I’ll be honest, I’m kind of struggling to think what to say about this one, so let’s start with the historical fact at least: this was Amicus’ first attempt at an anthology film of the sort they would become better known for in the 1970s… apparently it actually began life as an idea for a TV series as long ago as 1948; how might the history of television be different had it come off. In the event, a few years down the track, that abandoned TV series concept was used to establish Amicus as the first serious competition in the British horror film stakes to Hammer, even poaching some of Hammer’s regulars—most notably Messrs Cushing and Lee, of course, but also director Freddie Francis (the man who didn’t particularly like horror films was effectively making five of the damn things here). Cushing is the titular doctor, properly Schreck but we know what that means in English; the “house of horrors” is actually a metaphorical one, the name Schreck gives to the tarot pack he carries with him. Sharing a train carriage with five other men (including Lee and a young Donald Sutherland, one of whose first films this was), he uses the cards to reveal their impending futures—tales of werewolves, killer plants, voodoo spirits, vampires and art criticism (these are remarkably precise and thorough tarot cards)—but seems oddly loath to reveal the fifth card that would show them how to avoid these problems. All of which builds up to an ending that, frankly, doesn’t make a lot of sense. It’s a perfectly fair film, a good example of how to do this sort of thing; remarkably, all the stories are on much the same level quality-wise, there’s no obvious standout but equally no obvious bomb either (though I suspect the tale of Lee’s vindictive art critic dogged by a painter who won’t put up with his bullshit is probably the best one). And it looks pretty good, too; if Amicus were basically a cut-price Hammer, they were obviously going to try not to look too much like one. I’m just finding it oddly hard for some reason to offer much appraisal of the thing beyond merely saying “it’s good”.
Written for the Peter Cushing centennial blogathon at Frankensteinia