If I’ve learned anything from this year’s prolonged movie marathon, it’s how much I enjoy the Amicus portmanteau films like The House the Dripped Blood and Asylum. I’ve not yet seen all of them, but with last night’s entry, I’m rapidly running out of one’s I haven’t.
From Beyond the Grave (1974) follows the now-familiar Amicus format of a framing story wrapped around a number of short films, each running the gamut from the outright horrific to the horrifically humorous. This film’s framing story is an antiques shop run by Amicus and Hammer regular, Peter Cushing. Well, not actually Peter Cushing, but Pete plays the role of the shop’s proprietor, named simply “The Proprietor” in the credits. Each story kicks off when the protagonist of that short’s plot visits the shop and cheats the Proprietor during their business transactions. This is a nicely unexpected change of pace from the usual “buys a cursed antique and brings trouble home” theme.
The first story involves an antique mirror possessing the spirit of a serial killer. David Warner plays the mirror’s buyer who unwittingly arouses the spirit within during an impromptu séance and finds himself controlled by the ghostly killer. Of the four films, I found this one to be the most effective, even if the plot is a little trite by today’s standards. I was frankly surprised at the lack of a “Jack the Ripper” connection, which I entirely expected.
The next film is a strange one and didn’t entirely work for me. It concerns a business manager who feels unappreciated at home and work and is desperate to recapture the respect he knew during the war (although we’re left uncertain about how much truth there might be to this). He takes pity on a veteran peddling matchbooks (played by the always wonderful Donald Pleasence) which leads to him engaging in a case of stolen valor when he attempt to purchase, but then steals a Distinguished Service Order medal from the antiques shop. The peddler, seemingly impressed by the manager’s wartime service decorations, invite him home to meet his daughter (played by Pleasence’s real-life daughter, Angela). It quickly appears that Angela is a bit otherworldly and soon the manager’s wife has a number of unsettling encounters. The story wraps up in a completely unexpected manner, which is why it didn’t work for me. I enjoy a good twist ending, but there’s twists and there’s “utterly out of left field with no inkling this was even a possibility” climaxes, and the film suffers from the latter.
The third film is a fun little tale involving the purchase of a curious door from the shop. The buyer is the only one of the shop’s clients who doesn’t attempt to swindle the owner, meaning he’s probably going to come out OK in the end. The door, once installed on a closet in his study, starts opening to an ancient blue room, occupied by the undead alchemist and necromancer who constructed it. The dead man wishes to escape, but needs lives to do so, putting the door’s buyer and his wife in danger.
The final film is the most humorous of the four, largely thanks to the over-the-top performance of Margaret Leighton as “Madame Orloff,” a clairvoyant who enters the story when the film’s protagonist ends up with a homicidal elemental attached to him (likely due to him switching price tags on snuff boxes at the shop). The story itself isn’t anything special, but Leighton is entirely enjoyable as the slightly befuddled but all-to business-wise Orloff. She would have felt right at home at Hogworts.
Although From Beyond the Grave falls short of The House the Dripped Blood, it’s nevertheless a solid, enjoyable film presented in bite-sized chunks, earning it a decent 3 out of 5 skulls.