Second Sight has given two Amicus portmanteau films new Blu-Ray releases. Asylum and The House That Dripped Blood are considered to be some of the better anthology films in the Amicus catalogue. For those who don’t know, Amicus was a rival of Hammer. Its films were often were mistaken as Hammer productions, but unlike Hammer’s movies they were generally contemporary, set at the time they were made—of course they play like period pieces now! The studios also often shared many of the same stars, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing being probably the ones most recognisable to the casual viewer.
The reason behind the portmanteau format was the massive success of Ealing’s Dead of Night (The Talking Asshole in William S. Burrough’s Naked Lunch was even influenced by Dead of Night.)
These two films are both written by Robert Bloch, who was a pulp writer for many years until in 1960 his fame shot up with the release of some film called Psycho, which was based on his novel. It meant that publishers could release his books, and eventually many films were written and/or adapted from his work, often tagged as with “from the writer of Psycho.” Bloch would soon be in demand as a screenwriter as well, most notably for William Castle (Strait-Jacket and The Night-Walker). He penned a slew of films for Amicus, with The Skull being the first and probably the best. He also wrote The Psychopath for them: I wonder why they wanted Bloch to write a film like that?
Asylum and The House That Dripped Blood are very similar in style and tone. They both have excellent wrap-around stories, which are frankly better than the actual stories. The House That Dripped Blood is about a house where each story takes place and concerns the protagonist’s relationship to the house. The house has been recently the scene of a disappearance, and a police officer is investigating its history. Asylum is set in a mental asylum, where a possible doctor arrives to be interviewed for the post of chief doctor. In an unorthodox matter, he must interview various patients to figure out which one is Dr B. Starr, who has gone insane. The rest of the film is the various interview subjects’ stories, and of course there’s a good twist at the end.
Basically, at this point if you know and like these kinds of films, you are the target audience. And if you want nice restored editions with various special features, including interviews and commentaries, that come in a rigid slipcase with lengthy booklets and posters, you are in for a treat. Given the nature of the storytelling format of the films, the stories are very hit and miss, but they are fun, creepy stories nonetheless. The films also sometimes fall into the realm of camp, with a host of cult stars from Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Patrick Magee, Ingrid Pitt, Britt Ekland, Barbara Parkins and even in Asylum a pre-The Night Porter Charlotte Rampling.