At some point in every horror lover’s education, they invariably stumble upon the various studios. Universal’s creature features are an obvious example. Ghost House Pictures has made a name for themselves in recent years. Troma is floating around out there for horror fans to discover. The UK’s Hammer Studios dominated the 1960s and 1970s, crafting a legacy that still brings smiles to the faces of horror fans. However, during Hammer’s heyday, a lesser known challenger arose. The studio was named Amicus Productions, and they carved quite a niche for themselves.
The Amicus story begins in the early 1960s with a couple of Americans, Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg, making a few teenage musicals in the UK. Soon enough, the duo shifted to their true passion- horror. With a profound appreciation for the hip British horror anthology Dead of Night (1945), Subotsky and Rosenberg began cranking out one horror anthology after another. Their work even managed to find its own name- the “portmanteau horror”. Between 1964 and 1980, their company- Amicus- made eight portmanteau horror films. When they weren’t making horror anthologies, they were dipping into the genre in more conventional ways with films like I, Monster (1971), The Beast Must Die (1974), The Psychopath (1966), and a whole host of other horror films.
This is all fascinating because Amicus went toe-to-toe with Hammer despite the fact that Hammer had considerably larger budgets. Amicus was the little engine that could. They didn’t even have a studio. At least part of Rosenberg and Subotsky’s success occurred because they were able to lure popular actors and actresses into their films. Amongst others, their roll call includes a young Donald Sutherland, Joan Collins, Britt Ekland, and a trio of British horror stalwarts- Donald Pleasance, Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing.
All of the names in the world don’t mean a thing if the films are poor. And while their films took a critical beating at times, Amicus made horror films for horror lovers. Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1964), Torture Garden (1967), The House that Dripped Blood (1970), Asylum (1972), and Tales from the Crypt (1972) all have a cult following. And even when they made a dud, it didn’t matter because the budgets were so small that their films turned a profit. It was guerilla warfare against Hammer- cut your losses and live to fight another day.
Eventually, Amicus lost steam. By the late 1970s, they had faltered and their last film- The Monster Club– was made in 1980. Hammer had won, and Amicus was their nail. Still, there was a clear legacy, even if it hides in the shadow of Hammer, waiting to be discovered by true horror fans. Their portmanteau horrors flood top 10 horror anthology lists every October, and the work of Lee and Cushing in the Amicus films was as good as ever. If you want to be a horror completist, Amicus is a name to know.