Five strangers board a train and are joined by a mysterious fortune teller who offers to read their tarot cards. Each man has a different story to tell including an architect who returns to his ancestral home to find a werewolf out for revenge, a doctor who finds out his wife is a vampire, a huge plant which traps the occupants of a house inside, a musician who gets involved in voodoo and an art critic who is tormented by the severed hand of a famous artist.
As with many of my other reviews for Amicus films, I always start off with the point that they tried to rival Hammer as far as British horror went but never really managed to compete consistently with them. However they did find their niche in the genre, in particular the horror anthology. Dr. Terror's House of Horrors is their best one and it's probably coincidental that it was their first one too. Inspired by the black humour-filled E.C. comics of the 50's, Dr. Terror's House of Horrors was to set off Amicus' long-standing obsession with making horror anthologies.
It was a successful formula as long as most of the stories in them were entertaining. You were always going to get some clunkers but with the array of acting talent that Amicus managed to get to appear in small roles, it was a price worth paying. Peter Cushing stars as Dr. Schreck, the sinister fortune teller who forms the wrap around story for this one. He draws you to the screen the moment he arrives because you don't know his true motives. He seems friendly enough but why are all of his predictions so nasty? He reads each of the characters their fortune which in turn become the separate stories. Then right at the end there's a devilish twist as the doc reveals his true motives.
The first story is your basic werewolf story where some people are killed by a werewolf but no one knows who the it is until the twist ending. Like many other werewolf stories, it's pretty flat and there's little to get excited about. You don't actually see anyone in make-up, simply a mean-looking dog which growls at the camera. Running in at around fifteen minutes, the story isn't too long and drawn out and is harmless enough, if a little predictable. Thankfully it has the best atmosphere of the film and the entire segment is played straight which at least adds a little credibility.
The second story owes a lot to Day of the Triffids (to which director Freddie Francis directed extra footage) in which a plant begins to grow and develop a taste for killing. It seems a little absurd at times and does drift off towards being pure camp and that's because the idea isn't explained very well. The story doesn't run for too long which is probably a good thing as the "special effects" get a little silly - it's simply a plant of the end of a piece of wire being wriggled around in front of the camera! Come on, you didn't expect technical wizardry did you? Bernard Lee, more famous known as 'M' from the James Bond films, makes an appearance here.
The third one is to do with voodoo and has the presence of Roy Castle for some comic relief but he just ends up irritating the hell out of the viewer as a musician who heads to the West Indies and mistakenly copies the notes from a voodoo dance with dire consequences. Castle can't act and his comedy routine, not to mention an obligatory musical number, in this segment is really out of place with the material. What could have been the most serious of the segments turns into a bit of a variety show mess.
The fourth story is the best by far and stars Christopher Lee (coincidence? I think not!) as a rather bitter art critic who unfairly criticises the work of an artist and humiliates him in public, only for the artist to embarrass him back with a prank. So Lee gets bitter and runs him over, causing the artist to lose his hand. But the hand won't go away and keeps haunting Lee's character. Lee is at his best here, playing the obnoxious, sneering critic with a sharp tongue. He oozes charisma yet again and his suitably oily performance is matched by Michael Gough, another veteran of the British horror genre at the time. The effects for the severed hand are convincing enough (this is not just one of the crew putting his hand up from behind a cushion!) and there are a few moments of shocks to compliment it nicely.
The fifth story fails to excite as Donald Sutherland believes that his wife is a vampire. It follows the same vampire storyline that most of the other genre films have done and, like the werewolf one, is pretty dull and lifeless as a result. The only saving grace is the final twist to the tale which is laughable, but you've got to feel sorry for Sutherland's character for being so gullible and dumb all along.
Dr. Terror's House of Horrors has dated quite a bit by now and as a result, it's not going to keep you up at night. But with some great performances by THE best actors this genre has to offer as well as one or two unnerving moments, you can do no harm by having your fortune read by the doc.