Friday Fright: From Beyond the Grave (1974)

Written by Raymond Christodoulou, Robin Clarke
Based on stories by R. Chetwynd-Hayes
Directed by Kevin Connor
Starring Peter Cushing, Ian Bannen, Diana Dors, Margaret Leighton, Donald Pleasence, David Warner, Ian Ogilvy, Lesley-Anne Down
Released November 7, 1975 (United States)
RT 97 min.
Home Video Warner Archive
Classic Horrors rating = 7 (out of 10)

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Although it was the final anthology for Amicus Productions, From Beyond the Grave (1974) is one of the best.  Nothing tops the first, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), and I have a soft spot for Asylum (1972), but this one is solid throughout.  It doesn’t suffer from the problem of some anthologies, in which one terrific segment comes at the expense of two that are lackluster.

The wraparound story is simple.  Peter Cushing (and his big, bushy eyebrows) stars as “The Proprietor” of an antique shop called, “Temptations Limited.”  None of the four customers who visit him pay full price for the pieces they buy, a fact which foreshadows the overall moral of the story.  You can probably figure it out, but in case you can’t, I won’t deny you the pleasure of hearing Cushing say it at the end of the movie.

In the first story, “The Gate Crasher,” Edward Charlton (David Warner) purchases a mirror that imprisons a hungry spirit.  (If the spirit is Jack the Ripper, I missed it; however, that’s who it is in the short story of the same name by R. Chetwynd-Hayes.)  The mirror gives one of Charlton’s lady friends “the shivers,” so what do they do?  Have a séance, of course!  Other than being a cheapskate, Charlton doesn’t seem to deserve his fate, but then it wouldn’t be much of a story.

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My favorite story is the second, “An Act of Kindness,” because it has a delicious twist ending that I didn’t anticipate.  Christopher Lowe (Ian Bannen) steals a medal to perpetuate the charade that he’s a military hero.  Reluctant to go home to his nasty wife, he befriends a real veteran, Jim Underwood (Donald Pleasence), and his daughter, Emily (Angela Pleasence), and begins visiting them more frequently.  Emily makes an offer to serve him, which he foolishly accepts.

The third story, “The Elemental,” emphasizes comedy before it’s brutal ending.  Reginald Warren (Ian Carmichael) switches tags on a silver snuff box to purchase it a cheaper price.  Of course, he’ll ultimately pay more after he encounters a clairvoyant, Madame Orloff (Margaret Leighton) on the train.  She spots an invisible, evil force on his shoulder and is eventually asked to help exorcise it.  She warns him about his wife, though, saying that she attracts these creatures…

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In the final story, “The Door,” William Seaton (Ian Ogilvy) is short the funds to buy an ornate door, but gives The Propietor everything he has.  It feels familiar that when he hangs the door on the stationery closet in his flat, it sometimes opens to the blue room it originally protected.  Only he sees it, until his wife, Rosemary (Lesley-Anne Down) gets curious and is carried away by its creepy inhabitant.

There’s a final stinger at the end of From Beyond the Grave that gives Cushing a little more to do.  A burglar (Ben Howard) who’s been casing the joint at the beginning of each segment, finally attempts to rob The Proprietor.  His fate comes more quickly than the others, but is perhaps the most deserved.  The movie ends with a sweet POV shot of us, the audience, as customers, with The Proprietor addressing us directly.

From Beyond the Grave was the first film for director Kevin Connor, who would continue with Amicus for the Edgar Rice Burroughs trilogy, then make Motel Hell in 1980 and The House Where Evil Dwells, one of the bloodiest movies I have seen to this day, in 1982.  He adds flair to this one, small creative flourishes that make it more interesting than it could be.  It’s a quality effort, one that surprises me didn’t keep the format alive, instead of end it.

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