Setting the stage for what would be a decade long run of successful anthology thrillers, Amicus Productions led by Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg smartly enlisted three key ingredients that had helped turn Hammer Films into the industry’s leading purveyor of horror and fantasy cinema, Oscar winning cinematographer turned director Freddie Francis coupled with the dynamic duo of horror, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.

The end result is this entertaining thriller told in five segments wrapped around a train ride that sees five strangers seated in a compartment together along with a mysterious man willing to tell them their futures if they are just brave enough to tap his deck of tarot cards three times so that the reading may begin.

Utilizing 1945’s Dead Of Night for inspiration, Subotsky wrote the screenplay featuring Peter Cushing in the title role while Rosenberg produced this chilling effort that features vampires, voodoo, a severed hand, werewolves and man eating plants.

“I call it my house of horrors.”

The so-called “house of horrors” begins when Neil McCallum, Alan Freeman, Roy Castle, Christopher Lee and a very young Donald Sutherland find themselves seated together on an evening train. Joining them is Peter Cushing looking as if he’s a street urchin with the Red Skelton gloves to match. He’s darkly lit and heavily bearded. With him are his tarot cards which he conveniently drops opening the conversation for those around him to learn more about the cards and the futures they can foretell.

Aside from the snooty Christopher Lee who verbally spars with Peter from the opening, much to the delight of those fans like me who have grown to appreciate their onscreen banter, the men begin to take the bait leading us to the first reading and storyline, Werewolf.

Neil McCallum finds himself called in to do some renovations on what was once his family home as a child. The new owner, Ursula Howells, wants more room to display the many artifacts her late husband and one time archaeologist has in storage. All of which leads to the uncovering of a sarcophagus in the cellar that has been recently walled up. A solid entry in our five tales of terror.

“Creeping Vine” is next when passenger Alan Freeman tries his luck with the tarot cards. Along with his family he returns to his country side home to discover a large vine growing alongside the house. One that defends itself when Freeman attempts to cut into it at the base. Things get serious when they find the beloved family dog strangled to death by the vine after he goes about digging in the garden. Bernard Lee joins in the fight to save humanity because if this plant takes hold and multiplies it could be the end of life as we know it. Enjoyable and has that doomsday feel we’d see years later in Kingdom of the Spiders.

Next up we’ll find Roy Castle tapping the deck of cards leading to “Voodoo” the third tale of terror.

Roy is a jazz musician whose agent sends him and his band ( The Tubby Hayes Combo) down to the Caribbean Islands. Roy is grooving with the locals and can’t help himself sneaking off into the night to see the rhythmic native girls dancing to the voodoo beat. He likes the music and figures it should sell in England. Threats of a voodoo curse won’t stop him from stealing the music and branding it as his own. Big mistake.

And now for the Main Event!

No the Lee thriller isn’t the closing tale of terror but it’s what we’ve been waiting for. Arrogant and looking down his nose at Peter’s charlatan palm reader who clearly is making up all these preposterous tales to score a few coins, Lee won’t be frightened by the ramblings of a fortune teller and the Death Card. He takes the bait. Just three taps on the deck and we are transported to the fourth tale of terror, “Disembodied Hand.”

Lee is an art critic who clearly is the world’s leading authority on the subject if he has anything to say about it.

Time to hit the pause button. One clearly has to wonder why Vincent Price isn’t playing the role. If you know anything about Vincent Price off screen then you’ll understand that comment.

As for Lee he is not a fan of a local artist, Michael Gough, who is clearly a success with the public. Lee continues to berate Gough’s work prompting the artist to put Lee in his place with a wonderfully played trick leading to Lee’s public embarrassment. Seizing opportunity and with murder on his mind, Lee, will bide his time and run down the artist in his automobile severing Gough’s hand. Hence the title of this segment. That creeping hand is sure to follow Lee everywhere as it seeks a revenge befitting the storyline.

If the Lee tale was meant to be the headliner then the final segment starring the relatively unknown Donald Sutherland could easily be labeled an after dinner delight.

“Deal the cards”

Sutherland stars in “Vampire”. He’s a newlywed returning to England with his beautiful European wife, Jennifer Jayne. Don’s a small town doctor working with the elderly Max Adrian as they tend to the town’s needy. Turns out there’s a case of blood loss in a local child and when Adrian suggests if he didn’t know better it might be the work of a vampire Don reminds him these are modern times. Perhaps he should have took note when he cut his finger and his wife suggestively licked the blood from his wound. Dr. Max is soon going to convince Don that his wife is indeed a vampire leading to a fine “bloody hell” of a finale! And hey, I recognize that cop near the fadeout. It’s Al Mulock who fans of Once Upon a Time In the West will recognize as the third gunslinger alongside Jack Elam and Woody Strode awaiting the arrival of “Harmonica” in the opening scenes of the 1969 Leone classic.

Of the five tales from the pen of Subotsky, I guess I enjoy segments 1, 4 and 5 the best. Werewolves, vampires and Christopher Lee. Can’t go wrong with that trifecta.

Of course there is still the fade out to be watched when the five men and Cushing’s Dr. Terror arrive at their destination. But that’s what you’re sticking around to find out. Just where is the station that the train has arrived at to drop them?

Fronted by Amicus, Subotsky and Rosenberg would go into overdrive releasing a number of “horror” films in short order. The Skull which reunited Francis, Lee and Cushing, a pair of Dr. Who films with Dear Peter in the title role, a nifty thriller titled The Psychopath and then came The Deadly Bees before settling on their next anthology of horrors, Torture Garden released in 1967 once again starring Cushing though minus Lee and again directed by Francis. The other anthology thrillers they released are The House That Dripped Blood (1971), Tales From the Crypt (1972), Asylum (1972), The Vault of Horror (1973) and lastly From Beyond the Grave (1974).

By this point in the respective careers, Lee and Cushing were joined at the hip having just filmed The Gorgon for Hammer the year prior to their first Amicus teaming. 1965 found them in three films together at local theaters. Dr. Terror, The Skull and Hammer’s She starring Ursula Andress in the title role.

Donald Sutherland was two years away from landing the part of Pinkley in The Dirty Dozen. A role that would seriously change the trajectory of his career with hits MASH, Kelly’s Heroes and Klute not far behind. New on the scene he had just made his screen debut opposite Lee in 1964’s The Castle of The Living Dead. In two separate roles no less!

Michael Gough who turns up in a sympathetic role in the Lee segment is no stranger to horror films and can usually be found hamming it up no matter how hard he tries to reign himself in. Check out titles like Horrors of the Black Museum (1959), Konga (1961), Phantom of the Opera (1962), Crucible of Horror (1971) and Horror Hospital (1973) for the full Gough experience. He’d be rediscovered somewhat when Tim Burton hired him to play Alfred the Butler in 89’s Batman and the subsequent sequels.

If I could have one wish it would be that all seven of the Amicus anthology thrillers be released in a blu ray special edition box set. The type put out by companies like Arrow Video or Scream Factory. All the films are available individually but the rights are owned by various distributors. So it’s not likely to happen. Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors was put out here in North America by Olive Films a number of years ago so hopefully someone else picks up the rights and gives it a proper release.