Release Date(s)1965 (October 27, 2015)
Studio(s)Amicus Productions/Paramount Pictures (Olive Films)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B-
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: F+
Released in 1965 through Paramount Pictures in the U.S., Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors was the first horror anthology film from Amicus Productions, a company that would go on to make many other films like it including The House That Dripped Blood, Tales From the Crypt, and Vault of Horror. The film began its life as a potential TV show in the U.K., being directly influenced by another horror anthology film Dead of Night from 1945.
The plot is simple enough: five strangers are taking a train when a sixth passenger boards, introducing himself as Dr. Schreck. He reveals himself to be a tarot card reader, shuffling his deck of “House of Horrors” as he refers to it, reading each of his fellow passengers their ghastly futures. Of all of the stories featured, the final two are probably the most effective, at least in my opinion.
The film was shot on a modest budget with Freddie Francis in the director’s chair. Besides being the cinematographer on films like The Innocents, The Elephant Man, and Glory, Francis also directed several Hammer and Amicus productions to much success. The film also features several notable actors including Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Donald Sutherland, Alan Freeman, Michael Gough, and Roy Castle. Cushing is, unsurprisingly, the most convincing in his role while the other actors ham things up appropriately.
While it tends to draw a little less attention today than other horror portmanteaus previously mentioned, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors holds its own with its five separate tales and a twist ending that even Stevie Wonder could see coming. It’s not one of the most inventive films of its era, but it did manage to get the ball rolling for the many that would follow it.
Olive Films’ Blu-ray release of Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors is a little problematical, but let’s start with the transfer first. It features a very strong grain field that resolves a bit once underway, although it does tend to ratchet up during key moments. There is plenty of detail on display with some nice textures, including in both close-ups and on fine objects. Some of the transitions between stories are much smoother in terms of texture, grain, and softness. Color reproduction is good with some decent skin tones, although they do tend to slant a little more toward orange at times. Black levels aren’t entirely deep all the time, due to the aforementioned grain, but shadow details are decent. The overall transfer also appears a bit too dark and could’ve used contrast and brightness boosts to improve it. There are no signs of digital tinkering to be found, but there are some extremely slight scratches and some very mild speckling. The frame is also slightly unstable, being less noticeable during higher motion-oriented scenes. The only real visual anomaly that sticks out is during the Voodoo segment, when it appears slightly out of register. It’s easily the most problematical section of the entire film.
For the soundtrack, you get an English 2.0 DTS-HD track as the only option. Given that it’s basically a boosted mono presentation, it’s very center speaker-centric. Dialogue is clean and clear at all times, but the overall quality of the track is a little flat. There’s some occasional depth, particularly during score or musical sequences, but never with any real spatial activity. Overall, this is a little bit of a problematical transfer, as I said previously. However, it’s currently the only Blu-ray version of the movie available in the U.S. The good news is that the transfer isn’t one riddled with of pointless improvement, say with excessive DNR or artificial sharpening. It’s an honest presentation, overall. Unfortunately, there are no subtitle options to choose from either.
Also missing is a lack of extras, not even a theatrical trailer. Odeon Entertainment out of the U.K. is currently about to release the film with a nice bevy of extras, but also with a questionable transfer. I can’t confirm that for myself so I won’t get into it, but the lack of extras on this release is a bit of a disappointment.
Now I’ve probably mentioned this once or twice before I’m sure, but I’ve always been a fan of horror anthologies. They always offer some variety and you really feel like you’re getting your money’s worth. Some of the stories are weaker and/or stronger than others, but you’re given a much greater range than simply sticking to a single narrative, and Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors certainly has that going for it. Olive Films’ release of it will be a really tough sell for some fans and enthusiasts of the format, and I understand that, but if you don’t already have a copy of the movie and you have the extra cash, this is a decent upgrade. However, fans of imports might want to pick up the other release instead, especially for the extras.
- Tim Salmons