DVD of the Week: From Beyond the Grave

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Peter Cushing in From Beyond the Grave (1973)

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).

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Top: David Warner in The Gate Crasher
Bottom: David and Angela Pleasence in An Act of Kindness

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.

Recommended Links:
A fan site devoted to director Kevin Connor
Neil at The Bleeding Tree reviews the new MGM Tales From the Crypt and Vault of Horror DVDs

9 thoughts on “DVD of the Week: From Beyond the Grave

  1. Joe Valdez says:

    Kimberly, you’ve just given me permission for a Kevin Connor film series. I was unaware that The Land That Time Forgot, At the Earth’s Core, The People That Time Forgot and Motel Hell were all the work of one director. That’s a filmography.

    From Beyond The Grave sounds awesome as well. My compliments for working the words “shag pad” into a review. That is something that has always eluded me.

  2. Jonathan Lapper says:

    I haven’t seen this in years but now I want to see it again so badly. I have so many horror films from the thirties through the seventies that I’m watching now because of impending October (Halloween, fall colors, and German beer and sausage – what a great month!), I’ll have to queue this up as well. My next arrival is Theatre of Blood which I also look forward to watching again after so many years.

    And even though you only mentioned it briefly may I just say that Time After Time is one of my favorite movies of all time. I bought it the second it came out on dvd years ago and combined with cable and vhs viewing I’ve probably seen it fifty times. To this day I refer to McDonalds as that “Scottish place, McDougals” and french fries as “pomme frites” with the appropriate McDowell inflection.

  3. Jeremy says:

    I’m really excited about this release. I really love the Amicus horror anthologys and I remember this as one of the best, although it has been years since I have seen it.
    I am especially excited about seeing Angela in this period since I just wrote on her in “Symptons”…I love all the cast in this one…just amazing and I am glad they managed to get this one out uncut. Shame about the lack of extras but what can we do?
    THis fall is absolutely killing my checking account but this is another must buy…thanks for the review Kimberly

  4. Keith says:

    Thanks for this great blog, Kimberly. I also didn’t realize that the same director, Kevin Conner, made all these films. I’ve seen all of this and loved them. I recently rewatched At The Earth’s Core. Those are all some really cool flicks. I don’t think I’ve seen From Beyond the Grave, unless it was so many years ago I forgot. I’ve had some movies I haven’t thought I ever seen, but then when I watch it I will realize that I had seen it years before. So who knows with this one. It sounds great. It has a wonderful cast. I’m a huge fan of Peter Cushing. I’ll have to give this a look.

  5. cinebeats says:

    Joe – I’m glad I can inspire further examination of Kevin Conner’s films. As for my use of “shag pad” … I try to use any opportunity I come across to use ’60s or 70’s era slang here at Cinebeats whenever it seems appropriate. 😉

    Jonathan – It’s nice to come across other Time After Time fans! It’s a great film and Malcolm McDowell (who we’ve been chatting about at your own blog recently) is really wonderful in it. Of course I also love David Warner’s Jack the Ripper too. He’s a really terrific and underrated actor.

    Jeremy – It’s really nice to see all these great Amicus anthologies finding their way onto DVD recently. I think From Beyond the Grave is one of Amicus’ best and seeing Angela and Donald working together is one of the greatest things about it. I think Angela is a fascinating actress and she looks so much like her father that it’s almost eerie.

    Keith – Conner is an interesting director who really should get a bit more credit for the entertaining films he made. At The Earth’s Core is one of his best, but I haven’t seen it in years. I should give it another look soon myself.

  6. Neil says:

    Thanks for the link there, and great article. I’d love to say more about all of that, unfortunately, I’m still waiting on a chance to watch that From Beyond the Grave DVD.

    But allow me to jump in the Time After Time lovefest. It’s absolutely among my favorite movies of all time I also regularly call it one of my favorite romantic comedies, which seems to make people look at me like I’m obtusely trying to be a geek, but seriously… the romance is genuinely moving, sweet and charming and the comedy is genuinely funny. Better than than in nearly all (if not all) the movies I can think of that don’t involve time travelling serial killers… and this one has a time travelling serial killer as a bonus! And he’s David Warner, who, as you say, is a standout.

  7. cinebeats says:

    Time After Time deserves a love fest, so thanks for sharing your thoughts on the movie Neil!

    I completely understand why you consider it a great romantic comedy. It’s actually one of my favorite romances too. I love how the relationship develops between Malcolm McDowell and Mary Steenburgen. It’s truly romantic without being silly or too sentimental. Of course the time travel/serial killer aspect just gives it all more depth and lots of thrills. It really is a terrific film!

  8. Dennis Cozzalio says:

    Hey, Kimberly! I had no idea FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE was on its way! Excellent! Can ASYLUM be far behind?!?!

    I did the subtitles for the DVD of VAULT OF HORROR and was truly shocked when, during the first story, instead of the actual footage of Daniel Massey with a tap in his throat and a vampire waiter drawing glasses of blood off of him, there was instead a poorly reproduced still frame with the tap and blood scratched out by hand!! When we contacted the company, we were told that these were the only prints available and that there was some search going on through the BFI as to the availability of a print that had not been tampered with. Makes one wish, as much as it’s great to have the movie out on a double features with TALES, that they’d just waited until the untoucged print became available.

    As for TALES, we did the subtitles on that as well (I didn’t personaly do those, however– rats!). But as far as I can tell, the version on the MGM Midnite Movies disc is the one that played theatrically here in America. However, as I discovered quite by happy accident a couple years ago, that US theatrical version was indeed cut from the UK print. I dubbed the movie off of Fox Movie Channel a couple of Halloweens ago and noticed right away that it did not open with the logo I was used to, but instead the logo of the British company that released it (I forget the name). And sure enough, during the “Monkey’s Paw” episode, when the unfortunate wife starts hacking away at her husband in the casket, there were a couple of shots of oozing entrails that I definitely did not remember from seeing it in 1973 or anything other time. So I compared this FMC version against the VHS I had of the American cut, and sure enough, there was a marked difference. I don’t know of anywhere else you can get this version outside of ordering it from abroad. (Interested?) 🙂

  9. cinebeats says:

    Thanks so much for sharing all that great insider info about production on the DVD Dennis!

    Asylum actually got a DVD release last year from Dark Sky Films and they did a terrific job on the film presentation. It’s a shame that a large company like MGM can’t do better with their own DVD releases, but I suppose they’re limited by their source material.

    I really hope my favorite Amicus anthology, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, gets a DVD release soon. It’s one of the best films Freddie Francis ever made in my opinion and with his recent passing I can only hope that some company will get the rights and release it in the US. Do you happen to have any info about that film you could share? If you do I would love to hear it!

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