Dr Terror’s House of Horrors. 1965. dir. Freddie Francis. Watched on YouTube so you don’t have to.
Well. Okay. Yes – it DOES have Peter Cushing in it. If you wish, we can discuss this matter privately in the LYE-BREH-REH.
Apparently Whitstable’s the place to go for a Peter Cushing Pilgrimage. He lived there from the late fifties till he died, in a beautiful white clapperboard house with a gabled roof like an upturned boat, set-in with tall windows so he could paint views of the sea. There’s a blue plaque on the wall – and a bench dedicated to him on the promenade, where he’d often sit with his wife Helen and talk about the latest script where they want him to wrestle a yeti or something. Hundreds of goths go to Whitstable in April or October, for industrial post-punk raves, steampunk markets, selfies at the ruined Abbey or tea and jam scones in the Tudor Tea Rooms (which have a shrine of PC memorabilia). So that’s either a good time to go or a bad time, depending. Accommodation might be tighter. There might be a queue for the bench. Worth bearing in mind.
From that you’d be right in thinking I’ve only Googled this shit and haven’t actually BEEN to Whitstable. But it’s on my to-do list, okay?
Anyway. On with the film.
Dr Terror’s House of Horrors. And if you say that half a dozen times, with your jaw slack, turning your head slowly from side to side, occasionally widening your eyes – you’re a terrifying ventriloquist’s dummy and my work here is done.
00:28 After a patriotic orchestral blare for the production company logo, the into music creeps in. Spooky oboe with a smattering of uneasy drums. Not a domestic comedy then.
00:39 Christopher Lee gets top billing. Peter Cushing gets a ‘With’ – but then ‘as Dr Terror’, which goes a little way to making up for the ‘with’ I suppose.
00:46 Glissando violins for Dr Terror’s House of Horrors in wobbly writing. I suppose Comic Sans wouldn’t have the same impact.
A good cast, btw. Donald Sutherland! Dr Terror’s House of Talent.
Assistant Director is Bert Batt – my favourite name of the cast list. Undermines the Dr Terror vibe, maybe, but … shrug.
1:46 Opening shot – a railway station. An announcement giving the departure time & platform for Bradley. So far so commuter horror, which is niche. Dr Terror’s House of Terror (but good rail connections for the city).
1:56 A guy in a suit stops to get his ticket clipped by a grim-faced old badger in a British Rail hat. Can’t believe he got an Oscar for that. I wonder who got Best Supporting Vole.
2:05 Weird! The DJ Alan Freeman is sitting in a carriage by himself smiling happily as he adjusts the bonnet on a doll. ‘Not Arf!’ ‘Alright..!’ The guy in the suit hesitates – as you would – but goes in anyway.
2.26 The badger clips the ticket of another suit guy so vigorously it almost takes his finger off. (He makes that shit look so easy – mark of a good performer). I think this guy’s Roy Castle, because he whistles irritatingly and almost tap dances to the carriage. Roy almost slams the door in Christopher Lee’s face – never a good move.
3:08 CL gives the carriage a dead-eyed stare, then puts his glasses on. If it was fifty years later he’d already have AirPods in.
3:14 Hey! Donald Sutherland gets in the carriage! Gives them all a winning smile (although it doesn’t win with CL, of course, who just rattles his newspaper)
3.38 Dr Terror gets the oboe treatment as he wipes the condensation off the window with his fingerless mittens to peer inside (all those guys in suits, it’s bound to get steamy pretty quick). He’s charming, in a terrifying way. Alan Freeman makes room on the bench. ‘Not Arf!’
4.33 Whilst Dr Terror looks at each guy in turn, the oboe plays and everyone looks creeped out. As you would. Those old carriages were small & self-contained, so you couldn’t just walk off and find somewhere else to sit. Donald S. looks the uneasiest (is that a word?). He adjusts his tie and squeezes his buttocks. Hmm. Christopher Lee couldn’t care less.
Peter Cushing’s eyebrows are extraordinary. They look like someone’s enhanced them by swiping left and right with a chunk of coal. Maybe he stopped by the front of the steam train on the way down.
The train thunders on. God but they were smoky. And clattery. Now the only thing you hear is the tannoy saying the next station stop is… and then a million repetitions of ‘See it, Say it, Sorted’.
5.28 Dr T has nodded off (same). His monogrammed bag slips off his lap. The passengers hand it back to him along with all the papers that have fallen out – including a tarot deck.
‘How d’you play poker with these?’ laughs Roy Castle. (Guys in suits. Am I right?)
‘Dr Schreck! Doctor of Metaphysics?’ says another passenger, reading his business cards. (Not a REAL doctor, then).
Dr Shreck says his name translates as ‘Terr-OR. And gives a wincy smile afterwards. ‘An unfortunate misnomer’ he carries on, ‘…for I am the mildest of men.’ He looks around the carriage. ‘However, I sometimes foretell things that are frightening.’
Then he goes on to give them a little history of the Tar-OH (as Dr T pronounces it). Personally, I’m more interested in his eyebrows. It’s worse than just a lump of coal. I think makeup whacked him with some wallpaper paste and stuck on some ostrich feathers. For a bet. Freddie Francis was distracted about funding – so…
Also, can I just say here, fingerless mittens can NEVER be terrifying. They’re just too cute and practical.
7.56 Christopher Lee (Franklyn Marsh), smacks down his newspaper in disgust. ‘Do we HAVE to listen to this nonsense!’ he says. It’s a portmanteau horror film, Franklyn, so … I’m afraid… probably yes. His performance here reminds me of Richard E Grant in Withnail and I when he says: ‘I’m a trained actor, reduced to the status of a bum!”
8.10 Roy Castle (Biff Bailey) tells an off-colour joke about a pigeon, but Dr T doesn’t laugh and neither do I.
8.48 Franklyn goes back to his paper, but the Scottish passenger (Jim Dawson) offers to be the first person to try the Tar-OH.
Jim taps the deck three times, then Dr T shuffles the cards slowly, staring into Jim’s eyes
‘I do not manipulate. I use my hands to manipulate themselves… and to present …. your destiny.’ Which does not make sense. I use my hands to manipulate themselves? Huh? But he’s a doctor of Metaphysics not English, so cut him some slack.
9.27 He turns the cards over onto his upturned case. The Chariot. The High Priestess. The Moon. The Enchantress. The MakeUp Artist (sorry – made that last one up).
And we blurrily segue into the first story:
9.43 Jim hangs his coat up on a coat stand. So far, so terrifyingly organised. A posh Architect’s office. The boss tells him about a letter from Mrs Biddulph – the woman who just bought Jim’s old ancestral home. She wants to make some major structural changes, apparently. Like knocking it down and building two enormous eyebrows. Mrs Biddulph says that Jim is the only architect who can handle something like that. So off he goes back to the Scottish island (we know it’s Scottish because of the jaunty Scottish music). In a pony and trap uber.
10:50 They pull up outside a misty old pile. Jim jumps out, smacks the horse on the rump and gives the driver a shilling. Glad he got that the right way round. A creepy gardener (Caleb) sneaks a peak from amongst the bushes. Typical gardener.
Side note: You also know it’s Scotland because Jim’s suit is now made of tweed.
11:16 Caleb sneaks up behind Jim whilst he’s ringing the bell (Jim’s doing the ringing, not Caleb), and says Hey! very aggressively. Typical gardener. But when Jim turns round Caleb relaxes a little (his smile is like witnessing a minor landslip). He lowers his scythe.
11:34 The door is opened by Valda, the housemaid, who talks as easily as if someone’s behind the door holding a gun. An owl hoots in the background. It’s good to be home.
11:58 Mrs Biddulph comes down the stairs. She’s got the kind of shellacked bob that always stays front no matter which way she turns. She stares at him whilst Jim talks, sometimes glancing down at his mouth, which is always awkward. Apparently she wants a big wall knocked down so she can make a ballroom. Jim knows the house well, given that his family lived there for centuries, before he had to sell it. Hard stare.
13:29 Later, Mrs Biddulph is dressed for dinner in what looks like posh fetish gear – black netting over a sheer bodice. Jim fixes himself a stiff drink. Mrs Biddulph says that after her husband’s funeral she had a kind of breakdown. The ballroom she has planned is actually more of a museum to his memory. A wolf howls outside. Jim hurries to the door and looks into the hallway. I wouldn’t think the wolf would be there, but I’ve no idea. Maybe the house has a wolf flap. He goes back into the room, and doesn’t see Valda, looking moody on the stairs (but not especially wolfie).
15:25 You can tell Jim’s an architect, because he’s walking round the room hitting things with a crowbar. Caleb watches him through the window. (I’m guessing the garden’s a bit neglected these days).
16:00 Jim wants Valda to unlock the cellar door. She doesn’t know where the key is. Jim asks her to ask her grandfather – which is Caleb, so I’m sorry if I called him the gardener. He just looked so… gardenery.
16:56 Jim goes down into the cellar. Knocks on the walls a bit (typical architect). Finds a hollow sounding patch, so he starts hacking away with the crowbar. Sees a grotesque carved animal’s head. He asks Caleb to have a look. ‘It must be the coffin of Cosmo Valdemar!’ he says. ‘The werewolf!’ says Jim. ‘Over 200 years ago Cosmo Valdemar claimed that this house was really his…. that my ancestors had stolen it from him… but he vowed that one day he’d return.’ Which is really quite a lot of backstory to convey after just two whacks of a crowbar, but architects are nothing if not dynamic.
19:18 ‘I’m going to find out what’s in that coffin,’ says Jim. ‘C’mon! Give me a hand!’ he says to Caleb. Valda glides away. She’s very stair-oriented.
20:00 They manage to drag the coffin out, but the lid’s too heavy so Jim & Caleb go off to get some bigger tools. Once they’re gone, the coffin lid rises up and hairy fingers gabble about on the edge, like something’s been dead for years and really wants to get back on the piano. Or they’re looking for the coffin’s snooze function.
20:30 Jim runs back with the bigger tool, which is actually smaller and looks to me suspiciously like a lump hammer, but I’m no architect. Jim sees the coffin lid is askew (love that word – shame I don’t get to use it more often). Not only that, there are big dog footprints in the dust. It can’t be Valda. She’s wearing slingbacks.
21:12 Meanwhile, Mrs Biddulph rocks up on a bike through the fog. She’s wearing a bright white pantsuit, which is probably the safe option when it’s dark outside and you don’t wanna get hit by a truck or a bear. Something is watching her from the bushes (my money’s on the werewolf, but I suppose it could be Caleb again). Turns out she was just down the shops because it’s 1965 and she’d have to wait fifty-seven years for Ocado. ‘Have you been down in the cellar?’ says Jim. ‘No. Why?’ she says, then hurries away to change for dinner again.
22:31 When Jim’s getting ready for bed he finds a note. ‘I must see you. Valda.’ He hears a yelp outside. Hurries down. Finds Caleb over Valda’s body on the gravel, blood around her neck. Mrs Biddulph watches from the door. She’s wearing the ugliest, most enormous nightgown I’ve EVER seen (not that I’ve seen a lot). It makes her look as if she wears stilts to bed. (Maybe she does – maybe it’s a Scottish thing – or is that kilts?). She doesn’t appear that bothered about Valda, despite this being an island, and reliable staff hard to come by. Jim follows the blood trail back into the house towards the cellar.
23:59 Down in the cellar, Jim forces up the coffin lid. The coffin is empty. Jim scratches his hand badly when he drops the lid. So all in all a difficult night.
24:05 Caleb carries Valda into the house. I’m worried he’ll bang her head on the door frame but he turns at the last minute. He’s done this before. Jim asks Mrs Biddulph to go to her room and lock the door. Meanwhile he tells Caleb he’ll use the silver cross ‘that was made from the sword that killed Cosmo’ to kill whatever it is that’s terrorising the house (my money’s on Cosmo). He’ll melt it down to make bullets. (I hope he’s better at silversmithing than architecture). ‘When that coffin opens tomorrow night, I’ll be waiting’ he says.
25:35 Cut to: tomorrow night, Jim waiting by the coffin with a revolver. He’s distracted by a rat – just as the coffin lid swings open and a bunch of mist slips out. When he checks the coffin it’s empty.
25:55 Mrs Biddulph is upstairs reading a book by the fire. There’s a knock on the door. ‘Come in!’ she says. Back down in the cellar Jim hears her scream. He runs up to her. Meanwhile we see a close-up of an alsatian or cockapoo or something, baring its fangs. Jim bursts in, fires his pistol. The dog leaps over him and runs outside. ‘I don’t understand it’ says Jim. ‘I had six silver bullets…’
‘You mean – these?’ says Mrs Biddulph, showing a palmful. Her nails are very pointy. As are her teeth. She explains that Cosmo can resume human form when his body is replaced with the body of a descendent of the man who killed him. (Let me read that back…. dah dah dah … yep… seems right…). So she kills him. He screams – in a very high-pitched, architectural way.
Blurry segue back to the railway carriage.
27:28 Jim explains to the others that he is indeed on his way to the Hebrides. Dr T draws the fifth card to show how Jim can avoid his fate. It’s the Death card. Dr T puts it back without turning it over.
28:11 Franklyn tells them all not to be so gullible. Turns out he’s an art critic, so knows all about gullibility.
28:33 Next up is Alan Freeman (Bill Rogers). He taps the deck three times. Dr T turns the cards over. ‘You are going on holiday soon,’ he says, looking down at The Fool card. (I hear you). Followed by The Magician, The Hanging Man and The Sun.
Blurry segue to the next story.
Bill, Ann and daughter Carol arriving back home from holiday. Ann notices something in the garden – a creepy looking vine. ‘It’ll kill all the hydrangeas’ she says. The vine turns to watch them go inside. I’d swear it sneered when she said the word Hydrangeas.
30:21 The vine has extended along the patio and is creeping along the gravel path. Knotweed? Can be a problem.
30:44 Bill tries to chop it down with a hoe (not Ann). It seems to cry out in pain when he hits it. He tries cutting it with the shears, but it knocks them out of his hand. Definitely knotweed.
31:25 Bill takes a sample to Hopkins and Jerry, which sounds like a brand of ice cream, but is in fact a couple of Ministry experts. Jerry is crouching provocatively over a microscope, so you know he’s hot stuff. Jerry says he’ll go stay with Bill to find out what’s going on.
31:47 Jerry is unpacking his microscope. Carol is playing with the dog on the patio. The dog starts barking a lot, much of it unscripted. Carol goes inside for tea, throwing the ball one last time. It lands by the vine.
33:02 Jerry hears a scream. It’s Ann. She’s found the dog, dead by the vine. He’s not insured.
33:14 Back at the ministry, Hopkins fills his pipe and delivers the line: ‘A dog – strangled by a vine.’ He can hardly believe it. You and me both, Hopkins. Jerry shows Bill a very, VERY dull film about plant groups. Mosses, lichens, that sort of thing. Bill looks so bored he’d rather take his chances with the killer vine than stay there jiggling his hands in his pockets a moment longer. Hopkins expertly sucks his pipe. ‘A plant like that could take over the world,’ he says.
35.33 Back at Bill’s house, Jerry studies a leaf. He’s too busy for lunch, but he does accept coffee and sandwiches, which sounds like lunch to me, but I’m no expert. He looks at the leaf through his microscope and sees what looks like a brain (not his own, I’m guessing – although, with Jerry, all bets are off).
35:55 He sits at his desk writing his notes. The vine’s shadow moves across his back. Ann is coming in with lunch – sorry – coffee and sandwiches. I hope she doesn’t scream and drop the tray.
36:00 No. She puts it down to go and help Carol with her homework.
36:30 Meanwhile, the vine has almost reached Jerry. It grabs him round the neck, knocking his glasses askew (wonderful word – honestly – try it sometime). Ann picks up the tray again ready to go in.
37:03 She knocks and waits. (Whilst Jerry is garrotted and pulled backwards off his chair).
37:14 Walks in. Sees Jerry dead. Screams, drops tray.
37:26 Hopkins is wandering round the house. ‘Did you call the police?’ he says, not unreasonably. He goes in to see Jerry’s body. Studies it awhile. Doesn’t seem that phazed, so I’m guessing he had a pipe on the way over. Goes to the phone to make a call, but the vine cuts the wire. When he goes outside the vine attacks him. Bill and Ann watch him wrestling with it and try not to laugh.
38:41 The vine is all over the house now. ‘There must be some way of destroying this’ says Hopkin, getting out his pipe. When he strikes a match the vines lean away from the window. Pretty health conscious.
39:45 He lights some newspapers. ‘If a species develops that isn’t afraid of fire – it could be the end of the world,’ says Hopkin, back on his favourite subject. ‘Open the door!’
40:18 They hear him drive away to get help. The vines roll around in the fire a little, getting to enjoy it.
Blurry segue back to the carriage.
Dr T draws the fifth card, to show Bill how to avoid his fate. The Death card again. Awks.
He turns to the next one, Roy Castle (Biff Bailey). ‘Und now – your future,’ he says. Biff raps the cards three times. Dr T turns them over: The Judgement. The World. The Tower. The Devil.
Turns out Biff is a musician, so none of these come as a surprise.
‘That’s my mother in law!’ says Biff, pointing at The Devil.
‘Do not jest at the image of a god!’ says Dr T. ‘The powerful and malign god of…. Voodoo!’
Blurry segue to… Roy Castle… sorry… Biff Bailey, playing the trumpet on stage with his band. A strange looking guy with even more emphatic eyebrows than Dr T comes into the empty club (it’s jazz, after all), and sits at the back. Biff jumps down to talk to him. (If he uses the word ‘cat’ at any point I get fifty quid).
43:38 It’s Harry, their manager. He’s got them a great new gig in the West Indies. Biff squeezes his nose. ‘You little sweetheart!’ he says (although I can tell he really wanted to call him a cool cat). Biff almost falls trying to get back on the stage – then tries to look like he meant it by doing it again. Oh, Roy.
44:40 Cut to: a West Indian club. A calypso band playing. Various racist tropes, unfortunately. The scene goes on for ages with the awful music – but when Biff and the band come in they seem to dig the place, man. Biff causes a scene when he looks at the waitresses ring and says ‘Look at that monster!’ Everyone goes quiet. Sammy, the calypso singer, says it’s a Voodoo ring; you don’t mess around with that stuff. Biff notices that everyone in the club seems to have Voodoo jewellery on. Sammy says if they hear anything out in the woods at night, don’t get involved.
Note: I don’t know what’s more uncomfortable in this section: the casual 1960s racism or the dreadful jazz. I’d have to go with the racism, but the jazz isn’t helping.
47:48 Cut to: a Voodoo ceremony out in the woods. Biff creeping around in the undergrowth to get a better look. He takes out a notepad and writes the music down. But then he’s found out and dragged into the centre. Everybody goes quiet, just like in the club. Oh Roy.
50:39 The Voodoo priest tells Biff he must not steal from the great god Dumbala, who is jealous and will be avenged.
51:59 Back at the hotel, Biff tells the rest of the band he’s going to make ‘a whole routine around the Voodoo number.’ ‘You be careful around that Voodoo stuff,’ says Sammy. ‘What can a Voodoo god do to me…’ says Biff – then falls through the railings into the hotel pond. Oh Roy.
53:00 A few weeks later, back in the UK, Biff and the boys are backing Sammy in a dreadful crooner number. Honestly, it’d take more than Voodoo to raise these clubs from the dead.
54:16 Their manager Harry introduces the next number – the Voodoo tune Biff picked up in the West Indies.
54:29 Biff has put the ancient mask on the backdrop. He makes fun of it as he comes on. Oh Roy. All the swinging hepcats seem to groove to this new beat (to be honest, it doesn’t sound any different to their earlier stuff, but everyone knows I’m square, daddy-o).
55:25 The saxophonist switches to jazz flute. If Dumbala doesn’t get them, I certainly will.
56:00 The back doors blow open. And it’s not because of the mind-blowing music.
56:27 A mighty wind starts blowing through the joint. (I don’t know – maybe ALL jazz clubs are like this). Tables start flying up. Punters screaming. The band play on (maybe they think they’re just REALLY grooving right now).
57:00 ‘Told ya’ says Harry, surprisingly nonchalantly, given the joint is being wrecked by a vengeful Voodoo god. But Biff isn’t worried. He’s going to take the score home and improve the middle eight.
58:39 Biff whistles nervously on the way home along the dark, windblown streets. Falls backwards over a trash can. Oh Roy.
59:00 Passes an advert for Dr Terror’s House of Horror. Whaaat?
59:45 Almost gets run over by an American looking for Piccadilly Circus. ‘Ah these British are all nuts!’ says the driver. He’s not wrong.
1:00:12 Biff makes it home. You can tell a musician lives there because the sofa has a zebra print. I can’t help noticing his window’s open. It slams shut. Followed by the door. Then the lights go out. A Voodoo priest appears. Goes to strangle him. Biff faints. The priest takes the music and leaves. And that’s it.
This racist interlude is finally over and I can relax.
Blurry segue whilst I go and make some tea…. and then back to the carriage.
‘How do I get out of it?’ says Biff.
Dr T draws the fifth card. Death. Jim stops Dr T putting it back in the pack. ‘Ours was the same?’ he asks. Dr T nods.
Franklyn says it all means absolutely nothing.
‘What makes you so sure?’ says Dr T.
To prove he’s not afraid, Franklyn agrees to a reading.
Blurry segue to: an art gallery. Arty flute music (at least it’s not JAZZ flute)
1:03:48 Franklyn is slagging off a painting in the exhibition. A young woman storms off. Comes back with the artist, Erik Landor. ‘You don’t like my work?’ he says. ‘One wonders why you come to my exhibitions so regularly if my work is so displeasing to you.’ ‘Duty’ says Franklyn. He gets paid to be snooty. It’s a snooty duty. They have a stand-up row about art, which is even duller than the slideshow about plants, or the jazz set back at the club. Landor argues that each painting reveals itself in different ways to the viewer. Which is an admirable stance. Mine would be to smash a painting over his head. Meanwhile, a woman comes out of the office with a new painting by a young artist. ‘I wonder if you’d mind telling us what you think of his work?’ she says. (I hope it’s not by the Voodoo god Dumbala).
1:06:05 He turns it over. Lots of yellow and blue splodges. ‘Clearly the work of an artist with considerable creative promise,’ says Franklyn. ‘You could learn a lot from this artist’ he says. ‘I’d like to meet him,’ says Landor. ‘He’s here now,’ says the woman. Everyone looks down. It’s a chimp. Everyone laughs. Franklyn leaves.
1:06:55 Cut to: a formal dinner somewhere. Franklyn is the guest speaker. Landor is also there. He holds up a paper chain of monkeys – which, as heckling goes, is pretty niche. Franklyn loses his train of thought, and sits back down.
1:07:52 Franklyn is lecturing at another exhibition. Landor is creeping around like a mittenless gardener in the background. Franklyn sees him and is thrown again. He says he’s got a pressing appointment and leaves.
1:08:20 Landor is locking up his gallery for the night. He pauses to look at the painting in the window. Franklyn is waiting in his car. When Landor crosses the road, Franklyn runs him over. (Note: the world of art is pretty cut-and-thrust and you have to be careful).
1:08:59 Landor is in hospital. Looks like he’s lost his hand. For an artist that’s pretty bad. But at least he can still wear a beret. (I know, I know – it’s difficult to make jokes about road traffic accidents. But at least I’m not as fly about these things as Biff).
1:10:00 Franklyn is in his office, struggling to write anything. All he really wants to do is smoke and read the paper (so it’s probably a good job that Twitter hasn’t been invented yet).
1:10:37 Handor – sorry – Landor is back home, crying in front of the mirror, looking at his stump with a bunch of soulful violins in the background. (I know, I know – it’s difficult to make jokes about post traumatic stress disorder. But at least the chimp earned a few commissions). Landor opens a drawer – with his good hand. He has a gun. Loading it might be fiddly, but maybe the chimp can help with that…
1:11:18 Oh. He shoots himself. Who feels bad now? Shrug. Writing these things makes you cynical.
1:11:21 A merciful cut to: Franklyn, driving in his car (what else? a bulldozer?) There’s a disembodied hand on the backseat. Making a gang sign. Or not. It crawls towards him, slower than the vine. Franklyn glances at it, gasps, swerves. Wrestles with the hand whilst the car skids through some trees. You wouldn’t think a hand would be as strong as that, without any muscles behind it, but maybe I’m overthinking.
1:11:55 Franklyn manages to toss it out of the window with a disgusted expression, like it’s a burger wrapper or something. The car drives away, and the hand starts crawling slowly after it.
1:12:20 Back home, Franklyn anxiously tries to make his house hands-free. Builds the fire up in the grate. There’s a knock on the door. Franklyn starts. ‘Who is it?’ he says. But I’m guessing a disembodied hand wouldn’t have rapped twice like that. Once would be difficult. And even if it had managed to knock, it certainly couldn’t call out ‘The Disembodied Hand’ (or ‘Pizza’ if it wanted to be sneaky). The best it could manage would be semaphore, and I don’t know Franklyn knows semaphore. But again – maybe overthinking.
1:12:52 Franklyn goes to the door clutching the poker. He opens the door a little and peers outside. No-one. Closes the door again. Doesn’t notice the hand crawling along the carpet. I’m impressed. It got back to Franklyn’s house the same time as he did. Maybe it thumbed a ride…
1:13:58 It grabs his ankle (where else?). He tries to shake it off. Then picks it up with the tongs and places it in the fire where it sizzles nicely.
1:14:28 The next day, back in the office, Franklyn is at his desk again. Picks up his pen to write. The hand appears at the window behind him. Sheesh – he’s NEVER going to get that snooty article written!
1:15:02 The hand crawls across the carpet towards his ankles again. It looks the worse for wear, but shows a great deal of determination and pluck. Well done, disembodied hand! It (somehow) crawls up the desk legs and onto the top. There’s a paper knife shaped like a dagger on the blotter. I’m guessing Franklyn will stab the hand with that.
1:15:23 But no… the hand leaps up and grabs him by the throat.
1:15:30 He manages to pull it away – then he puts it on the blotter, stabs it with the dagger (thank you), then puts it in a metal cigar box.
1:16:00 He tosses the cigar box into a pond. I know Landor was an artist… but was he an ESCAPE artist…. (pause for huge studio applause there).
1:16:31 Franklyn is in the pub having drinks with friends. They say his temper’s improved. He seems less handsy (I added that).
1:17:01 Franklyn is driving in the rain. He passes a traffic sign warning of hazardous hands ahead. Or bends. I’m not great with traffic signs. Sure enough, the hand lands on the windscreen and grabs the wiper. In the wrong hands (sorry) that could be the cue for a slapstick comedy scene – fast wipe, screenwash etc – but Freddie Francis resists the obvious. He just has Franklyn plummet down a ravine.
1:17:35 The next scene is daylight. Police examining the wreckage. Franklyn being stretchered into an ambulance. ‘He’ll live’ says the paramedic (or an early version of that – more like someone in a flat cap who picks up patients with a shovel) – ‘…but he’ll be blind for the rest of his life, poor guy.’
Blurry segue. Back in the carriage.
‘A very pretty story,’ says Franklyn, nervously taking off his glasses.
Dr T draws the fifth card. Guess what?
Next up is Donald Sutherland (Dr Bob).
‘Deal the cards’ he says.
The Empress; The Hermit; The Star; The Lovers.
Blurry segue to Dr Bob carrying his new wife Nicolle over the threshold. She’s French. Not sure if that’s important right now. They kiss, as erotically as two cod accidentally sliding together on a barrel of ice. ‘Welcome to Pemberton,’ he says when they separate again. He makes a huge thing of going into the kitchen to make something to eat. I can’t think of anyone who could do that more strangely and yet more compellingly than Donald Sutherland. (Although Donald Pleasence could give it a shot).
1:20:30 The kitchen is pretty bare, with only four tins of soup. So I guess they’re having soup. He doesn’t even have a can opener, and has to stab it with a screwdriver. Typical doctor.
1:20:59 ‘Ow!’ he says. Nicolle runs to him. He’s cut his finger. Nicolle’s eyes narrow. ‘I’ll wash it’ says Dr Bob. ‘No!’ says Nicolle. ‘Let me do it’. She licks it clean. Uh-oh.
1:21:50 Later that night, Nicolle is in a negligee and Dr Bob is asleep. Some honeymoon. She doesn’t seem bothered though. She trails over to the window and looks up at the moon. Next thing you know, there’s a bat shadow flitting across the wall, and Nicolle has gone. No way!
1:22:14 At breakfast (soup again), Dr Bob looks washed out. Dr Blake comes over. He’s a scary looking individual, with the kind of eyes you’d make with a power drill. I think he’d get on with Caleb pretty well. They could creep around in the shrubbery together.
1:23:24 At the clinic, Dr B and Dr B – okay – Dr Bob and Dr Blake – discuss a strange case: Johnny, a boy who doesn’t have enough blood. They go through to see Johnny. The scariest thing about Johnny is not his white face, it’s his tweed jacket and bow tie. ‘He always sleeps with his window open,’ says his mum. Dr Blake notices two puncture wounds on Johnny’s neck. When Johnny goes, Dr Blake gives his opinion: ‘If these were mediaeval times, I’d say he was the victim of a vampire.’ (And if I was a patient of yours I’d ask to see another doctor).
1:24:38 Dr Bob discusses the case with Nicolle over soup that night. He tells her that Dr Blake works alone at night at the top of the university. Nicolle looks interested.
1:25:17 Dr Blake is locking up for the night. Nicolle follows him down the stairs. Then Dr Blake turns round and goes back UP the stairs. So Nicolle does the same. I mean – what’s the point? I’m so confused. Who is chasing who? Come on, vampires! Sharpen up!
1:27:15 At the top of the stairs, Dr Blake sees a ludicrous rubber bat on a wire fly towards him. He screams and holds his arms up – accidentally making the sign of the cross, which as everyone knows is perfect protection against bad special effects.
1:27:40 Next day back at the clinic, Johnny looks better. I mean – sure, he’s still anaemic as hell, but at least he’s in a stripy sports shirt. Dr Blake says he’ll stay with Johnny that night. Although personally I’d rather have him admitted to a paediatric ward, cross-matched & transfused, but I’m no expert (as many of my comments have testified over the course of this show).
1:28:13 That night, Johnny sleeps while Dr Blake sits in an armchair pointing a pistol at the window. He shoots the bat when it shows up, then peers out through the hole with a crazy expression. Johnny doesn’t wake up, which is just as well.
1:29:00 Nicolle climbs in through the bedroom window holding her bloody hand. ‘I cut my hand’ she says. Next thing you know, Dr Blake is sharpening a stake. ‘Nicolle is my wife’ says Dr Bob. He will NOT be signing this procedure off. Dr Blake tells Dr Bob all about vampires, who they are, how they operate and such. He’s never looked so happy. He gives Dr Bob the stake and tells him to use it if she comes home again that night looking all vampire-y.
1:30:18 Dr Bob asleep in bed. He’s like Johnny. He can sleep through anything. The ludicrous rubber bat flies in the window. Dr Bob wakes up, sees it, then pretends to be asleep as it turns into Nicolle. She gets into bed. Dr Bob kisses her on the shoulder. ‘I love you’ he says. Kisses her on the lips, then grabs the stake.
1:32:06 Cut to: a police car, zooming through the night. A detective examines Nicolle’s body, which has a great big stake sticking outta the negligee. ‘A VAMPIRE?’ he says to Dr Bob. ‘It’s true,’ says Dr Bob. ‘I never heard anything so crazy in my life’ says the Detective to the police officer behind him. ‘Dr Blake will confirm it,’ says Dr Bob. ‘Confirm what?’ says Dr Blake, walking in the bedroom. ‘That my wife was a vampire.’ ‘But that’s nonsense,’ says Dr Blake. ‘There are no such things as vampires.’ The police officer leads him away.
1:33:20 ‘Shall I give you a lift, doctor?’ says the detective. ‘No thanks, I’ll fly’ says Dr Blake. Sorry – walk. ‘This town isn’t big enough for two doctors,’ he says, to camera. ‘Or two VAMPIRES. Then spreads his wings, turns into a ludicrous rubber bat, and wobbles off.
Blurry segue back to carriage.
Dr T turns the fifth card. Death. Of course.
‘Aye aye aye,’ says Dr Bob. And lights a cigarette. Gotta love Donald Sutherland.
‘There are five of us in this carriage – and no-one seems to have a future,’ says Jim.
They all look at Dr T.
‘What about YOU?’
He deals himself a card. Death again. (I’d check the pack, mate).
‘Why have you done this? What do you want? WHO ARE YOU?’ says Franklyn.
Dr T smiles at him.
‘Have you not guessed?’ he says.
The lights go out. When they come on again, Dr T has vanished, leaving only the Death card in his place.
The train stops.
They all leave the carriage.
(Dr Bob checks his hair first).
But out on the platform, there’s only fog and spooky music. This isn’t the commuter destination of Bradley. This looks more like Crawley.
A newspaper flutters down. They all read it.
Train Crash. Five Dead.
Dr Schreck has his back to them. When he turns round …. he’s a skeleton! But a happy one, judging by the gape. And the cape.
They walk slowly towards him as oboes and violins turn up the spooky – and that’s it!
So what’ve I learned?
- Stay out of the cellar. I’m serious. An awful lot of trouble could be avoided if people stayed out of the goddamn cellar. I don’t care if it’s well lit. Has a pool table and a mini bar. Just – don’t.
- Gardening is a healthy and relaxing hobby, unless you’re growing killer vines, in which case, call the experts. Especially if they smoke a pipe.
- If you play jazz trumpet, snap your fingers and say things are cool, you deserve all you get.
- A nice present for a disembodied hand might be fingerless mittens.
- The doctor / vampire combination is unfortunate. Like having a werewolf working at a cat sanctuary. Try to screen these things out at the interview stage.
2 thoughts on “Dr Terror’s House of Horrors”
I know these take a while but Dammit…I really like them!
Thanks Patti! It’s therapy to write them! There’s something strangely comforting about bad horror films…🤔
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