The House That Dripped Blood from 1971, directed by Peter Duffell and recently released on Blu-ray by Shout! Factory, is a blast, with a good portion of the fun coming from marveling at the parade of British character actors on display. From Denholm Elliott to Peter Cushing to Joss Ackland to Christopher Lee to Jon Pertwee all the way to a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance by a young Joanna Lumley, barely a scene goes by without an appearance from a luminary. The movie knows it, too, and it’s got jokes; when Pertwee’s pompous thespian talks about loving Dracula movies, he clarifies, “Bela Lugosi, not this new fellow,” a reference to Lee, whose character has just died only a few minutes earlier.
Like much of the notable output of production company Amicus, The House That Dripped Blood is an anthology film; more specifically, it’s a portmanteau horror movie, meaning it has multiple stories connected by the same central conceit. In this case, things kick off when a police inspector (John Bennett) investigates a mysterious disappearance only to learn that it’s only the most recent case of many to take place in the same large, old house. And so the movie consists of a series of flashbacks, the only human connection being the real estate agent (John Bryans) who keeps renting the place out.
As mentioned, there’s plenty of fun on hand but Duffell manages to keep things surprisingly creepy. This is especially true of the first chapter, in which Elliott’s famed horror writer, Charles Hillyer, is haunted and threatened by the manifestation of the villain in the new novel he’s writing. Tom Adams plays the vicious killer (or Charles’ hallucination of him), whose ghoulish, dimly grinning visage Duffell and Adams employ to chilling effect. For a movie with so much narrative ground to cover, The House That Dripped Blood is exceptionally patient, allowing its scary images and concepts time to sink in.
But there are laughs, too. Duffell’s tongue-in-cheek sense of humor is obvious fairly early on, when an eerie, dreamy fog glides past a “No Smoking” sign. The final chapter, though, is more comedy than horror. Pertwee’s arrogant actor, Paul Henderson, is starring in a cheesy vampire movie, a premise which allows for some self-parody on the movie’s part. But Henderson soon learns the dangers of not taking the dark and supernatural seriously; so should we. The House That Dripped Blood may end on a lighter note but its horror foundation goes deep.
Though some dirt persists, the transfer on Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray succeeds where it counts most for early 1970s horror, the color. Even the gloomy grays are rich and saturated. The audio is mono and clean, with no hiss.
Special features include a new commentary by author Troy Howarth, a new interview with the second A.D., Mike Higgins, a commentary with Duffell and author Jonathan Rigby, a featurette with interviews with Duffell and some cast and a collection of radio spots.