Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Cushing rules 'From Beyond the Grave'

From Beyond the Grave (aka "Creatures" and "Tales from the Beyond") (1975)
Starring: Peter Cushing, David Warner, Donald Pleasence, Ian Bannen, Angela Pleasence, Nyree Dawn Porter, Ian Ogilvy, Lesley-Ann Down, Ian Carmichael, Margaret Leighton and Jack Watson
Director: Kevin Connor
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Deep within the back alleys of London is a little hole-in-the-wall antique shop that is crammed with the strangest and most wondrous things. It is run by a kind, elderly man with a thick Northlands accent (Cushing). He can find just the thing you're looking for, he is always helpful, and his prices are very, very fair. But a bad end will come to those who deal with him unfairly, or who outright steal from him.

"From Beyond the Grave" is a misnamed movie if there ever was one. This anthology film which features three stories about three customers to the antique shop run by Cushing's character, and the fates they suffer after they respectively cheat him, steal from him, and deal fairly with him. If *I* were King of the World (or if I'd been the one assigning alternate titles to this one, I would have chosen "Curious Goods", "Final Sale", "Deals to Die For", or something along those lines. Yes, this is a cheesy horror movie--where curses on antiques manifest themselves to punish those who do wrong--but it is nowhere near as awful as its title implies.

All four stories in this one are good, creepy fun. They are all paced just right, and they all sharp dialogue, well-balanced mixes of humor and horror, and a couple of startling moments just to add a little extra zest. The featured actors all give top-notch performances as well, with Cushing, Warner, Bannen, and Angela Pleasence being particularly excellent in their parts. (Of course, Cushing is pretty much always excellent, so I suppose I didn't even need to praise him. I don't think I've seen Ms. Pleasence in anything before or since, but she gives a performance that rivals anything her famous father has ever put forth.)

The first story sees David Warner stiffing Cushing for quite a bit of money when he switches the price-tag on a mirror he desperately wants. Well, said mirror is possessed, and soon Warner's character is killing hookers for fun and eternal life.

The second story has Ian Bannen, a spineless and henpecked husband, attempting to buy a war medal from Cushing so he can artifcially boost his self-esteem. When Cushing refuses to sell the medal to him without proof of actual war-time heroism, Bannen steals it. A chance encounter with a real war-hero and his strange daughter subsequently goes from friendship to horror. (This segment is scariest in the film, and it's final scene is one that will stay with you for a while.)

The third story is mostly comedic in nature, and it starts with a business man cheating Cushing on the purchase of an antique snuffbox (to which Cushing, upon noticing the swindle, comments, "I hope you enjoy snuffing it). Turns out, the cheapskate ends up with a demon on his shoulder, and when he turns to a befuddled medium for help (hilariously played by Margaret Leighton), things end up going from bad to worse. (The finale to this one is as creepy as it is funny.)

Finally, an honest customer comes into Cushing's shop. He's looking for a little something to liven up his study, and he purchases an old door... without stealing, cheating, or lying. The item still turns out to be cursed (we wouldn't have a story otherwise!), and it turns a closet into a room that houses an ancient evil. This final story isn't as strong as the first three, but it's still pretty good. And the fate of the characters are in line with everything that's happened to the cheaters.

"From Beyond the Grave" is definitely one of the better anthology horror films that has been made. If you like your horror with a side of class and thoughtfulness, this is a film for you. I recommend it highly, and I assure you that it's better than the title suggests.

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