Severed hands, apparitions, rapes and family curses abound in this overly eventful horror movie.
Branded with an X certificate on its first release in 1973, this grisly horror from Amicus Productions threw everything it had on-screen in the vague hope of creating a truly terrifying chiller. The result was, as director Roy Ward Baker later admitted, “a muddled picture” that he had hoped would be “much more erotic”. While the presence of Stephanie Beacham as a young bride in late 18th century England promised much heavy breathing, the torturous plotting turned out to be nothing more than top heavy.
As the young bride troubled by ghosts, Beacham proves more than up to the role, yet the script’s reliance on family curses is exasperatingly complicated. Stumbling over its back-story, with plenty of flashbacks, the script toys with literary references (Milton’s ‘Comus’) sexual innuendo (the plot is triggered by a rape and a severed hand that comes back to haunt the family responsible) and psychoanalytic undercurrents (Peter Cushing’s Dr Pope, brought down from London to help, is a rather early champion of the talking cure), yet the brew is more headless than heady.
While British horror fans will no doubt relish seeing most of the cast of Asylum (Cushing, Patrick Magee, Herbert Lom), reunited in period drag, there’s very little here to capture the attention other than the grisly special effects. The desire to create something more than just a Gothic period piece in the vein of Hammer’s outings was admirable, it’s just a shame it turned out to be so hopeless. Even the gore seems vaguely unoriginal (if not “second-hand” since Amicus had already used the severed member motif in both Dr Terror’s House of Horrors (1965) and Tales From The Crypt (1972)). By the time the screaming stops, this has proved a missed opportunity.
Stephanie Beacham hated the mechanical severed hand that terrorised her because it repeatedly broke down in the middle of shooting.
Stephanie Beacham as Catherine Fengriffen
Peter Cushing as Dr. Pope
Patrick Magee as Dr. Whittle
Herbert Lom as Henry Fengriffen
Ian Ogilvy as Charles Fengriffen
Geoffrey Whitehead as Silas / Woodsman
Guy Rolfe as Maitland
Rosalie Crutchley as Mrs. Luke
Gillian Lind as Aunt Edith
Janet Key as Bridget
Sally Harrison as Sarah
Director: Roy Ward Baker
Producer: Max Rosenberg , Milton Subotsky
Photographer: Denys N Coop
Composer: Douglas Gamley
Screen Writer: Roger Marshall
UK | Amicus | 91 minutes | 1973