A.J.’s Solid ’70s Horrorthon #14: “From Beyond the Grave” (1974)

by A.J. Hakari

From Beyond the Grave

 

As I mentioned the other day whilst griping about Tales That Witness Madness, getting an anthology horror feature just right is nigh impossible. Even Amicus, the British production house that popularized the omnibus format in the ’60s and ’70s, had their shortcomings, cranking out a Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors for every Asylum. As the last film Amicus made of this kind before bowing out completely with 1981’s The Monster Club, From Beyond the Grave is sort of stranded in the middle. It’s not a successful picture by a long shot, but it takes a step in the right direction by cutting out a good deal of the corny filler that plagued its predecessors and ratcheting up the doom and gloom.

Welcome to Temptations Limited, a den of antiquities dedicated to weeding out society’s bastards. Anyone who dares try to cheat the kindly old shopkeeper (Peter Cushing) gets their just desserts in the most macabre of fashions, and it’s four such rat finks on whom this film focuses. We begin with David Warner as a man who haggles his way home with a mirror that houses a horrible being who beckons him to kill. Our second story follows a beleaguered nobody (Ian Bannen) whose tall tales of serving in the military cause him to cross paths with a voodoo practitioner. One fellow (Ian Carmichael) picks up not only a snuff box but also an invisible demon bent on destroying his life. The last tale centers around a young chap (Ian Ogilvy) who nabs himself a strange door that turns his supply closet into a portal to a nightmarish dimension.

Earlier Amicus anthologies were always rife with haphazard instances of humorous levity that basically killed whatever fearful atmosphere they’d been building up. But right from the ominous opening credits, you can sense that From Beyond the Grave will contain no such silliness. Aside from an over-the-top psychic figuring prominently into the demon story, the film as a whole means serious business and keeps a straight face throughout the proceedings. Nowhere is this more true than in the first and best segment of the bunch, in which Time After Time‘s Warner is driven to insanity by a bloodthirsty apparition. We also have the benefit of a framing story that co-exists swimmingly with the vignettes, with Cushing’s character flashing a knowing smirk every time a customer gives him a bum deal. Unfortunately, From Beyond the Grave sinks into ridiculousness pretty soon after its doozy of an opening act. The remaining shorts are either mired in convention and cliché or — in the case of Bannen’s tale — almost irritatingly confusing.

From Beyond the Grave has a killer mood going for it, but the consistency of its segments is on par with Amicus’ most uneven portmanteau productions. Although there’s stuff to treasure about it (Cushing’s performance is delightfully devilish), nagging nitpicks pile up too quickly to be excused away by effective lighting or the like. From Beyond the Grave promises to satisfy the appetites of horror hounds, but think of it as a four-course meal where only the salad tastes any good.

(Note: this review refers to the DVD-R version manufactured and sold by the Warner Archive Collection.)

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