Amicus Productions Anthology Horror: Part Two

Welcome to part two of my retrospective look back at Amicus and especially their horror anthology series of films. We are off to a great start with possibly the best film Amicus produced in this subgenre and the one that went on to spawn its own infamous franchise.

Tales From The Crypt

CRYPT

This one was released in 1972, directed by Freddie Francis and written by Milton Subotsky. With a cast that included: Joan Collins, Peter Cushing, Patrick Magee and Ralph Richardson. Five strangers take a tour of some old catacombs. While walking around, they become separated from the main group and find themselves in a room with a mysterious Crypt Keeper (Ralph Richardson) who begins to tell each of the five how they will die.

…And All Through the House
Joanne Clayton (Joan Collins) murders her husband (Martin Boddey) on Christmas Eve. She realises that she needs to get rid of the body and starts to cover up her crime. She hears a radio broadcast about a homicidal maniac (Oliver MacGreevy) who has escaped and is on the loose. Joanne sees the maniac roaming around outside of the house dressed up in a Father Christmas costume. Realising she can not call the police without giving away the fact she just killed her husband, she locks herself in the house believing she will be safe. Unfortunately, Joanne’s young daughter, Carol (Chloe Franks) thinks the costumed maniac is the real Father Christmas…

A very tense and well-made tale that was even turned into an episode of the Tales from the Crypt TV show in the late 80s. A great start to this anthology.

Reflection of Death
Carl Maitland (Ian Hendry) walks out on his wife and children to run away with his girlfriend, Susan Blake (Angela Grant), who he has been having an affair with. As they are driving away together, they are involved in a car crash. Carl wakes up in the wrecked car sometime later to find he is alone. He tries to get help and even hitchhike, but nobody will stop to help him. Eventually, he arrives back at his family home and sees his wife (Susan Denny) with another man. Carl knocks on the door asking for help and when she opens the door, she just screams and slams the door in his face. Carl decides to go to see his girlfriend, Susan, at her place and learns she has become blind after the car accident earlier. But why would nobody help Carl after the accident and how did Susan get from the car accident to her home if she was blind?

This one is a great story with a fantastic twist that I really do not want to ruin here. Probably my second favourite story in this one but my favourite is next.

Poetic Justice
Arthur Grimsdyke (Peter Cushing) is a caring but rather shabby old widower, who owns several dogs, he also enjoys entertaining the local children in his house. His neighbour, Edward Elliott (David Markham) and his son James (Robin Phillips) look down on Arthur and resent his scruffy and lax attitude towards his home, as they feel he is bringing down the reputation of the area. Edward and James decide to create a smear campaign against Arthur hoping he will sell his home and move away. First, the father and son have Arthur’s beloved dogs taken away from him, they also persuade a member of the council to have Arthur sacked from his job. The father and son even exploit the local parents’ paranoiac fears and hint that Arthur may be a child molester. Then, on Valentine’s Day, James sends Arthur several poison-pen Valentines which he signs from the various neighbours. Having lost everything he has ever cared about and believing he is hated by everyone, Arthur eventually commits suicide. One year later and Edward and James find that their hate campaign comes back to haunt them.

This one is definitely my favourite tale of this anthology. Peter Cushing’s performance is mesmerising as the loving but misunderstood and bullied old man. I later discovered that Peter’s real-life wife (Helen) died shortly before he made this film and you can really feel his pain in the performance.

CRYPT SCREEN

Wish You Were Here
Close to financial ruin, Ralph Jason (Richard Greene) and his wife, Enid (Barbara Murray) discover a Chinese figurine that says it will grant three wishes to whoever possesses it. To get themselves out of the financial trouble they are in, Enid wishes for a fortune and it does come true. However, Ralph is killed in a car accident on his way to his lawyer’s office to collect the newly found fortune. Their lawyer, Charles Gregory (Roy Dotrice), tells Enid she will inherit the fortune due to her deceased husband’s life insurance policy. She decides she is not happy without her husband even with all the money and uses the second wish to bring him back to the way he was immediately before the accident. Unfortunately, Ralph’s death wasn’t actually due to the car crash, he had a heart attack which lead to him crashing the car. Enid bringing him back immediately before the accident results in him still suffering the heart attack and so he dies again. Enid then uses her third and final wish to bring him back alive and to live forever… which doesn’t quite turn out how she expects it to.

This yarn is based on the classic The Monkey’s Paw story by W. W. Jacobs. It’s a tale that has been done many times over the years in various ways. This one is a good take on the yarn that, while sticks to the basic three wishes staple, it still does its own thing too.

Blind Alleys
A home for the blind being run by Major William Rogers (Nigel Patrick) starts to make drastic financial cuts by reducing heat and even rationing food for the residents. While the blind residents suffer at the hand of Major Rogers, he himself lives a life of luxury with his dog Shane. The Major and Shane look after themselves with all the money he is saving that should be spent on the residents. Major Rogers and his dog eat the very best food while the blind residents have to put up with poor quality slop. The cold eventually kills a resident. This is when another resident, George Carter (Patrick Magee), decides to stand up to and confront Major Rogers over bias treatment. The residents decide to exact revenge on the Major and kidnap him while they starve his dog, Shane. The blind men construct a maze of narrow corridors in the basement, some of them lined with razor blades. They then release the Major into the maze and turn off the lights, making him blind. As the Major attempts to escape, he cuts himself on the razors and begins to bleed, that is when the starving dog is released…

A great little story about abuse and revenge and a fantastic way to end this film…. except for the wrap-around story of course.

After the final story is told. The Crypt Keeper reveals that he was not actually warning the strangers of what would happen, but really telling them what has already happened. Each of the five have all ‘died without repentance’. There are even some nicely placed clues in the opening that hint they are already dead for you to spot. The door to Hell opens, and the five strangers enter.

This one is Amicus at their very best. Each of the five stories in this one are all really well done with some great twists and resolves. This film even spawned the much-loved Tales from the Crypt TV series that ran from 1989 to 1996, as well as that show itself creating several film spin-offs.

Asylum

ASYLUM

Another one released in 1972. This one was directed by Roy Ward Baker and written by Robert Bloch. Joining the cast this time around, we have: Peter Cushing, Britt Ekland, Robert Powell, Herbert Lom, Barry Morse and Patrick Magee.

Dr Martin (Robert Powell) arrives at an asylum ‘for the incurably insane’ to attend a job interview. Dr Lionel Rutherford (Patrick Magee) is the wheelchair-bound manager of the asylum. Dr Lionel explains that the reason he is in the wheelchair is due to an attack by one of the inmates. He intends to test Dr Martin to see if he is suitable for the job by asking him to interview five of the residents in order to find Dr Starr. Starr was the former head of the asylum, who underwent a complete mental breakdown and became a patient. If Dr Martin can work out which of the people he talks to is Dr Starr then he will be considered for the job. An asylum attendant Max Reynolds (Geoffrey Bayldon) takes Dr Martin through a security door to the inmates’ cells, where the interviews take place.

Frozen Fear
Bonnie (Barbara Parkins) is the first interviewee. Ruth (Sylvia Syms) is a wealthy heiress who has an interest in and studies voodoo-like magic. Her husband, Walter (Richard Todd) buys Ruth a new chest freezer as a gift that he has had delivered to their home. Walter takes her to see her new gift but actually kills her, cuts her body up with an axe, wraps up the individual pieces and places them in the freezer. It is revealed that Walter has been having an affair with Bonnie and he plans on stealing his wife’s fortune and running away with his mistress. The only problem is that Ruth just refuses to die as her dismembered corpse comes back for revenge and kills Walter. Later, Bonnie comes looking for her lover at his home only to find Walter dead and Ruth is still out for revenge…

This one is pretty standard stuff and doesn’t really offer any twists or surprises. Yet it’s still a good creepy tale with the moral of ‘Hell hath no fury…’

The Weird Tailor
Bruno (Barry Morse) is a tailor who tells his story of how poverty forced him to accept a very strange request from a customer. Mr Smith (Peter Cushing) comes to Bruno’s tailor shop and asks for a very special suit to be made from a unique material. This fabric is a gleaming, shimmering textile with mysterious powers. Mr Smith says he is willing to pay a lot of money for the suit to be made, this money would be enough to get Bruno and his wife, Anna (Ann Firbank), out of the financial trouble they are currently in. The suit is made and Bruno goes to deliver it to Mr Smith. This is when he learns that Mr Smith is not as wealthy as he claimed and can not actually pay for the suit after all. Mr Smith tells Bruno he must have the suit as he wishes to place it on his deceased son. They fight and Bruno accidentally kills Mr Smith. Returning to his shop, Bruno has the suit but no money. Anna then dresses their store mannequin in the suit and its powers are revealed.

Peter Cushing is great in this creepy yet charming role. This is a well-shot story with a gloomy style that drips atmosphere.

ASYLUM SCREEN

Lucy Comes To Stay
Barbara (Charlotte Rampling) tells her story and informs Dr Martin that she has actually been in an asylum before. When she was released from her previous asylum, Barbara was placed under observation by her brother George (James Villiers) and a nurse, Miss Higgins (Megs Jenkins) at their family home. Barbara’s complex life is thrown into even more chaos when her malevolent best friend, Lucy (Britt Ekland) comes to visit and starts to make Barbara’s life very difficult.

I don’t really want to say too much about this one as it really is a great story with a fantastic stinger of an ending. I feel that going into too much detail would ruin the story for those that have not seen it. For me, this is the best tale in this film.

Mannequins of Horror
Finally, Dr Martin interviews Dr Byron (Herbert Lom). Byron explains he has been working on a special experiment. Soul transference with a small automaton he has created whose head is a likeness of his own. Byron hopes to create a living mannequin and even says how his robot’s inner workings are in fact organic. Martin ends the interview and returns to Dr Lionel Rutherford to finally answer which of the five inmates he thinks is Dr B Starr. However, he refuses to play along with the game that Rutherford is playing. This one is a pretty short story that is really used as the set-up for the film’s epilogue.

So about that epilogue. It turns out that Dr Byron is actually successful in bringing his mannequin to life which he sends down to Rutherford’s office and kills him with a scalpel. Martin destroys the mannequin, which results in the death of Dr Byron. Martin seeks help and finds Max Reynolds, the asylum assistant he met at the start. Reynolds reveals he is in fact Dr B Starr and that he killed the real Max Reynolds a few days earlier, and then he strangles Dr Martin to death. Later, a new applicant for the job turns up and the game begins anew.

I really enjoyed this one, there are some fantastic tales. The wrap-around story and ending works out really well and the laugh delivered at the end by Geoffrey Bayldon as Dr B Starr still chills me every time I hear it. Great anthology film worth checking out.

Vault Of Horror

VAULT OF HORROR

Directed by Roy Ward Baker and written by Milton Subotsky, released in 1973. This one stars: Terry Thomas, Dawn Addams, Denholm Elliott, Tom Baker, Michael Craig, Terence Alexander, Glynis Johns, Robin Nedwell, Geoffrey Davies, Daniel Massey and Anna Massey. In an office block in London, five strangers board a lift that reaches the sub-basement. They find themselves in a fully furnished room and the lift door closes. There are no exits from the room and no way to call the life back. With no choice other than to wait for help to arrive, the five men settle down with a few drinks and talk. They begin to talk about their dreams and the five men describe nightmares they have been having recently.

Midnight Mess
Harold Rodgers (Daniel Massey) sets out to track down his sister Donna (Anna Massey) who mysteriously disappeared a while back. It seems that Donna is in line for an impressive inheritance after their father died a few weeks ago, leaving everything he owned to Donna. Harold goes to a strange village after learning his sister is now living there. When he arrives at Donna’s house, he finds she is not home so instead goes into a nearby restaurant for something to eat. Only the restaurant is closing and they will not serve him. Harold goes back to the house and this time Donna is home. When inside the house, he kills his own sister so he can claim the inheritance for himself. He leaves the murder scene and sees that the restaurant is still open and people are going inside, so he decides to settle down for a meal after his act of sororicide. Harold discovers that the food served is a little ‘strange’ and that the village is not quite what it seems, also that Donna is not as dead as he originally hoped.

An intriguing little fable with a doozy of an ending as Harold becomes the toast of the village.

The Neat Job
Arthur Critchit (Terry Thomas) is an obsessive-compulsive when it comes to being tidy and organised. He marries Eleanor (Glynis Johns) as a trophy wife who turns out not quite the domestic goddess he hoped for. Eleanor leaves things out of place, moves furniture around and more. All of which starts to annoy Arthur and agitates his OCD. Arthur takes Eleanor down to the basement and his workshop where he shows her how he likes to keep everything neat and organised. Arthur constantly nags at his wife about how he wants everything organised and Eleanor starts to become more and more nervous and drives her to borderline madness. One day, Eleanor accidentally spills some furniture polish on the carpet, among other disasters, and tries to cover it up. Arthur eventually finds the chaos and disarray including the mess in his beloved workshop. Arthur starts to continually shout “Can’t you do anything neatly?” at his wife over and over again. Eleanor decides to show Arthur just how neat she can be.

This one is played quite light in tone and not really scary. But it’s a good anecdote regardless with a nice, dark humoured ending.

VAULT OF HORROR SCREEN

This Trick’ll Kill You
As a magician taking a holiday in India, Sebastian (Curd Jürgens) and his wife Inez (Dawn Addams) are out looking for inspiration for some new magic tricks to take back home for their act. They find nothing of any real interest and Sebastian even points out the flaws in the tricks he has seen so far. Sebastian sees a young girl (Jasmina Hilton) doing the classic Indian rope trick, she even climbs the rope. and an impressive finale He just can not work out how the trick is done and offers to buy the trick, but the girl tells him that it is no trick and not for sale at any price. Sebastian persuades the girl to come to his hotel room for a private display of the rope trick. The married couple murder the girl and steal her rope trick for themselves. Sebastian plays the flute, and the rope rises just as it did with the girl previously. Believing  that they have discovered an actual, real piece of magic, they plan to make the trick part of their act… which does not work out well at all.

A mysterious yarn with a happy ending… just not for Sebastian and Inez.

Bargain in Death
Mr Maitland (Michael Craig) and his friend, Alex (Edward Judd) plan an insurance scam where Maitland agrees to be buried alive by Alex to fake his own death. The plan is that Alex will claim the insurance money and give it to Maitland after he digs him back up. However, Alex double-crosses Maitland, leaving him to actually die in his grave instead of digging him back up. Tom (Robin Nedwell) and Jerry (Geoffrey Davies), two trainee doctors bribe a local gravedigger (Arthur Mullard) to dig up a recently buried corpse to help with their studies. The gravedigger digs up Maitland’s recently buried coffin, opens it and Maitland jumps up still alive, leading to an ending of misfortune for Maitland and Alex.

Really enjoyed this one with its ‘everything works out fine in the end’ conclusion… as long as you don’t try to double-cross a friend.

Drawn and Quartered
Moore (Tom Baker) is an artist living in Haiti, struggling to make money. Moore learns that his paintings are actually being sold for high prices by art dealers Diltant (Denholm Elliott) and Gaskill. Feeling cheated, Moore visits a voodoo priest, who gives his painting hand a voodoo power. Moore soon discovers that whatever he draws or paints, the subject can physically be harmed and manipulated if he damages the original image he has made. Moore also completes a self-portrait that he had been previously working on, he keeps the painting locked away in a safe as to avoid his voodoo powers turning on him. Moore returns to London and paints portraits of the men that conned him previously. He then begins to deface the paintings in various ways, as to carry out his revenge. However, he learns that keeping his own self-portrait locked away in an airless safe nearly suffocates him. So he lets painting out in the open for some air… which turns out to be a bad idea.

This is a nice twisted tale of revenge with Tom Baker (with a very impressive beard) in excellent form as the wronged artist seeking retribution with a nice ending.

After all the stories have been told, the five men attempt to work out the meaning of their nightmares. The lift they arrived in eventually opens, and reveals a very gloomy graveyard. The men walk out and slowly disappear one by one. This one has some great stories and performances throughout. Creepy at times and even a fair amount of gore for the time too.

From Beyond The Grave

FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE

From 1974, Directed by Kevin Connor, written by Raymond Christodoulou and Robin Clarke. With a cast that includes: Peter Cushing, Donald Pleasence, Ian Bannen, Diana Dors and David Warner. In this film,  there’s an antique shop called Temptations Limited whose motto is ‘Offers You Cannot Resist’. The shop is owned and run by a strange and unnamed old man (Peter Cushing), who sells items to all that come in and each item has its own story to tell.

The Gatecrasher
Edward Charlton (David Warner) purchases an expensive antique mirror, for a very low price, after tricking the shop owner into believing it is a cheap fake. Back home, Edward and his friends decide to hold a séance and Edward soon falls into a trance. While in the trance, Edward comes face to face with a malevolent figure (Marcel Steiner) who then stabs Edward. Waking from the trance screaming, he then sees the same figure appear in his mirror and it orders Edward to kill so that it can ‘feed’. He kills for the mirror several times until the mirror persuades Edward to commit suicide, which he does by impaling himself on a knife held by the now living spirit of the mirror. The mirror is left abandoned in Edward’s flat for years, until the new owner moves in and decides to hold a séance.

Not a bad little tale here. David Warner gives a very sinister performance as he slowly is driven insane by the mirror. Though the twist ending really does not surprise me in any way.

An Act of Kindness
Frustrated and bored with his job while trapped in a loveless marriage to Mabel (Diana Dors), Christopher Lowe (Ian Bannen) befriends Jim Underwood (Donald Pleasence) an old soldier and war hero. Desperate to impress his newly found friend, Christopher tells Jim that he is a decorated soldier himself. To further back up his lie, he tries to persuade the antique shop owner to sell him a real military medal. The proprietor says that he can not sell the medal unless Christopher can provide a certificate to prove he had been awarded the medal before. Without the proof, Christopher steals the medal instead. The ruse works and Jim is impressed by the medal and invites Christopher to his home for tea where he gets to meet Jim’s daughter, Emily (Angela Pleasence). After a while, Christopher is seduced by Emily’s distinctly unusual charm and they begin an affair. Emily produces a miniature doll Christopher’s wife, Mabel, and holds a knife to it. She asks Christopher to order her to do his will, he agrees and orders her to cut the doll. As the doll is cut a drop of blood appears from its mouth. Christopher rushes home to find Mabel is indeed dead. Christopher and Emily eventually marry now that he is a free man, but during the wedding, the cake has to be cut.

This one is a slow burner, but well worth it all in the end. With mesmerising and rather bizarre performances from both Donald Pleasence and his real-life daughter Angela.

FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE SCREEN

The Elemental
Snooty and pompous businessman Reggie Warren (Ian Carmichael) enters the antique store. He cheats the owner by swapping the prices on a snuff box so he can buy it at a lower price. The owner sells him the box at the altered price, bidding him farewell with a cheery ‘I hope you enjoy snuffing it’. On his train journey home, Reggie meets an eccentric old lady, Madame Orloff (Margaret Leighton) who claims that she is a white witch. She claims that Reggie has something called an elemental on his shoulder, Reggie dismisses her crazy claims… at first. But when his dog disappears and his wife Susan (Nyree Dawn Porter) is attacked and almost choked to death ‘something’, he calls on Madame Orloff to exorcises the supposed elemental from Reggie’s home, and all seems well… seems.

A kind of a light-hearted version of The Exorcist. Margaret Leighton as the whimsical Madame Orloff provides some comic relief and has a few funny lines. Yet even with this lighter tone, the ending few minutes of the story are really quite tense and moody.

The Door
A young writer, William Seaton (Ian Ogilvy) wants to purchase an ancient ornate door from the antique shop. The price is a bit too high, William manages to get a reduced price instead. The proprietor of the shop goes to the back, to make note of William’s details for delivery of the door and forgetfully leaves the till open. After William leaves the shop, the shop owner begins to count the money in the open till. Rosemary (Lesley-Anne Down), William’s wife, can seemingly see what was originally behind the door whenever she touches it. The door used to replace an old cupboard door and when William opens it, he finds a perplexing blue room behind it. The room contains notes of Michael Sinclair (Jack Watson), an evil occultist who made the door to trap anybody who walks through it, to then steal their souls and live forever. William manages to escape the room but the door’s influence has spread, trapping William and Rosemary in their own house. While in a trance, Rosemary opens the door and enters the room where she finds Michael waiting. Rosemary is carried away by Michael Sinclair as he begins to taunt William into following them.

A simple enough story that doesn’t really do much right or wrong, it’s just kind of there. There’s a fun gag with the shop owner and his money counting. But aside from that, the story is a little flat.

The ending? A shady-looking character (Ben Howard) enters the antique shop and persuades the owner to hand him two loaded antique pistols. Now in possession of the guns, he attempts to rob the shop. The owner refuses to hand over any money begins to walk towards the armed robber. The thief shoots both of the pistols directly at the shop owner, but the bullets have no effect. The terrified thief continues to stagger backwards and falls into an iron maiden and is killed. The proprietor then talks to the camera and welcomes the viewer as his next customer and says that each purchase comes with ‘a big novelty surprise’.

This one is a bit hit and miss for me. There are a couple of good stories here and even great performances too. Peter Cushing is as awesome as ever in the wrap-around story. But overall, the film just lacks any real punch. A sad and slightly disappointing ending to Amicus and their horror anthology films really.

From Beyond the Grave was sadly the final horror anthology film from Amicus before the studio went bust. But in part three I cover the three horror anthology films that Amicus co-founder, Milton Subotsky, went on to create after Amicus. One including a film based on the work of horror writing legend Stephen King.

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