In 1964, American producers Milton Subotsky and Max J. Rosenberg team up to create Amicus Productions, a small independent film company based in Shepperton Studios, England. Among the first films they release is Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, a portmanteau horror film starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. They quickly become closely associated and compared to Hammer Films to which their films share many similarities: directors such as Freddie Francis, stars such as Lee and Cushing, and stories that cover gothic, horrific content (even though Hammer Films at that time were mostly based in Victorian England and Amicus films were mostly based in the present). For most of the next two decades, Amicus would specialize in anthologies, producing some of the best, most entertaining films of that type. What follows is a general overview of seven such gems from Amicus Productions.
Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965)
Director Freddie Francis is hired to helm Amicus first and signature anthology film, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors. Producer Milton Subotsky handles the writing chores. Unlike many of the anthologies that preceded it, would utilize a framing sequence to bind the five short stories together; a technique Amicus would employ in all the anthologies that follow. The framing story for Dr. Terror is staged within a train’s cabin confining five strangers and a fortune teller going by the name Dr. W. F. Schreck (Doctor of Metaphysics) on a trip from London to Bradley. One by one, the good doctor tells each passenger’s fortune revealing the horror of their future. A bearded Peter Cushing, sporting bushy eyebrows, strikes an impressive visage as Dr. Schreck in a reserved, yet campy, performance.
The first of the five stories is Werewolf in which an architect is hired to remodel an old family home; however, he soon uncovers the family secret and unleashes a feral nightmare buried in the cellar. The second tale is Creeping Vine where a vacationing family returns home to find their home invaded by a vicious plant with a mind of its own. Next up is Voodoo where a jazz musician traveling in the Caribbean where he unwisely steals the music played at a voodoo ceremony, music the voodoo spirits are not willing to share. In the most memorable tale, Disembodied Hand, a famous art critic runs over a painter who has repeatedly humiliated him, only to find the artist’s disembodied hand returns from the grave to seek revenge. The final story, Vampire, tells the tale of a doctor who discovers his new wife is one of the undead.
Along with Peter Cushing as Dr. Schreck, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors has a large cast of horror icons and Hollywood and UK film stars. Christopher Lee stars opposite Michael Gough in the Disembodied Hand. A very young Donald Sutherland stars in Vampire with Jennifer Jayne and Max Adrian. Musician Roy Castle headlines Voodoo. Werewolf stars Neil McCallum, Ursula Howells and Katy Wild. Alan Freedman, Ann Bell and Bernard Lee star in Creeping Vine.
Torture Garden (1967)
Freddie Francis returns to direct Amicus Production’s second anthology, Torture Garden and Robert Bloch joins in to write the screenplay based on his own short stories. Cushing’s Dr. Schreck is replaced by carnival sideshow showman Dr. Diablo played by Burgess Meredith. Four patrons of Diablo’s Torture Garden stare into the “shears of fate” held by the fortune teller mannequin Altropos revealing the terrifying twists that lie in their future.
The first of the four tales is Enoch where a greedy nephew arrives at his uncle’s home demanding to know where his fortunes are hidden. The Nephew then encounters a cat that both leads him to the treasure and takes over his mind. Terror over Hollywood follows spinning the yarn about an aging Hollywood actress who connives to learn the secrets of immortality and never ending youth. The third story is Mr. Steinway where a female journalist falls for a shy pianist; however, his love is guarded by his jealous piano named Utopie. The last and most noteworthy tale is The Man Who Collected Poe where an obsessed collector of the works of Edgar Allan Poe covets an unpublished tome owned by a fellow collector.
Again a fantastic cast is assembled to star in the Amicus anthology. Along with Burgess Meredith, Torture Garden top lines Jack Palance and Peter Cushing in The Man Who Collected Poe. Beverly Adams, Robert Hutton and John Phillips tackle Terror over Hollywood and Michael Bryan headlines Enoch. John Standing and Barbara Ewing face the piano in Mr. Steinway. And finally, Hammer stall worth, Michael Ripper, is also featured in the framework story.
The House That Dripped Blood (1971)
Director Peter Duffell directs Amicus Production’s third anthology, The House That Dripped Blood, with Robert Bloch returning to writing duties. The fortune teller framing sequence is replace with a Scotland Yard detective investigating multiple, astounding deaths and disappearances surrounding the past occupants of the same mansion. The detective interviews A.J. Stoker, the mansion’s real-estate agent, who shares the misfortunes of the past four residents.
The first tale is Method for Murder in which a horror novelist is convinced one of his creations is actually alive, haunts him and threatens the safety of his wife. This is followed by Waxworks where two friends become obsessed with a local Wax Museum. They are both convinced that one of the waxworks resembles a woman they both knew. Sweets to the Sweet is the third story telling the tale of an overprotective single father who employs a governess to care for his daughter who discovers the child has a talent for witchcraft. Leaving the best for last, The Cloak tells of a temperamental horror film actor disgusted with the wardrobe budget purchases a mysterious cloak from a local shopkeeper. He soon discovers the cloak is enchanted making him both more like the creature is portraying in his film and the target of a true vampire.
Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee return for another starring turn in an Amicus Production, playing in Waxworks and Sweets for the Sweet, respectively. Jon Pertwee, known at the time for playing Dr. Who, and the lovely Ingrid (Vampire Lovers) Pitt fly around in The Cloak. Denholm (Marcus Brody from the Indiana Jones movies) Elliot, Joanna Dunham and Tom Adams star in Method for Murder. Nyree Dawn Porter, Chloe Franks and Joss Ackland complete the cast for Waxworks and Sweets for the Sweet. John Bennet as Detective Inspector Holloway and John Bryans as A. J. Stoker fill out the framing sequence.
In part two of the Anthologies of Amicus Productions, Subotsky and Rosenberg draw on their inspiration for their anthology films, EC Comics beginning with Tales from the Crypt (1972). They also continue to wisely employ Robert Bloch to write scripts for features such as Asylum (1972). And a single actor stars in each of the seven covered anthologies that feature a maniac dressed as Santa, a play on the Monkey’s Paw and a killer robot toy.