The Hubrisween That Wasn’t: F

Much brouhaha and a family emergency that had me travelling during my usual writing time. Everything turned out okay, but it is not a little alarming how something like that has a ripple effect that affects everything at my age. Younger me would have powered through and claimed everything was normal, but that’s not remotely true. The new strategy is to realize that I’ll get to it eventually….and then attempt to power through it.

Still waiting for that wisdom of age to settle in.

From Beyond the Grave (1974)

Why yes, this was the last of the movies I watched when pretending I was going to do Hubrisween in a timely manner and then did not power through the writing. How nice of you to remember.

I really like the Amicus anthology movies, just like I always had a soft spot for short story anthologies. What’s not to like? There is a special joy for me in a story that takes just as long as it needs to tell itself, and no more, which is where some anthology movies (and feature-length adaptations of short stories) fail. But that’s a complaint for another time.

Given how much I love these movies – I never passed up an opportunity to catch them back when local TV stations ran movies instead of informercials, or those special late-night marathons at college-town theaters where they’d schedule four of them at Midnight on Halloween or Friday the 13th. But lately I’ve begun to realize just how many of them I had not seen. They never seemed to show up on TV, despite being rated PG in release. Or crop up in those marathons. Who knows what arcane licensing restrictions were involved?

One of the missing ones was The Uncanny, which unfortunately ran into the story-stretching problem, but I also recall it cropping up on CBS’ late night movie one evening. I don’t recall ever seeing From Beyond the Grave on broadcast TV.

As is the way of these anthologies, the framing device is a curiosity shop called “Temptations Ltd.” presided over by none other than Peter Cushing, as a bit of a doddering, slightly scattered old man. There are four stories, each linked to a specific item from the store, and the ruination brought upon the customer by the various ways in which they cheat Cushing to get their items.

In the first tale, David Warner browbeats Cushing into selling him an antique mirror, claiming that it’s an obvious reproduction (it’s not, as Warner well knows), only to find out after an ill-advised séance there is a killer trapped within it that has the power to make Warner kill young ladies for their blood to unleash him from the shiny prison.

In the second, a salaryman (Ian Bannen) with an unhappy home life encounters Donald Pleasence on the street, selling shoelaces and matches as many ex-servicemen were forced to do. Bannen, finding someone who seems to honestly admire him, tries to buy a Distinguished Service Cross from Temptations, Ltd. to impress him, but is stymied by Cushing requiring a certificate to prove that he lost his own. Bannen then simply steals the medal, sealing his fate. Because if you thought that Donald Pleasence (and his daughter, Angela) might have an agenda of their own, well, you’ve seen a few of these movies as well. Kudos to everyone for the denouement not being exactly what I expected, too.

The third story is kicked off by a venal businessman (Ian Carmichael) switching price tags between two snuff boxes to get the silver one he wants for cheap. On the train ride home, he is confronted by the flamboyant Madame Orloff (Margaret Leighton), who informs him that there is an invisible elemental spirit burrowing into his left shoulder, and it’s a nasty one, too. Carmichael pish-tushes these pronouncements until various dreadful things start to happen at home, at which point he is more than happy that Orloff pressed her business card into his hand.

Ian Ogilvy is the customer who kicks off the last story, buying an ornate carved door that’s languished in the store for a while. That door will cover some shelving he uses for office supplies at his home, and looks quite handsome, too, until he opens it one night and find it now leads into a blue gothic nightmare of a room, which he explores in bewilderment until something starts turning the knob on the only other door in the room. He rushes out, slamming his new door behind him. After a quick shot of brandy, he opens it again, only to find his closet once more.

Later, he will explore the room again, finding a journal explaining that the room’s original owner, a sorcerer of some power, created the room to ensure his immortality – the carven door offering a portal to the room when it – and its master – needed feeding. And guess who’s on the menu?

Well, Ogilvy is the one patron who didn’t try to cheat Cushing, so he at least has a fighting chance to not become sorcerer chow. Which is good, because he’s married to Lesley-Anne Down, whom I have a personal stake in not getting hurt.

From Beyond the Grave represented a pleasant surprise for me, and I believe it’s because, unlike a lot of the Amicus anthologies I watched, the stories are not written by Robert Bloch, but the British writer R. Chetwynd-Hayes, which brings a different flavor and some freshness to the approach. All due credit to Bloch – I loved those movies, but a bit of variety is good for you. As far as I know, the only other movie using Chetwynd-Hayes’ work is The Monster Club, which is, yes, yes, another I haven’t seen.

There is always one thing you can count on with these British horror flicks: you are in an irony-free zone. The work is accorded the respect and seriousness it deserves (and all-too-frequently, I admit, even when it doesn’t). And just to do a complete about-face on that last statement, I am especially a fan of the “Elemental” story and its lighter touch carried on the able shoulders of Margaret Leighton, who is a hoot and a half, and her exorcism scene in a highly mobile set with various physical effects almost literally sings. Fantastic, delightful stuff.

4 Comments

  1. I have this one on disc and yep, it’s good stuff, unlike The Uncanny or And Now, The Screaming Starts, which I need to review at some point. That stack of movies I bought last year is haunting me into hermit life…

    • Hahaha, I have boxes of those bloody discs, my friend, going back years. You have my sympathy and empathy. And I look forward to your eventual dealing with it.

  2. It’s a warning, that’s for sure: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VA8jv1M6Y2g


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