Friday, February 23, 2024

50 Years Ago: From Beyond the Grave (1974)

One of the greatest Amicus horror anthologies, From Beyond the Grave (1974) was released in America fifty years ago today.

Directed by first-timer Kevin Connor, the film involves a strange shop, Temptations Ltd., (think Curious Goods or Needful Things) and its shopkeeper (Peter Cushing) dispatching cursed objects to a quartet of patrons. The first tale involves a haunted mirror, the second a cursed war medal , the third a snuff box, and the last story involves an antique door that opens a gateway to the dimension of a dastardly sadist.

In 2024, the film holds up remarkably well, and the first story plays like a spiritual predecessor to Clive Barker's Hellraiser (1987),  featuring a spinning camera and blood splatter galore.  The second story and third stories feel more lighthearted in comparison, and the last tale is the real showstopper:a spiritual predecessor perhaps, to A Nightmare on Elm Street, and anearly step into rubber reality-type horror.

I had the great pleasure of meeting film director Kevin Connor at the Space:1999 Main Mission Convention in Manhattan in the year 2000.  We sat on at least one panel together, and late one evening, a group of fans and I got together with Mr. Connor at the hotel bar and he recounted some amazing stories of his film and TV career.  

A few years later, I interviewed Mr. Connor for Horror Films of the 1980s (2007), and for Filmfax Magazine (2008).  One subject we discussed is the now 50-year old From Beyond the Grave (1974)

MUIR: How and when did you become involved with the Amicus anthology From Beyond the Grave

KEVIN CONNOR: I purchased an option on a book called The Undead by Chetwynd-Hayes (1919- 2001) and took twelve of the best short stories and turned them into a half-hour TV series. I couldn't sell them for love nor money until they fell into the hands of Milton Subotsky of Amicus Films. He took them to Warner Bros. who bought the idea as a feature film. 

Milton took four of the best stories and devised a link using Peter Cushing as a sort of a narrator. Milton then suggested I direct the piece which hadn't been my intention, but he said that editors make good directors because they know what is required to make a scene. So I am ever thankful to Milton for giving me my break. 

MUIR: What are your memories of working with David Warner on the first story, (which involves a man luring unsuspecting prostitutes back to his apartment, and an evil mirror)? 

KEVIN CONNOR: I was very lucky to have such a wonderful cast for my first movie, and David Warner is a marvelous actor. I'm not sure whether he really enjoyed doing a horror film, but he gave his all and was to me, as a first-time director, extremely supportive and not difficult. 

MUIR: What about the second story, involving Donald Pleasence? 

KEVIN CONNOR: The fun thing in this story was that Donald's real daughter, Angela, played his daughter in the movie. They were a really spooky pair. In this section I also had the wonderful Ian Bannen and Diana Dors. The third story had Maggie Leighton and Ian Carmichael. It was a tongue-in-cheek spoof. 

MUIR: The fourth story, about a doorway into the realm of an undead sadist, is quite terrifying. What are your memories of working on this installment? 

KEVIN CONNOR: In this story we had Lesley Anne Down (her first feature film) and the exceptional Ian Ogilvy. This did have a bloody element, but it worked out very well. My cameraman was the excellent Alan Hume and we had great fun creating some stop-motion tricks with a disintegrating body. 

MUIR: The wraparound segments involved Peter Cushing as a shopkeeper selling cursed antiques. What was it like working with Cushing? 

KEVIN CONNOR: Peter Cushing was a gentleman and really supportive of me as a first-time director. I worked with him on several other movies and he became a good friend. Peter was a very particular actor and took his craft very seriously. He was very detail-conscious and didn't look down on the genre. 

MUIR: Did you know that this very premise later became the format of a TV show (Friday the 13th: The Series). 

KEVIN CONNOR: I didn't know that it became a format for the TV show. Although the compilation film is nothing new. I seem to recall two black-and-white movies of Somerset Maugham short stories called Trio and Quartet, and of course Amicus made several films along this format. 

MUIR: Do you think that your background in editing helped make From Beyond the Grave move along at such a good clip, and tell short stories more effectively? 

KEVIN CONNOR: Yes, editing really helps. As an editor, I learned more from bad directors than I did from good directors. When a scene had been badly shot and I didn't have the material to speed up the action you realize very quickly that cover can get you out of a lot of trouble. 

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