Amicus Studios was generally considered second-best in British horror after Hammer, but this anthology film is just the sort of thing they did so well during the 1960s and ’70s and are best remembered for: The House That Dripped Blood, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, and Asylum.
From Beyond the Grave is Amicus’s final horror anthology. It showcases four tales written by R. Chetwynd-Hayes–who is not an author I’m familiar with, so I can’t say how these segments compare to his original short stories.
The framing story features a dusty little antique shop named “Temptations, Ltd.” in an obscure back street in London, run by a mild mannered, equally dusty proprietor (Peter Cushing, playing it in a very understated manner). The premise connecting each story is that the type of customer you are determines your ultimate fate.
Our first visitor to the antique shop is Edward Charlton (David Warner), dressed in the mod style of the late ’60s. He is immediately attracted to an old gilt-framed mirror. The elderly proprietor wants £200 for it as a genuine antique, but Edward questions its authenticity and says he’ll give 25 quid for it. The proprietor accepts this offer without bargaining.
A little later, at a party in his flat, Edward boasts to his friends about how he cheated the old man by making him believe that the mirror was a reproduction. Edward estimates that it’s really about 400 years old.
One of his friends observes that “It looks like it belongs in a medium’s parlor– so let’s have a séance!”
In spite of some qualms by Edward’s girlfriend Pamela, they do. The rest of the party is keen and Edward claims certain mediumistic gifts.
His séance produces interesting results. Blasts of blue flame shoot up from the single candle on the table, and Edward rather incautiously invites whatever spirit he’s contacted to “come in.”
Neither he nor his friends notice that the mirror seems to be fogging over, as if the reflected room on the other side of the glass is filling up with mist.
A man’s face appears.
In a trace state, Edward has a brief vision of himself meeting and being stabbed by the figure from the mirror. But that’s just the beginning. In the middle of the night, after his guests have gone, he wakes to a whispering voice from the mirror, urging him: “You must feed me.”
The apparition doesn’t say at this point that he requires human blood, but it must be implicit in the influence he exerts over Edward. Edward goes out that night to pick up a prostitute on the London streets and takes her back to his place. When the Mirror-man whispers, “Now!” Edward stabs her.
He wakes back in his own bed. Was it all a strange and horrible dream? Nope. There’s blood on his jammies and on the sofa where the woman was sitting, plus a blood stained knife in the kitchen. No sign of the dead body.
Mirror-man demands to be fed more blood, and night after night Edward is compelled to kill another person. We don’t see all of these murders, apart from one woman he picks up at a disco, but Edward’s clothes and the walls and furniture of his apartment get increasingly blood-spattered.
“How many more?” he wails.
“Until I am fulfilled,” the apparition replies.
“A long time again, I made sacrifices,” the apparition explains. “Now, you must give them to me.”
His girlfriend Pamela phones; she hasn’t seen him since the night of the séance. Edward first tries to talk her out of coming by, but under Mirror-man’s influence, he ends up asking her to come over.
If you’ve been wondering what he’s done with all the bodies of his victims, the man who lives in the flat below comes upstairs just then to complain about something nasty dripping through the ceiling.
Helpful hint for would-be murderers: it’s not a good idea to hide dead bodies under the floorboards in a top-floor flat, precisely for this reason. They won’t stay hidden long. At least, the downstairs neighbor becomes the final victim instead of Pamela.
The man in the mirror is set free, and Edward takes his place.
I think that this is the best of the four stories, but if I have one complaint about it, it’s that, once he’s freed, the Mirror-man explains too much while not really explaining anything. He has a long speech about his kind being all over the world and in positions of power, that I think the story can do without. It doesn’t tell us any more about who he is and how he ended up trapped in a mirror for a 100 years (his clothes look Victorian) than his short statement about making sacrifices did. Just from that and what we see at the end, we can assume that the same thing happened to him that’s happening to Edward now–maybe he’s even supposed to be Jack the Ripper?–and infer from the age of the mirror that he isn’t the first. Nor will Edward be the last.
After the murders are discovered, the flat is stripped, scrubbed down, and repainted but the mirror remains in its place on the wall. Reflected in it (or viewed through the glass as if from Edward’s point of view), we see tenants come and go until another young man holds a party in that same room; going by the clothes, it’s now the mid-70s.
One of the women makes a familiar comment about the mirror. “It looks like it belongs in a medium’s parlor.” Another woman adds, “Let’s have a séance!”
Mists rise on the mirror’s surface, and Edward’s face appears.
Here we go again. But since this young man didn’t rip off the antique store owner, perhaps things will turn out better for him.
An Act of Kindness
The second customer is Christopher Lowe (Ian Bannen). Before he does his antique shopping, we meet his family and glimpse his miserable home life. His wife (Diana Dors) despises him and he can’t stand her. Their 10-year-old son doesn’t say much, but he watches them argue.
As Christopher walks past the antique shop, he has his eye on a DSO (Distinguished Service Order) medal in the window, but doesn’t goes inside and attempt to purchase it until after he has a chat with an old soldier (Donald Pleasence) who stands in the street selling shoelaces and matchboxes. Christopher has bought things from him before, but on this occasion the two men strike up a conversation about their respective military careers. The old soldier assumes that Christopher was an officer and a gentleman and must have received a medal for his service during the war. We know from his wife’s last harangue that Christopher was only a sergeant in the Pay Corp and probably never saw battle. He doesn’t tell his new friend this.
When he tries to buy the medal, the proprietor, who is an honest fellow, wants to see the certificate that proves Christopher received the DSO and has the right to wear it. No aiding of fraudulent faux war heroes here. Christopher says that he just happened to lose his own medal and wants a replacement; he’ll bring in the certificate the next time he comes.
The proprietor says fine, he’ll set the medal aside until then. So Christopher steals it when the proprietor isn’t looking.
But of course the proprietor immediately notices that it’s gone after Christopher leaves the shop. “Naughty,” he says mildly. “Shouldn’t do that.”
The old soldier invites Christopher over for dinner and to meet his creepy daughter, Emily (played by Pleasence’s real life daughter Angela). The high point of this story is the delightful father-daughter creeper act the Pleasences put on.
Emily even has a song she sings for their guest:
“Soon you will be free. Soon you will be free.
The chains will fall. Then we’ll be parted no more.
The dead can’t clutch, can’t hold on tight.
Eaten by worms in the cold earth.
Where we comes from, nobody knows.
But we knows what we knows and we keeps it to ourselves.”
Creepy as they are, the pair give Christopher the comfortable home life he lacks, feed his ego, and seem dedicated to making him happy in every way. He soon winds up in Emily’s bed.
Emily also plays with voodoo dolls, and Christopher agrees to her stabbing a figure she’s made that resembles his wife. (Earlier, someone unseen had taken Mrs. Lowe’s photograph and clipped a lock of her hair on the bus.) He doesn’t believe in voodoo, but when he goes home he finds his wife dead on the floor; their son says that she answered the door and was stabbed with a pin by a woman in black.
Moments later, Emily and her father show up at the door, dressed for a wedding.
Christopher marries Emily, but just as she cuts the wedding cake, he discovers that it isn’t his happiness that the two are concerned with.
Next up is upper-class twit Reggie Warren (Ian Carmichael), who switches the price tags on a couple of snuff boxes so that he gets a very pretty £40 silver filigree one for £4.
As usual, the proprietor seems aware that he’s been cheated, but only tells his customer in pleasant tones, “Hope you enjoy snuffing it.”
Comeuppance falls upon Reggie as he takes the train home that evening. An elderly lady in hippyish clothes (Margaret Leighton), seated across from him in a 1st-class compartment, observes, “Do you know there’s an elemental on your shoulder?”
An elemental, she explains, is a spirit that lusts after pleasures of the flesh. This one’s lust is for homicide. She gives Reggie her card and tells him to phone when he needs her; she’s Madame Orloff, a medium.
When Reggie gets home to a charming little country house, the dog comes out to greet him–then barks at him and flees. His wife Susan (Nyree Dawn Porter) wonders why he’s holding one shoulder hunched up. She then feels someone hit her. Since there are only the two of them in the room, she assumes its her husband. There are scratches on her arm.
Later on in the night when the Warrens are sleeping, in a scene cribbed from The Haunting, Susan feels someone holding her hand too tightly. “You must cut your nails.” It isn’t her husband this time either, and then the invisible hand tries to strangle her. Sickening stench fills the bedroom.
Reggie phones Madame Orloff even though it’s the middle of the night. She agrees to come right away.
Madame Orloff intends to perform an exorcism to drive the creature from Reggie before it gets into him and takes over. He probably picked it up on a trip through the London Underground–elementals tend to hang out in the tunnels there.
This story is played as a comedy, so the incantations and invectives Madame Orloff uses to drive the spirit out are deliberately ridiculous. She shouts louder and louder as furniture and ornaments in the parlor begin to move by themselves, flames roar up in the fireplace, china flies off the shelves to shatter, sofa pillows burst open and feathers fill the room. By the time she’s finished the whole room is wrecked. but the elemental has been expelled. Reggie feels so much better and the dog returns home.
So, this one has a happy ending? Well, no… Reggie still has to pay for that snuffbox.
While both of these stories are amusing, the issue I have with them is that they seem kludged into the Temptations framing story. Christopher Lowe is already being drawn into the situation with the father and daughter before he enters the antique shop, and who knows how long that elemental’s been perched on Reggie’s shoulder? Madame Orloff’s dialog suggested that it’s been there for some time (as it probably was in the original story). And while the stolen DSO has at least some connection to Christopher’s fate, the snuffbox has nothing to do with the elemental and what happens to Reggie.
The final customer is a handsome young writer named William Seaton (Ian Ogilvy, last seen here as the cursed master of Fengriffen in And Now the Screaming Starts). The item that immediately draws his attention is an elaborately carved door. The proprietor proudly tells William that he salvaged the door from the ruins of an old house himself, and that it used to open onto a blue room. William intends to put it on the cabinet in his study, where he keeps stationery and other writing supplies.
The proprietor wants £50 for it. William only has £40 on him. His offer of this smaller amount is accepted, but the proprietor leaves the drawer open on the cash register while he briefly goes into the back room to write out a receipt.
Did William take any of the money? We didn’t see him do so. After he’s gone, the proprietor counts the bills…
Meanwhile, the door has been delivered to the Seatons’ townhouse, a fairly modern home although the couple has a taste for antiques. It strikes William as odd that his wife Rosemary (Lesley Anne Down) imagines the ornate door opening onto some place much more appropriate than a storage cupboard: a beautiful old drawing room with a massive fireplace, mullioned windows, and everything done up in blue.
Not long after this, as William sits alone in his study, the face carved into the middle of the door begins to glow faintly blue. William gets up to investigate, opens the door, and finds–not a lot of stationery, but a cobweb-covered blue drawing room exactly as described. A portrait of a bewigged Restoration gentleman hangs on one wall and a large, dust-covered book sits on the desk.
William is just blowing the dust off the book to have a look at it, when he hears someone coming. The handle of another door into the room moves. Spooked, he dashes back to his own modern little study and shuts the carved door.
When he checks again after taking a gulp of brandy, the shelves of office supplies are back.
He tells Rosemary about his strange experience and the blue room that “sometimes isn’t there.” But the two of them don’t investigate the matter any further before the next time William is alone in the study. The ornate door pops invitingly open.
William ventures into the blue room again. This time, he heads straight for the book on the desk.
Its title, which he reads aloud, is An Experiment in Darkness by Sir Michael Sinclair. It was written late in the reign of Charles II, and the first pages William looks at contain instructions for the entrapment of the souls of those who enter this very room.
The voiceover switches to the sorcerous Sir Michael as he explains how he put a spell on his blue room, using arcane witchcraft and lots of blood. Every once in awhile, the room needs to be fed. The ensorcelled door is not only the way in, but also the way Sir Michael intends to return to the world at some future time. He prefers to entrap a woman, since a woman’s soul according to him “hath a more enduring quality.”
William realizes that his wife is in greater danger than he is. When Sir Michael shows up, he races out of the room and back into his own home, leaving the door wide open.
It takes a little time to convince Rosemary that they must leave the house right away. By the time they try to get out, their front door is jammed shut and the phone won’t work.
As if under a spell, Rosemary wanders into the study and heads toward the carved door, where Sir Michael is waiting for her. He carries her into the blue room and invites her husband, “Come, come! Two souls are better than one.”
William does come in, but first he grabs a battle-axe off his study wall.
This story is thematically the same as the first one: an evil being from an earlier era exists in a twilight realm accessible through the purchased object, and needs blood to continue its purpose. In spite of this and the segment’s rather rushed presentation, I am fond of it.
In the first place, I enjoy stories about transdimensional spaces–for example, MR James’s Number 13. Also, the look of the blue drawing room is terrific. I especially like that time runs at a different pace within the room; no matter what time of day it is in our world, there’s a lurid red sunset fading into dusk seen through the mullioned windows. All the clocks in the Seaton house suddenly turn to midnight when Sir Michael claims his victims.
In the second place, it’s got Ian Ogilvy and an axe. I’ve noticed that he wields them frequently during his horror movie career. In Witchfinder General (which I am going to review some time soon), he whacks Vincent Price repeatedly with one. In And Now the Screaming Starts, he brandishes one at Peter Cushing in a menacing fashion. Jack Watson, who plays Sir Michael, wasn’t as big a star as Cushing or Price, but now it’s his turn.
William doesn’t take this axe directly to Sir Michael, but starts hacking at the face carved on the door. The wood bleeds, and Sir Michael reacts as if he’s been struck; he stumbles and falls, releasing Rosemary. Around him, the walls and ceiling of the blue room begin to crack and fall to pieces.
William tries to rescue Rosemary, but the ancient sorcerer still has some fight left in him and grabs the young man to detain him. The damaged door that leads back to safety slowly closes…
Will the Seatons escape, or will their souls be trapped in the crumbling blue room? That depends on whether or not William stole from the antique store till. Their fate hangs in the balance until the proprietor has finished counting his money to see if it’s “all correct.”
Oh, wait. There’s one last visitor to Temptations, Ltd., but he’s not a customer.
This man has been hanging around in the street outside between each of the preceding stories. Now, he finally makes his move and steps inside to rob the place. His ending is particularly nasty.
Once he’s been dispatched, the proprietor turns to address the audience, inviting us into his shop, where every item comes with a “novelty surprise.” Just take care that you deal honestly with him when you make your purchase, and you might even survive.