As a film studies student I watched a variety of films on my university course. One of the modules was Horror and Nation, and it was about that time I first saw ‘The House That Dripped Blood’, a 1970s film made by Amicus Productions and directed by Peter Duffell. Since then, despite having nightmares from that particular film, it has given me a certain fascination for the old horror movies within the Hammer Horror era. As a result, I have revisited the same film again. And again. And again. I just can’t get enough of it. Despite the fact it still makes me look at the bedroom door to make sure it’s closed and under the bed for any monster at the ripe old age of twenty-five and a mother of one, it is easily one of my favorite films.
There is certainly something to be said about the classic British film and that it has something that more recent horror films do not have: the ‘horror’ music. You’re thrown straight in to the deep end, not given a false sense of security waiting for a scare toward the end. And how do the creators do that? The music. That and the fact their first shot is of a deserted house in the dead of night. The ‘horror’ music older films use sends a tingling down your spine, warning you of what is to come and to be prepared for a scare. The music has an ominous ring to it, using a range of percussion instruments, similar soundings to what you would hear with scenes of voodoo. And it is this music that sucked me in before anything happened.
‘The House That Dripped Blood’ was right in the middle of the Hammer Horror era. It is different as in it is not a Dracula movie, which was also the rage in that time – more so than it is today – and it wasn’t a Frankenstein film, another story that has become famous through the screen as well as the book. It has its own twist on the haunted house theme. Think of it as a 70s version of ‘The Grudge’ – whoever goes into that house and stays will suffer a grotesque fate, usually depending on their personality and attitudes when they go in. But instead of a ghost haunting the place, the house is haunted without any help from external forces.
Because the film is based on four short stories all linked together, it is told in flashback. We are told the story about the house in the same sequence as the main protagonist, the Scotland Yard detective, who is increasingly skeptical about the happenings. He doesn’t believe in a haunted house and that it might be responsible for the disappearance of a missing film star he has been brought in on. That role of the film star, played by Jon Pertwee, was certainly an interesting view for myself, having seen him in more comic roles such as in the ‘Carry On’ films and listening to him on the radio in ‘The Navy Lark’. He pulled off a serious actor brilliantly, and it was worth the wait to see him.
The film is certainly advertised well with an array of actors that everyone would recognize nowadays.
Denholm Elliot starts off the ensemble, and he would later go on to star with Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones; Peter Cushing comes next, one of Hammer Horror’s most distinguished actors and unfortunately typecast; Christopher Lee, the six-foot-four giant known for Frankenstein’s monster in the 1958 film and predominantly Dracula; and Jon Pertwee, who filmed his scenes in between the first and second seasons of Doctor Who. For me, any one of those actors make the film worth watching, but at the forefront would be Peter Cushing, who is one of my favorite actors within the horror genre.
All four stories are portrayed with brilliance, and the supporting cast pull off their parts well. Even though I do my normal check for discrepancies within a programme—I adore ‘The Sooty Show’ but I constantly tear it to pieces because it shatters my illusion that the puppets are real and I can see where the puppet ends and the hand begins—I could not see anything off with the makeup. And you could certainly praise the makeup artists, for there was a lot of it to go around: from make-believe villains to waxworks to vampires.
It seemed to have a lot of aspects that are common in horror stories but with their own twists, both macabre and inventive. It certainly scared me and after the first time I watched it I kept looking at the shadows, sure that there was someone moving about. And it was all to do with the lighting, the music, and the still camera shots that seemed to be frozen in time as the audience would be, holding onto their bated breath.
Naturally, the inspector is very skeptical and doesn’t believe that there is something wrong with the house. If we were in his position, neither would we. Whenever my fiancé is watching a film with me, he would scoff and accuse the character of being stupid if they do something that would inevitably be the wrong choice. He would go on to say what he would do in that situation but then I would point out that if we were put under pressure we wouldn’t think rationally, either. Besides, rational thinking in a horror film doesn’t make a very good plot.
The end shows that common phrase we hear so often: ‘don’t go in alone’. Of course, what does the inspector do? He goes to the house alone, even after everything he’s heard about it. And in the dead of night. In the world of the horror film, this is a classic, especially since most of the horror we get in films, old and present, are carried out at night. And it certainly works to scare everyone. This is the part that had me scared the first time round. Going into an old, creaky house in the dead of night and coming face-to-face with a nightmare. Since my parents’ house was old and creaky, it had me awake for hours whenever anything creaked and groaned during the night.
To me, this film is not just a horror film. It appears to be a set of twisted love stories, with its own new ideas and creativity on how love goes wrong or how it is a major problem even it’s not in the forefront of people’s minds. Horror is a creative genre all on its own. It can turn the most beautiful of things into a nightmare and make us remember it shaking with fear.
© 2014 by Katharine O’Neill
IMDb Rating: 6.6 / 10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 78%
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0065854/
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