This classic horror anthology film from Amicus Productions is such a treat. I like the format of the four short stories wrapped up in a larger story and I think this is one of the better ones. The stories all start at an antique shop called Temptations Limited run by an old pipe smoking Proprietor (Peter Cushing).
The first customer is Edward Charlton (David Warner) one those wealthy trendy young men that feature so much in films of this era. He haggles with the Proprietor over a mirror priced at £250, arguing it’s not worth very much and he’s doing him a favour paying him £25 for it. The Proprietor reluctantly accepts Charlton’s price. This leads to first story Gate Crasher.
Charlton shows off the mirror and boasts to his posh young friends about how he cheated the old man out the of the right price for it. He hangs it over the fireplace in his dining room. One of his friends, Pamela, thinks it looks like something that would hang in a medium’s room which leads to the idea they should have a seance. Charlton puts a candle on the table and they all sit around and join hands. They don’t see a face appear in the mirror, with grey dead looking flesh. The candle flares and burns blue as Charlton asks if there’s anybody there. Suddenly Charlton finds he’s in some weird mist-covered place. He sees a cloaked figure come towards him and he screams and comes to still sitting by the table.
That night when he’s alone he hears a voice calling him then he see the face in the mirror. It tells him he must feed it. That’s all, no threat, no promises? Charlton goes out and picks up a prostitute and though we don’t see it he butchers her because he wakes up in clothes covered in blood. The mirror freak is demanding more and Charlton refuses so the mirror freak gives him a headache and it only stops when he agrees to get more food.
Charlton goes to a swinging groovy 70s nightclub and picks up a dumb easy lay. This time we actually get see him killing her. The mirror freak is noticeably healthier looking and has some colour in his cheeks now. Charlton wants to know when it will be over. He is looking a lot less healthy. His friend Pamela calls up worried about not seeing him and he tries to put her off coming round until the mirror freak appears at which point he tells her to come over. This, as well the earlier scene, suggests that the mirror freak can control Charlton like a puppet.
When Pamela comes to his door Charlton has enough self-control to send her away but the mirror freak wants another murder. Mr Jeffries from the flat beneath his comes up to complain about a red liquid dripping through his ceiling. Charlton butchers him. The mirror freak appears in the room in the flesh, looking fresh and alive. Charlton gets his reward for bringing him back to life, a knife right in the guts as the mirror freak skips off happily to join his friends in high places and bring violence and chaos to the world, just for giggles.
This segment ends with time passing in the flat and tenants coming and going, until years later and another group of young trendy rich idiots decide to have a seance and up pops Charlton as the new mirror freak
Back to shop and Christopher Lowe (Ian Bannen) is eyeing up a medal the in the window but doesn’t buy it there and then. This is the second story Act of Kindness
Lowe stops at a street trader selling laces and matches next to the train station. He pay far too much for pair of laces and chats to the trader Jim Underwood (Donald Pleasance) who is an army veteran. Lowe is an insecure man working in lower management who wants to impress this poor man on the street and when Underwood asks him if he was decorated in the war Lowe lies that he was.
Lowe goes back home to wife Mabel (Diana Dors) and son. Mabel thinks Lowe is a useless weak badly paid clerk and she is is always criticising him. She takes the laces he brought and examines, breaking one easily and slagging him off for being such a sap. Dinner that night is a dull meal of sausages
Next day on the way home from work Lowe goes into Temptations limited and asks about buying the medal. The Proprietor won’t sell it to him with the certificate to prove he earned it. The Proprietor then goes away to a back room and while he’s away Lowe steals the medal. Lowe goes back to Underwood the match seller and buys matches he doesn’t want just so he can’t show him the medal he didn’t earn and fool a poor little man into thinking that’s he more interesting and special then he is. Underwood invites Lowe to his home fpr tea to meet his daughter Emily. Lowe agrees to avoid disappointing Underwood.
When Lowe meets Emily she is strange young woman. Underwood has her demonstrate the big words she has learned from reading. They have some of Emily delicious home-made cake and Lowe finds a sympathetic ear in Emily for his complaints about his wife Mabel. When Underwood asks if he could come back for dinner Lowe accepts the invitation eagerly
Lowe eats with Underwoods every night enjoying Emily’s home-cooked food and skills such a sewing that Mabel shows no interest in. He tells Mabel that he has to work late at the office and Mabel sneers when he says he won’t get overtime since he is management.
One night Underwood leaves for an army reunion and makes a point of saying he won’t be back until after midnight leaving Emily and Lowe alone. After Lowe eats his dinner Emily tell Lowe how she only wants to sevre him and tell Lowe to ask anything of her. Of course this leads to sex.
Afterwards Emily goes into the sitting room and sits a black candle on the table and next to an object covered in a cloth. Lowe watches as she lights the candle and uncovers a small doll, a crude insulting replica of Mabel. She heats a long needle and asks Lowe if it’s what he wants. Lowe knows it’s witchcraft and is reluctant but Emily insists it must be his will and coaxes an agreement from him. She takes the doll and presses the needle into its neck. Blood appears on the doll’s mouth and Lowe panics. He rushes back home telling himself that it’s just nonsense but when he gets home he finds son huddled beside Mabel’s body.
With indecent haste Lowe marries Emily. After the wedding Emily and Lowe are celebrating with Underwood and Lowe’s son. Emily takes a knife and before she cuts into the wedding cake she asks “Do you want me to? Do really want me too?” and Lowe says yes. Emily the cuts straight through the groom in the cake decoration and Lowe head starts bleeding and he falls dead across the table. Underwood says to the smiling boy “We always grant the wishes of children,”
Back at Temptations Limited Reggie Warren (Ian Carmichael) has come in for a look around. He wears the black suit and bowler hat that served as a standard uniform of the upper middle class men who worked in the financial sector in London. The Proprietor is nowhere to be seen so Reggie has a look at a snuff box he like the look of. The prices is a bit too high for him so he swaps its price tag with a cheaper plainer one. Just then the Proprietor steps out from behind a mask where he was probably watching Warren in action. Nevertheless he sells the snuff box to him and even allows Reggie to haggle the price down even lower. As Reggie leaves the Proprietor says ” I hope you enjoy snuffing it,” This leads to the humorous tale The Elemental
Reggie is on his way home on the train and is reading his newspaper. An eccentric old woman (Margaret Leighton) sitting across from Reggie pokes him with her umbrella and tells him he has an elemental on his shoulder. Reggie doesn’t know what she’s talking about, but she presses on and explains that elementals are parasitic invisible nature spirits and the one that’s attached to Reggie is homicidal. Fortunately for Warren his stop is coming up but before he leaves the woman introduces herself as Madam Orloff, medium and psychic and gives Reggie her business card.
At home Warren starts noticing strange things happening around him. First his dog won’t come near him and just barks at him. Then while talking with his wife Susan (Nyree Dawn Porter) she complains about Reggie hitting her when he didn’t. That night in bed it gets even worse. Susan feels a hand grasping hers but it’s not Reggie’s. Then a pair of invisible hands grab Susan’s throat and starts choking her and Reggie has to get out of bed away from her to stop it. Reggie calls Madame Orloff who promises to be there as soon as she can.
Madame Orloff’s exorcism routine is the highlight of the is story and a stand-out part of this film. She presses on the top of Reggie’s head she commands, insults and threatens the elemental using mixture of her normal plummy accent and a much cruder working class accent. This leads to general chaos and destruction of the room around them as glasses shatter, things explode and throw themselves around the room. It is building to a climax until it all stops. Orloff declares it’s over and he’s gone. Reggie literally feels like a great weight has been lifted from his shoulders. He is so grateful he agrees to pay Orloff’s fee happily.
Reggie and Susan settle down and relax and then their dog comes back and greets Reggie, confirmation that the elemental is gone. Then there’s a noise from upstairs. Reggie goes to investigate and gets thrown down the stairs and lies unconscious in the hall. When he comes to Susan is standing over him possesed by the elemental which is very angry with him for ruining his chances of a life. Susan brings out a poker and smacks down hard on Reggie’s head.
The next customer at Temptations Limited is William Seaton (Ian Ogilvy) a struggling author. He likes the look of an elaborately carved wooden door but he genuinely doesn’t have enough money so the Proprietor agrees to sell it for £10 less. He leaves to get Seaton a receipt, leaving the money lying out in an open cash drawer. After Seaton has gone he starts counting the money and the final story The Door begins
Seaton takes delivery of the door. His wife Elizabeth (Lesley-Ann Down) wants know what he’s going to do with it and Seaton tells her he’s going replace the door of his stationery cupboard with it. Elizabeth thinks it a bit grand for a stationery cupboard but that’s kind of the point. Seaton asks her what kind of room she thinks would be behind it. Elizabeth touches the door and she gives a very close description that agrees with what the Proprietor told Seaton about it, blue.
Seaton is relaxing in his study and he sees a strange blue glow around the wooden face carving on the door. He opens the door and find a large grand room decorated blue all covered in years of dust and cobwebs instead of a cupboard. Seaton has a look around the room sees a portrait of a an 17th century English nobleman dressed in period clothing and a long curly wig. Seaton craps himself when he hears footsteps approaching the room’s second door and he flees back to his study. Elizabeth doesn’t believe him about the room and when he tries to show her the cupboard is back.
Next night Seaton is sitting working at his desk when the door opens by itself. The blue room is back. Seaton finds a journal on the desk written by Sir Ian Sinclair (Jack Watson) which outlines an experiment he is conducting to increase his lifespan by creating a ghost room using dark magic and human sacrifices that would capture people in the future to feed him with their life energy. He expresses a preference for the greater energy of women for his vile purpose. The key to his scheme is the door which is steeped in human blood and cursed by magic.
There’s a noise of feet behind the second door and this time it opens and Sinclair enters, looking at lot closer to death than his portrait. Seaton runs right out of there back to his own house and right into Elizabeth. He tells her they have to leave right away. The front door won’t open so Seaton tries to call for help but the line is dead. Elizabeth is in the study and seems to entranced, drawn to the door. She opens it and Sinclair is standing there.
Seaton hears Elizabeth cry out and runs into the study just in time to see Sinclair carrying her into the ghost room. He beckons Seaton to follow saying two lives are better than one. Seaton follows all right but he brings an axe. He doesn’t waste time attacking Sinclair but just starts hacking chunks out of the door. Each blow causes Sinclair pain and the room starts falling apart.
Sinclair drops Elizabeth and Seaton goes to help her out of the reach of Sinclair but Sinclair seizes him by the throat and chokes him (choking again). Elizabeth takes the axe and takes her turn at hacking at the door. Sinclair and room are struck by each blow and until the sorcerer is too weak to keep hold of Seaton. Seatoin takes back th axe and aims his blows at the hinges holding the door in place. These are the blows that finish Sinclair. He falls to floor and crumbles to dust as the room fades away. Seaton get out of the room then somehow close the original plain door. When it is re-opened the cupboard is back again.
The Proprietor is reaching the end of counting the money and it is all there which explain how Seaton is the only customer that survived. The films finishes with end of the thief who has been waiting for his chance while there’s no-one else about. He can’t believe his luck when the Proprietor hands him two loaded antique pistols, thinking he’s a customer. He tries demanding money but the Proprietor just shakes his head sadly and moves toward him. He shoots both guns but still the Proprietor comes, totally unhurt. The thief back aways and falls backward into a large wooden box lying open, then the lid with huge black metal spikes slams shut on him.
This is a fun film that manages to keep up the interest without sex and gore. Everything from set design to costumes and accent goes to get as much information across about the characters as possible in the short time they have to tell the stories. The stories are uneven and even though the performances from Pleasance and Bannen are great the second story Act of Kindness is one that I most often forget is in this film. My personal favourite is The Door perhaps because it has the best ending. If all characters were like William Seaton horror films would all be a lot shorter.