Five men are all sharing a train compartment, and to pass the time they ask the sixth occupant, mysterious spiritualist Dr. Schrek, to tell their fortunes with his tarot deck. They get more than they bargained for, as their futures contain much horror, and may all end the same way, with Dr. Terror's final card-Death!...
Dr. Terror's House of Horrors is a cheesy title that promises either a tongue-in-cheek comedy, or a traditional horror. Funnily, it's a mix of both at times, with this Amicus anthology proving itself a classic!
With its story of an architect returning an old family property in the Hebrides, only to discover a sinister secret, Werewolf gets off to a strong start. It's a slow-burn tale, but the atmosphere quickly builds, and a body count is racked up as a werewolf is on the loose, seeking to gain revenge...or is it?
It fell apart for me a little in the ending. There's a twist that's more than a little confusing, which made me wonder if there was a first werewolf or wasn't there. Also this is a nitpick, but the hero finds a giant silver crucifix, and melts the thing down into only 5 or so single use bullets! Talk about wasteful. It's a lot harder to substitute a walloping stick than bullets!
Creeping Vine is an odd story. It's set entirely in broad daylight, and has a simple story of a family returning from a holiday, finding a new vine on their house. It resists all efforts to cut it down, and the government runs some studies, soon finding out the distressing truth. This is a new strain of plantlife that has evolved to not only counter all of man's efforts to destroy it, but also to fight back.
The science behind this is pretty laughable. We're given a mini lecture about how plants evolved from algae to moss to lichen, then to fungi, ferned and flowered plants, and finally a venus fly trap. Clearly an advancing stage of evolution, caused by the plants' struggle to adapt and survive in the modern world!...Errr, or not? Nevermind that I'm pretty sure those are entirely distinct species that did not progressively evolve from each-other, a venus fly trap is just a cunning but lazy plant that eats the occasional fly! Not exactly an encroachment on human civilisation.
Despite the sunny suburban surroundings not lending itself easily to horror, the vines make for a good threat, and we see how intelligent and deadly they can be. They claim not just human victims either! Animal lovers should steer clear of one scene. To paraphrase the distraught little girl, it makes things less fun. Kill all the humans you want, but not the pets!
What's interesting is how readily the government believes this, and is quick to help study and combat this new threat. After some struggles, the leads hit upon the incredibly obvious solution. You mean fire destroys plants? I never woulda guessed! The ending is kinda funny. Bernard Lee goes outside with one bunch of lit newspaper to fight the plants, and no sooner than he's swatted a few does the lead breathe a sigh of relief and sit down with his family. Hey asshole, he's not done yet! He could need your help! In any case, the story has an upbeat enough ending, which is kinda at odds with the framing story.
Voodoo is a fun story, with a mixture of chills and laughs. It has a laidback beginning, with clumsy musician Biff Bailey getting a working trip to the West Indies (lucky bastard!). He meets up with who he thinks is a real life West Indian, who responds with "You must be joking, I'm from Croydon!". They talk about calypso and island life, before the subject turns to Voodoo. "They hold sacred ceremonies. Lots of women. Dancing. Not many clothes! Want my advice? Forget it.".
But the lead isn't dissuaded, and sneaks into a ceremonial dance, and begins writing down the sacred music of Damballah. With all the subtlety of a white man trying to be stealthy in the Caribbean! He's caught and warned away, but the idiot has a good memory, so back home in London he reproduces the sacred music for a new show. Soon it's time for the big concert, and we'll see how real Voodoo is.
This story has some interesting moments, and is a great showcase on Voodoo culture. I like how it treats Voodoo as the legitimate religious denomination it is, and even Dr. Terror refers to their figures as gods, worthy of the same respect as any other. Overall the story has the clear moral of 'Don't fuck with people's religions'.
The characters are a highlight. Biff is a bit of an asshole really, but the performance makes him come across like a lovable dope. He's never doing the right thing, but ya can't hate him too much! Although he still doesn't believe in the curse when tables are flying, chairs are overturned, and patrons flee in terror. He still treats it like a big joke, and has some funny dialogue with the now empty nightclub's manager, showing where his priorities lie. The curse soon targets him more personally, and it's all a little quick. The unearthly concert doesn't faze him, but he freaks out exactly one minute later because one poster fell off a wall!
Biff's new friend from the Caribbean is great, with plenty of funny and smart dialogue. It's a pleasure when he follows back to London, and has more amusing observations. While not appearing a lot, the Voodoo natives are distinct, and leave a good impression.
There's one great scene when Biff is discovered. He's hiding by some bushes, and more and more natives progressively show up behind him, all the while he's unaware. And the story ends on an arresting final image.
With music playing such a big role here, it's handled well! From nice jazz and lounge music, to the traditional tribal beats, and the final concert, which has a subtly eerie sound to it while still being fun.
With its themes, story, acting, and the music, Voodoo is by far the best story in this film!
Disembodied Hand is the story of pompous art critic Franklyn Marsh, who is too in love with tearing down others with his great wit to really appreciate art. He butts heads with artist Eric Landor, who publicly embarrasses him. Marsh gets his revenge by running hm down, causing the artist to lose his hand, then his life. But a ghostly hand soon begins following Marsh wherever he goes.
This is a delightfully spooky story, getting off to a good beginning that introduces its two leads very well. Marsh is a real asshole, and it's good seeing him get taken down a peg, like a funny scene with a primate artist.
The length does make certain events feel a bit sudden. Being embarrassed a couple of times is apparently enough for Marsh to run his enemy down, and double back to crush his hand. But this is to be expected, and gets us to the haunting quicker. And a fun haunting it is! The hand follows him wherever he goes, attacks him then disappears, making him question his sanity, and more. Before a satisfying final punishment.
On a random note, there's the artist's death. I'm surprised he'd contemplate suicide so quickly. The guy could at least try painting with his other hand, his mouth or feet, try a different form of art, or even something else to get revenge against Marsh, like the traditional way of hunting him down and shooting him, or becoming a rival art critic and far surpassing Marsh's popularity!
Vampire is an alright story, although one of my least favourites in the film. It has a good atmosphere, with its portrayal of not only modern day urban vampires, but in a hospital setting. Newlyweds Dr. Bob Caroll and his foreign wife Nicolle have just returned home, but a spate of mysterious attacks causes suspicion, and an older colleague tells bob this may be the work of a vampire. But not only that...His wife!
This story is hit hardest by its length, as Bob goes from being a loving husband to ready and willing to plunge a stake into his wife's heart, in under 5 minutes! This leads to a hilarious ending, which just goes to show the idiocy of taking some people at their word! Followed by a fun extra twist, hampered only by a nonsensical line of dialogue (I get one town not being big enough for two vampires, but two doctors?).
This is still a decent watch, with some great shots, and ok emotion. As the final story it doesn't do anything really special, but that's what the framing story is for.
The framing story is quite good. Simple but effective, and I like how the atmosphere changes as the men realise the gravity of the situation. Dr. Schreck has an uneasy aura, without being overtly evil. The guys all range from friendly to rude, with Christopher Lee as a fun hardened skeptic. Given he's the most doubtful, it seems weird that he's not the last passenger to have his story told.
I was worried I could see the twist coming, and sure enough I did. It's not badly handled, except for the logic. It doesn't make much sense how these characters must die to avoid dying, especially when two of them survive their story (four if you count life in jail and the hospital, respectively!).
Overall, despite this movie having 5 stories (6 if you count the framing story), it's not as cramped as it could've been! While the stories can be a little rushed, that's the worst of it.
The cast here is great. Big names like Christopher Lee, Donald Sutherland, etc all give reliably good performances. Peter Cushing hams it up, having fun with his silly accent. He doesn't get to do much besides talk, but he leaves a great impression. Bernard Lee and Michael Gough are welcome presences too. Roy Castle is fun as the thieving musician, and Christopher Carlos has a great presence as the Voodoo priest. Real life calypso singer Kenny Lynch is quite fun in his role, and his accent is great!
The effects here range from very good, to cheesy! The werewolf is more wolf than were, but being kept mostly offscreen helps it. The fake killer plants in Creeping Vine let it down a bit. The make-up in Voodoo is great, and the effects are predominately flying objects. The ghostly hand is obviously not real, but I guess it can get away with that since it is meant to be dead after all. The final segment is light on effects, with the major one being the bat the vampire transforms into...or rather, the inanimate lump of plastic on a string.
The locations here are pretty good. The Hebrides are gorgeous, and the sets are well-realised. The West Indies are not at first, with a fake backdrop and weird grey scenery. But there's enough colourful decor to sell the outdoors club, and the foliage is good.
The lighting is a highlight too. There's a strong mix of colours here, with rich oranges and blues, mixing together, and aided when the light changes to fit the atmosphere.
Dr. Terror's House of Horror's is a wonderfully spooky little time, from when Britain made some horror greats! As a successor to 1940s classic Dead of Night, and as its own thing, it more than gets the job done...