Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #402
Number of Views: Three
Release Date: 23 February 1974 (UK)
Sub-Genre: Horror Anthology
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Running Time: 97 minutes
Director: Kevin Connor
Producers: Max Rosenberg, Milton Subotsky
Screenplay: Raymond Christodoulou, Robin Clarke
Special Effects: Neville Smallwood
Cinematography: Alan Hume
Score: Douglas Gamley
Editing: John Ireland
Studio: Amicus Productions
Distributor: Amicus Productions
Stars: Peter Cushing, Donald Pleasence, Ian Bannen, Diana Dors, David Warner, Ian Bannen, Ian Carmichael, Margaret Leighton, Nyree Dawn Porter, Angela Pleasence, Ian Ogilvy, Lesley-Anne Down, Jack Watson, Wendy Allnutt, Rosalind Ayres, Tommy Godfrey, John O’Farrell, Ben Howard, Marcel Steiner
Suggested Audio Candy
It may have escaped your attention that, over 400 appraisals in, I still haven’t taken it upon myself to tackle the works of legendary British heavyweights Hammer and Amicus. Alas, much as I would love to report that this is purely down to oversight, I can do no such thing. Anyone charged with keeping the Crimson Quill should have touched parchment many moons ago but there has always been something holding me back. Initially it appeared as though I simply wasn’t worthy to wax lyrical on such antiquated treasures and I felt as though I would be required to earn my stripes before attempting to do so. However, I’m afraid that my reasoning is far more shameful than purely placing these works on a pedestal.
The truth is that I have a Kryptonite. If you peruse my archives then you will discern that relatively few works appraised were produced prior to my birth date on September 21, 1974. It is with great regret that I must inform you that I struggle to re-watch any piece of work from before my father’s ambrosial torpedo burst through the wall to my mother’s ovary and made itself at home. How could I even hope to set aside the time when Puppet Master four thru ten still haven’t been provided with airtime? I was an eighties child, through and through, a product of that environment; whereas I recall precious little about the seventies. I should be banished to the gallows for such a frank admission of guilt but I know the Grueheads and you are nothing if not forgiving. I know I can make it up to you, but I will be required to traverse beyond the womb to do so.
The most ludicrous factor is that the works of these exalted homeland studios were my surrogate parents while my young mind was still wiring for terror. Hammer House of Horror provided me with countless nightmares, while Amicus fired out ghoulish anthologies at a greater rate of knots than the proverbial ping-pong ball could be used as vaginal ammunition. Freddie Francis’ truculent trio Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, Torture Garden, and Tales from the Crypt, Peter Duffell’s The House That Dripped Blood, and Roy Ward Parker’s Asylum, The Vault of Horror and later The Monster Club, all gave me reasons to check beneath my bed each night and, at the time, the British horror industry was still flag bearer. Our American friends were catching up fast and The Exorcist and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre were to make a mockery of the divide but news hadn’t traveled across the pond yet.
Kevin Connor’s devilish four-piece From Beyond the Grave was the seventh anthology to be released under the Amicus banner and arrived at a time when the studio were beginning to wind down. While all four tales were suitably creepy and atmospheric, it was the presence of Peter Cushing as the doddery proprietor of antique store Temptations Ltd. during the wraparound segments which caused the chills to convene. Whether offering advice to wayward stragglers which they had no intention of heeding, vanishing then reappearing with eerie regularity, to peering across the counter with that wonderfully knowing look of treachery peeking out from beneath his kindly exterior; he was always the last shopkeeper you wished to happen across. Any overarching narration to the four parables of perpetual punishment came courtesy of the wraithlike Cushing’s malignant monologues and he evidently relished the role. Meanwhile, the eventual fate of his customers depended on their integrity and deception wasn’t looked upon at all favorably.
The first tale featured a gloriously deranged performance from David Warner as vaguely narcissistic know-it-all scallywag Edward Charlton, proud owner of a malevolent mirror. The message here was that con-artists really shouldn’t engage in séance as he unwittingly released an ancient evil which resided beyond the rolling mist within the gilded ornament. Once awoken, an ominous figure lurched forth and vocalized its laundry list of objectives. “Feed me… blood” was all the encouragement required for Edward to begin luring waifs and strays back to his flat and giving them the old Hellraiser treatment. There was a truly unnerving aura about the opening entry and Warner’s tortured turn showed he wouldn’t be overawed in such majestic company. It also potentially inspired the work of Clive Barker as it dealt with similar themes of entrapment, possession, and sacrifice.
The Gatecrasher Judgement: 9/10
An Act of Kindness
After stealing a medal from the store to show solidarity towards dubious WWII veteran Jim Underwood (Donald Pleasence) and his mysterious offspring Emily (real life daughter Angela Pleasence), henpecked working-class servant Christopher Lowe (Ian Bannen) soon discovered that his acidic significant other Mabel (Diana Dors) was the very least of his concerns. Actually, it is here that An Act of Kindness excelled as the couples turbulent relationship was steered primarily by the woman of the house and her priceless put-downs made Wilma from Creepshow seem positively passive. Pleasence played the part of creeping dread perfectly, as did his seedling, but it worked best as a tale of the rise of feminism during the epoch and Bannen and Dors’ chemistry throughout was simply exquisite. Often regarded as the best of the bunch, I would disagree on that count, but consistency was never an issue here and it fitted second billing hand in glove.
An Act of Kindness Judgement: 8/10
The most uneven of Connor’s four-tiered terrorization and arguably the least effective, The Elemental was nothing if not well situated at third in the pecking order. Here, Reginald Warren (Ian Carmichael) imprudently switched prices on an eighteenth century snuffbox and ended up with a murderous elemental sprite perched on his shoulder for his folly. A chance meeting with medium Madame Orloff (Margaret Leighton) offered respite from the persistent incubus but Reginald’s penalty for his shady pursuits was anything but cheery. Interestingly, others actually consider this as the standout, and that just shows the fun to be gleaned from anthology discussion. Whether saint or sinner, it did leave the final segment with the unenviable task of closing in style.
The Elemental Judgement: 7/10
Connor saved the true visual spectacle until last and The Door was easily the most stylistic of the four entries. William Seaton (Ian Ogilvy) purchased an ornate door from The Proprietor, though not through foul means this time, offering a glimmer of hope for remuneration for not succumbing to greed. Cushing was a fair man; don’t fuck with him and he may not fuck with you, but he would invariably still keep you on your toes. A truculent spirit lurked beyond the varnished entranceway and the chamber to the other side was wonderfully expressive, embellished with dust-strewn cobwebs and decorated in arctic blue tones, it was bursting at the hinges with Gothic charm. The Door closed strongly and with no shortage of irony but there was still time to settle in with The Proprietor for that all important final word.
The Door Judgement: 8/10
Who’s to say that children can’t learn valuable life lessons from watching horror movies? Of course there was to be a moral to The Proprietor’s tale and he summed it all up in a nutshell when proclaiming money to be the root of all evil. Only a slave of the cockamamie would ignore his warnings and any such charlatans would swiftly be banished to the pits of hell for such fragrant disregard of one of the true screen legends of any era. He was charming in an all that glitters isn’t gold kind of way, calming then disarming, but alarmingly capable of harming without lifting a solitary digit. The wraparound he provided tucked all four tales in snugly and showed that the production house were still very much on their A-game.
Temptations Inc. Judgement: 9/10
Amicus rarely stepped a loafer out-of-place during their illustrious string of bankable anthologies and, in 1981, provided one final compendium of madness with The Monster Club. However prudent that film may have been, it just seemed inconsequential by that point and this curate’s piece provided the true swan song of the studio’s anthology pursuits. The tides were already turning Stateside, Mario Bava had already commenced leading the Italian charge, and the United Kingdom was about to bow out with typical grace and politely take that already reserved back seat. Six months after this was released, I ricocheted forth into the catcher’s mitt, and the rest, as they say, is history. Keeper always has had a thing for antiques and From Beyond The Grave makes me relieved that I paid the asking price for the quill.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Special thanks to my friend Christopher Zisi for reminding me that there is nothing to fear when digging up relics. This appraisal is for you my friend. One anthology down, seven to go. Then I sense burning wicker on the horizon. It’ll be worth it just to watch Britt Eckland tarnish the varnish, grinding her growler against a similarly ominous door with questionable rhythm. That shit just never gets old.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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