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Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (German Blu-Ray Review)

81ROP8J7HFL._SL1500_Britain’s Amicus Film Productions may not have invented the omnibus film format, but they did more to popularize it during the 1960’s, than any other company producing Gothic horror films. Their first effort in the genre, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), while not their best—that honor goes to their superb Asylum (1972), in my opinion—is nonetheless a thoroughly atmospheric and entertaining Gothic horror, that ushered Amicus into direct competition with Hammer Films during the 1960s and early 70s. Pinewood Studios recently restored the film for home video, and this provides the foundation for this new BD release from German company, Wicked-Vision Media.

The Film

Screenwriter/Producer Milton Subotsky would never let a good story go to waste. He had written a number of short horror stories in the late 1940’s, but never used them. Eventually, he revised some of them, added some more, and assembled them into Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors; an omnibus film composed of 5 short horror stories, all tied together by a sixth. The format follows—and was indeed inspired by—Michael Balcon’s Dead of Night (1945), one of the greatest of all British films.

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Dr. Terror (Peter Cushing), a mysterious fortuneteller, tells the fortunes of 5 fellow passengers aboard a train; each fortune resulting in the telling of a fantastic story which will happen to each of them in the near future. All this leads to a twist ending, very much in the Dead of Night tradition. Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, (as one of the passengers—a pompous art critic), play superbly off each other. As Jonathan Rigby points out in, the excellent documentary accompanying the film, their characters are a bit of a riff on the two men’s public personas—Cushing, the gentle man of horror, and Lee; an aloof, slightly pompous knowitall. And it is Lee’s segment that proves the most memorable, and is indeed the most famous segment of the film. In it, he plays an art critic, haunted by the severed hand of an artist whom he had murdered. It’s a simple tale of guilt and revenge, but Lee’s charisma elevates it to a rather higher level than the others.

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The rest of the stories are a mixed bag, with none of them ever falling beneath a certain level of entertainment value. Perhaps the most effective of these is the first story, dealing with a werewolf and an ancient family curse—a well crafted little Gothic tale.

As director, Freddie Francis is not quite as superb as he is in his role as a cinematographer on such classic films as Jack Clayton’s The Innocents (1961), but he manages the actors and the story structure well, if with his customary mechanical proficiency. If Terence Fisher could be considered an “emotional director,” then Francis is perhaps his opposite, focussing more on visual cleverness, rather than finding the emotional center of a scene.

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Video

Pinewood Studios’ new 4k restoration of Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, from the original 35mm negative looks quite sumptuous. The image is just a bit soft, at times, and grain is a bit inconsistent, but it is well resolved, and all these limitations seem to stem from the low budget of the production itself, rather than from anything done during the digital restoration. Colors veer toward the yellow side of the spectrum, which I do not remember being the case when I saw this in a theater, projected in 35mm some years ago. There are no signs of degraining or edge enhancement to be seen, and overall, the film looks better than it ever looked before on home video.

Audio

There are two German mono tracks (one television and one theatrical), and one English mono track. The original English track sounds like very good mono from the period. Dialog is clear and Elisabeth Lutyens’s atmospheric and often austere soundtrack is given plenty of body and room to breathe. The disk defaults to the German theatrical track, but it’s very easy to switch to the English one.

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Extras

Wicked-Vision Media provides a wealth of extra features.

Audio Commentary with Director Freddie Francis and Jonathan Sothcott (in English, with optional German subtitles) – This was obviously recorded for an older DVD release of the film, but it is none the poorer for that. Francis is in good humor and his memory tends to be remarkably good as he takes us back through the production, while Sothcott provides a scholarly backdrop for the conversation.

Second Audio Commentary with Uwe Sommerlad, Dr. Rolf Giesen (in German). I can’t comment on this, but it sounds as lively as ever from these folks.

Original German Theatrical Version (1:37:26 – HD) – This is an interesting, but completely unrestored HD version of the original theatrical German print, with one German audio track and no subtitles.

House of Cards (57:45 – HD, in English, with optional German subtitles) – An almost hour-long documentary, produced by Marc Morris, and directed by Jake West, ported over from the recent Odeon Entertainment BD release in Britain. A very thorough and well-done film, featuring rare production stills, film clips, and interviews with film experts and historians: Reece Shearsmith, Jonathan Rigby, Jo Botting, and Kevin Lyons. Well worth viewing.

Introduction by Dr. Rolf Giesen (5:29 – HD, in German with optional English subtitles) – Cleverly staged introduction, with Dr. Giesen sitting in an antique-looking train car, wearing a black hat, and giving us a primer on the careers of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Dedicated Hammer fans will already know much of this, but it is enjoyable to sit through, and there is new information to be had here.

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Original post-production script (HD, in video form).

Original theatrical lobby card gallery.

Press photo gallery.

US Press photo gallery.

German press book.

German press advertising.

US Press book.

US Newspaper advertising.

A Gallery of various VHS and DVD covers.

An Amicus filmography, complete with movie posters.

There is also a large collection of original international trailers, all in HD.

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Bottom Line

This BD release of Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors was obviously put out by a company that cares about these films and their fans. The restoration is superlative, and the wealth of extra features goes beyond any other current release of the film on BD. Even though this film has already been released on BD in the USA and the UK, I would recommend this release from Wicked-Vision Media as a first choice.

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About Dima Ballin

Dima is the founder and publisher of Diabolique Magazine and the co-founder of the Boston Underground Film Festival. He is currently working on several screenplays and trying to attain enlightenment through Buddhism.

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