I will be doing my best to review at least one item a day this month. Those items will have something to do with scary stuff – it’s October you know and Halloween is my favorite holiday. I even got married on it.
Last night I asked the husband to pick a horror movie that wasn’t too scary and that I hadn’t seen before and that had Peter Cushing. So, he picked an old Amicus anthology film titled From Beyond the Grave.
Just so you know that title has absolutely nothing to do with the movie.
As with all anthology films, some segments are better than others. However, if one doesn’t strike your fancy, there’s always a good chance that the next one just might. This one only has one weak story.
In many of the anthology films that Peter Cushing appeared in, he was the major character of one of the segments. In this film, Cushing is the main character of the framing sequence. This might seem a lesser role, but it has the advantage of letting the viewers know that even if the segment they’re currently watching isn’t all that good, they’ll at least get to see more of Peter and that’s always a good thing.
Cushing’s character is an old, kindly owner of an antique shop called Temptations. Each main character of our tales comes into this shop and purchases an item. All but one of these fellows finds a way to cheat the poor old man out of the price he deserves.
This film starts out with a very weak story. The only saving grace it has is the presence of David Warner as its lead character. He comes into Temptations and finds a 400 year-old mirror whose selling price is marked at 250 pounds. Warner tells Cushing it’s not nearly as old as it really is and gets it for a pretty heft discount.
Of course the mirror cleans up beautifully and he hangs it in his flat. A friend says it looks like it belongs in the home of a medium so they decide to have a séance. As a result, a ghost trapped in the mirror appears to Warner and demands that he bring him victims so that he can be freed from the mirror.
This segment started out kind of creepy – ghosts and mirrors tend to scare me and the first time the ghost appears is genuinely chilling. However, all tension leaves the piece almost immediately and the viewer is subjected to a stony-faced Warner seeking out victims to sacrifice to the Mirror Man.
We never have a chance to really care about this guy. He starts out as a cheat and we learn nothing about him to gain our sympathy. His only saving grace is the fact that he fights the ghost one time and saves a woman we can only assume is his girlfriend from a grisly end. This is not directed well enough to make the viewer really believe he loves her and doesn’t do anything to make us feel for what is the character’s obvious destiny.
In the end, the ghost is freed and it’s no surprise when Warner is then placed inside the mirror to search for another hapless soul to help free him.
Fortunately, the rest of the movie is substantially better.
Our second character to be tempted, Mr. Lowe (Ian Bannen), is a man who keeps eying some war medals in the Temptation shop’s window. We quickly find out that his time in the service was the only time Lowe felt any self-worth. His shrew of a wife quickly shoots him down from that high horse, reminding him that he never saw any combat and he was just as useless then as he is now. His son just sits at the table and smirks at all the nasty remarks both of his parents hurl at each other.
So, he returns to the shop. Cushing puts one of the medals aside and tells him he can have it as soon as he brings in documentation proving he used to have one that he lost. Lowe agrees but when Cushing steps away, he takes the medal and runs.
He befriends an out-of-work war veteran, Jim Underwood (Donald Pleasance.) Underwood starts calling him sir and saluting him making this man feel important for the first time in his life.
Soon, Pleasance invites the man home for tea and introduces him to his daughter, Emily (Angela Pleasance – Donald Pleasance’s real-life daughter). When we first meet Emily she appears quite homely but ends up appearing strangely beautiful – a trick done more with attitude and good acting than any physical changes made to the actress.
Of course the man falls in love with meek, accommodating Emily and when she asks him if he wants her to stab a doll modeled after his wife, he tells her that he does.
When he gets home, he is surprised (although we are not) to find his wife dead, their son hunched in a corner. Seconds later, Pleasance and his daughter arrive and walk in the door in black formal clothing. The traditional wedding march starts and they walk toward Lowe so that Underwood can give his daughter away. This scene could be seen as rather silly – the music sending it straight over the top – but the smiles on the Underwoods’ faces make it more eerie than loopy.
Of course, all can’t end well for Lowe – he stole from gentle Mr. Cushing, after all – and he meets the same end that his previous wife suffered and in the same exact way. The Underwoods weren’t there to help out that old milksop Lowe – they were there to help out the always-smirking punk of a son.
So, we return to the Temptation shop to see what cheat is going to come in next. We find nicely dressed man, Reggie Warren (Ian Carmichael) looking over some snuff boxes. He switches the tags on a couple and walks out paying four pounds for a much more expensive box.
He takes the train home and is told by an eccentric woman, Madame Orloff (Margaret Leighton) that he has a rather nasty elemental on his shoulder. He dismisses her, of course, but after some unseen force attempts to kill his wife, he calls Orloff and asks for her help.
This story is simple but it is the most humorous and the performance of Leighton is probably the best in the film. The character’s self-confidence and lack of pretension about her work is refreshing.
But don’t worry; it doesn’t end well for Warren. Madam Orloff rid him of the elemental, but it didn’t go far.
Our last tale is a little different. William Seaton (Ian Ogilvy) comes in and buys a door from Mr. Cushing and although he talks down the price from 50 to 40, he does so honestly. Cushing turns his back on Seaton and we see him pick the money back up, but when he leaves, a pile of money is still in the register.
The antique door is a monster – almost literally. Big, ornately decorated and dirty Seaton finds it irresistible and places it in his office, replacing the stationary cupboard door.
However, the next time he opens it, he finds not a box of paper but a large Blue Room decorated in late 18th century style. He also finds a book written by the room’s owner – a man who purposely studied all things evil and how he could use it to his advantage.
The story is simple but this is often best, especially in a horror movie like this that isn’t really scary but relies on atmosphere more than plot.
The room itself was a great set piece. In one scene, the room seems to be becoming devoid of color and it was then that I realized the blueness of the room was being done with lighting. Because of this, the changes made to the room over the course of the story were subtle and quite eerie.
This story does end on a happy note. Even though he has to demolish the door to do it, the evil man and his blue room are destroyed completely and the Seaton and his wife live.
And why is this? It’s not for certain but it seems that it’s because he didn’t cheat our dear, kind Mr. Cushing.
The film ends with the attempted robbery of the shop. Turns out dear, kind Mr. Cushing is impervious to bullets and large metal objects being thrown at his head. The thief, backing away from the menacing shop owner, falls backwards into a spike-lined coffin.
So, the overall moral of this story is – don’t frack with Peter Cushing. Unless you’re Luke Skywalker, it will always end badly for you.
Purchase this DVD from Amazon.com