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Amicus coffin
January 2004 SITE MAP   SEARCH

The Amicus Collection
casts: [see below]

directors: Freddie Francis, Peter Duffell, Roy Ward Baker, and Paul Annett

455 minutes (15) 1964, 1970, 1973, 1974
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Anchor Bay UK DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Donald Morefield
A very mixed bag of British horrors available for the first time together in a DVD limited edition boxset of 5,000 copies, The Amicus Collection features five of the genre pictures made by producers Milton Subotsky and Max J. Rosenberg to cash-in on the international success of Hammer studios. The production team worked profitably with noted American screenwriter Robert Bloch on The Skull (1965), The Psychopath (1966), and Torture Garden (1968). They also made the cult sci-fi horror Scream And Scream Again (1970), and further undemanding horrors: From Beyond The Grave (aka: Creatures, 1973), Madhouse (1974), and the classic Tales From The Crypt (1972).
   Amicus' first anthology Dr Terror's House Of Horrors (1964) showcases five largely derivative tales, including a comical vampire story featuring Donald Sutherland as a doctor convicted of murder. The episode about a severed hand with homicidal zombie tendencies borrows from The Crawling Hand (1963), using an idea later explored in Oliver Stone's The Hand (1981). Snooty art critic Franklyn Marsh (Christopher Lee) gets his comeuppance from the eye-gouging fingers of a painter (Michael Gough) that he knocked down on the road. The carnivorous killer vine is obviously inspired by Roger Corman's hit cheapie The Little Shop Of Horrors (1960), and cult DJ, Alan 'Fluff' Freeman, is among the leafy man-eating plant's victims. The voodoo curse yarn sees a trumpet player (played as cringingly awful comic relief by Roy Castle) getting poetic justice for stealing musical talent, and there's also a werewolf segment featuring a female creature (Ursula Howells). The witty 'framing' device for this portmanteau movie involves Dr Schreck (Peter Cushing), who's actually Death incarnated, unsubtly reading the misfortunes of five passengers on a train. They are all dead, already, of course. Watch out for supporting roles for Bernard Lee, Max Adrian, Isla Blair and Jennifer Jayne.
   Based on four pulp stories by the aforementioned Bloch, The House That Dripped Blood (1970) comprises supernatural and suspenseful variations on events in the apparently cursed house of the title. Method For Murder finds a struggling author (Denholm Elliott) possessed by a fictional character in his new story. In Waxworks, Peter Cushing becomes obsessed with a sculpture in a wax museum and eventually loses his head when he tries to steal it. Sweets To The Sweet finds Reid (Christopher Lee) concerned for his daughter's future when she (Chloe Franks) appears to be falling under the spell of witchcraft. Nyree Dawn Porter plays the nanny. The Cloak has a costume exerting a malign influence on actress Carla (Ingrid Pitt), who becomes a vampire and attacks horror star Paul (Jon Pertwee). This is by far the most fun episode, but isn't even half as chilling as the voodoo magic in Sweets.
   Arguably the best-loved Amicus omnibus type movie, Asylum (aka: House Of Crazies, 1972) opens when Dr Martin (Robert Powell, also the star of the greatly underrated The Asphyx) arrives at a gothic madhouse, where he's challenged by Dr Rutherford (Patrick Magee) to identify which of the new insane inmates was a doctor. Visiting four loonies in their cells, Martin tries to decide which of them, if any, is telling the truth. Frozen Fear stars Barbara Parkins, Richard Todd and Sylvia Syms, and shows what happens when a dismembered corpse returns to life. The Weird Tailor is about Peter Cushing's discovery of a magic suit. Lucy Comes To Stay features the glamorous double-act of Britt Ekland and Charlotte Rampling as a schizophrenic murderess. The closing story Mannikins Of Horror sees inventor Byron (Herbert Lom) creating tiny robotic killers with human faces - and he uses telepathic powers to direct one of the murderous dolls to attack asylum boss Rutherford.
   And Now The Screaming Starts (aka: Fengriffen, 1973) casts shapely Stephanie Beacham (previously a vampire's bride in Dracula AD 1972), and Ian Ogilvy as newlyweds living in a cursed house. The stars include Peter Cushing, Herbert Lom, and Patrick Magee. The plot involves yet another of those damnably vengeful severed hands that won't stay dead and, indeed, there's quite a lot of screaming going on amidst frequent and effectively atmospheric occult happenings. Ogilvy previously co-starred in The Sorcerers and Witchfinder General (aka: The Conqueror Worm, 1968), and went on to appear in Amicus' own From Beyond The Grave. Later, he became The Saint in a TV revival of the old Roger Moore adventure series. Ms Beacham's career went downhill for a while after Pete Walker's crude slasher movie Schizo (1976), and Inseminoid (aka: Horror Planet, 1981) - in which she played one of the ill-fated astronauts. But she soon found transatlantic fame in 1980s' TV soaps Dynasty and The Colbys, before a winning villainess in children's horror The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (1988), and a standard doctor's role in Spielberg's largely unpopular sci-fi TV series SeaQuest (1993).
   The Beast Must Die (aka: Black Werewolf, 1974) is based on James Blish's story There Shall Be No Darkness, and it combines Agatha Christie mystery with a thriller idea lifted from the classic The Most Dangerous Game (1932). Wealthy and famous sportsman Newcliffe (Calvin Lockhart) invites an oddball collection of houseguests to his mansion, knowing that one of them is a werewolf. As genre fans might well expect, Peter Cushing steals the acting honours here - even from the likes Charles Gray, Anton Diffring, and Michael Gambon.
   The DVD package is contained in a coffin shaped box with discs attached to a foldout lid, and an eight-page illustrated booklet. Disc extras: commentaries by director Freddie Francis, and Allan Bryce (editor of Dark Side magazine) on Dr Terror's, plus a photo gallery, film notes, and text biographies. House That Dripped Blood has a commentary by director Peter Duffel and Jonathan Rigby, plus interviews with Peter Duffel, Ingrid Pitt, and Chloe Franks. There's a good stills gallery, biographies, contemporary reviews, and film notes by Mark Miller. Asylum features a commentary by director Roy Ward Baker and actor Robert Powell. And Now The Screaming Starts has the featurette Inside The Fear Factory, film notes and biographies, and a commentary by Roy Ward Baker with Stephanie Beacham. The Beast Must Die has an interview with Paul Annett, and a director's commentary.

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