From Beyond the Grave (1974)
"Terror to delight worshippers of the Macabre"
When customers buy antiques from an old antique shop they get more than they bargained for. A man buys a mirror to find it haunted by a being who forces him to commit acts of murder in order to live again. A tired husband takes an old war medal and eventually meets up with a mysterious ex-serviceman and his daughter who help him kill his wife. Another man meets a stranger on a train who tells him he has a spirit on his shoulder and, after he attempts to strangle his own wife, he enlists the help of the woman to exorcise it. Finally another man buys a large antique door which opens back into the era of Charles I.
Whilst Hammer was bashing out constant sequels to their biggest horror franchises, their main British rivals Amicus opted to go down a different route, filming a succession of horror anthologies throughout the 60s and 70s. Connected through a specific theme, each film contained a few short stories with a twist ending which were then linked together by some wraparound story which basically served to bookend each segment. Amicus were able to parade a ‘who's who’ of British stage and cinema during their time, borrowing established genre stars from Hammer, notable stage actors who were happy to star in a twenty minute segment for sizeable sums of money as well as up-and-coming American actors looking to break into the business. The 'something for everyone' approach worked well for Amicus as the majority of the films featured at least one decent segment and each film always featured some big names. The only problem with these anthologies was that due to their high number, it's quite hard to remember which film is which.
From Beyond the Grave is as guilty of this as the rest. It nails the ghostly atmospheric vibe that it should have and contains a genuine sense of eeriness at what is around the corner. It's creepy, never scary. It's not shocking but you'll be amused at the black humour and dark tone on display. Due to the nature of the type of film it is and necessity for there to be twists at the end of each story, you genuinely get the sense that you have no idea what is going to happen. Sometimes it's predictable but for every twist you guess right, there'll be another instant when you're on the floor after the rug has been pulled out from under you. In all due respect, this part of the film works as well as it ever did in these anthologies. But the stories don't stand out very well from the other seven Amicus anthologies.
Ironically it's the wraparound story which is the most memorable part of the film as Peter Cushing sports a dodgy accent as the owner of the antiques store. Cushing scuttles backwards and forwards in his dusty, dingy little store and seems to be having a fun time goading his customers into purchasing items or, in many cases, allowing them to try and obtain the antiques through deceitful means (which then backfires on them big time in their individual stories).
The first story, entitled The Gatecrasher, is the best, probably because it has the best pure actor in the film in it (apart from Cushing) in the form of David Warner. The possessed mirror is actually pulled off pretty well and you do get the feeling that the spirit is actually living inside thanks to some good camera trickery. The murders here are also pretty brutal for the 70s as Warner completely goes to town on his victims with an axe. It ends a little predictably but still a lot better than the others. Whoever chose Warner's wardrobe needed shooting though!
The second story, An Act of Kindness, goes more for the mysterious as Donald Pleasance and his extremely weird real-life daughter Angela give off-beat performances as a father and daughter who are a little too eager to get into the life of Ian Bannen's character. I didn't know where this segment was heading and there is a nice twist at the end but it's the completely fruity performances of the Pleasances that make this one a little better than it should be. It's also given a lot more time to develop than the first story, which felt a little rushed, and this pays dividends as a result.
The third one, The Elemental, is almost played for laughs (there's always one that does this unfortunately), especially during the completely over-the-top exorcism scenes in which nothing in the room is sacred - everything is completely wrecked. It's a generic exorcism story though and there's nothing flash here. In fact it probably would have worked better without the comedy aspect. Margaret Leighton, as the medium Madame Orloff, goes all out during the exorcism scene with lots of silly dialogue and mannerisms. You'll either love it or hate it.
The final story, aptly named The Door, is also pretty weak as the door opens back into the time of Charles I. I felt a little cheated by this point in the film because having seen this segment, I realised that three of the different stories were practically the same - some being from another realm is trying to get into ours via some means. Having already seen the first story and to a lesser extent the third one, I was not in the mood for one more. Therefore I'm probably being a little too harsh on this story but I didn't enjoy it at all. It does feature the best cinematography and sets of the film, something which is unusual for the usually tight-pursed Amicus, but compared to the other segments, it's far too serious for its own good. The segments work best with black humour peppered in and this has none.
From Beyond the Grave is a little lacklustre at times and not the best of Amicus' anthologies but British horror fans like me will appreciate some of the talent in front of and behind the camera. The stories are harmless fun and although it may not be polished, it's hard to dislike the charm and appeal of this old school approach. From Beyond the Grave would be the last of these anthology films and it's a fine way to go out.
From Beyond the Grave
Director(s): Kevin Connor
Writer(s): Robin Clarke (screenplay), Raymond Christodoulou (screenplay), R. Chetwynd-Hayes (based on stories by)
Actor(s): Peter Cushing, Ian Bannen, Ian Carmichael, Diana Dors, Margaret Leighton, Donald Pleasance, Nyree Dawn Porter, David Warner
Duration: 98 mins