When mentioning the British horror cinema of the 1960's, people almost
invariably think about production house Hammer
and its unmistakable output first, and that's hardly surprising given that
studio's amazing output of genre entertainment - yet there was another
British company that was something of a runner-up for predominance in
British horror, and that company was Amicus. Of course, Amicus
films never quite reached the popularity of its bigger rival Hammer
and only released a fraction of Hammer's
output, both within and outside of the genre. Compared to Hammer,
Amicus was always the little studio that could - a studio
that often took over ideas (as well as actors and directors) from the
bigger rival but then transformed them to turn them into something quite
generic. Because while Amicus has often been dismissed as a Hammer-copycat
(and its films were certainly similar to a degree), in all the studio has
developed a quite distinct in-house style over the years that made its best films
as easily recognizable as Hammer's
best films were.
There are a few curious fact about Amicus
though that I don't want to hide: While it was by all means a British film
company and its films had a very British flavour to it, it was actually
owned by two Americans, Max J.Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky, who both got
their start in the US-American filmbusiness and also produced their first
few films together there before relocating to Britain. And while they in
later years became known for their horror films, both Rosenberg and
Subotsky tried their hands on a few other genres before zeroing in on the
shocker, and even the first handful official Amicus releases were not
exactly scary stories.
But wait, I'm getting way ahead of
myself here, before I'm giving all the best facts away, maybe I should
start my story at the beginning and tell it in chronological order,
wouldn't you say?
Max J.Rosenberg and Milton
Mas J.Rosenberg was born in 1914 in the Bronx, New York to a furrier
father. He initially worked as a lawyer, also had certain ties to the
communist party (which he later renounced), but eventually he became
caught up in the film industry in 1945 as a distributor of foreign movies,
the most prominent probably being Der Blaue Engel/The Blue Angel
(1930, Josef von Sternberg) and Roberto Rossellini's Roma, Città
Aperta/Rome, Open City (1945).
In 1954 Rosenberg traded in
the big screen for the small, and produced a kiddie program with the
self-explanatory title Junior Science. His partner in crime
was fellow New Yorker Milton Subotsky, who also wrote the series.
Subotsky was born in 1921 in New York. In World War II, he served in the Signal
Corps and was in charge of editing training films, which pretty much
laid the groundwork for his later movie career.
After the war, Subotsky
was quick to realize the possibilities of this new medium called
television, and he wrote and produced various programs.
mentioned above, it was on television (on Junior Science, to
be precise) that Max J.Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky, later founding
fathers of Amicus, first met, and it must have been a match made in
heaven, because the two of them would soon trade in the small screen for
the big one alongside each other and remain together for the next 20 or so
years - which is a mighty long time in the film business.
all, Subotsky was probably the creative head of the duo, as he scripted
several of the movies they did together, while Rosenberg handled the
finances, and even when their production outfit relocated to the UK,
Rosenberg allegedly remained in the USA for most of the time.
1956, Max J.Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky formed the (US-American)
production company Vanguard,
which was supposed to be little more than a production house catering to
the drive-ins across the country giving them films comparable to those
produced by AIP,
Artists and similar companies.
The first subject that
they decided to exploit was rock'n'roll, then a new and hot sort of music,
and thus for their first film Rosenberg and Subotsky gathered some of the
more prominent music talent of the day - both black and white - plus
legendary disc jockey Alan Freed, one of the driving forces of the world
conquest of rock'n'roll, and put all of them together in a rather silly
yet likeable musical, Rock,
Rock, Rock (1956, Will Price), the story of a slightly air-headed
teen (Tuesday Weld) trying to get the right dress and the right boy for
her prom, all of which is framed by two shows, each consisting of several
musical performances, hosted by Alan Freed. Milton Subotsky not only wrote
the script for this one but also a handful of songs, while the likes of
Chuck Berry, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers and La Vern Baker perform
their hits. Maybe it should be noted here that
Tuesday Weld didn't do her own singing in this one, her singing voice was
provided by Connie Francis - and the opening credits of the film don't
make a secret out of it, nor does it hurt the film, as Ms Weld's spirited
performance holds the feeble story together just nicely.
Rock, Rock became big enough a success that Subotsky and
Rosenberg decided to pretty much use the film as the blueprint for next
year's Jamboree (1957, Roy Lockwood), another teen romance with
much music. The main differences between this one and Rock,
Rock, Rock are probably that the resident disc jockey of the film
is no longer Alan Freed but Dick Clark (who along with Freed was credited
with discovering rock'n'roll for a [white] mainstream audience), Connie
Francis lends her singing voice to Freda Holloway instead of Tuesday Weld,
and musical acts include Fats Domino, Frankie Avalon, Carl Perkins, Jerry
Lee Lewis and Chris Howland.
It wasn't long though before Vanguard
for whatever reasons broke the mold of being just another drive-in movie
production house and started producing more high-brow dramas like The
Last Mile (1959, Howard W.Koch), a film about a death row prisoner's
(Mickey Rooney) last hours based on the play by John Wexley, and Girl
of the Night (1960, Joseph Cates), in which Anne Francis plays a
prostitute, a topic virtually taboo topic in 1960 USA.
However, while both The
Last Mile and Girl of the Night were very ok films, they didn't
bring the recognition nor the box office returns Subotsky and Rosenberg
would have hoped for - so before long Vanguard
found itself producing the family movie Lad: A Dog (1962, Aram
Avakian, Leslie H.Martinson) - a film that's best described as the male
version of Lassie - before fading out of existence.
that anyone would have missed little Vanguard
in 1962, as by itself it has hardly left a ripple in movie history, while
also in 1962, another little productionhouse began to take shape ...
In the early to mid-1950's, horror was considered box office poison.
Sure, there were plenty of science fiction films around that incorportated
horror themes, but nobody even considered making a gothic horror film -
that is, until 1957, when a small and previously rather undistinguished
British production company, Hammer,
released The Curse
of Frankenstein (Terence Fisher), which was produced on a low
budget but raked in a fortune.
There are rumours around that a) Milton
Subotsky wrote a Frankenstein-script
James Carreras turned it down in favour of the script that was actually filmed, and b)
that Max J.Rosenberg had his hands in the production of The
Curse of Frankenstein - but neither of these rumours can be
independently verified (even though Rosenberg has actually made it into
the IMDb as the film's producer while certainly not being mentioned in the
movie's credits itself), and while at first glance, these stories seem to
make perfect sense, on closer observation they sound just too good to be
true and seem to be the stuff myths are made of rather than actual facts.
That's not to say that these claims are actually wrong, they just might turn
out to be true after all - however I haven't found proof for either of them and
prefer to not believe such stories.
Curse of Frankenstein had an impact on Rosenberg and Subotsky
inasmuch as they turned their attention towards the UK - though British
tax incentives for filming in the country might have been another reason - and set up shop
there to produce a low budget horror movie of their own, The
City of the Dead/Horror
Hotel (1960, John Llewellyn Moxey). The
City of the Dead though, based on a story by Milton Subotsky, was
nothing like The
Curse of Frankenstein or any of the subsequent Hammer-horrors
of the time, it was filmed in black and white as opposed to Hammer's
output that pretty much brought colour to the horror genre to begin with
(though there of course have been earlier horror flicks in colour), it was
not a period piece like pretty much all of the early Hammer-horrors,
and for some reason, the film, which was entirely shot in Nettlefold
Studios in Surrey, England, was set in the USA - even if the story about a
town ruled by witchcraft could have easily been set in the UK (or pretty much
anywhere else in the world) just as well. But the film had Christopher
Lee, whom Hammer
had made a star only recently, turning in another villain-performance. And
while on a pure narrative level, The
City of the Dead might be less than great, it's also an
atmospheric little shocker, and one that dares to kill off its heroine (Venetia Stevenson)
halfway through the movie ... and the film was shot at a time when Alfred
Hitchcock's masterpiece Psycho (1960), which used a similar
plottwist, wasn't yet released.
However, when compared to the
City of the Dead, a decent genre piece taken by its own merits,
had little to offer in terms of spectacle, and thus did little to launch
the horror production company we have today come to know and love as Amicus
- and technically, The
City of the Dead wasn't even an Amicus-production but
produced by a
company called Vulcan,
which only ever released a handful of films but was its own production
house that was not controlled by Subotsky and Rosenberg.
that as it may, The
City of the Dead certainly had a whole deal more to do with the
house style the studio eventually became known for than the first official
Amicus-release, It's a Trad, Dad!/Ring-a-Ding Rhythm
(1962, Richard Lester).
Thematically, It's a Trad, Dad! is a
throwback to the first films of Subotsky and Rosenberg's Vanguard-movies,
in which the plot was little more than a hanger for a sheer endless
variety of performances by popular hitmakers of the day, including Gene
Vincent, Chubby Checker, Del Shannon and a host of British Dixieland (!)
bands. And while Richard Lester, whose debut film this was, certainly
brings spots of his trademark surreal comedy to the film, the movie as a
whole still is little more than a musical revue that might be charming for
its many stars but not necessarily for anything beyond that.
for Fun (1963, Gordon Flemyng), Amicus' next film, is pretty
much more of the same, another musical revue with a bit of plot thrown in.
This time, the musical performances are handled by the Crickets, the
Tremeloes, the Tornados, the Vernon Girls, the Breakaways and the
Springfields, among others, and popular discjockeys of the time Alan
Freeman, David Jacobs and Jimmy Savile (more than a decade before Jim'll
Fix it) also made appearances.
While It's a Trad, Dad!
and Just for Fun were popular enough with (pre-MTV-)teen
audiences though and certainly made their money back, they were hardly
smashhits at the box office, nor particularly special films in any which
way, and nowadays are hardly even remembered by fans of what became to be
known as the Amicus-style. This would change though with the next
film the studio put out roughly two year after Just for Fun which
really put it on the map ...
The Amicus Omnibus
With the beginning of
the 1960's, Milton Subotsky and Max J.Rosenberg have relocated their
operations more and more to Great Britain, the former because he felt
drawn to the country (also artistically), the latter because he saw untapped business
opportunities, especially after Hammer
had produced a handful of immensely successful and posh-looking films on
comparatively low budgets - yet the two were unable to find the right
formula to rival Hammer's
formula films ... well, until 1965, when Subotsky and Rosenberg came up
with a horror anthology titled Dr.
Terror's House of Horrors (Freddie Francis [Freddie
Francis bio - click here]). The anthology (or
portmanteau or omnibus) format was perfect for both men, for the creative
head (and scriptwriter of the film) Subotsky, because he was best at
writing short stories with macabre endings, for Rosenberg because this way
he could hire not one or two but a handful of bigger names and talent
recognizable from rival Hammer's
shockers for comparatively low wages because he would need each of them
only for a few days each - and the biggest of these names are of course
Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, both Hammer-regulars,
and at least one of them has been in virtually every Hammer-hit
But the parallels to Hammer
don't even end here, it should also be noted that Freddie Francis -
nowadays most widely known as a celebrated cinematographer and deservedly
so - has previously directed a handful of Hammer-shockers
and was quite well-versed with the studio's house-style.
that said though, Subotsky and Rosenberg did their best to make Dr.
Terror's House of Horrors something other than a mere Hammer-knock-off,
and in more ways than one they even succeeded: While Hammer-movies
always saw the grand scale of things, the fight between good and evil and
Terror's House of Horrors' stories are all little morality tales
disguised as horror stories with a surprise twist at the end, where Hammer
pushed the envelope concerning gore, Dr.
Terror's House of Horrors shied away from showing too much
nastiness and rather concentrated on macabre details, and while virtually
all of the more successful Hammer-horrors
up until 1965 were period pieces, Dr.
Terror's House of Horrors - and all subsequent Amicus
omnibus movies - are set in contemporary times.
Terror's House of Horrors, Amicus had its first winner in
its hands, and over the years, the film has even garnered the status of a
genre classic - and hardly surprisingly, too, since it's an extremely
charming and tightly paced collection of what's essentially five horror
shorts - with the themes ranging from a severed hand stalking a man and
voodoo to werewolves and vampires - held together by a macabre framing
story that sees five passengers of a train travelling to the Beyond. Now
sure, the film might not always make perfect sense, but thanks to its
handful of well-constructed stories and its light-footed direction, that
actually doesn't matter at all.
the horror anthology, Amicus had pretty much found its formula that
would not only enable it to compete at the box office with main rival Hammer
but also set it apart from that studio - and yet, after the success of Dr.
Terror's House of Horrors, Amicus did not put its omnibus
movies into mass production right away but tried its hands on
a few other horror and science fiction projects that were more traditional
in narrative (inasmuch as they were no anthologies but films made out of
one piece) - but more about that below.
1967, the studio released another collection of horror stories called Torture
Garden, again directed by Freddie Francis and starring Peter Cushing,
but this time Robert Bloch of Psycho-fame was responsible for the script -
and it wasn't his first script for Amicus, either, he has over the
last two years become quite a regular collaborator of the studio.
enough, compared to Dr.
Terror's House of Horrors, Torture
Garden somehow lacked in
freshness and novelty value, but it was still an enjoyable little
took Amicus actually 4 years to release another omnibus
movie, but when it came in the form of The
House that Dripped Blood (1971, Peter Duffell) - another Robert
Bloch-scripted affair -, it had little new to offer - which was just as
well, as these films in general were not liked for their innovative edge
but for the cute (cute in a macabre sort of way), slightly old-fashioned
stories they were telling.
to mid 1970's though were a time when Amicus, much like its main
and the British film industry as a whole, found it more and more difficult
to sell its movies internationally due to the resurgence of the
US-American film industry and the subsequent rise of the blockbuster
phenomenon. But while Hammer
tried everything to go into new directions (like erotica or martial arts) without exactly leaving their
tried-and-true hunting grounds (with only moderate success), Amicus
went almost the opposite way, remembered the film that made it famous - Dr.
Terror's House of Horrors - and in the 1972 - '73 period produced
no less than four (!) omnibus
from the Crypt (1972, Freddie Francis [Freddie
Francis bio - click here]) was based on the
Comics of the same name from the 1950's, by then still a
source untapped and a logical choice as well, given both the comics
and the omnibus
movies were macabre little morality tales with a punchline at
Vault of Horror (1973, Roy Ward Baker) was a sequel to Tales
from the Crypt inasmuch as it once again took EC
Comics as its source material - and it does hold up in
comparison to the earlier movie pretty well.
(1972, Roy Ward Baker) was another Robert Bloch-scirpted horror
anthology. While still charming in an old-fashioned way though, Asylum
is one of the lesser Amicus
omnibus movies due to a rather sloppy screenwriting job and a
lack of good punchlines for the most part.
From Beyond the Grave (1973, Kevin Connor) is
comprised of 4 short stories by popular British horror writer
R.Chetwynd-Hayes, some of whose other work the studio would adapt into
another movie some time later.
By 1973 of course, the market had become over-saturated with the
format, and nobody cared too much about horror anthologies anymore,
something rival porduction house World Film Services had to find out when
it put out the Amicus
omnibus movie-like Tales that Witness Madness (1973, Freddie
Francis), a rather horribly written but reasonably decent looking
film, which didn't spark all that much interest. Amicus wisely
chose to stay away from the format after that one.
In all, when watching pretty much any of the Amicus
omnibus movies, it's no surprise why the studio has become
known for first and foremost that kind of film, they are all reasonably
fast paced, macabre, ironic, usually feature a very decent cast and are
directed in a charming, slightly old-fashioned way that makes them
appealing not only to fans of classic horror. That said, it's also no
surprise the films had actually fallen out of favour by the mid-1970's, at
the tail-end of the series they had become more and more interchangeable,
they didn't look like modern horror flicks anymore, and many
viewers might even have objected to the slightly ironic approach to horror
as such, unfortunately.
The studio tried to revive the format one last time in
1980 with The Monster Club (Roy Ward Baker) - but more about that
In any case,
however were not all that Amicus had to offer
In 1965, when Amicus hit the jackpot with their omnibus
movies, they also launched their first venture into science
fiction - and to that end again borrowed a page from Hammer:
In the 1950's, even before the success of The
Curse of Frankenstein, Hammer
an immensely popular sci-fi TV series, from the BBC
to adapt the series multipart episodes for the big screen - to
considerable international success.
By the 1960's of course, Quatermass
was a thing of the past, but a new BBC-science fiction show had taken Great
Britain by storm, Doctor
Who. And especially that series' main villains, the Daleks
- essentially extraterrestrial hovering half-robots that looked like
man-sized pepperpots which were created by the show's regular writer Terry
Nation - were extremely popular with the audiences. So it was only a
question of time until somebody brought Doctor
Who and the Daleks
- both of which debuted in 1963 - to the big screen, and that someone was
of course Amicus.
The first Amicus-produced movie Doctor
Who and the Daleks (Gordon Flemyng) was released in 1965, right at
the first height of the Daleks'
popularity, and it was a remake of the creatures' debut episode, simply
titled The Daleks
(Christopher Barry, Richard Martin), which was released in 7 parts in late
1963/early 1964. In the movie (which by and large follows the TV show)
inventor Doctor Who (Peter Cushing) takes his nieces and a friends on a
trip through time and space to be taken to a planet on which the evil
Daleks and the benign and humanoid Thals fight one another - and after
enduring several threats, the Doctor and his companions help the Thals
defeat the Daleks.
Unfortunately though, despite the addition of colour and a bigger
Who and the Daleks was no match for its television blueprint: For
one, the duration of the TV show was cut down in half, which isn't a bad
thing as such (as it could have helped pacing), but it takes away much of
the complexity of the original while adding very little in terms of
action. Also, the original was high on atmosphere (a result of the low
budgets the show was produced on back them) while the (not really
high-budgeted) movie limits itself to telling the story, then the film is
at times aimed way too much at the kiddie market, something especially the
episode it is based on didn't bother about that much (even though kids
were the target audience), and finally, Peter Cushing, usually a very
dependable actor (and one of my favourites) gives one of his worst
performances here, playing Doctor Who as an avuncular, harmless character,
who's essentially toothless, especially when compared to William Hartnell's
self-absorbed and cranky Doctor of the original (while interestingly,
under normal circumstances, William Hartnell was no match for Peter
Whatever the shortcomings of Doctor
Who and the Daleks were, it was successful enough at the box
office at least in Great Britain to cause Amicus to quickly produce
a sequel, Daleks'
Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (1966, Gordon Flemyng), a remake of the
second ever Daleks-story,
Dalek Invasion of Earth (1964, Richard Martin), in which the
Daleks try to conquer earth and make the planet into a rocketship, only to
have their plans thwarted by Doctor Who (Peter Cushing) once again. This
time, the story fared far better under Amicus-treatment, in part
because the original serial, running 6 episodes or about 2 1/2 hours,
needed some serious trimming to begin with, plus director Flemyng found
himself much more at home in earth settings than he did on the Daleks'
eccentric (yet under-budgeted) home planet, and Peter Cushing managed to
make the role his own the second time round.
Again, the film was successful enough at the box office, but plans to
make any more Doctor
Who and/or Daleks-films
were scrapped by Amicus after this one, presumably for various
reasons: Mainly because Doctor
Who and the Daleks
might have been huge in Great Britain, but their international appeal was
incredibly limited. On top of that, even in the UK, audiences were
presumably not all too willing to see something on the big screen they
have seen on television only a couple or so years ago. And on top of that,
Who-films might be entertaining, despite or even for their
shortcomings, but they were not exactly masterpieces ...
(By the way: Fanboys never tire to point out that the Doctor Who from
the Amicus movies was a human, earthbound inventor while the one in the
television series was an alien Timelord from planet Gallifrey - which is
essentially true, but when Amicus made its two Doctor
Who-films, the Doctor's origins were not established or even
alluded to [and maybe not even thought up] in the series yet.)
After the success of Dr.
Terror's House of Horrors, Amicus was wise enough to not
just relie on the formula of anthology movies - at least not right away -
but produce (with varying success) a string of genre films that mostly
remained true to Dr.
Terror's House of Horrors in genre but consisted of one single
The first of the studio's standalone-mvoies was The Skull
(1965, Freddie Francis [Freddie
Francis bio - click here]), a rather wild tale about a collector (Peter
Cushing) of macabre artifacts who one day stumbles upon the skull of
Marquis de Sade . which is possessed by an evil spirit that before long
turns the collector into a mad killer.
Sure, the basic plot of this film is silly as hell, however, Freddie
Francis' light-footed direction and a great cast (Cushing plus Patrick
Wymark, Nigel Green, Jill Bennett, Patrick Magee, Michael Gough,
Christopher Lee) make the film at least worthwhile, and for their
house-style alone, one can't but love these early Amicus-shockers.
By the way, The Skull was based on a story by Robert Bloch of Psycho-fame,
not the last thing he wrote for Amicus ...
The Skull was followed by The Psychopath (1966, Freddie
Francis), with Bloch being responsible for the actual script - and in the
years to come, Robert Bloch would become the busiest writer at Amicus
apart from Milton Subotsky himself. As a novelist, Bloch is rather
overrated just because he has written the novel Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho
(1960) was based on, but his scripts were pulpy yet sleaze-free enough to
fit perfectly with Amicus' output - even though the films based on his
screenplays are a bit hit-or-miss. The Psychopath though was one of the
better films from the studio, a slick and even slightly surreal thriller
about a present day serial killer whose trail might lead back to World War
The Deadly Bees (1967, Freddie Francis) on the other hand, a
script Robert Bloch adapted from a novel by H.F.Heard together with
Anthony Marriott is a rather feeble attempt to rip off Alfred Hitchcock's
classic animal horror The Birds (1963) - but Freddie Francis is no
Alfred Hitchcock (though Francis had his qualities as a director
without a doubt) and the script he was given to work with certainly lacked
excitement as well. That all said, The Deadly Bees holds a certain
charm despite everything, but I would attribute this to the Amicus
house-style more than anything else ...
In 1967, Amicus made two more excursions into science fiction, The
Terrornauts (Montgomery Tully) and They Came from Beyond Space
(Freddie Francis) - but these films, that were on a more serious, grown-up
level than their Doctor
Who-efforts (which were mainly kiddie-fare), prove just one
thing, that the studio was a bit of a fish out of water when it came to
science fiction. Just like The Deadly Bees, the two science fiction
films are not without their charm, but hardly films Amicus would
have ever become famous with ...
Another film from 1967, Danger Route (Seth Holt), sees the
studio tackling the espionage genre - and the resulting film is a rather
interesting little thriller, mainly because it did (for lack of resources)
not go the James
Bond-way of creating a big spectacle (which many other studios
have tried with only limited success), instead tells a tight story that's
more plot- than action-based. Be that as it may, the film has failed to
become a classic and is nowadays regarded as nothing but an oddity in Amicus'
Even more than Danger Route, The Birthday Party (1968, William
Friedkin) was anything but a typical Amicus movie, but rather an
absurd drama lifted from a play by Harold Pinter, who also wrote the
screenplay. While essentially a good film, it wasn't too big a success
back in the day, but one of the earliest works of later star director
William Friedkin. Milton Subotsky and Max J.Rosenberg are both said to
have been very fond of The Birthday Party though.
Another Amicus-oddity is A Touch of Love/Thank You All
Very Much (Waris Hussein) from 1969, a drama about an unmarried woman
(Sandy Dennis) that is much more ambitious than the studio's usual
output - but the lack of success soon would return Amicus to the
folds of more familiar horror territory ... but not before another rather
unusual film, The Mind of Mr. Soames (1970, Alan Cooke), in which
Terence Stamp plays a man who has been in a coma since infancy and now
sees the world as a grown-up through the eyes of a kid. It's all ok as
long he's kept under supervision, but then he escapes ...
Despite (or because of?) its interesting concept, The Mind of
Mr.Soames did not become a big success for the studio, so the studio
fell back onto horror in 1971 with two films, above-mentioned omnibus
House that Dripped Blood and I, Monster (Stephen Weeks), a
and Hyde-adaptation in all but name with Christopher Lee in
the lead (for some reason called Doctor Marlowe and Mister Blake in this
movie) supported by his frequent screenpartner and Amicus regular
Peter Cushing. I, Monster though is definitely one of Amicus'
lesser efforts, a film that fails to lend anything new to its tried and
true story while also failing to revive its known virtues.
More fun is What Became of Jack and Jill? (1972, Bill Bain), a
macabre little thriller about a couple of youngsters (Vanessa Howard, Paul
Nicholas), who try to get their hands on an old lady's (Mona Washburn)
money by convincing her that radical youths have taken over the country
and plan to do away with all old people. Too bad this film is quite so obscure
It's hard to put an actual date to the begin of the decline of Amicus,
some might say it was when the studio started to put its omnibus
movies into mass production circa 1971, others might even
argue it was back in 1967, when with a couple of science fiction and an
espionage flick they tried to conquer new ground and failed (see above), or in 1969/70, when their
more unusual films A Touch of Love and The Mind of Mr. Soames
failed to attract much attention (or box office returns).
I have however decided to date the beginning of the studio's decline
with 1973, when even their omnibus
movies had run out of steam and the studio was desperate to
get a new formula working.
(Interestingly, 1973 was also the year William Friedkin's The
Exorcist, the first horror blockbuster, was released, the film that changed
the face of the horror genre forever, for better or worse. And yes, in a
bitter twist of irony, it was exactly the same William Friedkin Amicus did
give one of his first assignments with The Birthday Party.)
Interestingly, Amicus' first attempt to break new ground was
producing a gothic, And
Now the Screaming Starts (1973, Roy Ward Baker), which was taken
by its own merits a very decent old-fashioned horror flick with an excellent
cast (Peter Cushing, Herbert Lom, Patrick Magee, Stephanie Beacham, Ian
Ogilvy), yet it was a film released at exactly the wrong time: By 1973,
even main rival Hammer,
which had been successfully producing gothics from 1957 onwards all
through the 1960's, had to realize the old formula had run out of steam
(and was by 1973 struggling to repeat past triumphs at least as much as Amicus)
and had therefore by and large seized to produce them - and thus, And
Now the Screaming Starts was met with little enthusiasm at the box
Madhouse (1974, Jim Clark), a co-production with AIP
starring Vincent Price [Vincent
Price bio - click here], Peter Cushing and Robert Quarry, was more in line
with current days, it pretty much resembled AIP's
earlier British co-productions (with other studios) like The Abominable
Dr. Phibes (1971, Robert Fuest) and Theatre
of Blood (1973, Douglas Hickox), in both of which Price finds
himself at the center of a killing spree in the UK (though usually it's
Price who does the killings) - by 1974 though, the (a bit limited) formula
had pretty much run its course, and since Madhouse also
simply wasn't as good as the earlier movies, it failed to create too much
of a buzz.
The Beast Must Die
(1974, Paul Annett) is a bit of an oddity in Amicus' filmography
(or would be in anyone else's biography) as it is an attempt to combine
the funkiness of the then current blaxploitation cinema with the a bit
dusty conventions of werewolf-movies, done in the decidedly British and
slightly old-fashioned may the studio has become known for. If you think
this recipe spells disaster, you are of course right, The
Beast Must Die is one of the worst films in the studio's
filmography, and its entertainment value is of a rather unintentional
With the horror genre ailing, Amicus once again turned its
attention towards science fiction in 1975, and to author Edgar Rice
Burroughs, who besides his Tarzan-stories
had also written quite a few science fiction stories.
The first Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptation Amicus - once again in
cooperation with AIP
- did was The
Land that Time Forgot (1975, Kevin Connor), a film in which a
submarine crew plus Doug McClure find themselves on an uncharted island
that's inhabited by cavemen and dinosaurs. Done on the cheap of course,
the dinosaurs are less than convincing while the basic plot is silly in a
pulpy sort of way, B-movie veteran Doug McClure, already a few years past his prime, is
not the greatest actor ever (in fact, he's pretty wooden), and the
retro decors (the film is set in 1916) make the whole affair seem
instantly old-fashioned - yet there is something about this film that also
makes it endearing, and maybe it is the film's shortcomings ...
Land that Time Forgot, certainly not the best film Amicus
has brought out of late, caught on with the audiences, so much so that the
studio - yet again together with AIP
- released another Edgar Rice Burroughs-adaptation in 1976, At
the Earth's Core (Kevin Connor), in which Doug McClure (again) and
Amicus regular Peter Cushing mount a giant drilling machine in the
early 20th century to make their way to the earth's core, and on the way,
they have adventures not at all unlike those McClure had in The
Land that Time Forgot. If anything, At
the Earth's Core looks even cheaper than The
Land that Time Forgot, and again the film has a pulpy, even trashy
In 1977, The
Land that Time Forgot got a sequel, The People that Time Forgot
(Kevin Connor). The film was again co-produced by AIP
and starred Coug McClure, plus Patrick Wayne and Dana Gillespie, but
by 1977, the year of the big budget sci fi adventure Star Wars
(George Lucas), interest in B-adventure fare like The People that Time Forgot
was decidedly on the decline, and thus the line of futuristic
low budget adventures was discontinued thereafter.
Milton Subotsky and Max J.Rosenberg actually parted ways in the
mid-1970's, but they left the company intact nevertheless, and in 1980,
Subotsky produced his last film under the Amicus-banner, The
Monster Club (Roy Ward Baker), to nobody's real surprise another
horror anthology, but seasoned with a few contemporary music acts and a
striptease performance. The story of this film, based on a book by R.
Chetwynd-Hayes just like From Beyond the Grave from 1973, is
about a vampire (Vincent Price [Vincent
Price bio - click here]) feeding on the blood of his favourite
writer (John Carradine [John
Carradine bio - click here]) to then tell him a few horror
stories in exchange. The film, which also stars Anthony Steel, Donald
Pleasence [Donald Pleasence
bio - click here], Britt Ekland, Stuart Whitman and Patrick Magee,
was however not too successful either on a quality level or commercially,
and proved above all else that the time for horror films like Amicus
used to make them was definitely over.
After the Split: What Became of
Milton and Max?
As mentioned above Milton Subotsky and Max J.Rosenberg
parted company around the middle of the 1970's, around the time that the
company's films' became less and less certain to produce box office
returns. Both Subotsky and Rosenberg did remain in the business however,
though both eventually relocated to the USA again.
Milton Subotsky, while still in the UK, tried his hands on
another horror anthology, The
Uncanny (1977, David Héroux), though this film was doomed by its
almost unworkable concept to turn cute cats into creatures of horror.
Subotsky's next British production was the by now largely forgotten Dominique/Dominique
is Dead (1979, Michael Anderson), a film about a widower (Cliff Robertson) haunted
by his dead wife (Jean Simmons).
After producing Amicus' swansong The Monster
Club, Subotsky returned to the USA to produce the TV-miniseries The
Martian Chronicles (1980, Michael Anderson) based on the stories by
Ray Bradbury, then concentrated on bringing a handful of Stephen
King-novels to the screen. Unfortunately though, Subotsky's
King-adaptations Cat's Eye (1985, Lewis Teague) - an anthology, much to Subotsky's liking -, Maximum
Overdrive (1986, Stephen King), Sometimes They Come Back (1991,
Tom McLoughlin) and The Lawnmower Man (1992, Brett Leonard) are
not among the better films based on the author's books and stories.
It should perhaps also be noted here that Subotsky gave up
screenwriting in the mid-1970's, with At
the Earth's Core - and who knows, maybe some of his later films
would have benefitted from his screenplays.
Subotsky died in 1991 in London from heart disease.
Like Subotsky, Max J.Rosenberg produced his first non-Amicus
films in a long time in 1977, the interesting yet obscure science
fiction-Western Welcome to Blood City (Peter Sasdy) and the rather
Incredible Melting Man (William Sachs). Over the years, Rosenberg
tried his hands infrequently on a number of films, most of them genre fare
like Bloody Birthday (1981, Ed Hunt), Paul Schrader's less than
perfect Cat People (1982), the Western/murder mystery/comedy The
Comeback Trail (1982, Harry Hurwitz), which was also Buster Crabbe's
last film [Buster Crabbe bio
- click here], Invasion Earth: The Aliens are Here (1988,
Robert Skotak), and Anything to Survive (1990, Zale Dalen), a rather
bad TV-drama about a snowed-in family starring a young Matt LeBlanc.
The last film that Rosenberg ever produced was possibly
also his most interesting post-Amicus effort: Perdita
Durango (1997), the Álex de la Iglesia-directed not-really-sequel
to David Lynch's Wild at Heart (1990), a film that's as immoral as
it's enjoyable - though a bit low on storytelling and character
Max J.Rosenberg passed away in 2004 in Los Angeles, California ...
By and large, Amicus is thought to have dissolved somewhen in
the mid-1970's, not even taking into account that The
Monster Club was produced by the company in 1980. But even dating the
demise of Amicus to 1980 would be wrong, because Max J.Rosenberg
actually never completely gave up on his company, running it with Julie
G.Moldo from 1977 onwards. Thing is, he kept the comany dormant during all
those years, producing movies for other companies (often also with Moldo's
invovlement) while not being the main investor, and still cashing in
license fees for his old films from television and home video - which
sounds like a very sensible thing to do for a man of Rosenberg's ilk and
which is why so many of the studio's films are available on DVD today.
When Rosenberg died in 2004, that still did not mean the end of the company,
Julie G.Moldo, who was production manager and production secretary during
Rosenberg's reign, stepped up to become Amicus' co-owner together with
Robert Katz, who had been in movie and television production since the
mid-1980's. Eventually, Moldo and Katz considered it a good idea to open
the gates of the production arm of their company again - figuratively
speaking of course, as in the 2000's, Amicus did not have any
studios of its own.
The main directive of new Amicus was to produce movies with a
contemporary feel to it (which unfortunately also meant a move from the UK
to the USA) but without losing the company's spirit - also genre-wise
The first film to be released by Amicus was originally to have been
Clown, but who knows what happened to that film really. The film
that the studio released instead as second generation-debut though was all
the better: Stuck (2007)
by Stuart Gordon. By and large, Gordon is a sometimes ingenious but most
of the time just uneven director who has put out many a dud - but Stuck
is very probably his best film since Re-Animator
(1985), and it's less of an all-out shocker but more of a dark and macabre
morality tale with sparks of comedy - just like the best stories of the
movies from 30 to 40 years ago. Sure, the film did not look
like an Amicus-movie of old, and British locations and talent are
missing here, still it's beautifully photographed, the main cast (Mena
Suvari, Stephen Rea, Russell Hornsby) is more than competent, and the film
is a whole lot of morbid fun - I mean, a film that has one of its leads
(Rea) sticking through a car's windshield for most of its running time can't be
all bad, now can it?
was not necessarily an indicator for things to come, as Amicus' next
project was the forgettable It's Alive (2008, Josef Rusnak), an
unnecessary remake of Larry Cohen's original (click
here) [Larry Cohen bio
- click here].
Future Amicus-projects include an adaptation
of Stephen King's From a Buick 8 to be directed by Tobe Hooper with
a tentative 2011 release date - and that doesn't sound like a too good
idea, as Hooper still carries around weight in the horror community for
making the original Texas
Chainsaw Massacre (1974), but to be quite honest, he hasn't made a
film that was even half as good since. And Stephen King might have written
the source novels for Carrie (1976, Brian De Palma) and The
Shining (1980, Stanley Kubrick), but dozens of his other books and
stories were adapted into sub-par horror flicks for the big and small
screen over the years ... including some that Milton Subotsky had produced
(see above). And looking at Hooper's and King's last collaboration, the
Mangler (1995), one isn't exactly trembling with expectation
concerning From a Buick 8.
All that said, whatever the company's future projects might be, they
can't detract from Amicus' glorious past, and somehow it was really
nice to see it come back in the first place - and when it came back with a
film as much fun as Stuck
that honoured the studio's tradition without looking old-fashioned, that
was even better ...