"My, customers. Come in, come in. I'm sure I have the very thing to tempt you. Lots of bargains. All tastes catered for. Oh, and a big novelty surprise goes with every purchase. Do come in anytime. I'm always open."
The proprietor (Peter Cushing) of Temptations Limited doesn't trade in needful things, exactly. Still, whatever you're hoping to find – whether it's something as grand as a centuries-old mirror or as tiny as a snuffbox – is on offer in this antique shop. He's surprisingly flexible on price. He'll turn a blind eye to shoplifting. And everyone – even those who swindle and steal from the old man – returns home with more than they'd bargained for.
Temptations Ltd. forms the backbone of From Beyond the Grave, the last of Amicus Productions' decade-long series of horror anthologies. The framing device aside, there are four tales of terror, each revolving around a hapless customer tormented by some sort of malevolent supernatural force. In the first, Edward (David Warner) is compelled by the ancient entity in his newly-acquired mirror to kill. Whenever the bloodlust fades, Edward awakes as his flat is sopping with blood but with nary a corpse to be found. Is this spirit sating its ravenous hunger by bringing these women's lifeless bodies with him into the mirror? And what to do when his lovely girlfriend (Wendy Allnutt) is next on the menu?
If Christopher (Ian Bannen) is going to perpetuate his lie about being a decorated military hero, he has to look the part, swiping an appropriately impressive medal from the antique shop. This fantasy – concocted during Christopher's daily chats with a kindly street peddler (Donald Pleasence) – proves a welcomed escape from his thankless office job and loveless marriage. In Jim Underwood and his daughter (Angela Pleasence), Christopher has discovered a family that cherishes him and a lover who'll indulge his every whim. Young Emily is even willing to rid him of his current wife. All he has to do is ask...
Reggie (Ian Carmichael) is such a miserly bastard that he swaps the price tags on two snuffboxes at Temptation Ltd. And yet within just a couple of days, he's all too eager to pay through the nose so that Madame Orloff (Margaret Leighton) will rid him of the elemental perched on his shoulder. This unseen poltergeist has spooked the family dog, it's slashed and strangled Reggie's wife (Nyree Dawn Porter), and its reign of terror is far from over.
The only of the shop's customers not to cheat its proprietor, William (Ian Ogilvy) can't take his eyes off a particularly ornate door. Perhaps you'd think it's a waste to have something so grand open a stationery cupboard, and the late occultist Sir Michael Sinclair (Jack Watson) would seem to agree. There are times, yes, when the door opens to reveal shelf after shelf of paper, and yet at others, it unveils a path towards immortality. Just not immortality for William or his wife (Lesley-Anne Down).
I've been cursed with a lifelong fascination with horror anthologies, one that's never wavered despite the fact that I walk away disappointed far more often than not. From Beyond the Grave is, thankfully, a great success in most every conceivable respect. It benefits from an incredible cast; if you don't recognize most of the names wrapped in parentheses above, you'll surely be familiar with their faces. It marks the directorial debut of Motel Hell's Kevin Connor, who, with cinematographer Alan Hume (Return of the Jedi), indulges in some truly inspired visuals. This is most deeply felt in the first segment, "The Gatecrasher", whether it's the blue flame perfectly centered as the camera rotates, the off-kilter lenses as Edward awakes in an unearthly realm, or the abrupt, disorienting cuts separating bloodlust from sobering reality.
But perhaps From Beyond the Grave's greatest strength is its screenplay. With arguably one exception, the construction of these stories is nothing short of extraordinary. The storytelling strikes a perfect balance, establishing each segment's premise swiftly without showing too many of its cards. From Beyond the Grave wields a remarkable capacity to surprise, invariably leaving me feeling as if I'm not quite certain what's lurking around the next corner. Its twists are impactful. These stories don't necessarily end how or even when one would expect. From an eerie score to its foreboding visuals, From Beyond the Grave forges a (nearly) consistently unnerving tone, with its more playful moments hardly ever neutering the dread or intensity of what soon follows.
I'll confess to not being all that fond of the film's third segment, "The Elemental". It's saddled with the dullest hook, least compelling characters, and an antagonist whose presence is too rarely felt. Margaret Leighton's deliriously over the top, scenery-chewing turn as a mystic is great fun but tonally out of step with basically everything else about the film. While it's a very different story, elements of "The Door" in some ways echo "The Gatecrasher" more closely than I'd have liked, and I can't claim to have found the sight of its ghost particularly unnerving.
Such concerns do little to diminish my enthusiasm for what is otherwise such an exceptional horror anthology. This is the last of Amicus' portmanteaux to arrive on Blu-ray, and Warner Archive has delivered a presentation well worth the wait. Highly Recommended.
Newly remastered this year – presumably from an interpositive – From Beyond the Grave readily meets the heights I've come to expect from Warner Archive. The presentation is nothing short of immaculate; I'm not sure I spotted so much as a stray speck of dust throughout its 98 minute runtime. And that cleanup has been executed the proper way, steering clear of any excessive filtering or noise reduction. There are indeed no artifacts of any kind to be found here. Despite the modest length of the film and the near-total lack of extras, Warner Archive still went to the expense of presenting the film on a BD-50 disc, lavishing this high bitrate AVC encode with all the headroom it needs. Its filmic texture is preserved every bit as masterfully as I could've hoped to see. Crispness and clarity are more than respectable, far outclassing a number of the Amicus anthologies previously issued on Blu-ray. I mean:
I often found myself struck by From Beyond the Grave's use of color, from its more vivid and vivacious moments:
...to the film's most inexorably '70s hues:
This expectedly terrific presentation from Warner Archive doesn't leave me with any complaints or concerns whatsoever. Well done.
Presented in two-channel mono, From Beyond the Grave's 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is similarly respectable. The audio is reasonably clean and clear from start to finish, without a sputter or stutter to be heard. The score by Amicus mainstay Douglas Gamley is a definite highlight, particularly over the opening titles as well as the interplay with the blue flame in the first segment's séance. Its dialogue doesn't exactly belie the age of this forty-five year old film:
...but it remains a pleasant enough listen just the same. Also included is an optional set of English (SDH) subtitles.
The Final Word
Though From Beyond the Grave proved to be the final portmanteau by Amicus Productions, at least their legendary line of horror anthologies ended on a high note. And while it is a bit disappointing that there aren't any extras to carry over, Warner Archive's Blu-ray release is in every other way outstanding. Highly Recommended.