Color, 1965, 98 mins. 44 secs.
Directed by Freddie Francis
Starring Peter Cushing, Donald Sutherland, Christopher Lee, Neil McCallum, Ursula Howells, Roy Castle, Alan Freeman, Bernard Lee, Jeremy Kemp, Michael Gough, Jennifer Jayne, Max Adrian
Vinegar Syndrome (UHD & Blu-ray) (US R0/RA 4K/HD), Fabulous Films (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Optimum (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK RB/R2 HD/PAL), Olive Films (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Anchor Bay, Oden (DVD) (UK R2 PAL), Koch (DVD) (Germany R2 PAL), Wicked Vision (Blu-ray & DVD) (Germany RB/R2 HD/PAL), Umbrella (DVD) (Australia R4 PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

It's safe to say that the landscape of Dr. Terror's House of HorrorsBritish horror in the '60s and '70s would have been quite different Dr. Terror's House of Horrorswithout Dr. Terror's House of Horrors, the first of numerous successful anthology horror films from Amicus Productions. Founded by Americans Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg, Amicus was the closest thing to a competitor to Hammer at the time, even casting stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in this film, and the anthologies including Torture Garden, The House That Dripped Blood, Asylum, Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, and From Beyond the Grave were the foundation of its legacy. This initial outing is fascinating for how it lays out the conventions of what would become staples in the Amicus portmanteau film as well as how it differs, particularly its moody and hyper-saturated scope photography which appears in no other anthologies (but does add a dreamy touch to Amicus' single-narrative The Skull).

On a nighttime train ride leaving London, five men share a compartment with the strange and sinister tarot-reading Dr. Schreck (Cushing) who regales them with readings about the disturbing fates awaiting each of them. Architect Jim Dawson (The Lost Continent's McCallum) is brought in to renovate Dr. Terror's House of Horrorsand add a chamber to his ancestral home by its current owner, Mrs. Biddulph (Girly's Howells), only to find that the walls conceal a dark secret from its past involving Count Valdemar, a werewolf Dr. Terror's House of Horrors(calling Paul Naschy!). Then Bill Rogers (legendary disc jockey Freeman) and his family come back from vacation only to find their house being threatened by a very aggressive vine that quickly grows out of control and seems to be impervious to any attempts to stop it. Then a visit to the West Indies for a jazz gig leads musician Biff Bailey (Castle) to witnessing a nocturnal voodoo ritual where, despite warnings to the contrary, he hastily scribbles down the tribal music to use back home. What could possibly go wrong? In the most famous segment, snooty art critic Franklyn Marsh (Lee) is locked in an ongoing battle of barbs and wits with a crafty painter (Gough) that ultimately leads to death and a rampaging severed hand. Finally, Dr. Carroll (Sutherland) brings his new bride, Nicolle (Jayne), from France to his home in America where he comes to believe that she may be a vampire preying on the neighborhood.

Complete with a stinger at the end repeated in multiple future Amicus films, Dr. Terror's House of Horrors delivers plenty of entertainment with none of the stories outstaying their welcome. Some are stronger than others obviously (the voodoo one is usually cited as the weakest of the bunch), Dr. Terror's House of Horrorsbut each one is packed with solid character actors and that weird, lurid atmosphere that became Dr. Terror's House of Horrorsthe studio's trademark for years. Openly inspired by the Ealing classic Dead of Night, the film solidified its Hammer ties with the choice of director Freddie Francis, an acclaimed, Oscar-winning cinematographer who turned director with thrillers like Paranoiac and Nightmare. This film's success ensured Francis would remain a valuable part of the Amicus stable for years with titles like The Skull, The Psychopath, Torture Garden, and Tales from the Crypt, not to mention the most blatant Amicus imitation, Tales That Witness Madness.

Released by Regal Films International in the U.K. and different entities around the U.S., Amicus' film has had numerous video editions over the years including a somewhat scarce American VHS from NTA. In the U.K. it was first issued on DVD from Anchor Bay in a very compromised 2004 version taken from a German print with footage missing from the finale, while a much better reissue DVD from Odeon arrived in 2010. The first Blu-ray out of the gate came in 2015 from Optimum in the U.K. with an extra that hasn't turned up in other editions, the career-spanning interview "Christopher Lee - Legend of British Stage and Screen" (47m); however, the main feature's transfer was botched thanks to an overly bright and yellow-tinted appearance as well as the absence of a key optical effect at the end of the film. A much better reissue came in 2022 on Blu-ray from Fabulous Films in the U.K., and in the interim the U.S. got a no-frills but nice-looking Blu-ray (with the correct ending) a tad later in 2015.

Dr. Terror's House of HorrorsThe best option by far though is the 2024 UHD and Blu-ray set released in the U.S. by Vinegar Syndrome, which sports a gorgeous 4k scan from the original camera negative. Colors are Dr. Terror's House of Horrorsextremely intense and accurate, detail is pin sharp, and the ending is uncut and presented as intended. The UHD in particular is a very heady viewing experience and comes highly recommended, while the DTS-HD MA 2.0 English mono track sounds excellent and features English SDH subtitles. Ported over from the Optimum release are a solid audio commentary by Francis with Jonathan Sothcott about his work on this film and at Amicus in general, a 7m7s gallery, and a "House of Cards" (57m50s) making-of documentary with Reece Shearsmith, Jonathan Rigby, Jo Botting, and Kevin Lyons analyzing the film's use of horror tropes and its place in the British horror canon. From the 2022 U.K. reissue you get archival Derek Pykett video interviews with actors Kenny Lynch (24m42s), Ann Bell (21m22s), and Jeremy Kemp (8m13s), which are a bit technically rough but nice to have for the memories of working on the film and rubbing shoulders with a formidable roster of costars. Also included are separate archival audio interviews with Subotsky (12m21s), conducted in 1985 with Philip Nutman, and Rosenberg (1m50s) about the start of Amicus and this film's role in getting it off the ground. "A New Home of Horror” (14m50s) features previously unreleased interviews with actress Katy Wild, second assistant director Hugh Harlow, propman Arthur Wicks, continuity supervisor Pauline Harlow, and dubbing mixer John Aldred, with short but welcome anecdotes from the production about the simple but effective visual effects, the process of packing a lot into short horror stories, and working with the fledgling company at a turning point in local genre filmmaking. In "Tales of Terror" (39m2s), author Stephen Thrower provides another of his incisive breakdowns with some great bits about each of the stories and thoughts on how the film carved out a path for its anthology successors; his dissection of the peculiar musical logic behind the voodoo segment is a particular highlight. Also included are a second gallery (1m55s) and the English, German (Die todeskarten des Dr. Schreck!), and Italian trailers.

Vinegar Syndrome (UHD)

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Optimum (Blu-ray)

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Reviewed on May 31, 2024