Exclusive Interview with Sergei Subotsky About the True Spirit of Amicus

Sergei Subotsky
Photo credit: Robert Fairclough

Amicus Productions wouldn’t exist without Milton Subotsky. In addition to co-founding the studio alongside Max J. Rosenberg, Subotsky was a creative force who wrote and produced some of the most beloved titles in British horror, including Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, The Skull, and Asylum. The list goes on, and the newly resurrected Amicus Productions vows to honour his legacy by creating films that align with the sensibilities of the original classics.

Of course, Amicus Productions’ new era wouldn’t be possible without Milton Subotsky’s family. Our first portmanteau horror film in over 40 years, In the Grip of Terror, is a collaboration with the Subotsky family that will adapt four macabre medical stories that are lifted from the pages of works by H.P. Lovecraft, E.F. Benson, and Ambrose Pierce. What’s more, the film’s title comes from an original list of titles from the Subotsky family’s archives, ensuring that our comeback feature will be a natural successor to the scare fare of the studio’s golden period.

Exciting times lie ahead for our British horror studio, and Milton’s son, Sergei Subotsky, recently sat down with us to talk about them. In this interview, we discuss the studio’s history, his father’s contributions to genre cinema, and the new era of Amicus Productions. 

Your father, Milton Subotsky, was a significant figure in the horror genre. Can you share any personal memories that highlight his passion and vision for Amicus Productions?

I certainly remember my father’s passion for making movies — and I know he’d have loved to have made more. I was born in 1968, so my memories of Amicus in its heyday are extremely limited, though, later on, I do remember the excitement when The Land that Time Forgot came out, and I remember the production of The Monster Club very well, which was his last feature film. It was only later that I read and watched the interviews where he talks about his work – which I would recommend to all Amicus fans. Of course, not all of his work was produced under the Amicus banner, but the six multi-story horror films for which he is possibly best remembered were all Amicus films.

Amicus Productions has a distinct place in horror cinema history. According to you, what sets Amicus apart from other production companies of its time?

It was tiny! My father operated from a cabin in Shepperton Studios while his business partner was based in America. What is remarkable is what he was able to achieve with this small operation – and that, I think was partly a result of his wide-ranging skills, from finding stories and writing screenplays to budgeting and scheduling production.

There was also the difference in approach from other studios. For example, he described Hammer’s output as “primarily “gruesome” films rather than imaginative films” and that Amicus films were “more intellectual.” Of course, there is some gore in Amicus movies, but I think my father was keen on stories where the fear and horror were created as much in the audience’s imagination as they were visible on the screen.

Can you recount any collaborations or events from the past that epitomize the spirit and creativity of Amicus Productions during your father’s time?

There were some writers he particularly enjoyed working with – Robert Bloch and Ronald Chetwynd-Hayes, for example. And he could find inspiration not just from regular fiction but also from comics — EC Comics, in particular. He was even negotiating with Marvel at one point – well ahead of his time!

I also think he was very good at assembling a great cast — and was candid about how he could achieve this on a modest budget, particularly with the multi-story films. He appreciated it when a producer or artistic director did a good job — he especially enjoyed working with Roy Ward Baker — but he was not afraid to take a hands-on approach in the cutting room when he thought a film could be improved by his own editing!

In reviving Amicus Productions, how do you plan to honor and carry forward the legacy and distinctive style established by your father?

It is difficult to continue the imaginative legacy of one individual, but I think we can be inspired by the same things which inspired him, and to value the approach he took himself.  For example, he was greatly inspired by the British classic horror film Dead of Night.  But I really can’t do better than quote from what he said in Issue #2 of Little Shoppe of Horrors from May 1973: “The things I look for in a film property are: (a) A clever and unusual basic idea, (b) a plot that will keep audiences guessing, (c) some good shocks, (d) lots of surprise twists to the plot, (e) a story that can be told in pictures rather than words, and (f) a story that can be made on a medium budget.

The style of the films, though, can only really be appreciated by watching them!  Fortunately, I know that Lawrie Brewster and his team are great fans, and are keen to celebrate this legacy with a new multi-story horror film in the Amicus style, which is why I am pleased to be collaborating with them so that new films can be produced under the banner of Amicus Productions, with the Subotsky family’s support and advice.

Photo credit: Sergei Subotsky

You mentioned ‘In the Grip of Terror’ as an envisioned title for an original Amicus film. Are there other lost or unproduced works from the Amicus archive that you are excited to bring to life?

There are likely to be more title ideas than there are works! But, yes — there are a number of unfinished projects, and I would welcome interest in them. Only last year, a project titled Dr. Who’s Greatest Adventure came to light, which generated some media attention, and which I hope was enjoyed by Dr Who fans. There is more work to do in the archives before I can comment further!

How would you define the essence of a true Amicus film, taking inspiration from the works produced under your father’s guidance?

Civilised horror — imaginative and strange, but with its own internal logic. My father disliked films that seemed to lack sense — films, if you like, in which literally anything could happen. And, last but not least, Amicus films are characterised by the sense of a moral universe — of karma, you might say — but also contain elements of humour, which give them a distinctive feeling which I think still appeals to audiences.

Do you have a personal favorite Amicus film or one that holds special significance to you and your family?

I do have some memories of watching the films for the first time, in a family setting – at home on TV!  Some moments stay with you from the moment you first see them: Peter Cushing rising from the grave; the corridor of razor blades; the moving parcels of limbs; the disastrous three wishes… to name but a few. And there is also some wonderful music in the films, which are forever associated with the horror genre, such as Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, which was used for Tales from the Crypt. I remember my father saying how it was recorded in the darkness of Westminster Cathedral, and how the recording experience created a suitably memorable atmosphere.

In reflecting on your father’s contribution to the horror genre, what aspects of his work do you think have left an enduring impact on filmmakers today?

I think there is much that could be learned from his approach to filmmaking. He wanted to make films that were entertaining but based on distinct creative principles and appealing to a wide audience. At times, he succeeded – and he certainly succeeded with the multi-story horror films.

Looking to the future, what do you hope Amicus Productions will achieve, and how do you envision its role in the contemporary horror landscape?

If the revived Amicus Productions can carve out a niche for films inspired by the original style, it will have done well. Interesting horror films continue to be made, but I haven’t come across anything which quite resembles the old Amicus films.