From the moment the bell tolls across the twilight of Highgate cemetery we know this is going to be a creepy film. Amicus hit on a great formula by using the famous short story writer, R.Chetwynd-Hayes, as its sole contributor. They would return to Hayes again in the 1980 scarefest, ‘The Monster Club.’
The film starts with the usual Amicus device of a framing story, this time set in a curiosity shop. The proprietor of ‘Temptations Ltd’ is a decrepit Yorkshireman played flawlessly by horror stalwart Peter Cushing. He sells ‘Object dart’ as he calls them, to unsuspecting victims, making it sound like items found at a pub game convention.
The first of these customers is played by David Warner in the tale ‘The Gatecrasher’. He spots an old mirror between the decapitated mannequins and deceives Cushing’s character into parting with it for a derisive sum. “It’s a deal” the shop keeper says making you think he could be the Devil, or even worse Noel Edmonds.
When it’s hung a friend suggests they hold a séance and they unsuspectingly conjure up a spirit that’s been trapped inside for centuries. He rises from the darkness with frightening results, proving the old theatre tricks can still be very effective.
The spirit bellows out ‘Feed me’ like ‘Audrey II’ from Little Shop of Horrors, maybe an intentional tip of the hat to Roger Corman. Warner has little option but to comply. The rest of the story is taken up with murder and blood from young women he lures up the stairs in scenes reminiscent of Hitchcock’s ‘Frenzy’. This murderous little hobby ends when the spirit is fulfilled enough to ‘walk abroad’ and join The Ultimate, a vast cabal of dark world leaders who use people as food.
The dénouement takes place during a relaxed soiree with new tenants. Of course one of the girls suggests a séance and when the lights are dimmed we see the face of David Warner rise from the darkness of the mirror hungry for blood. It’s feeding time again.
The next story is a creepy favourite for many people. It’s a tale of a man living a boiled potato life with a nagging wife played by Diana Dors. His ego is inflated when a local match seller gives him respect believing he’s a decorated war hero. To continue this rouse Bannen decides to buy a medal from Temptations Ltd, but Cushing’s character won’t sell until he sees his certificate. Of course he steals it from the case and his journey into the darkness begins.
Soon he meets the match seller’s very creepy daughter Emily, played by Pleasence’s real life daughter Angela. Emily’s tells Bannen that she’ll do anything he wants as long as he orders her. So he orders her to bed and they make love under a tapestry that could be the motto for this film, ‘The Wages of Sin Is Death.’
Emily persuades him to order her to stab a doll she’s fashioned from snips of hair and candid photographs of his wife. The hairpin breaks the doll and it bleeds. With his wife gone Bannen is free to marry Emily. At the intimate celebration she once again persuades him to order her, only this time to cut the cake. As she slices the candy groom it bleeds down the tiers and Bannen is also despatched. They turn to the child, played by a very young John O’Farrell, and tell him they always answer childrens wishes, “One way or another.”
The penultimate tale is the comic relief. A switch of price tags from a tin snuff box to a sliver one does it for Ian Carmichael in ‘The Elemental’. Cushing bid farewell to Carmichael with the wittily sinister parting shot, ‘I hope you enjoy snuffing it.’
After a chance meeting with Madame Orloff, a medium for hire, he’s informed there’s an evil spirit inhabiting his body. It possessed him through the dust he blew from the snuff box. He’s initially dubious of her credentials. When the raging spirit creates more domestic damage than a glamour model meeting a Premiership footballer his wife Susan, played by Nyree Dawn Porter, agrees to send for Orloff.
She sits Carmichael down on a chair in the front room and begins to cut the thing from him like a spiritualist barber. The exorcism is accompanied by a raucous crashing of furniture and more plates being smashed than at a Greek double wedding. Eventually the elemental is released and all is back to normal.
Later as the happy couple relax they hear scratching in the floorboards above. Carmichael investigates but he’s thrown to the hallway carpet. Susan, like a short circuited Stepford Wife, is possessed by the Elemental and accuses him of trying to kill it. The iron fire poker swoops down and fades to Temptations Ltd.
Here we have Ian Ogilvy struggling to find enough money to pay for a carved door he’s discovered. Cushing accepts the last £40 in his wallet and places it in the opened drawer of the till to tempt him. The Proprietor returns and starts counting up the money and the film starts counting down to the end.
‘The Door’ is a bookend tale to accompany ‘The Gatecrasher.’ It too is a portal into another world. This time into the past and the castle of a depraved ghost who traps souls behind the door so he may live in eternity.
Ogilvy is locked in when he investigates the room behind the door. He fights the ghost as the castle walls crash around them. Trapped, he screams at his wife, played by the beautiful Lesley-Anne Down, to destroy the door with an axe. Finally the nightmare is over and the room gone. We see a new door open to reveal nothing more than a boring stationary cupboard, boring, but safe.
Cushing counts up to £40 and returns the money to the till. After seeing off an opportunist thief who has been casing the shop throughout the film, he breaks the fourth wall by inviting the viewers into the shop. Telling us he caters for all tastes, “Every one with a novelty surprise.”
If this film doesn’t manage to chill, scare and make you laugh then maybe you should be watching the darts on the other channel. Be very careful it’s not objet d’arts though!
Review by Tony Cowin
Leave a Reply