Tuesday, July 24, 2012

From Beyond the Grave (1973)

... aka: Creatures
... aka: Creatures from Beyond the Grave
... aka: Tales from Beyond the Grave
... aka: Tales from the Beyond
... aka: Undead, The

Directed by:
Kevin Connor

For my money, this is one of the best of the Amicus horror anthologies. Each of the four stories are based on the writings of R. Chetwynd-Hayes, whose work was also adapted in the later anthology THE MONSTER CLUB (1980). Quite well-produced, it's more imaginative than many others of its type and gets a lot of mileage from an outstanding cast. The framing device centers around an antiques store called Temptations Limited, where various customers show up to purchase - or in one case just steal - items from a mysterious and nameless proprietor played by a somewhat cadaverous-looking Peter Cushing. Every item somehow plays into each tale (usually actually causing the problem) and the customers usually do something to rub the proprietor the wrong way while at his shop. The set-up may have actually inspired Friday the 13th: The Series, which was unrelated to the slasher series and also centered around cursed antiques.

Our first customer is Edward Charlton (David Warner), who buys an ornate 400-year-old mirror that "looks like something that belongs in a medium's parlor." Because he's quite rude and attempts to get it for a price much cheaper than what it's actually worth, the proprietor - with a wily, knowing smirk on his face - allows him to take it home with him for peanuts. One evening, Edward has his friends over for a seance, where they manage to awaken a long-dormant spirit inside the mirror. The bearded, undead-looking man (Marcel Steiner) immediately takes possession of Edward, forces him to kill and demands "Feeeeeeed me... blooooood!" so he "can walk in the daylight." Edward lures a prostitute and then a girl from a nightclub back to his flat and murders them to appease the spirit; who starts looking more and more alive with each subsequent victim. Naturally, the man's spirit has been trapped inside the mirror for many years and Edward is now his ticket out. This has some good spooky imagery and the ghost man is pretty creepy, but it all leads up to a predictable resolution.

Our next story revolves around Christopher Lowe (Ian Bannen), an office manager trapped in a miserable marriage to a nasty little number named Mabel (Diana Dors). Mabel refuses to keep house or cook a decent meal, spends most of her time blowing through their money at a bingo parlor, constantly degrades Christopher over how much money he makes and gossips about him behind his back. Christopher has been buying matches and assorted small items from street vendor and war vet Jim Underwood (Donald Pleasance), who invites him back to home for dinner. There, Christopher meets Jim's homely and quiet, though polite, intelligent and oddly alluring daughter Emily (Donald's real-life daughter, Angela Pleasence) and becomes romantically interested in her. Hey, anything's better than the monster he's currently with, right? To impress Jim, Christopher steals a medal from the antique shop and pretends to have served in the military himself. The rest involves murder, witchcraft and a little voodoo. As far as I'm concerned, this is easily the best of these stories. The casting is great and the twist ending is a genuine surprise.

Tale #3 starts with Reginald Warren (Ian Carmichael) showing up at the antique store and switching prices on a small silver snuff box to get it for cheaper. Aboard a train, Reggie encounters loud, eccentric and very wired clairvoyant Madame Orloff (Margaret Leighton), who claims she sees an "elemental" - an invisible evil creature of the air, Earth or water that lusts after the pleasures of the flesh - on the guy's shoulder. She gives him her business card in case he needs her services. When Reginald returns home, evidence of the creature is soon made obvious. His dog runs off, his shoulder starts slumping and every time he gets near his wife Susan (Nyree Dawn Porter), the beast scratches or hits her and even tries to strangle her in her sleep. Reginald is forced to contact Madame Orloff, who promptly swings by to exorcise the evil spirit before it can possessed its host... and ends up basically destroying their entire home in the process! The resolution is a little on the weak side, but a superb comedic performance from Leighton saves the day.

Finally, William Seaton (Ian Ogilvy) shows up at Temptations Limited to purchases a very old, hand-carved wooden door. He's unable to come up with the full asking price, but the proprietor settles for 10 pounds less. William brings the door home and puts it over a closet. As it turns out, the piece had been cursed by a warlock (Jack Watson) centuries earlier. Instead of always opening up to reveal the closet, the door sometimes opens up to reveal a huge blue room where a ghostly man lurks. The door turns out to be a portal to a "ghost room" which "must be fed" blood from time to time. Lesley Anne Down plays Rosemary, William's wife, whom the ghost wants to sacrifice. Will the fact William actually paid for his purchase and was honest with the proprietor actually change his fate?

Things wrap up back at the antique store where a burglar (Ben Howard) attempts to rob the place but ends up in a rather prickly situation instead. All four tales have something to offer, though my clear favorites were the second and third stories. Both seemed to flow better in their alloted time slots than the other two, while the first and fourth segments seem a little underbaked and rushed (though they're still interesting). Despite a cast full of male horror heavyweights, the most memorable contributions here actually come from Leighton and Angela Pleasence.

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