(Canada/UK - 1977; US release 1980)
Directed by Denis Heroux. Written by Michel Parry. Cast: Peter Cushing, Samantha Eggar, Ray Milland, Susan Penhaligon, Donald Pleasence, Alexandra Stewart, John Vernon, Joan Greenwood, Catherine Begin, Roland Culver, Chloe Franks, Renee Girard, Katrina Holden, Jean Leclerc, Sean McCann, Donald Pilon, Simon Williams. (Unrated, 89 mins)
Pioneered by 1945's DEAD OF NIGHT, the portmanteau horror anthology format became a durable subgenre in the 1960s with TV shows like ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, THE TWILIGHT ZONE, and THRILLER, and on the big screen with Roger Corman's 1962 Poe entry TALES OF TERROR and Mario Bava's 1964 classic BLACK SABBATH. The UK's Amicus Productions went all-in on the trend with titles like 1965's DR. TERROR'S HOUSE OF HORRORS, 1967's TORTURE GARDEN, 1970's THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD, 1972's ASYLUM and TALES FROM THE CRYPT, 1973's VAULT OF HORROR, and 1974's FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE. Horror's game-changer came with the release of 1973's THE EXORCIST, and despite attempts to stay current by upping the gore and T&A factor, the anthology, as well as the other kinds of more classically-oriented fare from Amicus and its more renowned contemporary Hammer, began to fall out of favor with audiences. The 1973 anthology TALES THAT WITNESS MADNESS--with one segment devoted to a man's sexual obsession with an erotically-shaped tree stump--is easily the worst of the British portmanteau offerings, and the subgenre more or less faded away. The work of Stephen King would help revive the movement in America with 1982's CREEPSHOW and 1985's CAT'S EYE, but in the meantime, Amicus closed up shop in 1977 but co-chair Milton Subotsky kept the faith with a couple of tangential, Amicus-style stragglers. The wave of British horror anthologies dating back to 1965 came to a quiet end with 1981's generally lighthearted, Vincent Price-headlined THE MONSTER CLUB, which featured an obnoxious movie producer character named "Lintom Busotsky." Made at a time when slasher movies and innovative special effects were dominating the genre, THE MONSTER CLUB didn't even hit US theaters, instead going straight to syndicated TV.
|Director Denis Heroux and Samantha Eggar on the set of THE UNCANNY.
turn as Christopher Lee's witchcraft-practicing young daughter in the "Sweets to the Sweet" segment of THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD. Like any decent film of this sort should do, they save the best segment for last, with some absolutely terrific work by Pleasence and Eggar, both of whom get to show off rarely0-utilized comedic skills as, respectively, the hapless Valentine De'ath--known as "V.D." to industry insiders--and his unbelievably dim mistress. Seemingly patterning her performance on Judy Holliday in BORN YESTERDAY, Eggar's scream queen screech is even worse than that terrible actress at the beginning of Brian De Palma's BLOW OUT, and is prone to obliviously saying things like, "Oh, V.D., I love you!" Lost in the shuffle thanks to a drastically changing genre landscape following the demonic horrors of THE EXORCIST and THE OMEN, THE UNCANNY probably seemed hopelessly antiquated in 1977, and it's little wonder why it completely bypassed American theaters. But time has been kind to it, and looking at it now reveals a surprisingly enjoyable mix of horror and inspired humor that's deserving of some appreciation. And of course, it doesn't miss the opportunity to deploy "What's the matter...cat got your tongue?" as an EC Comics-worthy punchline.