Amicus’ horror anthology films left a long lasting impression on me and I still find them just as enjoyable to watch today as ever. Yeah they can be a little campy and even cheesy by today’s standards, but look past all of that and there are some truly great stories being told in these films that are well worth checking out.
Sadly Amicus went under after the release of; The People That Time Forgot (1977) with their final horror anthology film being; From Beyond the Grave (1974). But the horror anthology sub genre lived on when Amicus co-founder, Milton Subotsky produced three more films.
The Uncanny: Written by Michael Parry, directed by Denis Héroux and released in 1977. The film stars; Peter Cushing, Donald Pleasence, Ray Milland, Joan Greenwood, Donald Pilon, Samantha Eggar, and John Vernon.
Writer Wilbur Gray (Peter Cushing) goes to his publisher Frank Richards (Ray Milland) with his latest book all about the evilness of cats. Wilbur explains how he believes that cats are supernatural creatures capable of evil deeds and are in control of everything. Wilbur then goes on to tell three stories from his book which he claims are all true.
London 1912: Wealthy woman, Miss Malkin (Joan Greenwood) decides to rewrite her will leaving her fortune to her cats instead of her nephew Michael (Simon Williams). Janet (Susan Penhaligon) is the maid of the house working for Miss Malkin, she is also the mistress of Michael. Janet steals a copy of the will from the lawyer and then tries to destroy the original copy which is being kept in a safe so that her lover, Michael can inherent to money. When Miss Malkin discovers Janet trying to steal the other copy of the will from the safe, Janet kills her. However, the cats of Miss Malkin seek out revenge.
I quite liked this tale, its well shot and looks great. Solid performances all round and offers a few chills along the way.
Quebec Province 1975 After the death of her parents in a plane crash, Lucy (Katrina Holden) goes to live with her aunt Joan (Alexandra Stewart), her husband (Donald Pilon) and her cousin Angela (Chloe Franks). Lucy takes her cat, Wellington along too. Lucy also packs a few books that used to belong to get mother on the subject of Tarot and Witchcraft. Angela belittles and bullies Lucy as she starts to feel a little jealous of not being the centre of attention any more and even turns her bitterness towards the cat. Wellington dislikes Angela and is not afraid to show it either, Angela’s meddling and influence eventually convinces her parents to get rid of the cat and Joan asks her husband to take Wellington to be put to sleep. One night, Wellington mysteriously returns to the house and Lucy decides to turn to her mother’s old books for revenge on how her and Wellington have been treated.
Chloe Franks is really quite nasty as the jealous cousin in this yarn. The ending is quite bizarre and macabre as Lucy and Wellington teach Angela a lesson.
Hollywood 1936: A supposed mix up at the prop department sees actress Madeleine (Catherine Bégin) killed during filming of a horror film when the blade of a fake pendulum is replaced with a real one. Madeleine’s actor husband, Valentine De’ath (Donald Pleasence) suggests they replace his dead wife with a new, young and aspiring actress Edina Hamilton (Samantha Eggar). It turns out that Valentine is having an affair with Edina and it was he that switched the blades on the pendulum that killed his wife so he could pave the way for his young mistress. Edina moves into the marital home where Madeleine’s cat is waiting. The cat gives birth to a litter of kittens and Valentine gets rid of them in a rather unorthodox manor. Valentine and Edina try to get rid of the cat while the cat avenges the death of her kittens and Madeleine.
Donald Pleasence is excellent as the slimy cheating husband. The chasing and attempted capture of the cat is often played for laughs and a few of the other scenes are clearly meant to be tongue in cheek too. While the cats revenge is slightly more gruesome and bloody.
So how does the opening story wrap up in this one?
The publisher rubbishes Wilbur’s claims that the stories are true, but still agrees to publish the book anyway. Wilbur leaves his manuscript with Frank for safe keeping and heads back home. While walking home, Wilbur is stalked by several cats when they attack and kill him. Back at the publisher, Frank starts reading Wilbur’s new book himself but mysteriously throws it on the fire instead as if he is being controlled by his cat.
This was a decent film and in many ways, still felt like an Amicus picture the way it is shot. I have always felt that cats were a bit creepy and this film really has not helped my suspicions much either. Not as good as some of the previous films, but still worth watching.
The Monster Club: Released in 1980, Directed by Roy Ward Baker, written by Edward Abraham and Valerie Abraham. Starring; Vincent Price, Donald Pleasence, John Carradine and Stuart Whitman.
Famous author, R. Chetwynd-Hayes (John Carradine) bumps into a strange man (Vincent Price) who is in need of help. Chetwynd-Hayes agrees to help him as the man suddenly bites into his neck. It turns out the man is a starving vampire named Eramus needing blood. Eramus only takes a little blood just enough to feel better and Chetwynd-Hayes is unharmed. Eramus thanks Chetwynd-Hayes for his blood and reveals he is quite a fan of his books. He offers to repay Chetwynd-Hayes’ kindness by inviting him to an exclusive gathering place for a multitude of supernatural creatures, The Monster Club. When there, Eramus begins to tell three stories about three specific monsters.
The Shadmock: Angela (Barbara Kellerman) is a a young, financially struggling woman living with her controlling boyfriend George (Simon Ward). George finds a job in a newspaper at a secluded manor house and suggests that Angela takes it so she can steal some of the riches found in the manor house. The house is owned by Raven (James Laurenson), a hybrid creature called a Shadmock. The Shadmock is notorious for its demonic, high-pitch whistling. Angela first refuses the job after being scared by Raven’s appearance, but eventually returns after being convinced to take the job by George. After a while of working at the house, Angela develops a friendship with Raven. He even proposes to her but Angela refuses the offer. However, George forces her to go through with the marriage so they can gain the Ravens vast wealth. At the engagement party, Raven catches Angela stealing from his safe. Angela screams that she will love him and reveals she is only there for his money. Heartbroken, the Shadmock whistles…
This story is really well done, touching at parts and gruesome at the end. You really do feel sorry for this Shadmock monster and as the story continues, you realise that he is not the real monster here.
The Vampires: Young Lintom (Warren Saire) is the shy and timid boy and often bullied at school, his father (Richard Johnson) barely spends any time with his son as he sleeps all day and works at night. Lintom discovers his father is actually a vampire who is being hunted by a team of undead killers lead by Pickering (Donald Pleasence). The vampire hunters gain access to the vampire’s home after Pickering befriends Lintom. The vampire hunters seemingly manage to kill the father, yet he is not quite dead as he manages to bite Pickering which will turn him into a vampire himself. Pickering’s own assistants then have to chase down and stake him to ensure he dies before becoming a vampire. Pickering is now dead and his men carry his body away while Lintom and his mother (Britt Ekland) go to the basement to find that the father is not as dead as Pickering hoped.
This one is the comic relief of the film, played up for laughs. Donald Pleasence does well here playing the vampire hunter while Richard Johnson does his best Bela Lugosi impression. Its a fun story with a few chuckles along the way.
The Ghouls: Movie director Sam (Stuart Whitman) goes out location scouting for his new film and he finds a isolated, decrepit village called; Loughville. Sam finds that the residents of the village refuse to let him leave and he discoverers that the village is inhabited by species of corpse eating demons called ghouls. The village has run dry of graves and corpses for the ghouls to eat as they grow hungry for flesh. Sam is imprisoned by the ghouls where he meets Luna (Lesley Dunlop), the daughter of a ghoul father (Patrick Magee) and a deceased human mother. Sam learns that the ghouls can not cross holy ground and so he and Luna hide in a church for protection. While in the church, Sam discovers that centuries before, a plague of ghouls invaded the village, mated with the humans and took the village as their own. Sam and Luna try to escape the village only for Luna to be killed as Sam manages to get away…or does he?
A pretty downbeat and dreary tale. Well shot and the mysterious village looks great, very moody and gothic with a sting of an ending.
The film ends…
Eramus suggests that his tales would make good stories for R. Chetwynd-Hayes to write and even thinks that Chetwynd-Hayes could become a member of the club. Chetwynd-Hayes points out he can not become a member as he is not a monster. This is when Eramus delivers a great speech explaining how humans are the biggest monsters of all with all the death they have created over the years, the weapons we have created and so on.
The Monster Club is a great slice of horror anthology that doesn’t take itself too seriously. I enjoy the meta joke of John Carradine playing real life author R. Chetwynd-Hayes. In fact it was Chetwynd-Hayes’ stories that were the basis for this very film and with Eramus suggesting the stories would make a good book…just the icing on the cake of this in-joke. The three stories are split up with musical segments, with a particular highlight being “The Stripper”. Good fun overall.
Cat’s Eye: Written by the great Stephen King, directed by Lewis Teague and relased in 1985. Starring; Drew Barrymore, James Woods, Alan King, Robert Hays and Candy Clark.
Opening with a stray cat being chased by big dog as the dog chases the cat into the road and is almost hit by a car, the cat escapes into a van. Eventually the van stops and is opened as the cat explores the city (New York) it finds itself in. Coming to a shop front where the cat hears the cries of help from a young girl. the cat is found by and captured by an employee of Quitters, Inc where it is carried away as the first story begins.
Quitters, Inc: Chain cigarette smoker Dick Morrison (James Woods) decides to try to quit smoking by joining a controversial new company called; Quitters, Inc. Dr. Vinnie Donatti (Alan King) is the owner of the company and he explains they use unique methods to make people quite smoking and from this point on, if Dick smokes a cigarette, horrors of increasing magnitude will befall his wife and child. Donatti uses the cat from the opening as he demonstrates the first of these horrors: the cat is locked in a metal room and tormented with a series of electric shocks. Donatti explains that if Dick is caught with a cigarette, Dick’s wife Cindy (Mary D’Arcy) will be subjected to the same treatment as the cat while he is forced to watch. Then if he still smokes after that, his young daughter afflicted with down syndrome (Drew Barrymore) will be put into the room and given the same treatment too. After the third time, his wife will be raped, and after the fourth infraction, they “give up”/kill him. Dick hides the looming threat from his family.
That night, Dick goes home and tells his wife he has quit smoking, yet he finds an old pack of cigarettes in his desk. Just as he prepares to smoke it, Dick spots a pair of feet in his closet, believing it to be a Quitters, Inc employee he quickly disposes of the cigarette. A few weeks later, Dick is at a party where everyone is smoking as he finds it hard to resist the temptation but still avoids smoking.
But while stuck in a traffic jam, Dick finally snaps and smokes after finding an old forgotten pack of cigarettes in his glove-box as a Quitters, Inc employee spots him. Back at the Quitters, Inc office, Dick is forced to watch as Cindy suffers in the electrified room. Dick attacks Donatti as the cat manages to escape. Donatti gains the upper hand in the fight and says he understands and forgives Dick for his slip of smoking. Dick is determined never to smoke again and tells his wife everything.
Weeks later and Dick has finally quit smoking for good but as a result has gained some extra weight. Dr. Donatti prescribes diet pills to help lose the weight and sets a target weight for Dick to hit. Jokingly, Dick asks if a man would attack his house with a flame thrower if he continues to gain weight. Donatti returns the joke by saying that someone will cut off his wife’s pinky finger. Dick and Cindy have a dinner party where friends toast Quitters, Inc for a job well done, as Dick learns Donatti was not joking.
A good story with a nice hard message behind it. Woods gives a believable performance as the struggling to quit smoking addict and the ending has a nice punctuation it.
The Ledge: The cat, having escaped Quitters, Inc and manages to travel to New Jersey, where it hears the same girl’s voice from before asking for its help again. Meanwhile, gambler and former tennis pro Johnny Norris (Robert Hays) is seeing a married woman Marcia (Patricia Kalember) who’s jealous husband is a major crime boss and casino owner Cressner (Kenneth McMillan). Cressner is a betting man and wins a wager that the cat will successfully cross the busy road outside his casino. The cat makes the dangerous crossing and Cressner takes the cat home. Johnny is kidnapped by Cressner as a form of revenge for seeing his wife.
This is when Cressner blackmails Johnny into taking a dangerous wager. Johnny is forced to make his way around a narrow 5″ wide ledge that surrounds the exterior of Cressner’s penthouse apartment atop a skyscraper. If he can make it all the way around, Cressner will give up Marcia making her available for Johnny. But if he refuses the challenge, Cressner will call the police and have Johnny arrested for possession of drugs, which have been planted in his car. With little choice, Johnny accepts the wager and climbs out onto the ledge to make his way around. Along the way, Cressner and henchman Ducky (Mike Starr) occasionally appear at the various windows around the penthouse to ensue Johnny does not cheat and even try to hinder his progress. Yet despite their continual harassment, Johnny makes it all the way around back to the apartment.
Here he learns that Marcia has been dead the whole time, killed by Cressner, who claims he will honour his bet, the drugs have been removed and Johnny can have Marcia…well some of her anyway. Johnny attacks Cressner as Ducky drops his gun when tripped by the fleeing cat. Johnny grabs the gun and kills the henchman. He then forces Cressner to undergo the same ordeal on the ledge, but Cressner is not quite as successful.
This tale is well put together though lacking in any real surprises. Its one of those you can tell what will happen 3 minutes after the story begins.
General: The cat hops aboard freight train and travels to North Carolina where it is adopted by Amanda (Drew Barrymore) and calls the cat General. Amanda’s mother, Sally (Candy Clark) refuses to allow the cat in the house during the night and puts General out. At night a small, evil troll comes out and kills the family’s parakeet with a tiny dagger and then even tries to steal Amanda’s breath while she sleeps. General manages to find a way back into the house and battles the troll who wounds the cat’s shoulder with his dagger. The troll successfully flees as Amanda and her parents to discover the dead bird.
Amanda tells her parents a monster killed the bird but they are convinced that General killed their parakeet. When the father discovers the dagger wound on the cat and realises its too large to have been caused by a bird, he starts to doubt that General killed the bird after all. General is taken to the animal shelter and is scheduled to be put to sleep the next day at Sally’s request. That night, the troll comes back and wedges Amanda’s room door shut from the inside. The troll again attempts to take Amanda’s breath while she sleeps. At the animal shelter, General is brought his last meal before being put to sleep. But when his cage is opened, he escapes and rushes back to the house determined to save Amanda from the troll.
Back in Amanda’s room, General and the roll have a fight which General wins. The noise the fight creates wakes the parents as they find what is left of the Troll and it’s dagger that caused General’s wound before. The parents finally allow General to stay to protect Amanda and the cat now has a loving home.
The end fight scene between the cat and the troll is really well done here and the troll itself can be pretty scary. A good story and a great way to end the anthology.
This film is an enjoyable one. Its not in the same vein as other anthology films in this retrospective as it’s not really “horror”. But the stories work well enough and offer plenty of entertainment. There are a few fun nods to other Stephen King work to find throughout this film; the dog chasing the cat in the opening is similar to Cujo from King’s book and the car that almost runs over the cat has a fender sticker with the name “Christine” on it and one of the characters in the film is reading Pet Cemetery.
This anthology was the last one Amicus co-founder Milton Subotsky was involved in before his death in 1991 and marked the end of an era.
Just for a bit of fun and seeing as we ended with a Stephen King based film. I can even make this whole retrospective come full circle…
Back in the early 80’s, George A. Romero wanted to pay homage to the classic Amicus horror anthology films and tried to get a remake of the 1972 Tales from the Crypt off the ground. He even asked Stephen King to get involved. But there were early production problems the duo just could not get the film made. So instead, they decided to stick with the homage idea and create an all new horror anthology themselves inspired by EC comics and what we got was the amazing Creepshow (1982).
So there you go, if you are a fan of Creepshow as I am…then you have Amicus to thank of that.
I genuinely miss the horror anthology sub genre and it has unfortunately dropped out of favour with film fans over recent years. There have been the odd attempt at a revival with the really good; Trick ‘r Treat (2007) and even an announced sequel…which has still yet to arrive.
Then there has been the over the top and rather experimental; ABCs of Death (2012) and ABCs of Death 2 (2014) with its approach of having 26 individual short films who’s title starts with a letter of the alphabet.
There has even been an attempt to revive the great Creepshow franchise with Creepshow 3 (2006)..but it was utter shit and us horror anthology fans like to pretend it never existed.
Still, even with all these efforts at getting this sub genre back in favour. I still hold a very special place in my film loving heart for the Amicus films on the 60s and 70s as well as Milton Subotsky’s final three contributions here.
I’d love to see this sub genre as popular as it was back in the 60s and 70s, but I really do not see it happening.
To coin an often used phrase, they just don’t make them like this any more.