When the frame story is better than the episodes in a film anthology, something is wrong. Like the movie. A great cast helps a bit: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Roy Castle, Donald Sutherland, Alan Freeman, Max Adrian, Anne Bell, and Michael Gough.
Cushing is the mysterious Shreck (German for ‘fright’). He inhabits the part well, giving tarot readings to a group of five businessmen sharing the same train compartment with him. All the guys get their comeuppance–for dismissing Shreck as a crank. Each guy descends into his own black hole of horror, according to Shreck’s cards.
So far so good. Unlike the very successful Dead Of Night from twenty years before, the frame story isn’t subtle or thoughtful. As others have pointed out, it’s absurd, because we eventually discover that all the protagonists are already dead. Thanks to an off screen train wreck. That would be something to see though–even if it’s stock footage. At any rate, it’s all about the episodes.
The first is about a werewolf; this is pretty creepy, as we get a genuine moldy corpse tossing around in a coffin amidst a cool crypt. There’s a nice juxtaposition of sunny days with gothic nights. Still, not a lot happens, kinda stagey (McCallum and Ursula Howells star). 6/10.
The next story concerns a deadly plant (?!). At the risk of punning badly, this plant is, well, too vegetarian. To get to the point–it grows quickly and strangles a guy (Alan Freeman). It doesn’t consume/eat him, turn him into a plant, create pod people, take over the town, or anything cool like that. There’s some interest in the middle portion as he consults with a scientist; the film clips he’s shown have more menacing plants than this vine. 4/10
The voodoo episode has some slick mid-’60s quasi-rhumba music (Roy Castle is our hip musician protagonist). That’s it. This has great potential (as all of the episodes), but it’s played almost entirely for fun and games. The denouement is predictable and lacks any sense of terror. 4/10.
The last two episodes are the best of a sorry lot. The old severed hand avenging itself on the guy who persecuted the hand’s ‘owner.’ Art critic Lee savages an artist (Gough); the guy finds a way to humiliate the critic. Not one to take criticism, Lee’s character nearly kills the artist–in fact maims him. Despondent at losing his means of livelihood, he kills himself.
The hand finds its way back into action; this stuff is well-staged. But there’s the predictable car wreck in which Lee (guess what?) Loses his means of livelihood, his sight. Not bad, 6.5/10.
The last bit could’ve been better too. Sutherland marries a French girl (Jennifer Jayne); she’s tre chic, and a vampire. She makes a nice bat. He has to give the old stake in the heart so she won’t zip out at night biting kids.
Shoulda checked into her family history before doing the vows, man. Not a bad twist though, as his colleague (Adrian) turns out to be a bat-man; he sets it up so Sutherland kills his wife, thus reducing the competition. Time for bad pun #2: This sucks. 5/10.
Back aboard the haunted choo-choo. Well, it does look the part. This movie was a large disappointment. Except for the werewolf episode, and a few creeping hand bits, there’s a near-complete lack of horror or terror here. If it weren’t for the stellar cast, this would be largely forgettable.
The frame story is fine, and each episode has an interesting (although standard) premise. The only one that’s really a decent story is the revenge plot of Lee’s episode. Even that is more or less at Twilight Zone level (no slam on Rod Serling, as he had to churn this stuff out each week). A slight boost for the frame story, but only 5.5/10 overall.