It’s hard to keep track of all the great horror films finding their way onto on DVD lately and this week is no exception. My DVD pick of the week is the great Amicus horror anthology From Beyond the Grave (1973) from Warner Home Video which was released on Tuesday. This is the first time From Beyond the Grave has been made available on DVD and it’s part of Warner’s new Twisted Terror Collection.
From Beyond the Grave features a terrific cast of British actors that includes Peter Cushing, Donald Pleasence, Ian Bannen, David Warner, Lesley-Anne Down, Ian Carmichael, Diana Dors, Ian Ogilvy, Margaret Leighton and Donald Pleasence’s daughter Angela Pleasence. It’s definitely one of the more solid Amicus horror anthologies and all of the stories flow together rather well. It was directed by Kevin Connor who’s responsible for some entertaining and often under-appreciated fantasy and horror films such as The Land That Time Forgot (1975), At the Earth’s Core (1976), The People That Time Forgot (1977) and Motel Hell (1980). From Beyond the Grave was Conner’s first feature film and he clearly shows that he has the ability to create tension and atmosphere here. He also got some good performances out of his actors, who were obviously working with a rather thin script.
In From Beyond the Grave, Peter Cushing plays a mysterious shopkeeper who sells cursed antiques to unknowing buyers. The first two episodes in this anthology are called The Gate Crasher and An Act of Kindness, and they’re my favorites of the bunch, but all the episodes are worth a look. The Gate Crasher features a young and rather groovy looking David Warner who buys an old mirror for his apartment and ends up being haunted by a Jack the Ripper-like specter. Soon Warner is cruising local nightspots looking for cute girls to take home to his shag pad for some late night “fun.” The Gate Crasher is undoubtedly one of the most gory and violent episodes from any Amicus anthology and it’s sure to surprise a few viewers. David Warner is a great actor and a personal favorite, and in some ways his performance in From Beyond the Grave foreshadows his future performance as Jack the Ripper in Nicholas Meyer’s terrific science fiction thriller Time After Time (1979).
In the second episode called An Act of Kindness, the talented Ian Bannen plays a depressed and cowardly working-class man who’s stuck in a miserable marriage to the nagging Diana Dors. When he comes across an old solider (Donald Pleasence) who’s selling matches and shoelaces on a street corner, he sympathizes with him and buys some of his goods. The two men strike up a conversation and Donald Pleasence mistakes Ian Bannen for a fellow solider who must have been decorated for his heroic deeds during the war. This makes Bannen very uncomfortable, but he’s clearly looking for friendship so he doesn’t correct Pleasence’s assumptions and even goes so far as to visit Peter Cushing’s antique shop to purchase a Medal of Service so he can pass it off as his own. When Cushing tells Bannen that he won’t sell him the medal unless he can prove that he’s actually been a recipient of it, Bannen steals it, which sets off a series of strange events. Donald Pleasence ends up inviting Ian Bannen to his home where he meets Pleasence’s daughter Angela (played by his real-life daughter) and the two unusual characters develop a friendship with the sad and lonely Bannen. Donald Pleasence has always been one of my favorite horror actors and he’s terrific here with his daughter Angela. The pair are both appropriately creepy in From Beyond the Grave and it’s really enjoyable to watch them working together. Ian Bannen also delivers an incredibly sympathetic performance here and Diana Dorrs is fun to watch as his shrill wife.
The two other episodes in the anthology are The Elemental and The Door. The Elemental takes a more humorous approach to its subject matter, but it is really entertaining and The Door features some of the anthologies best cinematography and set designs. The Door, as well as The Gate Crasher, both contain elements which seem somewhat inspired by Italian horror maestro Mario Bava’s gothic color films like I Tre volti della paura (Black Sabbath, 1963) and Operazione paura (Kill, Baby… Kill!, 1966).
The release of From Beyond the Grave follows the release of two other good Amicus horror anthologies, Tales From the Crypt and Vault of Horror, from MGM’s Midnight Movies series. I wrote about Tales From the Crypt earlier this year after the death of its director Freddie Francis, and it’s wonderful to see that so many of these Amicus productions are finding their way onto DVD lately. Unfortunately the MGM DVDs contain edited and censored prints of Tales From the Crypt and Vault of Horror so it’s hard for me to to recommend them, which is a shame. Hopefully MGM will release full-uncut DVDs of these films in the future. In the meantime, Warner should be applauded for making From Beyond the Grave available to horror fans uncut.
The new Warner DVD of From Beyond the Grave doesn’t contain any extras except the original theatrical trailer, but the film is presented in widescreen and the new print really looks terrific. As far as I know this is the first time that From the Grave has been made availed uncut in the U.S. so this new DVD is a welcome release if you enjoy Amicus horror productions as much as I do. The new DVD is currently available from Amazon and it should be available for rent from online sources like Netflix and Greencine.