The Haunted House of Jeff Szpirglas: Dr. Terror’s House Of Horrors (1965)

Dr. Terror

Starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Donald Sutherland
Written By Milton Subotsky
Directed by Freddie Francis
Olive Films

Back in October, Olive Films released the Amicus classic Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors on Blu-ray. The movie is built around the premise that would fuel future Amicus portmanteaux such as Tales From The Crypt and Vault of Horror, recently resurrected in high definition by Scream Factory. Here, five strangers meet aboard a passenger train, where they encounter the enigmatic Dr. Shreck. Played by Cushing (sporting some hilariously bushy eyebrows), he proceeds to pull out a set of Tarot cards and predict their dooms. Several short tales that interpret the cards follow, featuring werewolves, killer plants, and Voodoo curses. Best of all is Lee’s episode about a snooty art critic pursued by Michael Gough’s vengeful disembodied hand, which anticipates Evil Dead 2’s crazy antics.

The recent revival of the horror anthology with the V/H/S franchise is certainly pays homage to Dr. Terror’s zeal for a rapid succession of gruesome twists. But what sets the Amicus films apart from the V/H/S movies – and Amicus’s main rival Hammer Films, is their endearingly schlocky sense of humor. Dr. Terror revels in the range of settings (claustrophobic train cars, creepy basements, swinging nightclubs), and horrifically over-the-top plot twists with Grand Guignol theatrics. While Hammer’s films pulse with Gothic flair, their Amicus brethren are driven by a trashier vibe.

Dr. Terror’s biggest asset is the cast, a veritable who’s who of the genre: Cushing, Lee, Michael Gough, and an early role for Donald Sutherland. The film is built around their strengths, such as comic actor Roy Castle’s tale about a jazz musician who foolishly steals an ancient song in the Caribbean and faces revenge (yes, this is from an era with less cultural sensitivity). But there’s a ton of other talent keeping everything bubbling: cinematographer-turned-director Freddie Francis knows how to ramp up the tension and assemble images so the pace hums along; Elisabeth Lutyens sets the right tone with her score, adding a real element of play and fun.

Considering that this is half a century old, Dr. Terror is rewarded with a solid transfer that really showcases the Francis’ vibrant colour scheme (green gels bathe interiors on the train, where the blues and reds of the Tarot cards really pop). One wishes there were some actual extras in the mix, but it’s great to have this gem available in high definition. If you’ve never experienced Amicus before, Scream Factory’s recent double feature is the better bargain, but this is worthy.

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