The Films: 4 stars
Amicus productions were founded by New Yorker Milton Subotsky in Britain in the early 1960s, initially releasing a range of oddities – the musical comedy It’s Trad, Dad!, two Doctor Who feature films, Pinter’s The Birthday Party – before striking on the horror anthology format. The House that Dripped Blood was the first of these, featuring four adaptations of Robert “author of the Psycho novel” Bloch short stories, loosely – sometimes illogically – connected by the device of having all four revolve around the same house, under police investigation in the framing narrative. This was a format that worked and Amicus, always cheerily business-minded, quickly sought to recreate it over and over, including in the also-Bloch-based Asylum.
Of the two, Asylum is the better film: its look is grander; its premise – in which a young psychiatrist, as a job interview, must determine which of four crazies is the former head of the asylum – more intriguing; its tone more consistent. The House that Dripped Blood, on the other hand, has more memorable segments. The best of them, “The Cloak”, features a marvellously hammy Jon Pertwee as a has-been horror actor and hipster Satanist, in a rôle written with Vincent Price in mind. Aficionados of this type of thing will pick up an echo of Price’s famous exchange with Michael Reeves on the set of Witchfinder General; for non-aficionados there’s plenty else to enjoy here. “The Cloak”, curiously, rounds out The House that Dripped Blood on a tongue-in-cheek note, after three tales of more serious horror, including Christopher Lee as a stern, Victorian-values patriarch to a girl he’s convinced is evil, and Peter Cushing haunted by a down-at-heel wax museum.
Asylum’s segments are more consistent, though with fewer standouts, and share with each other a downbeat tone that perfectly complements the film’s bleak ending. It also features more consistent acting, with the best performance coming from Charlotte Rampling, as a frustrated convalescent goaded into mischief by confident Britt Ekland. Incidentally, Peter Cushing, the only actor to appear in both films, gives a gleefully wicked performance in Asylum, to contrast his more sombre and nuanced turn in House. Sadly, Asylum’s last segment, “Mannikins of Horror”, is let down not only by idiosyncratic spelling, but dated effects too, rendering something no doubt unsettling on the page rather silly on film. Still, it clips by and segues nicely into the framing story’s final act.
Audio and Visuals: 5 stars
Second Sight are my second-favourite archival releases imprint, after Arrow. Their work here continues to fulfil their own high standards. I was even able to read a small, handwritten sign in the background of one scene! Incidentally, Asylum is also the better photographed of the two pictures, and director Roy Ward Baker’s camera movements are frequently nothing short of brilliant.
Presentation: 4 stars
Asylum’s menu blasts the viewer straight off with the pic’s opening and closing theme, “The Night on Bald Mountain”, setting the atmosphere perfectly before the picture even begins. Both pictures use an old-fashioned still over the menu, rather than a spoiler-y compilation of clips from the film; it’s nice to know some companies still do that. The box art is reversible in the Arrow style; the original artwork, or lurid newly-commissioned designs.
Extras: 5 stars
Asylum offers a very pleasant audio commentary, with director Roy Ward Baker and camera operator Neil Binney looking back very fondly on their cheerily twisted little flick. Baker’s more talkative than Binney is, and demonstrates a wholesome respect for his craft. Perhaps even more quaintly enjoyable is a 1972 BBC featurette on Amicus, “Two’s a Company”, in which the best segments feature Subotsky interviewed in his office, while “Inside the Fear Factory” is another, more contemporary featurette. Also included are two tributes: David J. Schow, writer of various Texas Chainsaw, Critters and Crow movies, remembers his friend Robert Bloch, and Fiona Subotsky pays tribute to her late husband. The House that Dripped Blood offers an even better set of extras: two commentaries – one with film historian Jonathan Rigby talking to director Peter Duffell, the other with film historian Troy Howarth offering a detailed running commentary (listen out for his comments on Lee’s reading material, and Ingrid Pitt’s pearls) – along with another vintage featurette, “A-Rated Horror Film”, and an interview with second assistant director Mike Higgins. The House that Dripped Blood also boasts various international trailers, radio spots for near-every Amicus picture, and a series of stills, while Asylum has a single trailer.
Overall: 4 stars
Asylum and The House That Dripped Blood arrive on Standard Edition Blu-ray on 6 January 2020