Friday, December 07, 2007

Vamp or Not? From Beyond the Grave


1973 and Amicus studios again produce an episodic film with a portmanteau wraparound. This one is based on the stories of R. Chetwynd-Hayes, as was the later the Monster Club, and the film is consistently stronger than many of the other such films they produced as a result. This is also probably helped by reducing the number of episodes to four rather than five.

Often these films have a definite vampire story but this one seems, at first glance, bereft of such a tale. However, the first tale has elements that made me want to look at it under the ‘Vamp or Not?’ heading. A quick summary, however, of the rest of the film is in order first.

Peter Cuching is the shop ownerThe portmanteau concerns an antique/bric-a-brac store (Temptations Limited) run by Peter Cushing – in wonderfully sinister mode with Yorkshire action. Each story surrounds the purchase by a customer and the comeuppance they receive if they cheat the shop keeper. The second story, ‘An Act of Kindness’ is an eerily odd tale of witchcraft, the third tale, ‘the Elemental’, is a manically comic piece about an invisible, homicidal elemental and the final story, ‘The Door’ concerns a door which opens into a ghost room wherever it might be hung. The last tale has some genre interest as it involves a practitioner of the black arts who has created the ghost room and must feed it through the centuries with souls to maintain both the room and himself.

the mirrorHowever, we are concerned with the first tale, ‘the Gate Crasher’ and the story is set in motion when Edward Charlton (David Warner) buys an antique mirror from the shop. He cheats the shop keeper, who has priced the mirror at £250, by claiming it isn’t an antique and offering a mere £25 for it. Having purchased the mirror he hangs it in his flat.

Marcel Steiner as the Mirror DemonHe has friends over and one of the women suggests that the mirror looks like it belongs in a medium’s parlour. This leads the friends to hold a séance and it is clear that something is happening when the candle flame on the séance table starts jetting up with a blue flame. We see mist appearing in the mirror’s reflection and a face comes out of the mist. Now the face belongs to Marcel Steiner and he is credited as the mirror demon.

suicideSuddenly Edward finds himself in a ghostly landscape. The mirror demon walks towards him, opens his cloak, pulls out a dagger and stabs himself. Often, in folklore, a suicide was deemed a sure fire method of becoming a vampire and it seems that what Edward sees is a replay of what occurred in the past. Edward comes around and asks his guests to explain what just happened.

When Edward is in bed later we see the mist coalesce in the mirror again and Edward awakens to hear the demon call him – actually Steiner was dubbed in the film by Robert Rietty. He states that Edward must feed him. Edward goes out, gets a prostitute (Rosalind Ayres), brings her home and attacks her. He awakens in bed and discovers that the body has gone but there is blood on the chair and a bloodied knife in the kitchen. Has the demon eaten her body?

No is the answer to that for the demon clarifies later that he feeds on blood – very vampiric I’m sure you’ll agree. We discover later still, when a neighbour has blood dripping into his lower flat, that the bodies are stowed under the floorboards. Warner is excellent, becoming more and more harried as things progress but unable to deny the demon. As for the demon he needs enough to become manifest physically.

the mirror demon physically manifestsWhen this occurs he explains that his kind are legion and, when they leave the ‘great ultimate’, they can feed and gorge. Edward asks him what the great ultimate is and the demon offers to help him reach it; he helps Edward commit suicide. We see the flat cleaned and decorated and new tenants come and go – but always the mirror is there and eventually, when a group decide to hold a séance, Edward appears in the mirror.

David Warner as Edward CharltonWhilst called a demon this creature displays both ghost and vampire attributes. Of course vampiric ghosts have been seen before, most notably in the excellent Castle of Blood. Mirrors are often used, as we know, in the vampire genre and this seems like an unusual twist on the genre standard to me. We have a suicide who becomes trapped within the great ultimate (as they term death) and must feed on blood to physically manifest (in order that they might gorge, presumably on blood still) and manifests in spiritual form in the mirror, which is a nice twist on not casting a reflection. The curse can be passed on through suicide.

There is enough within the elements of this, I think, to deem it under the vampire genre – an unusual twist to the genre, granted, but definitely vampiric.

The imdb page is here.

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