Thirty years of horror: From Beyond the Grave (1973)

Tom: This weird little forgettable anthology feels like it was made for English TV. Which doesn’t have to be a bad thing. I can think of a couple of made-for-English-TV presentations that still hold up today: Ghostwatch and the original Woman In Black. But this thing? It just goes to show that even though we’re out of the age of grampa movies, we’ve got a whole new style of clunky to contend with.

After the jump, don’t mess with Peter Cushing

Chris: I think you’re in the right ballpark with the made for TV thing. My first thought here was that this was the final death throes of the clumsy British horror film in the style of Hammer, but as I think on it, that’s likely only partially the case. By 1972, Hammer was propping itself up largely on fees paid by American TV to air their earlier films. Amicus Pictures saw that and took it to a logical conclusion. By using their small London studio to make these intertwined short films, they were able to lure some very strong acting talent to six-day shoots that lent a name to the otherwise dirt-cheap proceedings. Amicus would then spin the resulting films to the US television market and cash in.

Tom: The framing device is that people who rip off Peter Cushing, the impervious proprietor of a cluttered antique store, sure do get theirs in the end (the poor guy who just wanted to buy a door was collateral damage). Early on, I had high hopes seeing David Warner stroll onscreen as only David Warner can stroll. And I really liked the weirdly Terry Gilliam-esque bits of his haunting. The second sequence was mostly watchable for Donald Pleasence’s real-world and in-movie daughter, Angela Pleasence, as a delightfully batty slave/sorceress, so English, so mousy, so passive-aggressively demanding, but also weirdly sexy. She sexes our protagonist on a bed underneath a needlepoint sign that read “the wages of sin is death”. As you might guess by the title, From Beyond the Grave is not a subtle movie.

Chris: I was still hopeful that with the acting talent collected here that there would be diamonds in the rough to be found here, but from the moment I heard that awful, stock music score I knew we were in trouble. I thought Warner was great at being David Warner here, but the story is just so rote that it feels like his performance is wasted. The second segment is better, but only because it doesn’t have zombie Rutherford B. Hayes in a mirror in it. I agree that especially Donald Pleasance nails his bit, and thought Ian Bannen was fine as the put-upon husband. The second segment would’ve worked nicely as a Twilight Zone episode, perhaps.

Tom: But then Madam Orloff shows up in the third sequence and makes an English mockery of the whole thing. Is this Hammer horror or Benny Hill? I don’t think I’ve ever seen an exorcism scene that so needed Yakety Sax playing in the background. “Half price on Thursdays,” she croons Englishly amid the fallen pictures, shredded pillows, and shattered dinnerware. Is this the same movie that just had David Warner luring women into his apartment to stab them? I guess that’s the problem with a lot of anthologies. So many different people on so many different pages.

Chris: She’s awful, isn’t she? No time for retakes, so just go with whatever tone she plays her character with. Amicus clearly had schedules to keep, and money t make. The real bummer with this third segment is that it could’ve been quite frightening had it been done with a bit more conviction, a bit more budget, and a bit more of, well, everything. Imagine, for instance, if it was a little girl who was possessed, and instead of Madame Orloff you got a couple of priests involved instead. You might have something then.

(So what’s this “thirty years of horror” thing?)

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