Often unfairly painted as the poor relation of Hammer, Amicus Productions created some of the most memorable British horror films of the 1970s starring many legendary actors associated with the genre such as Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and countless other household names. The company became chiefly known for its portmanteau or anthology films, filled with tales of terror that reflected both the fears and moral expectations of post-war British society. Despite the horrors on screen, audiences could rest assured that wrong-doers were always punished and evil rarely triumphed.
Dr Terror’s House of Horrors (1965)
Though the ‘House’ of the title never actually makes an appearance in the film, this was the first anthology from Amicus. A curious character known as Dr Schreck (German for ‘Terror’) boards a train, and with the aid of his tarot cards gives the other passengers in his carriage disturbing revelations about their futures. A remote Scottish island is the scene of the first tale, in which an architect returns to his former family home and has a hair-raising experience with its current owners. The second story is about a fast-growing plant which covers a house harbouring malevolent intentions towards its inhabitants. Thirdly, a recently married doctor suspects that his new wife might be a vampire. In the next one, a trumpet player travels to Haiti where he witnesses a voodoo ceremony and copies the music for his band, incurring the wrath of an angry deity. Finally, a snobbish art critic deliberately runs over and kills an artist who humiliates him, but the dead man’s hand will not rest until it gets even.
Torture Garden (1967)
Fairground proprietor Dr Diablo offers a group of visitors the chance to witness the most frightening exhibit of their lives. In turn they discover what fate holds in store for them. The first tale is about a feckless young man who tries to take advantage of his dying uncle, but a fearsome feline has other plans. Secondly, a shallow ingénue finds, to her horror, that she is the most human of all among her co-stars, followed by a story about a possessed piano’s jealous attempts to keep its owner’s affections at all costs. Lastly, a collector is so desperate to possess a rare piece of Poe memorabilia that he will stop at nothing, even murder.
The House That Dripped Blood (1971)
After an actor disappears from a strange and foreboding house, a detective from Scotland Yard investigates the case and discovers that several other tenants have met similar ends. The first an author who driven mad by a character from his latest novel, but was the homicidal maniac real or merely a figment of his imagination? The next, a man who falls under the spell of a bewitching waxwork figure with the power to lure men to their deaths. After that, came a widower who was overcome by fear that his young daughter might take after her late mother. Last of all was the actor whose disappearance sparked the investigation and who went missing after coming across an unusual cloak that has a blood-curdling effect upon the wearer.
Before he is offered a job at an asylum for the incurably insane, a psychiatrist must interview several inmates to try and determine which one is Dr Starr, the former head of the asylum who is now mad. To begin with, a woman tells him how her lover killed his wife so they could start a new life together, only to find that her romantic rival refused to rest in pieces. He then interviews an elderly tailor who was once required to make a suit with the power of life and death. After that, he speaks to a young woman whose brother’s attempt to shield her from her troublesome imaginary friend, ends in murder. The final interview is with a man who believes the clay dolls he painstakingly constructs can take on a life and will of their own, with deadly consequences.
Tales From The Crypt (1972)
After becoming lost on a tour around some catacombs, several tourists encounter the mysterious Crypt Keeper who tells them all tales of death and destruction. To begin with, a woman who murders her husband on Christmas Eve must fight for her own life as she is pursued by a murderous Santa Claus, hell-bent on satisfying his thirst for blood rather than sherry. The next is about a man who cruelly abandons his wife and children for his mistress only to find that his plans are dead and buried. Following on from that, a harmless eccentric is driven to suicide by his nasty neighbours, but they are soon forced to repent their heartlessness. In the ensuing tale, a widow learns the hard way that she must always be careful what she wishes for. The concluding story tells of how the mistreated residents of a home for the blind exact an insightful revenge upon its callous manager.
The Vault of Horror (1973)
Five strangers become trapped in the vault of an office block; as they wait to be freed each one shares his recurring nightmare with the others. The first kills his sister in order to claim their late father’s fortune, but only too late does he realise that she may be dead already. After relentlessly nagging his new wife about keeping their house neat and tidy, the second narrator finds that his words help her to conceal the perfect crime. Thirdly, a magician and his assistant wife on holiday in India murder a local girl in order to steal her magic, but the final trick is played on them. Next, an unsuccessful horror writer attempts to pull off an insurance scam yet disregards the duplicity of his accomplice and an artist returns from Haiti to use the power of voodoo to destroy those he believes have wronged him.
From Beyond The Grave (1974)
Four customers, who have all purchased items from a strange antiques shop, discover that although its owner can be cheated, fate cannot. The first item, a mirror, is possessed by a malicious force eager to escape. To win the affections of a young woman, a man uses a stolen medal to fabricate his war record, only to end up losing his head over of his lies. A strange snuff box brings a mischievous spirit into a businessman’s home and soon becomes very attached to his wife. Finally, an old door that once belonged to a notorious practitioner of the occult, reveals a different world to a writer, but is it one he can ever leave?
The Monster Club (1980)
Wrongly classified as an Amicus film (it was in fact made by Sword and Sorcery Productions) as the final film of Amicus producer Milton Subotsky, this later horror anthology has become commonly accepted as one. In return for a blood donation to a thirsty vampire, a writer is introduced to a secretive and supernatural club where he is told three terrifying tales. Firstly, a beautiful woman finds employment at an isolated manor house and soon captures the heart of its wealthy and reclusive owner, but her dastardly designs on him soon go up in smoke. Secondly, a shy young boy discovers that his father is a vampire who is being pursued by hunters who refuse to rest until he is caught. The final tale is of a remote Norfolk village populated by utterly ghoulish dwellers. Afterwards, the writer is admitted to the club as the ghastly members reveal that, in their eyes, humans themselves are the greatest monsters.