There’s something so satisfying about horror films where no-good characters get their just desserts. While we’ll always cheer for Freddy Krueger turning a teenager into a blood geyser or Jason Voorhees punching someone’s head clean off, these kills lack the catharsis that only comes from watching bad things happen to bad people. And no studio produced quite as many captivatingly cathartic horror films as Amicus Productions.
Founded in 1962 by Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg, Amicus is best remembered for its horror anthologies. Between 1965 and 1974, the scrappy studio produced seven anthologies featuring a plethora of British stars, from Hammer mainstays Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing to Doctor Who headliners Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker.
Though the wraparound stories were always different, a common thread runs through these films: they invariably feature cruel, ruthless, or just plain unpleasant characters who meet nasty — often ironic — ends. So, since it’s Reaper Madness Month here at Nightmare on Film Street, let’s count down 10 characters in Amicus anthologies who truly reaped what they sowed.
10. Paul Henderson in The House That Dripped Blood (1971)
In “The Cloak,” the final tale from director Peter Duffell’s The House That Dripped Blood, Jon Pertwee plays Paul Henderson, a temperamental actor who demands realism from the horror film he’s starring in. After berating the crew, he finds an authentic cloak for his character — a vampire — to wear. But the man he buys it from happens to be a real bloodsucker, and when Henderson dons the garment, he starts becoming one himself. Little does he realize, his co-star Carla (Ingrid Pitt) is also a vampire — and since her kind admires his portrayal of them, she’s been sent to turn him.
Did Henderson deserve eternal damnation? Not really — but it is amusing to see someone so fixated on realism achieving it in the deadliest way. In the film’s conclusion, Henderson even dies a vampire’s death, getting staked through the heart by a detective (John Bennett) who is investigating mysterious disappearances at the titular house.
9. Walter in Asylum (1972)
In “Frozen Fear,” the first tale in director Roy Ward Baker’s Asylum, things don’t exactly go to plan when Walter (Richard Todd) and his mistress Bonnie (Barbara Parkins) conspire to murder Walter’s wealthy yet possessive wife, Ruth (Sylvia Syms). Walter chops Ruth up into little pieces, but her writhing, dismembered body parts reanimate — working together to kill Walter and frame Bonnie for his murder.
As Walter learns the hard way, sometimes it’s cheaper to just hire a divorce lawyer. Especially if your wife is a student of voodoo.
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8. Biff Bailey in Dr Terror’s House of Horrors (1965)
Speaking of voodoo, jazz musician Biff Bailey (Roy Castle) learns not to mess with it in the segment “Voodoo” from Dr Terror’s House of Horrors, directed by Freddie Francis. Despite being warned explicitly not to steal from the gods, Bailey writes down a melody he hears at a sacred ceremony in the West Indies and tries to use it in an arrangement. The deity he’s pissed off soon shows up in London to remind him that cultural appropriation isn’t okay.
“That’ll teach me not to steal tunes,” Bailey jokes nervously to Dr. Schreck (Peter Cushing), who is reading the fortunes of travelers in a train carriage. As we later learn, Schreck is in fact Death itself and has come to collect the souls of the travelers, all of whom perished in a train crash.
7. Arthur Critchit in The Vault of Horror (1973)
One of the more comedic segments in The Vault of Horror, another offering from Roy Ward Baker, “The Neat Job” centers around Arthur Critchit (Terry-Thomas), an obsessively tidy man who brags about his new trophy wife — the considerably younger Eleanor (Glynis Johns) — only to discover that her housekeeping skills are not to his liking.
After relentlessly criticizing Eleanor until she finally snaps, Critchit gets a taste of what true tidiness looks like when Eleanor kills him with a hammer and stores his remains in dozens of neatly labeled jars. At least the house is tidy now, right?
6. Franklyn Marsh in Dr Terror’s House of Horrors
In “Disembodied Hand,” another segment from Dr Terror’s House of Horrors, arrogant art critic Franklyn Marsh (Christopher Lee) has the tables turned on him when Eric Landor (Michael Gough), a painter he delights in lambasting, publicly humiliates him. Fuming, Marsh runs Landor over with his car, destroying his hand — and his career. Landor subsequently commits suicide, but his disembodied hand torments Marsh long after his death.
This eventually results in Marsh getting into an accident that costs him the one thing his own career hinges on — his eyes. And to add insult to injury, he’s about to die in the same train crash that killed Biff Bailey!
5. Colin Williams in Torture Garden (1967)
Freddie Francis returned to direct Torture Garden, the first segment of which, “Enoch,” follows greedy playboy Colin Williams (Michael Bryant). After inadvertently killing his uncle (Maurice Denham) while trying to extort money, Williams goes hunting for the man’s fortune. Instead, he discovers a cat called Balthazar that promises him riches in return for food. Pretty sweet deal, right?
Unfortunately, Balthazar doesn’t want kibble: it’s hungry for human flesh. And when this diet lands Williams in jail where he can no longer feed Balthazar, the kitty pays him a visit — and chows down on his head!
4. Edward Charlton in From Beyond the Grave (1974)
Director Kevin Connor’s From Beyond the Grave opens with “The Gate Crasher,” in which Edward Charlton (David Warner) tricks an antique store’s proprietor (Cushing) into selling him a mirror for much less than it’s worth. That’s strike one, but Charlton continues to prove how vile he is when the mirror’s supernatural inhabitant (Marcel Steiner) demands blood. Without even trying to push back, Charlton brings a prostitute home and brutally slays her. He later protests — but that doesn’t stop him from killing more vulnerable women and his downstairs neighbor.
Charlton’s comeuppance comes when the entity forces him to swap places with it in a most deadly fashion. Years later, Charlton is seen in the mirror — but we can hope his spirit never gets outs.
3. Major William Rogers in Tales from the Crypt (1972)
Amicus’s best-loved anthology, Tales from the Crypt (yet another Francis film) creates a despicable villain in the form of Major William Rogers (Nigel Patrick) from the segment “Blind Alleys.” The director of a home for the blind, Rogers dines on lavish lunches while enacting financial cutbacks that hurt the men in his care.
When this finally results in the death of a fellow resident, George Carter (Patrick Magee) decides enough is enough and leads a revolt. This concludes with Rogers being forced into a narrow passageway filled with razor blades — before the lights are turned out and his starving dog is set on him.
2. Harold Rogers in The Vault of Horror
“Midnight Mess,” The Vault of Horror’s opening segment, delivers one of the best kills in all of Amicus’s anthologies. Following the death of their father, Harold Rogers (Daniel Massey) tracks down his estranged sister Donna (Anna Massey) and murders her for the inheritance money.
But there’s something off about the town where Donna was hiding, and Harold soon finds out what: a nest of vampires has made it their home. And since Donna was one of them, she’s not so much dead as undead — and ready to help them turn her brother into a human wine box.
1. James Elliot in Tales from the Crypt
While all of Tales from the Crypt’s segments are memorable, “Poetic Justice” is downright heartbreaking. In it, snooty James Elliot (Robin Phillips) despises scruffy Arthur Grimsdyke (Cushing) for bringing the neighborhood down. But despite getting offers, Grimsdyke has no interest in selling his house because it reminds him of his late wife, Helen. Cushing’s own beloved wife, also named Helen, died just months before Crypt began filming, leaving him devastated and making this performance that much more haunting.
To force Grimsdyke out, Elliot sets about systematically ruining the old man’s life. After costing him his dogs, his job, and his pension, Elliot implies that Grimsdyke is a child molester. Finally, upon receiving hateful Valentine’s poems, supposedly from everyone in town, Grimsdyke leaves for good — by taking his own life.
Elliot evidently feels bad for taking things too far, but that doesn’t excuse his heinous actions. Nor does it make what happens next any less satisfying. You see, Grimsdyke dabbled in the occult, and next Valentine’s Day, he rises from the grave to write a poem of his own — using Elliot’s blood and heart. And as we learn from the film’s finale, Elliot’s punishment didn’t end there, because the Crypt Keeper (Ralph Richardson) is sending him straight to hell.
Over the years, Amicus proved that you SHOULD fear the Reaper — if you’ve been naughty. But if you’re a nice Fiend, feel free to join us over on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and Discord, and subscribe to the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter. Life’s too short not to…