Dumped by EC Comics (see Vault of Horror), Amicus buy up the stories of esteemed horror scribe Ronald Chetwynd-Hayes, and create their masterpiece. Everything here is done right. Peter Cushing, as the sinister owner of the Temptations antique shop who sells the various cursed items which fuel the tales, has never been better, opting for an understated northern pipe-smoking manner where lesser theatricals would creep and pout. He’s no vengeful wizard with forked beard and red velvet Richard Shops cape, just a homely flat-capped shopkeeper you rip off at your peril. More importantly, the stories are all tip-top, with not a duff entry among them (although the final in-store twist at the end is admittedly a bit weak).
First up, David Warner stiffs Cushing for an ancient mirror which harbours the spirit of a Ripperesque Victorian murderer, who compels Warner to go out to groovy cellar nightclubs with spinning stained-glass lampshades in order to lure women of easy virtue back to his place ‘just off the Edgware Road’ and stow them under the floorboards, until a nosy neighbour with an underarm-mounted ginger tom starts complaining about ‘all that ‘ammerin’ and ‘bloody great big patches all over my ceiling’. Then humdrum office manager Ian Bannen uses a dishonestly purloined DSO medal to curry favour with street beggar and ‘ex-seviceman’ Donald Pleasence, cultivating an alternate life of domestic bliss with him and his creepy daughter (Angela Pleasence) away from flameproof nightie-clad, sausage-reheating harridan of a wife Diana Dors. When the black candles come out of the sideboard, things go a little too far in the expected way, before going off in a genuinely unexpected way. Along with the ace performances from all, especially the Pleasences, to say nothing of a kipper tie to make the head reel, this is probably the best of a fine bunch of stories.
The obligatory ‘daft’ entry is great too, as Surrey suburbanites Ian Carmichael and Nyree Dawn Porter are plagued by a shoulder-squatting demon from an old snuff box,and Margaret Leighton turns up with a perfectly judged ‘dotty medium’ performance of near-Routledge brilliance to get rid of it, making this the only film outside Dead of Night to get the comedy story to work on its own demented terms. And if the final tale, in which Ian Ogilvy buys an old door which leads to an eerie blue room populated by Jack Watson’s demonic Regency sorcerer, is a bit light on plot (and rather too similar to the opening segment), it’s more than made up for with some fantastic lighting and design work, and the presence of Lesley-Anne Down. Sadly this was more or less it from Amicus on the anthology front (late entry The Monster Club doesn’t count, on so many levels), as they moved director Kevin Connor onto The Land That Time Forgot (1975) and its moneyspinning sequels. A grand British tradition – snuffed out.