*. Anthology horror from Amicus. You should know what to expect. Short stories with gruesome punchlines. A mostly throwaway framing narrative that also ends on a dark note. A bunch of familiar faces in the cast (here we have Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Denholm Elliott and Jon Pertwee). Script by Robert Bloch, who had done Torture Garden and would go on to write Asylum.
*. The basic conceit here is that all four of the stories are set in the same house. I’ll have more to say about that later, but first a quick glance at what’s on tap.
*. “Method for Murder”: an old tale, or really a hybrid of two old tales (possessed author, conniving spouse), with a nonsensical twist ending. I guess they needed something to make it seem fresh.
*. “Waxworks”: a strained variation on the House of Wax story. So strained that I wasn’t quite sure what the relations were between the three main characters.
*. “Sweets for the Sweet”: the title is a famous line from Hamlet where the Queen is strewing flowers on Ophelia’s grave. What the hell does it mean here? Another fairly traditional story, with a creepy kid tormenting her father (Lee).
*. “The Cloak”: slightly funny, self-regarding tale about a horror star (Pertwee) who is possessed by a vampire cape.
*. The last two stories are the best. The frame involves a police inspector looking in to Pertwee’s disappearance. Apparently he doesn’t know anything about all the other stuff that has gone down in the house, so a real estate agent named Stoker fills him in.
*. The inspector “knows what he’s doing” but, on being told that there’s no electricity in the house, goes out to inspect it, at night, without a flashlight, so he has to lug a giant candelabra around. Forget about his scepticism of Stoker’s stories, he really doesn’t know what he’s doing.
*. There are two connecting threads: one thematic, the other relating to the setting.
*. The thematic thread has to do with wicked women. The wife in the first story is an adulterous, murderous bitch. The Salome woman in the second is dead at the beginning, but is continuing to wreak a malign influence beyond the grave. In the third story Christopher Lee was apparently married to a witch (at least this is hinted at) and now his daughter is a witch too, intent on tormenting and killing him. In the final story Carla is revealed to be one of a coven of bloodsuckers, though this really doesn’t make much sense.
*. I think this theme of wicked women was the reason director Peter Duffell wanted to call the movie Death and the Maiden. This is the popular name for a string quartet by Schubert (which we hear being played in the second story) but it was considered to be too high-falutin’ for producer Subotsky, who went for the more commercially down-market The House That Dripped Blood.
*. Subotsky’s instincts were probably right, but as has often been noted there isn’t a drop of blood to be seen anywhere in this film. All of the deaths occur off-screen. But there’s an even bigger misdirection than this involved.
*. Despite the new title, no attempt is made to make the house itself into a character in any of the stories, or even to give it a bit of personality. It simply provides the setting for our quartet of tales of terror, playing no role and having no agency in them, despite what Stoker claims.
*. An aside: there are several little in-jokes in the script, but one I haven’t heard mentioned (though it’s probably been noticed by lots of people, I’m not claiming originality here) comes when the actor Henderson says he wants to rent the house because “it’s less than an hour’s drive from the studio.” In fact, the building used was the gatehouse at Shepperton Studios, which the label on the fake cloak identifies as where Henderson’s vampire movie is being shot.
*. To return to what Stoker says about the house. What he claims, in a really strained attempt to draw the stories together in some way, is that the house “reflects the personality of whoever lives in it, and treats him accordingly.” This is nonsense. The concept of just desserts can, by my reckoning, only be applied to a couple of the stories, and only then with a lot of work. In each case it seems clear that the tenants bring their problems with them, with the house only being witness to the final acts (and, in the case of the second story, not even that).
*. So the house doesn’t drip any blood. And really there’s nothing that stands out as particularly memorable about this one, aside from the title. That’s irony for you.