The Amicus Collection review, The Amicus Collection DVD
Peter Cushing, Britt Ekland, Herbert Lom, Patrick Magee, Michael Gambon, Stephanie Beacham, Barry Morse, Barbara Parkins, Charlotte Rampling, Calvin Lockhart, Ian Ogilvy
Roy Ward Baker / Paul Annett
The Amicus Collection

Reviewed by Will Harris


hile in no way as famous as their peers, Hammer Studios, Amicus Productions was a British production company founded by American producers Milton Subotsky and Max J. Rosenberg. Although they scored some notoriety by releasing a pair of “Dr. Who” feature length films, as well as an adaptation of playwright Harold Pinter’s “The Birthday Party” that was directed by William Friedkin (“The Exorcist”), their biggest claim to fame was their many horror films.

The folks at Dark Sky Films have been fortunate enough to obtain the right to reissue three films from the Amicus vaults, falling under the banner title of “The Amicus Collection.” Although it’s not actually a box set (they’re only available individually), it’s far easier to discuss the three films within the context of one review, so let’s do just that, shall we?

Asylum (1972)

A horror anthology based on four different short stories by Robert Bloch, best known for writing “Psycho.” The framing device…and it’s a pretty entertaining one…is that a young doctor (Robert Powell) has come to interview for a position at an insane asylum, but he finds that the physician with whom he’s supposed to meet – whom he’s never been in contact with except by letter – has himself been committed to the facility. His replacement decides that in order to get the job, he must determine which of the patients is actually the doctor; upon speaking to the patients, each of them provide a tale for the film. We witness a wife taking revenge on the husband who murdered her, hear of a tailor who receives an assignment from a customer (played by Cushing) to make a very special suit, and learn of a woman who thinks she’s going mad when she thinks her brother is trying to kill her. The most memorable of the four stories, however, is about a man who builds tiny robots with human faces; the robots look a little silly, but the money shot is extremely creepy. So which one is the doctor? Right, like I’m going to tell you that.

And Now the Screaming Starts! (1973)

Yes, the exclamation point is actually part of the title. It’s possible they added it in hopes of giving the flick a bit more oomph. Not that it’s so bad, but it’s definitely the least of the trio. Charles Fengriffen (Ian Ogilvy) and his fiancée (Stephanie Beacham) arrive at Fengriffen’s grandparents’ estate and are immediately set upon by an ancestral curse. Drat the luck…and it only gets worse when a severed hand keeps showing up to bother Beacham. We get a lot of flashbacks to find out about the Fengriffen curse, and we also get equal amounts of gore and top-notch British acting, but, overall, it’s just not all that scary. Disturbing on occasion, sure, but not scary. Oh, did I not mention Peter Cushing’s role this time? He arrives to investigate all the goings-on at the Fengriffen estate…because, of course, who else would you call in a situation like that but Peter Cushing?

The Beast Must Die (1974)

This is the unquestionable highlight of the trio of reissues…because, really, how can you go wrong with a film that includes a “werewolf break.” We’ll offer clarification on that in a moment, but, first, let’s discuss the plot: in a twist on the concept that the supposed biggest game of all is man, wealthy big game hunter Tom Newcliffe – possibly best known for playing Biggie Smalls in the 1975 comedy, “Let’s Do It Again” – decides that an even better trophy for his collection would be a werewolf. In hopes of finding one, he invites five individuals, including not only the ubiquitous Cushing but also future Dumbledore Michael Gambon, to his island home for the weekend; each of them has a tie to an unexplained murder, so Newcliffe is convinced that one of them must surely be dealing with the curse of lycanthropy. Also in the mix are his wife, Caroline, and his surveillance expert, Pavel. Have you figured out this “werewolf break” thing yet? That’s right: using a gimmick that would make William Castle swell with pride, the producers gave the audience the opportunity to determine which person in the film was the werewolf, providing them with a 30-second onscreen time-clock. The whodunit aspect really just adds to an already fun film, albeit one with a strangely wah-wah filled soundtrack. Did composer Douglas Gamley look at the rushes and say, “Hmmm, the lead fellow’s black; better break out the wah-wah pedal and see if we can’t draw in that ‘Shaft’ audience.” Well, after all, it was the era of blaxploitation.

No word yet on whether Dark Sky will be able to license any other Amicus films – can we put in a request for “Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors”? – but fans of the British horror genre will love every minute of these films, and it’s not unrealistic to think that a few new admirers will come as a result of these reissues.

DVD Review:
Each of the films contains audio commentary by one of the major players; for “The Beast Must Die,” it’s director Paul Annett, while director Roy Ward Baker speaks to the other two films, joined variously by cameraman Neil Binney (on “Asylum”) and Stephanie Beacham (on “And Now the Screaming Starts!”). Actually, the latter film also includes a second commentary track, where Ian Ogilvy gets his own say. This is possibly to make up for the fact that “And Now the Screaming Starts!” is the only film not to contain a bonus featurette. Arnett talks in great detail about “The Beast Must Die” in “Directing ‘The Beast,’” while “Asylum” includes an extremely informative documentary on the history of Amicus Productions.

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