Sunday, April 27, 2014

Dark Stormy Sunday: From Beyond the Grave (1974)


****/*****
What better time to watch the underrated Amicus tale, From Beyond the Grave, than during a Thunderstorm Sunday. I purchased the VHS of this film several years ago on Amazon and watched it with great delight. It provides Peter Cushing with yet another novelty "host" part as this creepy antique salesman with customers who either pay him a low payment or outright steal from his shop (a shop located out of sight in a darkened spot away from passing eyes); this is the kind of shop that you would have to stumble upon in order to find it.

One of my favorite tales of the movie is the deliciously macabre "The Gatecrasher" starring David Warner (one of the reasons I was giddy upon my first viewing of this) as the owner of a flat (with nice antiques he has obviously tricked others into selling him cheap) who thinks he fools Cushing into believing an ancient mirror is a knock-off. Well, what this dolt doesn't expect is the spectre living behind the mirror, re-awakened by a séance Warner holds with a group of friends. So the spectre, quite powerful and "hungry", needs "blood" in order to gain access to our world and walk in the flesh again so Warner will be his slave with a butcher knife, sent forth to goad "ladies of the night" to his flat as victims to bleed and feed. Before you know it there's blood all over Warner's flat and furniture (and him), and his "hammering and jostling" is disturbing a neighbor downstairs in the apartment complex. It will take a number of sacrifices on Warner's part to supplement the ghoul behind the mirror's needs. One woman, out of the selected victims, is spared (a close associate of Warner's), but the number needed to allow the spectre to get what he so wishes will be met. A sacrifice on Warner's mortal part will also be requested, a "small gesture" on the spectre's part to assure him the same "freedom" some day. Warner's deterioration and the ghoulish nature of the violent acts needed to benefit the spectre make this tale a nasty bit of fun.

The second tale stars the great talents of Ian Bannen and Donald Pleasence (and a plum role for Donald's daughter, Angela) as a clerk and war veteran street peddler respectively meeting daily due to the walk to the office. Ian is miserable mainly because his insufferable wife (played with talons sharpened and embedded with force by Diana Dors) likes to remind him of how inadequate and insufficient he is in career and as a man. What Ian doesn't realize is that Donald and Angela are equipped with a type of "gift" that can "grant" people wishes based on simply asking. Well, Donald allows Angela to "work her magic" and Ian believes his life will be spared of years of future misery, but there's a little hitch...the misery of his son. With black magic (voodoo) and a weird look and performance by Angela (Donald has that way of showing a faux smile that fades into a look of disdain that perfectly exposes his true feelings for Bannen while supposedly seeming to truly like and appreciate him), as well as, a fun performance from Bannen as a cuckolded charlatan (he lies to Donald, telling him is was in the service, even stealing a medal from Cushing's shop as a device to cater to that falsity!), this tale is a pleasure. I especially enjoyed a nightmare sequence where Dors envisions Angela as a type of death angel, night visiting her with a dagger. The cast is pure gold here.

My least favorite of the tales was still a hoot. It isn't has chilling, playing more for wacky laughter. Ian Carmichael switches the price tags of cigarette cases in order to purchase a highly valuable one at the price of a cheap one. Later, onboard a train, he is told by a kooky clairvoyant (played to the hilt by Margaret Leighton, with glasses that pop her eyes large) that he has a monstrous, odorous "elemental", violent and in demand for a more permanent access to our existence. So this elemental makes his life a living hell, particularly drawn to his wife (Nyree Dawn Porter), and so the clairvoyant's talents are in desperate need. So comes the cleansing of the elemental from Carmichael's shoulder, but the clairvoyant's job is to free it from him...sending it back to hell might not have been quite so successful. Carmichael is that stuffy aristocratic type who bargains down as much as possible (even after he switches tags he still "persuades" Cushing to decrease a pound!) and sees to it that he is always on the benefit of a receiving end regardless of what it is in front of him. Whether it is a cheap cig box or elemental causing him problems, Carmichael looks to see that he is successful. Well, this tale doesn't let him off. Leighton is the real star of this tale, though, just as hilariously batty and so off-the-center that her clairvoyant fits perfectly within the story of a demon wreaking havoc on a British couple, turning their house inside out.

I think the final tale is a doozy. It concerns a "magic door". This door is sold to a nice, young, upper class couple played by Ian Ogilvy and the beautiful Leslie-Anne Down who are in for quite a surprise. Refreshing from the previous customers who swindled Cushing, Ogilvy actually pays him what he has for the door so perhaps his fate may result a bit better than the others prior to him. The door, thanks to an evil derived from its owner's human sacrifices to earn a return to our existence, sometimes opens to a totally different place, the elaborate living quarters of a devious aristocrat who wrote in a diary read by Ogilvy about how he created the door and contributed to its magic. This has a level of suspense because the devilish aristocrat will seek souls to get back life he covets, and the door's opening allows him the possible chance of doing so...at the cost of Ogilvy and Down's lives can he do so! I loved the angle involving how the door is key to the aristocrat's survival and damage to it could ruin him. The whole idea behind a door (like the mirror in the first tale) granting access to another plane of existence is fascinating to me. Here it is used to describe how evil can provide such a place a time to lie dormant for just the right victims to give it back its life. I also liked how this anthology "rewards" Ogilvy for not following in the same missteps of the previous customers whose "love of money (a root of evil)" led to their tragedies.

The wraparound does show an obvious burglar waiting for just the right time to rob Cushing's shop, but his use of weapons may prove fatal...for him.

I just love the look of Cushing in From Beyond the Grave. The makeup and the way he almost blends in with the spooky mannequins and antique surroundings that clutter and fill his shop adds to his character's mystique. He can pop up anywhere, and I think there's never a time in the movie where customers' thievery of him isn't realized by Cushing. To be honest, I just dig the wraparound device being set in an antique shop. While the cemetery doesn't factor at all in the film itself, I just totally dug the camera's travel throughout it during the opening credits.

I think this might be a bit overshadowed by the likes of Asylum, Tales from the Crypt, and (my favorite) House That Dripped Blood, From Beyond the Grave does seem to have one of the studio Amicus' best budgets and Cushing's use in it is exemplary. A good time to be had here, folks, if you like Amicus anthologies, methinks.

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I had a fun dialogue with a young lady I work with about the rather hilarious scenes particularly in romantic comedies and action genre wher...

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