Sunday, June 1, 2008

Temptations Limited

FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE (1973)

Years before becoming a stalwart of television tat,
Lesley-Anne Down earned her stripes fighting forces of evil.

THE Amicus gem FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE - directed by Kevin Conner - stars Peter Cushing as the wily Yorkshire-accented proprietor of Temptations Limited - a decrepit antiques shop situated between a cemetery and a demolition contractor - whose customers face a supernatural death if they conduct their business dishonestly. There are four stories here, all based on the work of R. Chetwynd-Hayes: “The Gate Crasher” has David Warner buying a haunted mirror; “An Act of Kindness” sees middle-aged Ian Bannen finding solace from his overbearing wife (Diana Dors) in the company of a street vendor and his daughter (Donald and Angela Pleasence); “The Elemental” is the story of a man (Ian Carmichael) possessed by an imp; and “The Door” bought by Ian Ogilvy and Lesley-Anne Down opens an ancient blue room.

FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE is an anthology bettered only by the grandfather of them all, DEAD OF NIGHT (1945), and similar to the Ealing classic, the framing story and main tales have a resonant thread. “The Door” contains the most sophisticated use of colour attempted in a British horror - the cobwebbed room of a Necromancer bent on “the entrapment of those yet to be born” is handsomely visualised by veteran designer Maurice Carter - with the first and this fourth tale closely modelled on the Googie Withers/Ralph Michael DEAD OF NIGHT segment. Both are effective in conjuring parallel dimensions, especially in Warner’s degradation to servant, whose ghostly master proclaims “We are legion; we sit in high places and fan discord.”

Peter Cushing stars in the effective framing narrative.

“The Elemental” strongly shifts from comedy to horror in its final twist, as the demon passes from Carmichael’s bland, commuter-belt persona to Nyree Dawn Porter’s disgruntled housewife. But it is “An Act of Kindness” that cements the deserved reputation of the film, a compelling narrative of believable characters with poignant yearnings. Donald Pleasence - his every utterance a military cliché - is suitable unsettling as the kipper-tied, match-selling old soldier, yet it is the performance of real-life daughter Angela which is the most unnerving.