Sunday, 1 January 2012

From Beyond the Grave (1974)

I’ve never been a huge fan of Amicus’s horror anthology films but either From Beyond the Grave is a particularly good one or I’m mellowing a bit because I thoroughly enjoyed it.

As usual there’s a framing story connecting the various segments and in this case that framing story works rather nicely and actually does tie the stories together to a certain extent. All four episodes are based on tales by R. Chetwynd-Hayes.

It benefits from a extremely strong cast.

Peter Cushing plays the owner of an antiques shop called Temptations, and it’s well named. The temptation is provided by the items in the shop and there is a further temptation at work - the temptation to try to cheat the owner. Buying anything from this store is dangerous enough but if you’re dishonest it’s even more perilous.

The first segment stars David Warner. He sees an antique mirror in the shop and convinces the proprietor that it’s not as old as it’s claimed to be, thereby getting the mirror for a fraction of what it’s really worth. It proves to be a poor bargain. This is a vampire mirror, or at least it’s a mirror that contains a kind of vampire. The figure in the mirror craves blood and poor David Warner is forced to commit a series of murders to feed this bloodlust. It’s a very gory segment but it’s genuinely horrific even if the idea is a bit thin.

The second segment is much stronger. It’s an object lesson in telling a quite complex tale very succintly. Ian Bannen plays a middle-aged ex-army paymaster married unhappily to Diana Dors. She dominates him and constantly mocks him for being weak and ineffectual, which he is. He encounters an old soldier, played by Donald Pleasence, and he succumbs to the temptation to present himself as a real war hero. To do this he steals a medal from Peter Cushing’s shop, a medal he is not entitled to wear. He faces other temptations as well when he meets the old soldier’s daughter (played by Donald Pleasence’s real-life daughter Angela), the temptations of lust and of revenge.

It’s easy to see why his wife despises him but at the same time we can’t help but feel rather sorry for a man who is lonely and all too well ware of his on inadequacies. And while it’s easy to see why he hates his wife we feel some sympathy for her as well, married to a man who is in many ways a bit of a loser, and a pompous loser as well.

He will soon find that he’s been well and truly ensnared and that getting what you want is not always a good thing. This is by far the most interesting and most impressive of the four segments.

The third segment introduces some comic relief, with Ian Carmichael as a well-to-do businessman who cheats the proprietor into selling him a snuff box worth £40 for just £5 and then compounds his sin by beating the poor man down to just £4. He thinks he’s made a rather good deal until a rather eccentric woman on a train points out that he has a very nasty elemental perched in his shoulder. Luckily she’s a psychic and she gives him her card and tells him to call her if he needs help dealing with the homicidal elemental. He thinks it’s all a great joke, until the elemental tries to kill his wife. It’s silly light-hearted fun but it comes off fairly well.

The final segment sees Ian Ogilvy buying a very gothic-looking door. He gives Peter Cushing the £40 agreed to but when Cushing leaves the till unattended he has the opportunity to steal back part of the purchase price. By this time we know that cheating this shop owner is a very unwise thing to do. He discovers that the door leads to a ghost room, a room that exists in another realm, a room that was created by an evil occultist centuries earlier. And the room needs to be fed, with souls. It’s the most visually spectacular of the four segments and provides a fitting finale.

The acting throughout is uniformly excellent. It’s almost unfair to single out any individual performance but if I had to do so I’d pick Angela Pleasence’s unbelievably creepy turn in the second segment.

Director Kevin Connor did some good work for Amicus in the early 70s and this is no exception.

The pacing is excellent, there’s real creepiness and real horror, and while some of the component stories are stronger than others they’re all entertaining. This is classic 70s British horror and is highly recommended.

2 comments:

Nigel Maskell said...

perhaps you are mellowing, but then again this is a particularly strong anthology.

A Curious Female said...

I saw this years ago and thought it to be very well done. I think the strength of the cast helped a lot.