Retro Cinema: ‘The House That Dripped Blood’

Retro Cinema: ‘The House That Dripped Blood’

When people think of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, they think of legendary film studio Hammer. But there was another British film studio that liked to pair the two in horror movies, Amicus films, who put out some great horror anthologies. Not only did we have the House of Hammer, but the House of Amicus, and like it’s better known rival, Amicus was a house that dripped plenty of blood.

One of the best anthologies produced by Amicus was “The House That Dripped Blood.” This four-part anthology featured Cushing and Lee, although they performed in separate segments. It also featured legendary Hammer vixen Ingrid Pitt, vamping it up in her typical fashion. Basically, that woman just played herself in each of her roles, with “herself” being utterly fabulous with her long cigarette holders and plenty of cleavage.

The first of the four segments features a writer and his wife who move into the old house that serves as a backdrop connecting the four stories. He wants to finish his novel about a vicious murderer. Problem is, it seems his murderer is coming to life and stalking him and his wife. Sounds very Stephen King, doesn’t it? Well, this was before Stephen King made it big, as the film was produced in 1970. Although one has to wonder if this didn’t inspire “The Dark Half” just a little bit. For the record it was Robert Bloch who wrote these stories.

Anyway, writers in particular will get a kick out of the whole writing process and the way writers tend to try to make their characters so real — Sometimes a little too real. The Dominic character is very sinister on the page and as a flesh and blood stalker. And oh, that creepy laugh.

Is he real or is he just a figment of the writer’s imagination? Watch it and find out the twist at the end.

Then we move into the second segment, with Cushing looking mighty sharp in a red smoking jacket… so elegant and refined. As he listens to his classical music and goes through his theater programs, he comes upon a photo of a beautiful woman and walks into town looking quite lovelorn. He happens upon a “Museum of Horror” and decides to check it out.

As he wanders around the museum, which is basically a waxworks, he comes upon a rather interesting display of Salome with the head of John the Baptist on a platter. And this Salome seems to have a mesmerizing effect on Cushing… Her eyes remind him of the woman in the photo he was looking at earlier.

“She is beautiful isn’t she? My Salome…” says the proprietor out of the blue. Where did that guy come from? “Perhaps she reminds you of someone? You see, she has a strange effect on people. They seem to see in her all sorts of things.”

As it turns out, not only does she remind Cushing of his long-lost love, but she’s modeled after the proprietor’s deceased wife, who he says was a murderess who was executed for her crime. So he created the tribute to her to preserve her beauty for all time.

Suffice it to say that dead or not, he doesn’t take too kindly to other men ogling his deceased wife. First, he takes out his jealous rage on a friend of Cushing’s who stops in after a visit, then on Cushing himself when he finds he can’t stay away.

That’s quite a woman, wax or not.

The third segment features Lee, as a rather uptight widower and father of a young girl. Seems his little girl has an unnatural fear of fire, and Lee has a rather unnatural fear of just what powers this little girl might possess. Seems Mama dabbled in some of the dark arts, so Lee doesn’t like to have any dolls around the house. Unfortunately, the young woman he hires to tutor the little girl doesn’t really quite understand the complexities of the situation, and when he destroys the doll given to his daughter as a gift, she doesn’t just get mad, she gets even with Daddy.

This old house has a whole lot of old books, and some of those books have some witchy spells in them. Mix that with some candles melted down to make a brand-new doll, and I think you see where this is going. It doesn’t end well.

The final story of the anthology is where Pitt finally gets to shine. An actor moves into the house and his current role is playing a vampire in a horror film. He hates the cheesy sets and the bad, fake looking costumes, so he takes upon himself to find his own vampire cloak. He goes to a vintage clothing an antique store and finds a something much more real. Little does he know how real it is.

But when he puts on the cloak on set, funny things happen. Funny, as in him sprouting fangs and trying to bite his costars. But no one seems to believe him when he tries to tell them the cloak has magical powers to turn him into a vampire, least of all Pitt. When he sets out to prove to her that the cloak is real, let’s just say he’s in for quite a surprise.

All four stories of this anthology featured great actors, great stories and some really creepy moments. You can’t go wrong with Lee and Cushing, even outside the Hammer franchise. If you haven’t heard of Amicus before, I strongly suggest you not only check out this movie, but some of their other titles as well: Another big favorite of mine is their feature film “The Skull,” featuring Cushing. You may have a great Hammer collection, but your horror collection is far from complete without some Amicus, as well.

 

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Christopher Lee gets film tribute from Johnny Depp

Christopher Lee gets film tribute from Johnny Depp

Johnny Depp made a surprise appearance Saturday night to pay tribute to a true legend of the silver screen — Sir Christopher Lee, who received a prestigious British Film Institute Fellowship for his long and distinguished career. The two, who have worked on three films together, had nothing but the kindest words for each other. Depp called the 91-year-old actor “a national treasure” and “a genuine artist,” while the elder statesmen of horror declared depth one of the few younger actors “who is truly a star.”

Lee was visibly struggling with his emotions as he approached the podium to accept his award from Depp, telling him, “I didn’t know you were going to be here. I must try and pull myself together.”

Director Tim Burton is the man who brought this pairing together, with Depp and Lee working together on “Sleepy Hollow,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” and “Dark Shadows.”  Lee also lent his voice to “Alice in Wonderland.”

While the younger generation knows Lee for his roles in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, all of the classic horror fans know him for his work with Hammer Studios alongside Peter Cushing. Along with Vincent Price, the trio made up a sort of (un)holy trinity for horror fans in that era, although rumors abound that Lee has since distanced himself from his work in “Dracula.”

Of course, it’s only fair to presume that the reason Burton cast him in his movies was his love of all the old Hammer films, which he has said that “Sleepy Hollow” pays homage to. I’d venture a guess that Peter Jackson had those old Hammer films in mind when casting Lee in “Lord of the Rings” movies, as well.

It’s great to see Lee getting his due from the film community, but his somewhat frail appearance in the photo of him and Depp together gives rise to concern that we may be losing the last icon of the golden age of horror all too soon. (And no, 91 years isn’t nearly enough.) It’s a shame that most of the commentary on the photo revolves around Depp’s blonde hair and not the screen legend seated next to him.

Lee is bigger than his role as “Dracula,” or any of his roles. He is the last connection we have to not only the time when Hammer Studios ruled, but our last connection to the legends of that time like Price and especially to Cushing. As long as Lee is still with us, we still have a little piece of the magic that was Cushing and Lee together. But when Lee is gone, it will truly be the end of  not only a legendary actor, but the greatest era of horror itself.

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Who’s your mummy now? The Mummy in film

the_mummy_movie

From the creepy eyes of Boris Karloff, to the uber hot Arnold Vosloo, the mummy has taken many forms on celluloid, evolving in a rags-to-Egyptian-riches presentation. Spanning more than 60 years, the mummy has become a monster classic, although not as often celebrated as the vampire or zombie. The original 1932 classic is one of Universal’s creepiest movies, and the 1999 take has humor and sexiness. Celebrate the best of mummies on the big screen.

The Mummy (1932) with Boris Karloff

While it wasn’t technically the first mummy movie (the first being a French film titled “The Mummy of King Ramsey” in 1909) Boris Karloff’s chilling portrayal is considered the standard to which all other mummy movies and performances are compared. Credit should also be given to the director and cinematographer who created the moody atmosphere of the film, with its chiaroscuro lighting.

The Mummy is sort of a pre-cursor to the zombie, at least the shuffling, slow-moving variety. Who would have thought something that moves so slowly could be so menacing? Perhaps part of the mystique is the lure of Egyptian lore, giving this monster an exotic edge.

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Hammer Films to shoot Winchester House movie

 

winchesterhouseHammer Films, the legendary movie studio that immortalized Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing as horror icons, recently made a comeback with the film “The Woman in Black,” but now the studio has moved on to another spooky subject — they’ve picked up feature rights to make a supernatural thriller at the most haunted house in America, the Winchester House, according to Variety.

The real story behind the house is scary (and crazy) enough, but it looks like Hammer intends to use the setting for a new horror film, according to Simon Oakes, CEO of Hammer and vice-chairman of Exclusive Media, who announced the deal April 27.

The house, built by Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester rifle estate, created the mansion that never ceased being built until her death in 1922. It seems Winchester believed that she was haunted by the spirits of all the people that were killed by the rifles her family sold, and somehow got the idea into her head that as long she kept building on the house, the spirits would never be able to find her and she would live forever.

Needless to say, that theory didn’t work out so well for her.

The Victorian mansion is in San Jose, California and has been a magnet for those interested in paranormal activity with many reports of spirit sightings in the house. The house was designed to be a maze where spirits would get lost if they attempted to follow Winchester. Some of the more bizarre architectural details include a staircase that goes down seven steps, and goes up 11 steps, and staircases that go nowhere.

Imagination Design Works and Nine/8 Entertainment will also be involved with the project, as they also organize the Fright Night event held at the house in October.

Nine/8 includes Andrew Trapani, who is also known for producing the film “The Haunting in Connecticut” for Lionsgate Films. Brian Gilbert will also be involved in the project, with his previous credits including the horror film “Wrong Turn.”

Exclusive Media’s credits include Hammer’s release of “The Woman in Black.”

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