PrintE-mail Written by Martin Unsworth Wednesday, 21 November 2012

DVD / Blu-ray Reviews

DVD Review: Amicus House of Horrors / Cert: TBC / Director: Derek Pykett / Starring: Geoffrey Bayldon, Derek Pykett, Angela Pleasence, Peter Cushing / Release Date: Out Now

Subtitled A History of England's Groundbreaking Studio of Terror, this two part documentary, clocking in at just over three hours, is a long overdue look at the talent behind such classic British horror films as Tales From The Crypt and Asylum.

Formed by two Americans, Milton Subotsky (who often wrote the screenplays) and Max J. Rosenberg (the money man), the company started life in 1962 as Vulcan Films with the atmospheric City of the Dead, and continued as Amicus up until the late '70s. But it was their portmanteau films for which they are most fondly remembered, with their star names and deliciously macabre stories lifted from the American horror comics, or from the pens of Robert Bloch and R.Chetwynd-Hayes.

This wonderfully researched documentary covers each film chronologically and Pykett has managed to dig up (so to speak) some of the people who made the films. These are mostly lesser players in the Amicus story, as most of the big names are now no longer with us, although director Freddie Francis is seen interviewed by Pykett in archive footage. Amongst the luminaries happy to share their anecdotes are Stephen Weeks (director, I, Monster), Kevin Connor (director, From Beyond The Grave, At The Earth's Core, The Land That Time Forgot), and actors such as Geoffrey Bayldon (Asylum) and Barbara Ewing (Torture Garden). Former UKTV stalwart Kenny Lynch waxes lyrical about his part in Dr Terror's House of Horrors, and it's an absolute joy to see Angela Pleasence, Donald's daughter, talk about playing opposite her father in From Beyond The Grave, despite her admission that she has never seen it because she's too afraid of horror films! While these may not be top-drawer names for the casual fan, it's good to hear the lesser-known person's take on the industry.

We also hear from people who worked in art design and make-up and even clapper loaders; their unguarded insight into the running of the studio, and the egos of the 'stars', is completely entertaining. The informal format of the interviews, and the limitations of the camera equipment at Pykett's disposal sometimes means the background noise is a little off-putting (Bayldon is almost drowned out by passing aeroplanes and Ewing sounds like she was taking a break from working in a tea shop), but he must be commended for seeking these people out and letting them tell their stories.

The only footage from the films comes from public domain trailers, and as such is limited and of lesser quality, but by no means a negative part. Pykett's rather dry narration is a little flaccid (perhaps one of the actors interviewed could have been coerced into doing it), but that's a minor niggle in an otherwise great presentation. A worthy addition to any horror fan's collection, it's only available in the US for the moment, but can be imported from Oldies.com, where it is less than $10 at time of writing (and shipping isn't ridiculous either).

Extras: Both discs contain some incredibly rare and frankly brilliant footage of Peter Cushing. On disc one is almost an hour of an interview filmed in 1983, and disc two features an episode of a religious programme, The Human Factor from 1990 in which Cushing speaks candidly about his dear wife Helen, whom he never got over losing in the early '70s.

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