Amicus anthologies in the 1970s

I’ve already blogged about 1960s anthologies Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors and Torture Garden from British film production company Amicus. The horror brand continued its streak of anthology films into the seventies, but for every time they did one right, they seemed to do one absolutely wrong. So which of these five are my faves?

THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1971)

Amicus enlists Robert Bloch of Psycho fame to write these stories. They all revolve around incidents that occurred in one house, a wraparound that has since become a common anthology theme, usually with a real estate agent showing a house with a dark past. In this film, detectives are investigating the latest tragedy and discuss the past stories.

1st story – a horror writer moves into the house, writes a story of a creepy killer…and starts seeing him around the house. EEK! The killer is fucking creepy with a smile of jacked up teeth.

2nd story – Peter Cushing and his friend see a figure at a wax museum that looks like a woman they once knew. This one is filled with Argento lighting when Argento barely existed.

3rd story – Christopher Lee hires a woman to teach his troubled daughter. Soon the teacher sees signs of witchcraft around the house.

4th story – this is a rather unique take on vampire lore. It’s also kind of campy. I was living for the flying vamp moments and the suggestion of them turning into bats, which reminded me of something out of Dracula: Dead and Loving It.

The wraparound conclusion stems directly from the final story, so while it’s supposed to be scary, it is also kind of campy, which is fine by me.

ASYLUM (1972)

Asylum is directed by Roy Ward Baker (The Monster Club), with Robert Bloch once again writing. The wraparound—a guy going to an insane asylum to talk to inmates—begins with “Night on Bald Mountain,” which just isn’t the same without a disco beat, so I immediately had to pull out the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack to fix that when the movie ended.

1st story – My absolute favorite tale, it’s the classic plot of a deceitful, murderous spouse stalked by his dead partner. Only this time he hacks her up to freeze her, which makes all the difference in how she comes back. Too awesome.

2nd story – Peter Cushing asks a tailor to make him a suit out of a very special fabric after midnight. That’s always a bad sign. This one is confusing because both the killer corpse and the killer twist look alike…and like Edgar Allan Poe.

3rd story – Veteran actress Charlotte Rampling may be in an asylum, but she tells a tale of a previous release from an asylum…and how a friend who came to visit landed her back in it. The twist is pretty predictable here.

4th story – This one about a crazy dude who makes little robot models of people feels like it was the inspiration for a whole lot of Full Moon films.

It also melds directly into the wraparound, which has a predictable twist these days, but leaves us with one of the creepiest lunatic laughs ever.

TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972)

This one makes me nostalgic because it was one of the first movies me and my brothers rented (with Evil Dead) at Christmas time right after we got our first VCR back in the 80s.

The wraparound, right out of the magazines after which it is based, is clearly the inspiration for the robed ghoul in the animation sequence of Creepshow 2. However, this host is live action as he welcomes five people into his crypt to tell them stories…

1st story – the Christmas classic Ryan Murphy had Joan Collins reenact on American Horror Story, this was also remade as the first episode of the Tales from the Crypt series. We never learn why Collins kills her loving husband (in a cleverly shot scene involving a newspaper), but after she does, she finds herself in a pickle when an escaped psycho in a Santa suit comes knocking and she can’t call the police because her dead husband is on the living room floor.

The scenes of Santa right outside are chilling and the jump scare still gets me. It’s just interesting to realize that she goes through so much trouble to cover up her crime when she could have just called the police and blamed her husband’s murder on the psycho Santa they were looking for.

2nd story – a cheating husband is in for a shock in the aftermath of a car accident with his mistress.

3rd story – Peter Cushing plays an old man driven to death by neighbors on Valentine’s Day. This is a classic back from the dead tale, and it’s awesome to see Cushing as a zombie. It’s also impossible to deny that British horror from the 1970s looks like a period piece even when it’s supposed to be modern day.

4th story – a clever twist on “The Monkey’s Paw”, this one has a woman trying to outwit the outcome of the classic story with a carefully thought out wish after her husband’s death. The nonsensical part of this is the weird chase scene with a guy on a motorcycle in a skull mask who I presume is supposed to be death. Just super cheesy.

5th story – an unpleasant and cruel tale which is unforgettable for that very reason. Patients get revenge on the cruel head of an asylum, and it involves pitting him against a starving dog in a narrow passage lined with razor blades.

With a classic wraparound conclusion and organ theme song, it’s clear why this one was turned into a TV show, even if it took 16 years.

VAULT OF HORROR (1973)

Director Roy Ward Baker and Amicus reunite for this shamefully bad follow-up to Tales from the Crypt. The wraparound and stories are equally bad. 5 businessmen get on an elevator that takes them to a “men’s club,” basically called that simply because they are all men. They each start to recall their dreams. I’d call them nightmares, but I’d be lying. These stories just all feel too simple, like low budget indie shorts you see on YouTube these days.

1st story – although it’s a generic vampire story, this is one of the better of this bunch simply because the end is deliciously dastardly.

2nd story – a verbally abusive neat freak drives his messy wife to take desperate action in a classic case of a woman snapping.

3rd story – A magician and his wife want to learn how a woman snake charms a rope, but their evil plan backfires.

4th story – a little meta fun here when we see a dude reading a Tales From The Crypt book. Aside from that, this is a sloppy buried alive plot.

5th story – at least the movie ends with a halfway decent story. A jilted artist uses his paintings as voodoo dolls to get revenge on his enemies.

FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE (1974)

Before he jumped into the 80s with Motel Hell, director Kevin Connor made this disaster. These are four of the most over-inflated, overly long, extremely weak tales I’ve ever seen in a horror anthology from a reputable source. Peter Cushing is featured in the wraparound as a guy who sells antiques to customers, which sparks each tale.

1st story – At least there’s murder and gore. A dude starts killing people to sacrifice to some creep in a mirror.

2nd story – Donald Pleasence and a man in a miserable marriage become friends, and eventually Donald’s daughter becomes the dudes love puppet…or so it seems.

3rd story – I at least applaud this one for daring to go for farcical horror. A man calls a campy medium he met on a train to come exorcise his house.

4th story – A guy buys a door behind which lies the room of an old occultist. While the specter is supposed to be terrifying, his period costume is laughable.

Have you seen all five of these anthologies and if so, which stories are your faves?

About Daniel

I am the author of the horror anthologies CLOSET MONSTERS: ZOMBIED OUT AND TALES OF GOTHROTICA and HORNY DEVILS, and the horror novels COMBUSTION and NO PLACE FOR LITTLE ONES. I am also the founder of BOYS, BEARS & SCARES, a facebook page for gay male horror fans! Check it out and like it at www.facebook.com/BoysBearsandScares.
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