Welcome my friends, to the stories that always end…usually in a tidy 15 or 20 minutes to be precise. Yes, we’re back in anthology land with a title that became Amicus’ modus operandi (and money makers) for the next decade, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965). While this isn’t my favorite Amicus omnibus (it’s still good!), it is their first and credit shall be paid.

Released Stateside in late February by Paramount, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors did very well with audiences, giving Amicus a reliable hook for their future releases; while they didn’t focus solely on portmanteaus (they released The Skull the same year), those did become what they were known for.

And rightly so; Dr. Terror sets up a formula that works: well known horror actors in short bursts of terror and humor, easy to digest. This one starts us off on a British passenger train; five men gather in a cramped stateroom waiting for the train to leave the station. Before it does, one more passenger enters: the rather haggard looking Dr. Schreck (played by Peter Cushing), who in short order convinces each of the men to have a Tarot reading to pass the time. Herein lie each of their stories based on the cards they’re dealt:

WEREWOLF: A man (Neil McCallum – The Lost Continent) heads back to his ancestral home that he sold off to consult the new owners on renovations; unbeknownst to him they have other plans…

CREEPING VINE: A family, led by Alan Freeman (Absolute Beginners) takes a vacation at their seaside retreat which finds them tangling (sorry not sorry) with a murderous vine…

VOODOO: A jazz band heads to the Caribbean for a gig, and when one of the members (Roy Castle – Legend of the Werewolf) decides to steal the music played during a voodoo ceremony, he gets in a right spot of trouble…

DISEMBODIED HAND: Noted art critic (Christopher Lee) harangues local successful artist (Michael Gough – Batman), who in turn embarrasses the critic; this leads to attempted murder – and worse…

VAMPIRE: A young doctor (Donald Sutherland – M*A*S*H) moves to a small town with his new bride (Jennifer Jayne – The Crawling Eye). It isn’t long before he suspects his bride is a vampire, which leads to all kinds of marital discord…

After all the cards have been dealt, the five men get off the train, but it isn’t the destination they think it is…

Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, in retrospect, comes off as very simple, yet charming. Thanks to producer/writer Milton Subotsky, this formula would be streamlined in future films, like Tales from the Crypt (1972) and Vault of Horror (’73), where each character gets their “just desserts” in true EC Comics style. From that approach, Dr. Terror falls a bit short – there are really only two of the men that suffer a fate of deserved karma; the others are duped. This isn’t a fatal flaw by any means, but from here on the Amicus omnibuses would focus on Bad Things Happening To Bad People.

As it is with any anthology, personal taste dictates which story (or stories) resonate the most; I think the film goes out on a high note with Vampire – the final twist left me with a smile on my face as I didn’t see it coming at all. If I were to pick a least favorite, that would be Voodoo; weak humor and a predictable plot hamper it quite a bit. But that’s me, and that’s the beauty of anthologies – there’s usually something for all tastes.

By this point, director Freddie Francis (here credited as ‘Freddy’) had made some films for Hammer (Paranoiac, Nightmare, The Evil of Frankenstein) before switching lanes for Amicus; he above all makes the film flow as smooth as it does, with clean transitions and steady photography (he was an Academy Award winning cinematographer himself), and for the most part has the cast luxuriate in the material at the right temperature. He would helm two more anthologies for Amicus, the aforementioned Tales from the Crypt and 1967’s Torture Garden, featuring a bedeviling performance from Burgess Meredith.

Speaking of devilish performances, Peter Cushing, with his runaway eyebrows (they always do something with the eyebrows) and quietly menacing tone, sets the stage for all to unfold in Dr. Terror; he certainly is far removed from the kinder roles he’s played in other anthologies. Other than he, Lee and Sutherland fare best; they’re simply more magnetic than the rest and have frankly better written roles.

While Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (love that title; makes me think of SCTV) isn’t my favorite Amicus omnibus – I’m ride or die for Tales – it was the start of a prosperous era for Amicus, and should be acknowledged as such. That it’s still a lot of colorful fun is testimony that they were on the right (train) track.

Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors is available on Blu-ray from Olive Films.

Next: Drive-In Dust Offs: CRASH! (1977)
Scott Drebit
About the Author - Scott Drebit

Scott Drebit lives and works in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He is happily married (back off ladies) with 2 grown kids. He has had a life-long, torrid, love affair with Horror films. He grew up watching Horror on VHS, and still tries to rewind his Blu-rays. Some of his favourite horror films include Phantasm, Alien, Burnt Offerings, Phantasm, Zombie, Halloween, and Black Christmas. Oh, and Phantasm.

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