Moldy Horror: FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE (Warner Bros/Amicus 1973)

I’ve discussed the Max Roseberg/Milton Subotsky Amicus horror anthologies before on this blog. All are good, if uneven, little entries in the genre, and FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE is no exception. This was the last of the Amicus tales of terror, a quartet of creepiness based on the work of British horror writer R. Chetwynd-Hayes. I’ll admit I’m not familiar with Mr. Cheywynd-Hayes’s work, so I couldn’t tell you if the movie’s faithful to it or not. I can tell you FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE is about 50/50 in the chills department.

An all-star British cast gives it a game try, though. The segments are linked by horror icon Peter Cushing , looking rather gaunter than usual as the proprietor of Temptations Ltd., an antique shop which serves to set the stories in motion. Unfortunately, the part is a waste of Cushing’s talent; I could see him in any of a number of roles in the stories ahead to far greater effect.

The first involves David Warner as a man who purchases an antique mirror, then gathers his friends around to hold a séance. Warner gets more than he bargained for when he’s possessed by a murderous spirit trapped on the mirror’s other side. This segment is particularly gruesome, and Warner is good as always, but so predictable that it failed to satisfy the horror lover in me.

Next up we find Ian Bannen as a drudge married to a shrewish wife (zaftig Brit ex-sexpot Diana Dors ), who steals a Distinguished Service Medal in order to impress an Army veteran-turned-beggar (Donald Pleasence ). Bannen’s invited to dinner at the beggar’s flat, and becomes spellbound by his daughter (Pleasence’s real-life daughter Angela). This one’s got a pretty neat twist ending that I didn’t see coming, which is rare for a hard-core horror fan like me. Kudos!

We turn now to comedy, with Margaret Leighton as a dotty psychic who aids a couple (Ian Charmichael, Nyree Dawn Porter) rid themselves of an Elemental, a mischievous, malevolent spirit trying to possess the husband. Despite some cool special effects during the exorcism scene, and Leighton’s fun turn as the clairvoyant, this segment was just okay.

Finally, we come to Ian Oglivy , who buys a door with a strange-looking carving on it. Bringing it home to wife Lesley-Anne Down, he installs it as a kitschy cupboard door, only to discover upon opening it that it leads to a mysterious blue room where evil and black magic dwell. This was a very good, scary piece with a Corman/Poe type atmosphere, and for me ranked as the best of the lot.

FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE suffers most from the pedestrian direction of Kevin Connor, making his feature debut. Connor would go on to a fairly pedestrian career, helming the Amicus/Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptations; of his filmography, only MOTEL HELL is a real standout. The movie, as I said, is about half successful, and I’d recommend DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS or TALES FROM THE CRYPT as better representatives of the Amicus horror anthologies. But for genre fans, it’s worth a look anyway.

Halloween Havoc!: THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (Amicus 1971)

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Hammer Films wasn’t the only British company cranking out the horrors back in the 60’s and 70’s. American ex-pats producers Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg formed Amicus Films in 1962 and after a couple of films aimed at the teen audience (with American rockers like Chubby Checker, Del Shannon, Freddy Cannon, and Gene Vincent) began concentrating on horror. The team specialized in the anthology genre, or “portmanteau” as the intelligentsia call them. I’ll stick with anthologies!

THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD was a 1971 effort written by Robert Bloch, forever known as “The Guy Who Wrote PSYCHO”. The nail to hang Bloch’s four tales on concerns the disappearance of famous horror actor Paul Henderson, who was last seen at the old house in the countryside. Inspector Holloway (John Bennett) of Scotland Yard (where else?) arrives on the scene and speaks with the local constable, who warns Holloway about mysterious doings past:

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In “Method for Murder”, horror writer Charles Hillyer (Denholm Elliott) thinks the quiet country manor is the ideal cure for his writer’s block, and moves in with wife Alice (Joanna Dunham). Hillyer comes up with a story about serial strangler Dominick roaming the countryside, and soon begins to have visions of his creation lurking around the house and grounds. It’s the old GASLIGHT routine, and though it does boast a double-twist ending, this one’s probably the weakest of the quartet.

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Up next is “Waxworks”, starring Peter Cushing as a retired stockbroker who rents the house. Cushing visits Jacquelin’s Museum of Horrors, and is mesmerized by a statue of Salome that resembles his late ex-love. His friend and former love rival (Joss Ackland) drops by, and he too is enthralled by the figure. The proprietor (Wolfe Morris) tells the men Salome was modeled on his dearly departed wife, who chopped up her lover with an axe and was sentenced to death. Although this segment isn’t bad, it won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s viewed MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM or HOUSE OF WAX.

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Our Inspector then travels to the office of realtor A.J. Stoker (!!), who conveys the final two tales. “Sweets for the Sweet” finds widower Christopher Lee renting the house with young daughter Jane (Chloe Franks). He hires nanny Anne Norton (Nyree Dawn Porter) to tutor the child, whom he treats rather coldly. The father forbids Jane from going to school and interacting with other children or playing with toys, especially dolls. The reason being Jane’s mother was a witch, and the child has inherited her evil ways. This vignette is built up well, with the cast elevating it from merely creepy to suspenseful horror.

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Now we come to the most recent tenant, Paul Henderson, in “The Cloak”. This one’s a lot of fun, as hammy horror star Henderson (Jon Pertwee) begins filming yet another low-budget shocker, titled “Curse of the Bloodsuckers”. Henderson is pissed about the piss-poor sets and costumes, and goes on a tirade about the state of the horror film: “That’s what’s wrong with your present-day horror films, there’s no realism! Not like the old ones, no, the great ones… FRANKENSTEIN, PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, DRACULA … the one with Bela Lugosi, not the new fellow!”. After his rant, Henderson receives a card from Theo Von Hartmann, costumer in the local village. Von Hartmann’s a slender, sinister looking old gent cradling a black cat in his arms who sells Henderson an antique cloak. The actor thinks it’s just right for his film, but when he dons it in his dressing room, he’s startled to discover he can no longer see his reflection in the mirror.

While filming a scene with frequent co-star Carla Lynde (Hammer honey Ingrid Pitt), Henderson puts the bite on her for real, earning him a slap in the face. At home, he once again puts on the cloak, and to his horror begins floating around the room. The next day he apologizes to Carla and invites her to dinner, where he tells her about the powers of the evil cloak. This time, the cloak doesn’t work, as Carla’s switched it for a prop (“Property of Shepperton Studios” is sewn in the label!). Now Carla has it, and prepares to sink her teeth into some juicy ham!

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Inspector Holloway dismisses all these tales as rubbish, demanding to go into the house himself, where of course he’s attacked by the vampires, bringing our tales of terror to a close. THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD is okay, no better or worse than any other Amicus production (or episode of NIGHT GALLERY for that matter), and the final two segments are terrific. Subotsky and Rosenberg did other stand-alone horror flicks (THE SKULL, THE DEADLY BEES, THE BEAST MUST DIE), a pair of DOCTOR WHO features, and some Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptations, but it’s for their anthologies they’re best remembered. DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS, TORTURE GARDEN, ASYLUM, and two EC Comics-inspired movies (TALES FROM THE CRYPT and THE VAULT OF HORROR) are all worth watching, as is THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD. Nothing groundbreaking, just a good way to spend a dark and stormy night!

 

CLEANING OUT THE DVR Pt 2: Five Films From Five Decades

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Well, it’s time once again to get rid of some movies on my DVR so I can make room for more movies! Last night I had myself a mini-movie marathon watching four in a row (the fifth I’d already screened and jotted down some notes on it). So here, for your education and edification, are five films from five decades:

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THE RETURN OF DR. X (Warner Brothers 1939; director Vincent Sherman)

Despite the title, this is not a sequel to 1932’s DOCTOR X starring Lionel Atwill. This one’s all about a reporter (Wayne Morris) and a doctor (Dennis Morgan) investigating a string of murders where the bodies have been drained of blood. Humphrey Bogart plays Dr. Quesne, alias the mad Dr. X, in pasty white make-up and a streak of white in his hair. Seems he’s been brought back from the dead by Dr. Flegg (John Litel) after being electrocuted and now needs human blood to survive. It’s no wonder Bogie hated this film, playing a role more suitable for Bela Lugosi in his Monogram days. Fun Fact: Dead End Kid/Bowery Boy Huntz Hall plays newsroom boy Pinky in a rare solo appearance.

Continue reading “CLEANING OUT THE DVR Pt 2: Five Films From Five Decades”