to be significantly disproportionate to the crime, although to axe it on such pernickety grounds and lose its leads’ comedy master class would have seriously hurt the picture.

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It’s a lot more entertaining than This Trick’ll Kill You, wherein Curt Jurgens and Dawn Addams casually do away with the daughter of an Indian street magician to learn the secret of his rope trick but end up discovering terror at the end of their tether. This one is rather flatly rendered and compromises its own moral message, in which imperialism is condemned alongside capitalism with a depiction of India and Indians, the laziness of which borders on mild racism. The penultimate tale, Bargain In Death, has its own comedic overtones. Edward Judd and failed writer Michael Craig (“There’s no money in horror!”… tell me about it, dude!) concoct an insurance scam that involve faking the latter’s death and temporarily burying him but matters are complicated by the participants’ mutual intention to double cross each other, not to mention the interference of penurious medical students Robin Nedwell and Geoffrey Davis. Cleverly and economically scripted by Milton Subotsky, this segment also benefits from some characteristically opportunistic Amicus casting. Although the company never went down the TV adaptation route so frequently exploited by rivals Hammer, here they drag in Nedwell and Davis from ITV’s then successful and long running small screen adaptations of Richard Gordon’s “Doctor” novels, with Arthur Mullard (remember him? Yuss, my dear…) as their brutish grave digging / grave robbing sidekick. Just in case you still haven’t twigged the humorous flavour of this episode, Baker even has Craig reading a novelisation of Tales From The Crypt while waiting for his death-mimicking medication to kick in.

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Drawn And Quartered is the closing, longest and arguably best vignette from The Vault. Echoing not one but two episodes from Dr. Terror’s House Of Horrors (not to mention Wilde’s The Picture Of Dorian Gray), this one opens with painter Tom Baker, whose been enjoying the Gaugin life out in the West Indies, discovering that an unholy alliance of his agent, a prominent critic and an unscrupulous art dealer have been conspiring to rip him off. Enlisting the aid of a voodoo priest, he acquires the ability to paint portraits of his tormentors and add wounds that are promptly visited upon them in real life… thus the crooked critic is blinded when his wronged wife throws acid in his face, the dealer who mishandled his work loses his hands when clumsily operating an office guillotine and agent Denholm Elliott attempts to shoot the avenging artist, only to turn his gun on himself after a bullet wound has been added to his picture. So far, so good…  but hang on, how safely has Tom stashed his self-portrait?

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“That’s how it is…” Jurgens advises the viewer, in the absence of a Vault Keeper (they must have blown all the dough for that on Ralph Richardson in Tales From The Crypt): “Every night we must retell the evil things we did while were alive… night after night for eternity”, before the participants schlepp off to their respective graves. Must make those long winter evenings in Hell just fly by…

Baker, trouper that he was, does a predictably solid job taking over from Freddie Francis, if not evincing quite the same feel for his material. Although Final Cut’s previous Blu-ray release of Tales From The Crypt included a 36 minute documentary on Amicus, this one is a bare bones release, depriving me of the opportunity to bug Kevin Lyons for the return of my copy of Martin Barker’s book The Video Nasties… ooh hang on, I just did that! The good news is that, like its predecessor (which brought us the full predicament of Richard Greene… throbbing intestines, dismembered limbs, et al, for eternity) this one is fully uncut. Previous MPAA approved, TV broadcast friendly releases freeze-framed three scenes before their violent pay-offs, enhancing their comic book ambience at the expense of horror (Daniel Massey twitching away as he is converted into a human optic, that art dealer losing his hands) and humour (Terry-Thomas’s response to having his hair parted with a claw hammer…

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Great stuff. Dunno about you, but I feel another classy horror portmanteau movie is long overdue… Jeremy Kyle as the Horror Host… just saying.

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Kicking out time at last year’s House Of Freudstein office party…

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With Friends Like These… AMICUS – THE FRIENDLY FACE OF FEAR Reviewed

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“You do The Hokey-Cokey and you turn around…”

Amicus – The Friendly Face Of Fear by Alan Bryce. Ghoulish Publishing. P/B. ISBN 978-1-5272-0271-9

While knocking out issues of The Dark Side under the Stray Cat banner, Allan Bryce also managed to publish a series of nifty film books… among the niftiest of them, I would count (never having found modesty all that forbidding) the third edition of my “video nasties” tome Seduction Of The Gullible and the follow-up Cannibal! (which I still prefer to refer to under its original title “Slaves Of The Cannibal God – 20 Years Of Italian Man Munching Movies.”) After the death of Allan’s business partner Ken Mills, Dark Side disappeared from our shelves for a couple of years before its triumphant re-emergence courtesy of Ghoulish Publishing, which now brings us Allan’s own Amicus – The Friendly Face Of Fear, touted as the “definitive history” of this much-loved low-budget Hammer competitor, named for the friendship between its co-creators Milton Subotsky (the creative schmendrick with the DIY haircut) and Max Rosenberg (the hard-headed money man.)

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Definitive? To assess this claim I would need to have read the various previously published accounts of Amicus  (including one by Stray Cat, 15 years ago) which, I must confess, I haven’t. Safe to say, though, A-TFFOF is a terrific read in its own right, simultaneously eminently knowledgable, fannishly enthusiastic and rigorously analytical as it guides us from the soup of Subotsberg’s pre-Amicus horror effort City Of The Dead (1960) through to the nuts of the daft plastic dinosaur epics from which you might remember Doug Mclure, with all those portmanteau treasures and such endearing oddities as And Now The Screaming Starts (1973) and The Beast Must Die (1974) nicely packed in between. While doing so it steers a middle course between previous accounts of the breakdown in amicable relations between Rosenberg and Subotsky (their ups and downs mirroring those of the company’s fortunes), which have tended to favour one or the other. While reiterating that Milt was the creative heart of Amicus, Bryce acknowledges that turning in a coherent, feature-length screenplay wasn’t exactly his forte (much to the chagrin of literary sources such as Robert Bloch and the consternation of several Amicus directors.)

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The dynamic duo first collaborated on an early draft of The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957), maintaining thereafter that they had been bilked out of their due credits (and payments) on Hammer’s horror breakthrough. Thereafter they strove manfully to compete with Carreras and co, poaching their talent from both sides of the camera while never consistently competing with Hammer at the box office. Amicus certainly couldn’t compete in budgetary terms, making a virtue of necessity by hiring multiple name actors for short stints in their beloved multi-story horror films.

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If you’re reading this you’ve probably already got some knowledge of and / or affection for these films… if not, I can do no better than point you in the direction of The Friendly Face Of Fear, 168 perfect bound glossy pages heavily illustrated in both colour and b/w and just bursting with Amicus minutiae… who knew, for instance, that the then Marquis de Sade petitioned successfully to have the family name removed from French marketing for Freddie Francis’s The Skull (1965) on the grounds that it would be brought into disrepute (“Locking the stable door after the cheval has bolted”, as Bryce wryly notes)…  that Rosenberg deep sixed Subotsky’s plans for e.g. a tripped-out revamp of It’s Trad, Dad! (starring The Byrds, The Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful dead!) and film adaptations of Marvel’s superhero characters (no commercial potential there at all, eh?) … that The House That Dripped Blood supported Last House On The Left in the U.S… that Geoffrey Bayldon was an 11th Hour replacement for Spike Milligan in Asylum… that Tales From The Crypt was being shot at Shepperton at the same time as Tower Of Evil, a film with which it shared sets… that the negative response to Vault Of Horror from E.C. Comics’ Bill Gaines scuppered Amicus plans for More Tales From The Crypt, The Haunt of Fear and Tales Of The Incredible (the latter to have been shot in 3D)… that, according to special FX man (and no relation to the author) Allan Bryce, the squirming green innards of a Dalek were cut from Dr. Who And The Daleks (1965) on the grounds that they would upset tiny tots… and who remembered that Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. (1966) was freighted with product placement shots promoting the breakfast cereal Sugar Puffs? (*) If your answer to these questions or most of them is “Me!”… just shut up Darrell and give somebody else a chance, OK?

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A splendid read then, topped and tailed by a characteristically eye-catching Rick Melton cover and irreverent biogs of Messrs Bryce, Melton and Kevin Coward (who acquits himself admirably in the design of this volume) and, for some reason, their respective spouses. Helps to keep things amicable, I suppose.

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(*) Just consider, if that movie had been made in Italy, I Daleki would have been exterminating their way through rivers of J&B!

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Anyone Who Had A Heart… TALES FROM THE CRYPT reviewed

“Ooh, Mister Grimsdyke!”

Blu-ray. Region B. Final Cut. 15.

Although Amicus got their series of portmanteau horror epics off to a barnstorming start with Dr Terror’s House Of Horrors (Freddie Francis, 1965), its immediate successors – Torture Garden (1967) and The House That Dripped Blood (1971) – were patchy affairs. Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg subsequently cemented their place in the Horror Hall Of Fame though with the holy trinity of Asylum, Tales From The Crypt (both 1972) and Vault Of Horror (1973.) TFTC is a perennial personal favourite here at The House Of Freudstein, so just imagine the scene of jubilation on Christmas morning when it transpired that, among the copious goodies Santa had deposited from his bulging sack, was the new Final Cut BD of this seminal effort (sorry, I just interviewed Julian Clary’s gag writer and I think something has, er, rubbed off.)

For this one the Amicus boys recalled Francis as director but, having exhausted the prolific pen of Robert Bloch in their previous efforts, turned to the blood drenched pages of EC’s notorious, suppressed comics for inspiration, adapted its five vignettes from stories by Bill Gaines, Al Feldstein and Johnny Craig that had featured in EC’s Tales From The Crypt and its sister publication The Vault Of Horror. The cod moralising of these comics was perfectly suited to the evolving ethos of Amicus…whereas Dr Terror had dished out terror, horror and ultimately death in indiscriminate style (Christopher Lee’s vindictive art critic deserved all he got, arguably Roy Castle’s voodoo profaning trumpeter too, but it’s difficult to see what Neil McCallum, Alan “Fluff” Freeman and Donald Sutherland had done to merit their respective fates, apart from simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time), there had been an accelerating trend in subsequent cycle entries towards poetic justice, allowing viewers to revel in the grisly demise of a screen character, with the comfort of clear consciences because the bastard had it coming!

Coffee Table revelation

Despite the warnings of tour guide (Amicus regular Geoffrey Bayldon) against “losing their way”, the usual motley crew of misfits wander off while checking out some underground catacombs, seemingly bored by his tales of religious intolerance and persecution. The stories they share, when confronted by a sinister robed figure (the casting of Sir Ralph Richardson as The Crypt Keeper stands as a coup that would only be topped when Bob Guccione signed up his mate John Gielgud for Tinto Brass’s big budget wankfest biopic of Caligula, 1979) reveal them as rather more petty exemplars of man’s eternal inhumanity to man, though admittedly each gets paid out in boffo style. Joan Collins celebrates Christmas Eve by bashing out her boring husband’s brains with a poker (maybe he didn’t get her the horror Blu-ray she asked for), warning her daughter not to come downstairs because Santa’s on his way… and he obligingly arrives in the shape of an escaped homicidal maniac, whom the kid (Chloe Franks, Christopher Lee’s witchy daughter in The House That Dripped Blood) gleefully lets in at the patio door; Ian Hendry bails on his wife and kid to do a runner with sexy mistress Angie Grant, only to end up in one of those endlessly looping “phew, it was all a dream / oh shit, no it wasn’t” nightmares of RTAs and walking death; a pair of property value-obsessed proto-yuppies drive kindly old bin man Arthur Grimsdyke (Peter Cushing) to suicide on Valentine’s day, which improves the tone of the neighbourhood but leads to a vengeful visit from his shambling corpse on February 14th the following year; Barbara Murray wishes for a financial upturn on a magic jade stature (“It’s just like that old story, The Monkey’s Paw” observes another character, helpfully) and inadvertently condemns her husband, ruthless industrialist Richard Greene, to an eternity of agony (cineastes might care to play “Spot the Cocteau quote” during this story); finally, in the longest episode, retired military man Nigel Patrick becomes the governor of an institution for blind men and systematically raids its budget so that he can lead the high life while they freeze and starve. Patrick Magee, riveting as ever, leads an improbable but satisfying insurrection involving a razor-lined rat run (difficult to imagine the old blind boys constructing this without inflicting some nasty injuries on themselves and each other), the Major’s Alsation, starved into a feral state and… lights out! The moral of this story? Never say: “Can’t you see I’m having my lunch?” to a blind dude… Predictably, The Crypt Keeper reveals that all of them have actually perpetrated the respective desperate deeds described above, before consigning them to a fiery abyss and admonishing us not to end up like them. Sure thing, Sir John.

TFTC FOH

At this point in the Amicus portmanteau cycle, things were getting distinctly gory, in fact the more visceral details of Greene’s never ending death throes (twitching intestines, severed hand wandering around his coffin…) were cut from versions broadcast on TV until very recently. It’s notable that the accelerating emphasis in these films on dishing out just desserts (the Cushing segment is even entitled “Poetic Justice”, fer Chrissakes) arrives, in this EC adaptation, at an increasing identification of the bad guys with rapacious capitalism, making you wonder if the banning of the original comics in the States during the mid-50s had more to do with this critique of The American Way than with any alleged tendency to inspire juvenile delinquency or whatever. Developing this theme further, the following year’s Vault Of Horror would trap its story tellers in the basement of a shi shi city office block, after its titles have played out over footage of the palace of Westminster. There’s no crypt keeper (or vault… bloke) in that one, but it’s even easier in 2016 than it was in the early ’70s to work out who the real bad guys are.

Final Cut have effected a top transfer of this mini classic, allowing the viewer (this one, certainly) to relish the curves of Barbara Murray’s magnificent bosom in all their HD glory… just don’t rely on her to come up with any good wishes next time you’re rubbing your monkey paw, OK? And while we’re pondering the Jason family’s little predicament, why exactly were Richard Greene’s veins full of enbalming fluid the instant before he died of a heart attack? Maybe M. Night Shyamalan’s threatened TFTC TV reboot will clear that one up? Or maybe not…

Bonus materials comprise a stills gallery and Tales From The Amicus Crypt, a watchable 36 minute appreciation from talking heads such as Jonathan Rigby, Reece Shearsmith, Steve Chibnall and Kevin Lyons. I haven’t seen Kevin for years… nor, indeed my copy of Martin Barker’s Video Nasties book.

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BD SleeveScream Carl, Scream! copy

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