The House That Dripped Blood October 11, 2021
Nyree Dawn Porter
1 Hr., 42 Mins.
o red is actually spilled in the misleadingly named The House That Dripped Blood; this sometimes very fun, mostly too tidy, but generally effective 1971 horror-anthology movie doesn’t dish out gore but a ghoulishly macabre atmosphere, just like all the other horror-omnibus movies its distributor, Amicus Productions, is best known for today.
The apogee of the company’s few-years-long anthology-film fixation
(1972's Asylum, 1973's Vault of Horror) remains Tales from the Crypt, released a year after The House That Dripped Blood and an archetype for the standard in-house omnibus-film structure. In Tales from the Crypt, the requisite frame story saw a mysterious man known only as the Cryptkeeper telling a group of travelers he has cornered in a maze of catacombs they’re touring how they’re going to die. The individual circumstances were dramatized in short vignettes that made up most of the movie’s runtime. The film’s conclusion was equally abrupt and fucked-up; its audaciousness made you both shiver and laugh.
The House That Dripped Blood doesn’t have quite as contrived a frame story as Tales from the Crypt: its succession of short narratives basically forms a list of all the ways the last few owners of an old and pretty home on the English countryside have died. The house — the one the title says drips blood but technically does not — is currently owned by the horror-movie star Paul Henderson, who is played by Jon Pertwee and whose recent disappearance has spurned the Scotland Yard investigation that jumpstarts the frame story.
The eponymous home has a (thankfully) unexplained supernatural ability to kill its latest owner — generally introduced in The House That Dripped Blood as a not-super-pleasant person so that we don’t feel too bad when they’re offed — in a way that either perfectly complements their biggest fear or throws their horrible treatment of someone else right back at them. It’s only natural that the enigmatic real-estate agent selling this apparently jinxed property to people is named Stoker (John Bryans); if the latter’s literary counterpart fosters terror with his pen, then the film’s Stoker generates it with a knowingly shady sale. In the course of the movie, we see a hacky pulp-horror writer (Denholm Elliott) tormented by the grinning strangler villain of his latest novel, who has somehow become real; an austere father (Christopher Lee) distressed by the daughter — whom he thinks may have inherited the witchy powers of her late mother — he has sealed off from the world; a mean-spirited diva actor turned into a literal monster by a cursed cloak bought at a costume shop; and more.
None of these segments are quite as fun as they could be. (Though the final actor-related story, which features a campily wicked Ingrid Pitt dressed as a vampy smurfette, has nice meta touches and a sense of humor the movie could use more of.) But unlike most anthology films, there are at least no vignettes that feel best left on the cutting-room floor. They’re consistently amusing. At its best, The House That Dripped Blood speaks to why anthologies are among the preferred formats for both cinematic and literary horror: horror is a genre that more than most others tends to benefit from being as pithy and potent as possible. Even if The House That Dripped Blood isn’t particularly scary in real time, the places its stories go manage to still linger in our memory a bit — an effect all good horror should have. B