From Beyond The Grave (1973)
By: Mr Intolerance on July 17, 2009  | 
DVD
Warner Brothers (UK). Region 2, PAL. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD Mono 2.0, Spanish DD Mono 2.0. English, English (FHI), Dutch, Spanish Subtitles. 94 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Kevin Connor
Starring: Ian Bannen, Ian Carmichael, Peter Cushing, Diana Dors, Lesley-Anne Downe, Margaret Leighton, Angela Pleasence, Donald Pleasence, Ian Ogilvy, Nyree Dawn Porter, David Warner
Screenplay: Robin Clarke, Raymond Christodoulou
Country: UK
External Links
Purchase IMDB YouTube
I love the anthology/portmanteau horror genre. And no company did it better than Amicus, the production house led by Milton Subotsky and Max J Rosenberg. Whether it was their original work like Asylum, or Doctor Terror's House of Horrors, or the William Gaines influenced EC comics black comedy fables Tales From The Crypt or Vault of Horror, or this low budget series of novel tales based on R Chetwynd-Hayes' The Unbidden, Amicus always delivered the goods, usually with a ghoulish helping of poetic justice on the side.

After the owners of the EC franchise evinced a displeasure with the tone established in the films based on their comics (the fools!), Amicus set about this series of stories based around the framing narrative of what happens when you rip off the wrong antique store owner (Cushing, in a seriously sinister mode) – in Chuck Palahniuk's uber-black comedy Fight Club, the nameless narrator starts to worry about when the things you own begin to own you – this film brings that fear well and truly to life, an with much less of the dark comedy that peppered Amicus' previous films. All up, it was a grim little chiller that was ignored in the wake of some stupid American film about a brat possessed by the devil whose party trick was coughing up sick on old priests, vaginal mutilation and peeing on the rug.

The framing narrative that drives the story is that if you go to "Temptations, Ltd: Offers You Cannot Refuse", an antique store, you'll see something you may like. The question is, of course, how much would you like it? Enough to covet it? Enough to cheat the seemingly innocuous owner? Enough to steal it? What would you do?

The Gate Crasher

Edward, a sleazy and ruthless antique dealer (David Warner, my all-time favourite actor) buys an antique mirror from Temptations (I'm starting to look at the shop right now as being like the shop in Stephen King's rather underwhelming, if interestingly premised, novel Needful Things) for almost literally a steal, and you just know that he's going to pay for it. The shop owner, an emaciated and positively sepulchrous Peter Cushing, gives a knowing nod when the deal is done (from 250 squid down to 25 – is he having a laugh?) and the audience know things will be bad, but I guarantee they don't know exactly how bad they'll get, because believe me, they get pretty fucking horrible pretty fucking quickly.

Edward has the sudden brain wave, prompted by a guest at a party he's holding, and against his girlfriend's better judgement, to hold a séance (announcing: "It's séance time!" to all and clueless sundry), and the audience start to creep back into their chairs, waiting for the badness. Black magic and bad karma? How can this possibly go well?! Answer: it can't. Watch and learn as bloody mayhem fills the screen in a way that you don't expect, and as short horror film delivers one of its greatest sucker-punches. More to the point, watch the great performance of David Warner as the rather tortured soul of the piece who unleashes something totally unholy from out of the mirror, and marvel at the fact that his career was never any more illustrious, as it deserved to be.

Plus, he gets to kill one of the fellas from Love Thy Neighbour, and which child of the 70s hasn't wanted to do more?

An Act of Kindness

Every day, Christopher Lowe, hen-pecked disgruntled business man from the city with military pretentions (Ian Bannen), married unhappily to dowdy wife Mabel (Diana Dors) and with a bratty unpleasant child, passes an ex-soldier and beggar Jim (Donald Pleasence). Feeling guilty, he puts some change in the man's cup, although you do get the distinct impression that the beggar wants a lot more than he's being offered...

Christopher feels like he's even less of a fella than the beggar, and goes to "Temptations" to buy a DSO medal (that's a Distinguished Service Order, quite a highly prized medal from the Second World War) that isn't rightly his in order to feel like the bigger man, and then the wheels of justice start grinding excessively fine indeed. The beggar invites our war hero around for tea with his daughter Emily, and you can almost tell where this is going...and it's not good.

And can I just say that if you felt that Donald Pleasence could be pretty damned freaky in a film (Alone In The Dark, anybody?), you really should check out his daughter Angela's performance in From Beyond the Grave and then get back to me. She's super-creepy, to say the least. As in, hide behind the sofa scary. Yeesh! And our pretendy-war hero starts spending an inordinate amount of time with the beggar and his daughter, seeing the paucity of his own life matched against the cosy comfort of theirs, with all their homespun charm – cloying, creepy and claustrophobic to the audience, but he's entranced and blinded by the kindness he receives from them which is certainly missing from his own lack-lustre home life – but subservience can be a terrifying thing, as you're about to find out, and for fuck's sake don't mess with the help... as social climbing is about to reach its illogical extreme – and you'll also find out that a prayer being answered isn't always a good thing.

The Elemental

A penny-pinching business man (Carmichael) makes the mistake of switching price-tags on a snuff-box to give himself a bargain, which he then further undercuts (giving Peter Cushing the best gag of the film; after the deal is done, he remarks ironically to our doomed cheapskate: "Hope you enjoy snuffing it."), sealing his fate. Y'see, the wheels he's set in motion involve his being cursed to have an elemental sit on his shoulder, gradually drawing out his life-force. A barmy medium, Madame Orloff (Leighton), tries to warn him of the danger he's currently in, but these folks never take notice until it's all a bit too late, do they?

You might laugh at the apparent silliness of the plot, but as with all of these tales, the laughter dries up rather quickly and becomes increasingly uneasy as the sense of threat or menace increases and becomes all-too real, and the elemental becomes positively vicious, attacking the businessman's wife with a homicidal bent. And yet, this is still the most blackly funny of the four tales on display with some dreadfully hammy performances (Leighton is positively excruciating), and all kinds of mugging from Carmichael. I can't help but think that in some instances this story was just here as an excuse for the cast and crew to break things on the set – it's the only weak link in an otherwise quite impressive chain. That said, the punchline is a real killer...

Yet I can't see what the point of the plot device of the snuff box was... With the other stories, the object gulled from the antique store owner played a part in the tale – here it seems to be a case of, "well, I'll fool this old man to prove that I'm a bastard, and we'll never hear of that snuff box again." It was tacked on, and in cases of poetic justice like these, that simply won't do – for poetic justice to work, it has to take place in a world of meaning, and here it just doesn't happen.

The Door

William Seaton (Ian Ogilvy) is likeable enough yet clueless young fella, who doesn't seem to realise that you should never undercut the antique seller's price. He buys a rather ornate, sinister and gothic-looking door at a cut rate, but you have to remember that all doors lead somewhere, and this one, regardless of where it's placed, leads to a destination that none of us really want to go to...

Things rapidly start to go amiss for Seaton and his gorgeous young wife Rosemary (the flat-out stunning Lesley-Anne Downe), as the door starts to take on certain properties and leads to somehwere and somewhen other than the stationery cupboard it's been hung on as a bit of a gag – and its previous owner starts to take on a bit of an interest in Seaton and Rosemary. And of course, you have to remember that all doors can be opened from either side, and what may come through them might not be to your liking.

Following on from the most openly comedic tale in the anthology, we're left with the most straight-forward horrific one, which I guess is a nice touch on the director's part, making the tale you leave the film with (the one with the most lasting impression) the one with the greatest shivers. Matter of fact, the film does well in that regard, bookending itself with the two scariest tales – it sucks you in immeditaely via the iced evil of the mirror, and it spits you out with the horror of the door, breathless and panting. Nice bit of work, that.

The framing narrative of the antique store is a neat one, rich with possibilities, and if you're wondering who the young criminal is who appears in every return to that frame, and what the relevance of the monstrance in the shop window might be, well, you'll have to watch From Beyond the Grave right through to the end, won't you?

"Ay, customers, come in, come in. I'm sure I have the very thing to tempt you. Lots of bargains, all tastes catered for. Oh, and a big novelty surprise goes with every purchase. Do come in, anytime – I'm always open..."
Video
A very good picture, anamorphically enhanced and in the OAR – a crisp image with no artefacts to speak of.
Audio
Again, this is more than suitable to the task at hand. It's not exactly the kind of film that requires the action-soundfest mega-mix, as it were, so the Mono track is just fine, thank you.
Extra Features
The rather speckly and grainy 3 minute full-frame trailer is all that you get, sadly enough. I would have loved some interviews or a commentary track, but apparently that's too much to ask. It's a damn shame that there's nothing else here. I know that a number of special features are of the "watch 'em once and then never again" kind, but it's kind of nice when companies actually put in the effort, y'know?
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
The last of the Amicus portmanteau films, From Beyond the Grave is also one of the best. Mixing a pretty effective blend of pitch black humour with genuinely unsettling horror, lashings of the supernatural, cautionary warnings and satisfying poetic justice, this film pushes all the right buttons for fans of 70s UK horror. There's a good, if not great cast, for the better part, a fine script, some great twist-in-the-tale endings and an intelligence and a literate heart that sometimes sadly seems to not be beating in modern horror. I wish films like From Beyond the Grave were still being made today.

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