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At The Earth’s Core (1976) Review

At The Earth’s Core sees seventies sci-fi hit rock bottom and start digging!

The dictionary defines “Amicus Brief” as document filed by someone who is not a party to a case but has a strong interest in the subject matter. “Amicus” is Latin for “friend,” and an Amicus Brief, is often referred to as a “friend of the court” brief. For AT THE EARTH’S CORE, my Amicus Brief was to review this classic slice of 1970s sci-fi hokum from Amicus productions for friends of the Craggus Realweegiemidget Reviews and Cinematic Catharsis’ Fourth Hammer-Amicus Blogathon.

When the maiden voyage of an experimental drilling machine goes awry, David Innes (Doug McClure) and Doctor Abner Perry (Peter Cushing) find themselves hurtling downward towards the core of the Earth only to find themselves crash landing in a strange and alien environment populated by primitive tribes and fearsome creatures.

The last time I reviewed an Amicus production for a blogathon I took a look at their two DOCTOR WHO adaptations, DOCTOR WHO AND THE DALEKS and THE DALEK INVASION OF EARTH 2150AD, so it’s somewhat appropriate I’ve picked this title to review because there’s more than a whiff of the Whovian in its set-up and execution, no doubt purely coincidental despite AT THE EARTH’S CORE being loosely adapted (it’s too studio bound to realise the vast landscapes of Pellucidar) from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic novel of Edwardian adventure by the same screenwriter/ producer, Milton Subotsky. We have Peter Cushing as a slightly befuddled, eccentric scientist whose advanced machine careers out of control and brings our heroes to an exotic and dangerous new world, with Doug McClure’s David Innes very much in the same mould as Bernard Cribbens or Roy Castle interchangeable sidekicks from the Dalek movies there to take on the more physical aspects of derring-do and generally provide a family friendly serving of flavourless beefcake as the pair set out to right the injustices of the society – ruled over by the tyrannical pterodactylic Mahars, a race of psychokinetic and telepathic reptilian humanoids. There’s even something “for the Dads” in the shapely – yet woefully underused – form of Caroline Munro.

Of course, there’s a particular flavour to British adventure fiction in which the thoroughly modern DOCTOR WHO can trace clear ancestry. The works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Rice Burroughs and H G Wells (whose THE TIME MACHINE is an obvious touchstone for AT THE EARTH’S CORE with its tale of elites versus primatives) all have a legacy which DOCTOR WHO embraced and built out from, as could be argued James Bond did too. The firm certainly doesn’t shy away from that innate sense of British Imperial sanctimony that underpinned the source material either, with the line “You can’t mesmerise me, I’m British!” a particular highlight.

While the performances certainly don’t see anybody hitting career highs, Cushing is as dependable as ever even if the script doesn’t really demand anything of him. McClure, on the other hand, is so determinedly earnest in his performance – perhaps conscious of acting opposite silver screen royalty like Peter Cushing – that he pushes his square-jawed heroism into an arena of camp that’s far, far beyond Cushing’s gently sardonic tongue-in-cheek turn. That being said, McClure’s performance never once wavers in its commitment to the reality of the world he’s in. While some performances wink at the audience at the ridiculousness of it all, McClure absolutely exists in the world we see on screen in lurid technicolor, rubber monsters and all.

Speaking of rubber monsters, it’s here – and in the production values generally – that AT THE EARTH’S CORE absolutely triumphs. Oh, it doesn’t quite come close to capturing the essence of Edgar Rice Burrough’s imagination but it delivers model work, sets and monsters that the BBC of the time could only have dreamt of for the DOCTOR. It’s technically adventurous and diverse filmmaking, combining sumptuous sets, great creature design and some almost Gerry Anderson-style miniature work to terrific effect on a modest budget.

Cheesy and charming in almost equal measure, Milton Subotsky’s AT THE EARTH’S CORE may jettison much of the source novel’s speculative science fiction (there’s no explanation of how or why Pellucidar exists) and simplifies its sociological subtext in favour of crowd-pleasing popcorn pulp action adventure but there’s enough here to pass a rainy Sunday afternoon perfectly pleasantly. It’s too good to be a guilty pleasure but not quite good enough to be a bona fide classic, instead landing at that sweet spot that earns its nostalgia-fuelled cult status.

Amicus Doctor Who Review

Canon to the left of us, non-canon to the right, here we are stuck in the middle with…Who? Looking back at Peter Cushing’s Amicus Doctor Who for the 2nd Great Hammer-Amicus Blogathon

If you thought Sony’s plan to create a viable cinematic franchise based around a popular recurring villain from another franchise with “Venom” was a bold new idea, then I’m here to exterminate your misconceptions with the news that Amicus tried it decades before. In the early sixties, Amicus’ founders American-born Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg saw an opportunity to steal a march on their Hammer Films rivals and break into the increasingly popular sci-fi market by cashing in on the enormous popularity of the BBC’s “Doctor Who” or rather, the Doctor’s instantly iconic adversaries – The Daleks! For the princely sum of £500, Amicus secured the rights to remake ‘The Daleks’ for the big screen, with an option for two further sequels.

Doctor Who & The Daleks

It’s all a far cry from today’s coveted IP situation where director David Yates’ public statement of intent to make a “Doctor Who” movie with separate continuity to the television series was crushed with such brutal finality by then showrunner Steven Moffat that Yates immediately abandoned his plans for a feature film franchise based on an eccentric Englishman who travels around with a box that’s bigger on the inside and fights monsters and made “Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them” instead.

But back in the swinging sixties, the BBC was still largely ignorant of the importance or longevity of “Doctor Who” (as their woeful retention policy attests to) and so the door was open to Amicus to bring the Doctor to a whole new audience. Basing their initial outing on the Daleks’ small screen debut, Subotsky and Rosenberg began their master plan to break the franchise into the American market. Had they been successful, the entire history of “Doctor Who” could have been very different. Alas, a fundamental lack of understanding of the series’ unique quirkiness would lead them to focus on the wrong aspects and so the film, while successful in the UK would fail to gain traction in the US, despite the transatlantic appeal of headline star Peter Cushing.

“Doctor Who And The Daleks” starts brightly enough. After the gaudily psychedelic but forgettable opening titles, we’re introduced to the man himself. While his granddaughters conspicuously read advanced physics texts, the Doctor amuses himself by reading “The Eagle” comic book. Deciding that the Doctor simply came with too much expository baggage for a new audience, Amicus jettisoned much of the character’s origin. The Doctor was merely an eccentric human scientist, not an alien, and his ‘companions’ consisted of his granddaughters Susan (Roberta Tovey), Barbara (Jennie Linden) and Barbara’s boyfriend Ian (Roy Castle). The TARDIS retains its time and space capabilities and, inexplicably given the lack of alien origin, its bigger-on-the-inside Police Box appearance but it’s simply something the Who family have invented.

Apart from these differences, the rest of the movie follows the television serial’s plot fairly closely but despite the technicolour trappings of the big screen, it always feels a very small production. It’s conspicuously studio-bound and while the sets are large, they’re sparse and basic. The interior design of the TARDIS itself is atrocious, a far cry from the wildly imaginative sets the TV series managed and the humanoid cast deliver somewhat flat performances, unlike their bouffant hairstyles.

It’s much more successful with the Daleks, who burst onto the big screen in all the colours of the rainbow and lose little of their menace as they plot to exterminate their mortal enemies, The Thals. Performance-wise, the script gives Cushing very little to work with, and the story keeps him largely side-lined given he’s just a human who has no more knowledge of the situation than his companions instead of the wise and knowledgeable Time Lord he should be. Roberta Tovey makes for a likeable Susan but Jennie Linden is wasted by the bland Barbara and Roy Castle simply irritates with his guileless and unconvincing slapstick.


Successful in the UK where it could leverage the existing fanbase of the TV series, it failed to make much of an impact Stateside – no doubt to the disappointment of Dalek creator Terry Nation who had always nursed the suspicion that his villainous creations were more popular than the series’ title character. Nevertheless, the box office receipts were enough to justify a sequel and Subotsky and Rosenberg pressed on with an adaptation of another Terry Nation story:

Daleks – Invasion Earth 2150 AD

Peter Cushing and Roberta Tovey both returned to reprise their roles in “Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.”, this time joined by Doctor Who’s niece Louise (Jill Curzon) and unfortunate policeman Tom (Bernard Cribbins). No mention is made of the Doctor’s other granddaughter so we are left to assume that Barbara married Roy Castle’s Ian and settled for a life of tiresome slapstick, tap-dancing and trumpetry.

Many of the production shortcomings which plagued the first movie are addressed here. The TARDIS – while still not a patch on its small-screen counterpart – is much improved and the introduction of location filming brings the whole film a more substantial and authentic feel. Of course, it helps enormously that, quite simply, “The Dalek Invasion Of Earth” is a much better story than “The Daleks”. Where the abstract conflict between the Daleks and the face-beaten Thals feels distant and unengaging, “The Dalek Invasion Of Earth” brings the Daleks right back down to Earth where their allegorical origins play perfectly into the still-fresh World War II fears of Nazi invasion.

Although famous for one of the series’ most poignant goodbyes as Susan left the TARDIS, the movie can’t quite make the same emotional leap at the end but for the most part it sticks quite closely to the main beats of the Doctor and his friends becoming involved with a resistance movement and eventually defeating the Daleks by inverting the Earth’s magnetic field.

While the production values are much improved by moving the action out of the studio, the story calls for a similar leap forward in the special effects and unfortunately here, Amicus’ reach exceeded their grasp. Then again, the results aren’t too terrible – especially for fans of the TV series who have tolerated far worse while still enjoying their favourite Saturday tea time treat. Not even the budget-boosting deal with Quaker’s Sugar Puffs was enough to fund the special effects although it’s good to know that even in the depths of alien occupation, we’ll still be able to tell ‘em about the honey, mummy.

Although now consigned to a truncated service track of continuity, there’s still much in Amicus’ two “Doctor Who” films that influenced – and continued to influence – its progenitor series to this day. It’s the first appearance of the Dalek time unit ‘Rels’ which would go on to be assimilated into the TV lexicon and the divisive introduction of the colour-coded New Paradigm Daleks in 2010’s “Victory Of The Daleks” owes everything to these two movies. In fact, the Amicus movies loomed large over the revived series, with the TARDIS interior doors looking like, well, the inside of Police Box doors.

Both films have a warm nostalgic quality to them – they positively reek of Saturday afternoon TV – and while they both have many flaws, they still retain a loveable and charming innocence, thanks to the commercially-mandated U certification. It’s a shame they couldn’t make more of what they had to work with – Cushing often seems lost in an underwritten role and a terrible wig which serve to age him to a ridiculous degree and rob his portrayal of the Doctor of any sparkle, something which was exacerbated by him being ill during much of the making of “Daleks’ Invasion Of Earth 2150 A.D.” and in jettisoning much of the Doctor’s backstory they lose a lot of the ‘magic’ of the character too.

They’ll always remain fascinating footnotes in Whovian lore and we can only speculate on what a third Amicus film would have been, as Milton Subotsky held the rights to make one more Doctor Who movie right up until his death in 1991.

The Legend Of The 7 Golden Vampires (1974) Dractober Review

Devoid of their Dracula, Hammer House Of Horror cast around for something else to stake their vampire franchise to. I’m guessing screenwriter Don Houghton must have been listening to the radio in his office One can only imagine that the radio was playing in writer Don Houghton’s Bray Studios office as he contemplated a blank sheet of paper and a ninth Dracula movie. Maybe Carl Douglas deserves a partial story credit?

While lecturing in China, Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) agrees to help seven kung fu trained siblings to reclaim their ancestral mountain village, now the rule of seven vampires who are protected by an army of undead slaves. Unbeknownst to Van Helsing, the leader of the seven golden vampires is none other than his arch-nemesis Count Dracula.

Opening in Transylvania 1804, we encounter a Chinese pilgrim making his way towards a familiar locale. It turns out he’s there to raise Dracula, this time played by John Forbes-Robertson (dubbed by David de Keyser). In a progressive blow for equality, Dracula reverse-whitewashes himself and adopts the persona of this pilgrim, vowing to travel to China and get the auric evildoing band back together.

Cushing’s initial appearance, as Van Helsing lecturing at a Chinese University, allows him to dump a whole lot of exposition on the audience as he recounts the legend of the seven golden vampires but it also contributes to the feeling that rather than being written as a cohesive whole, this is a movie which was built around an existing  Hong Kong Shaw Brothers production, in much the same way as Japanese cartoons like “Science Ninja Team Gatchaman” became “Battle Of The Planets” with some judicious edits and new footage.

There’s a certain dusty charm to the whole affair as the siblings recruit Van Helsing, his son Leyland Van Helsing (Robin Stewart) and independent adventuress Vanessa Buren (Julie Edge) to accompany them on a trek through the decidedly uncinematic Chinese landscape to seek this cursed village. Along the way, the group comes under attack several times and while the Caucasian cast members largely take a back-seat during all the chop-socky action, Leyland Van Helsing develops a patented double punch technique that ranks alongside James T Kirk’s more famous fighting manoeuvres.

While everyone is kung-fu fighting, very few if any of them are as fast as lightning. The action is fairly pedestrian and deeply repetitive, more acrobatic than combative. There are still some fun moments, such as when one of the seven ‘boss’ level vampires is taken out by a punch through the dusty heart – although thanks to the cheap and cheerful effects, the would-be bloodsucker ends up looking like Statler from “The Muppets” – but there’s just not enough of the sharp-witted fight choreography of the genre’s better exponents to make up for all the tame spins and leaps.

Mixing vampire mythology in with kung fu artistry can make for a great movie (see “Blade”) but “The Legend Of The 7 Golden Vampires” isn’t it. To facilitate much of the action, the vampires and their undead army fight and kill with swords not teeth and seem oddly content to let the blood go to waste. Houghton’s script never really manages to bridge the gap between Eastern and Western vampire mythology nor find anything interesting to do with either. As a kung fu movie, it’s just about passable. As a Dracula movie, it’s B- at best. When Peter Cushing finally stakes Dracula in the final boss battle, it really was the end for Hammer’s Dracula. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

5/10 

The Satanic Rites Of Dracula (1973) Dractober Review

We start out where “Dracula A.D. 1972” ended: with terrible music. This time, though, it actually sort of fits because “The Satanic Rites Of Dracula” actually is a cheesy seventies spy thriller of sorts.

When a secret agent barely escapes from a secretive country house where he witnesses a satanic ritual in progress, he uses his dying breath to implicate important scientists and senior members of the establishment, including the Minister in charge of the intelligence division to which he belongs. Realising the risk of being shut down by the very people they’re investigating, they turn the case over to Detective Murray (Michael Coles) who quickly reaches out for the assistance of his old friend Lorrimer Van Helsing (Peter Cushing).

Although many of the main cast continue in their roles from the previous instalment, Joanna Lumley takes over from Stephanie Beacham as Van Helsing’s Granddaughter Jessica. She’s less of a damsel in distress than Beacham was but still makes for a purdy good scream queen in her own right. In fact, there’s such a “New Avengers” feel about the whole movie you keep expecting Gareth Hunt to turn up, even if just to offer some Nescafe.

With Van Helsing as a chain-smoking Steed, Jessica as Purdy and Detective Murray providing the muscle in the Mike Gambit role, this film effectively sets the template the “Avengers” TV reboot would build upon some three years later. It’s a suitably Avengers-eque plot too, as this time Count Dracula – posing as reclusive and notoriously camera-shy Howard Hughes-style property developer D D Denham (D D standing for Disco Dracula, probably) – has gathered the great and not-at-all-good to his will as his four horsemen to create and unleash a plague to destroy the world. Having controlled his empire from the office block which was unknowingly built on the site of the church where Dracula was defeated last time, the Count has plotted out an end for the world: a Dracopocalyse, if you will, even if it does somewhat seem like he’s cutting off his blood supply to spite his fangs. What a silly Count.

The movie also adds a new addition to the Count’s kryptonite catalogue: the hawthorn tree, imbued with anti-vampirical properties thanks to being used to fashion Christ a crown of thorns. It’s funny how many of the things which caused pain and suffering to Jesus also cause pain and suffering to Vampires. Kind of makes you wonder, doesn’t it? I bet it wasn’t garlic bread at the last supper. There’s also a redemption for silver bullets as effective anti-Vampire ordinance as Van Helsing, in between ciggie breaks, tools up by melting down silver crucifixes into ammunition.

Anyway, this ludicrous plot is embellished by all the usual trimmings: Dracula decides to take a consort picking, obviously, Van Helsing’s granddaughter again, there’s a basement full of buxom vampire babes ready to nibble on the unwary trespasser and Dracula – in one of his least bitey appearances – contents himself with mesmeric manipulation. Add to this a country mansion lair and an army of sheepskin gilet-ed goons and what you’ve got is a tepid spy caper with weak action scenes, some gratuitous nudity and not quite enough blood and horror to satisfy.

Christopher Lee doesn’t seem particularly invested in the role anymore in limited screen time the film affords him (or perhaps persuaded him to agree to). Cushing, though, retains his enthusiasm (as evidenced by the fact this may be Lee’s last Hammer Dracula film but Cushing’s Van Helsing would return once more) but ultimately “The Satanic Rites Of Dracula” gets too much wrong and it’s an anaemic and ignominious end for Lee’s long reign as the cinematic Dracula.

5/10 

Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972) Dractober Review

After being shot, stabbed, electrocuted by lightning, set on fire and thrown off a cliff, Dracula apparently got better because we now return to an exciting horse-drawn carriage chase already in progress.

The year is 1872 and we’re a hundred years too early for the film you were expecting. Luckily, we’re just in time for a climactic final battle between Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) and Count Dracula (Christopher Lee). Of course, by this point, a “Dracula” film opening with a shot of a galloping horse-drawn carriage through a forest is as de rigueur as a Lucas “Star Wars” film opening with a shot of a Star Destroyer (or Star Destroyer proxy, pedants). It’s all a bit 19th century fast & furious and ends in a crash which sees Dracula impaled on a broken wagon wheel, and not the good chocolate kind. Van Helsing presses his point home by pressing the spoke’s point home and Dracula is finally, irrevocably defeated once and for all, I’m sure.

Flash forward 100 years and Johnny Alucard (Christopher Neame) and his hippy gang of freaky freeloaders are crashing the party of a bunch of posh folk, causing monocles to fall into champagne coupes at unprecedented rates. When some narc calls the fuzz, the gang cheese it until the next swinging happening they can bogart. But Johnny has a plan: to stick it to The Man by un-sticking it to the Bat and plans to use none other than Van Helsing’s great-great-granddaughter Jessica (Stephanie Beacham) to do it. The ceremony goes a little awry, though, and Johnny is forced to use Laura (Caroline Munro) instead. With Dracula revitalised, he turns Alucard into a vampire as a reward for the resurrection and sets out to avenge himself on the Van Helsing family.

The dippy gang of free-loving freeloaders who open the modern day part of the film are so irritating that within 15 minutes, you’ll be the one figuring out which ritual will summon up fang face to come and slaughter them all but once the interminably cheesy party scene is over, the film begins in earnest and it’s actually pretty good. Although Lee is still playing the nefarious Count, there’s an irreconcilable break in continuity between this and the preceding Hammer Dracula films, ending a continuity which stretched all the way back to 1958’s “Dracula”.

It’s gratifying that the film doesn’t play into any kind of ‘fish out of water’ hilarity, because Lee’s Dracula is unconcerned with such trifles as the technological progress of the past century. He literally has no fucks to give because all he’s focussed on is tearing the Van Helsing line a new one, and by ‘new one’ he means gaping throat wound, at least for Van Helsing senior. For Jessica, he plans to consummate his revenge by turning her into a vampire too.

Cushing, here playing his own grandson (foreshadowing Philip J Fry of “Futurama”), is on terrific form and the modern setting doesn’t harm the action one bit. Neame is great value as the occult-obsessed dilettante, especially once he willingly becomes one of Dracula’s undead. Stephanie Powers plays the damsel in distress well and everything ticks along at a fair old clip. The only thing which lets the side down is the grotesquely inappropriate score by Michael Vickers which feels more suited to a detective thriller rather than a modernised gothic horror.

“Dracula A.D. 1972” is the cheesiest Hammer Dracula movie so far, but it’s a lot of fun and has some good ideas even if they struggle at times to make themselves heard amidst the kitsch seventies ambience.

7/10 

 

Dracula (1958) Dractober Review

Hammer Films brought Dracula bang up to date by going back to the story’s roots, adapting Stoker’s novel – with a few twists – and bringing the famed Count back to life in all his technicolour glory. When Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) accepts a position as Librarian at Count Dracula’s castle, his subterfuge is quickly discovered by the vampire (Christopher Lee), who sets out to avenge the deception by attacking Harker’s nearest and dearest. It’s up to Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) to protect the Count’s would-be victims and destroy Dracula once and for all.

Christopher Lee’s imperious Count Dracula instantly manages to redefine the character for a new generation – and became the first to grin and bare the now-obligatory pointed canines which have become inextricably linked with the character. He’s matched (and some might say bested) by a dynamic and swashbuckling Peter Cushing as Van Helsing, bringing a steely-eyed intensity to the role of Dracula’s nemesis.

The production itself is lavish and indulgent, director Terence Fisher making full use of the chance to bring the timeless tale to live in technicolour and he really goes for it. Working with cinematographer Jack Asher, the mock-gothic Victoriana is exquisite in its detail and the colours are bold and bright and beautifully lit. Okay, so the blood never once looks like actual blood, but it’s such a shockingly bright shade of scarlet it achieves a sort of hyper-realness and thanks to the chilling charisma of Lee’s suave and seductive Count, the dazzling colour palate still manages to create a dark and foreboding atmosphere. The special effects are excellent too, especially during the final dramatic showdown between Van Helsing and Dracula in the castle library.

There’s a sinister score and an excellent supporting cast, headed by Michael ‘Alfred to three Batmen’ Gough making this a real Halloween treat that can be enjoyed at any time of the year, just not when the sun’s up. It infused new lifeblood into the tired cinematic legacy of the character of Dracula and ensured the venerable Count of cinematic immortality.

8/10 

Dr Terror’s House Of Horrors (1965) Review

I’ve been wading through a lot of horror dross recently (for reasons which will become clear later in the year) so thankfully the forthcoming Blu Ray release of the digitally remastered “Doctor Terror’s House Of Horrors” gave me a perfect chance to clear my movie palate.

From legendary British Horror Studio Amicus (often unfairly overshadowed by the more strident Hammer Studios), “Doctor Terror’s House Of Horrors” is a colourful, classy and richly indulgent slice of sixties horror and it’s never looked better thanks to a terrific digital remastering and Blu Ray’s high definition standard.

Five strangers board a train, joined at the last minute by Dr Schreck (Peter Cushing), an inscrutable fortune teller who, to while away the journey, uses his pack of Tarot cards – his ‘House Of Horrors’ – to tell his fellow passengers fortunes. Thus we are treated to an anthology of horror stories ranging from the gothic to the sci-fi as we encounter werewolves, murderous vegetation, voodoo curses, revenge from beyond the grave and, of course, vampires.

A quintessentially British production, there’s so much to enjoy here from the performances to the superb art direction and production design from Bill Constable. The sets are fantastic, making the most of the largely studio-bound stories. The film boasts an amazing cast with genre legend Christopher Lee joining Cushing, Neil McCallum, Donald Sutherland, Roy Castle and, bizarrely, famous radio DJ Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman. Familiar faces pop up in the individual stories too, with Bond movie veteran Bernard Lee helping to see off an attack of the creeping vines and four-time Batman butler Michael Gough lending snooty art critic Christopher Lee a helping hand. Director Freddie Francis and writer Milton Subotsky keep the movie moving along with energy and invention, creating an elegant and macabre sense of fun.

A product of its time, the five segments vary in quality and success but all of them have bags of charm and wit. The first tale, that of a predatory werewolf is rich in atmosphere as an architect (Neil McCallum) returns to his ancestral home at the request of the new owner who seeks to make alterations to the building while something ancient lurks in a bricked off tomb.  The second story, starring a slightly miscast Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman features an ordinary family under siege in their home by a predatory vine. With practical effects which will be familiar to fans of Sixties and Seventies “Doctor Who”, it never quite gels despite a much needed dose of gravitas from Bernard Lee.

Most problematic of the quintet is the third story, a tale of Voodoo magic and cursed music. Making his feature film debut, Roy Castle (a last minute replacement for the originally cast Acker Bilk) gives a somewhat self-conscious performance and ensures the tone of the piece errs on the comedic rather than creepy side. It’s also the segment which has dated the most thanks to the clichéd attitudes of casual racism on show and a truly spectacularly bad attempt at a Caribbean accent by Castle. One bright point, though, is the unusually metatextual touch of a poster for the film “Doctor Terrible’s House Of Horrors” appearing on screen in the background.

Things get firmly back on track with the fourth story, a tale of hubris and revenge featuring Michael Gough as a well-known artist and Christopher Lee as snide and callous art critic. A cruel trick escalates out of control and even when events take a tragic turn, the terror is not over. As well as great performances from both leads in the story, this segment really benefits from some terrific practical effects work, especially in the form of the disembodied hand which plagues the critic’s every waking moment.

The final story is a little rushed and odd, telling of a young doctor (Donald Sutherland) returning to his American home with his new French bride. When a case of severe anaemia presents itself, he begins to suspect a vampire may be to blame, but who could it be? The answer may not surprise you, but the ease with which people are convinced certainly will!

But the film still has treats in store even after its five stories have been told and there’s a delightfully ghoulish sting in the tail as the passengers of the railway compartment reach their final destination.

The Blu Ray release itself also comes with a great documentary looking back on the production itself, filled with observations and amusing anecdotes (such as Bernard ‘M’ Lee being extremely ‘refreshed’ during filming) and is well worth watching, as is the accompanying documentary on Christopher Lee’s legendary career.

“Dr Terror’s House Of Horrors” is an iconic and wonderfully nostalgic slice of classic cinema and the perfect starting point for someone wanting to explore the rich tradition of British Horror of the sixties and seventies.

7/10