The Amicus Horror Anthologies
Although less well known than its rival Hammer, Amicus Productions left its own mark on the horror genre during the peak years of the British horror film in the 1960s and 1970s. Amicus's trademark was the anthology or portmanteau film, one comprised of four or five horror tales all linked by a framing story and often concluding with a revelation or a surprise pay-off.
|The first in Amicus's series, "Dr. Terror's House of Horrors"|
Initially the Amicus films used established horror stars, but their casting became more ambitious as they progressed. This was aided by the economics of making this type of film. Each actor would only be working for a relatively brief period and filming would take place in a studio close to London with little or no location filming. This made it possible to pay the actors reasonable rates without significantly interfering with their other work. There was also a contraction in film production in Britain in the early 1970s, following the boom years of the '60s, meaning that there were now more famous actors than there were films for them to star in.
Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965)
|Christopher Lee and friend|
Torture Garden (1967)
|Burgess Meredith as Dr. Diabolo|
Torture Garden was again directed by Freddie Francis and this time written by Psycho author Robert Bloch from his own stories. The linking story is effective, if a little hammy, but this film is let down a bit by some unmemorable stories.
The House That Dripped Blood (1970)
|Jon Pertwee and Ingrid Pitt go house-hunting|
|Awww ... cute. A miniature Herbert Lom|
This one stars Richard Todd as a man who murders his wife (Sylvia Sims) and then finds himself menaced by his victim's dismembered body parts. Peter Cushing approaches Barry Morse's tailor with a request to make a suit from a unique material that must only be sewn after midnight. Charlotte Rampling has a troublesome best friend in Britt Ekland, and Herbert Lom is trying to give life to a miniature robot in his own likeness.
Amicus were starting to recruit some of Britain's former film stars of the 1950s and early '60s now, with Richard Todd and Sylvia Sims here rubbing shoulders with horror stars Cushing and Lom and faces of the '70s Britt Ekland and Charlotte Rampling.
|"He's gonna find out who's naughty or nice ..." - Joan Collins meets Santa|
|Tom Baker co-stars with 1970s curtains and frisky horses|
From Beyond the Grave (1973)
|Peter Cushing as the proprietor of Temptations Ltd - "Offers you cannot resist"|
So those are all seven of the Amicus horror anthologies.
Well you're right, but the one with the tree, Tales That Witness Madness from 1973, was not an Amicus film. Although it was clearly inspired by their series, and designed along the same lines, it was made by a different company, World Film Services.
Tales That Witness Madness recruited regular Amicus director Freddie Francis and starred Donald Pleasence (of From Beyond the Grave), Jack Hawkins, Kim Novak, Michael Jayston and Joan Collins (from Tales from the Crypt). The film was written by "Jay Fairbank", a pseudonym for the actress Jennifer Jayne - who had previously appeared in Dr. Terror's House of Horrors.
Subotsky also produced The Monster Club in 1980, starring Vincent Price as a vampire who tells the horror author R. Chetwynd-Hayes (played by John Carradine) three stories about different monsters. The first features a creature with a whistle that can kill, the second a boy's undead father who is being chased by vampire hunters, and the third a film director who stumbles onto a creepy village while looking for a location for his new film.
In the 1980s, American cinema picked up the anthology format, producing horror films like Creepshow (1982), After Midnight (1989), the western anthology Grim Prairie Tales (1990) (which should win an award for imaginative titling), and Cat's Eye (1985), another feline horror with a co-producer credit for Milton Subotsky.
An affectionate parody of the Amicus films appears in the 2001 TV series Dr. Terrible's House of Horrible, starring Steve Coogan and introduced by him as "Dr. Terrible" in the episode "And Now the Fearing".