[Originally published in Movietone News 51, August 1976]
The anthology film is by now familiar, even old hat, to devotees of British horror product. But, as already hailed in other quarters, Amicus Productions’ From Beyond the Grave may well be the best one since Dead of Night. The context in which it is set—encounters in a little antique shop called “Temptations,” presided over by Peter Cushing at his very best—is not so much a framing story as a prevailing moral philosophy. In the course of the film five people—four legitimate customers and a would-be holdup man—enter the shop, and their behavior there will affect them for the rest of their lives—which in some cases are short indeed.
After an opening shot of a cross on a headstone, followed by a handheld-camera stroll through a befogged cemetery, we are introduced to the shop when David Warner purchases a mirror, driving a dishonestly hard bargain, and whirling us into the first story. A sort of symphonic structure informs the continuity of the film the first tale acting as an allegro whose fast-paced editing and shocking jump cuts chill us with the speed and precision with which the Warner character is possessed and brought to utter depravity by the creature that appears to him in the mirror. The growing disrepair of his apartment reflects the encroaching ruin of his soul.
The second story is andante, downbeat, treating of a henpecked clerk (Ian Bannen) who seeks escape from his failing self-image by stealing a military medal from the shop and using it to impress a weird beggar and his weirder daughter (Donald and Angela Pleasence). In many ways the richest of the stories, the second tale is the one least solidly integrated with the motif of the shop and with the structure of the film. We are back on the track with the third story, however, a breezy scherzo which is, quite literally and grimly, a joke about the efforts of a gentleman (Ian Carmichael) and an improbable medium (Margaret Leighton) to exorcise the invisible gremlin that perches on his shoulder after he cheats the shopkeeper, and threatens the serenity of his life with his beautiful wife (Nyree Dawn Porter).
The final movement another allegro, is a tale of mounting tension in which a centuries-old door purchased by a young married couple for their apartment, turns out to have an other-dimensional room to go along with it. From this room emerges the evil Sir Michael, determined to drag the young wife into his eternal den of depravity. This last tale is the most explicit and serious treatment of the film’s underlying concept of evil as not arising within human beings but imposed from without by interlopers, things that try to get in—assisted, nevertheless, by people’s willingness to be corrupted (hence the name of the shop).
The tales are punctuated by the unifying motif of a stained-glass Christian mandala that introduces each encounter in the shop, finally leading to a quick little coda: The proprietor faces the holdup man who has finally managed to get into the shop at the very end of the film. After the confrontation, whose results are morbidly comic, the shopkeeper faces us smiling, “Ah! Another customer….” We want to go in, if only in fancy, to make the film go on a little bit longer, because the fascinating little cycle of adventures has been so good. The belated release of From Beyond the Grave (produced in 1973) is a most welcome relief during a season of disgracefully bad fantasy films.
FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE
Direction: Kevin Connor. Screenplay: Robin Clarke and Raymond Christodoulou, after stories by R. Chetwynd-Hayes. Cinematography: Alan Hume. Production design: Maurice Carter. Art direction: Bert Davey. Makeup: Neville Smallwood. Editing: John Ireland. Music: Douglas Gamley. Production: Max J. Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky.
The players: Peter Cushing, David Warner, Marcel Steiner, Ian Bannen, Diana Dors, Donald Pleasence Angela Pleasence, Ian Carmichael Margaret Leighton, Nyree Dawn Porter, Ian Ogilvy, Lesley-Anne Downe, Jack Watson.
© 1976 Robert C. Cumbow