Synopsis: Prepare for a “gruesomely spine-tingling and stomach-wrenching” (Variety) journey into the heart of terror! When five unwary travelers with dark hearts stumble into a series of catacombs, they find themselves in a cavern with no way out. But the horror’s only just begun as a mysterious figure appears to reveal to each person the chocking events that will soon lead to their well-deserved, untimely and unavoidable deaths!
eyelights: Peter Cushing. the anthology format. the concepts.
eyesores: Joan Collins. the poor special effects. the execution.
“Who’s next? Perhaps… you?”
‘Tales from the Crypt’ is a 1972 anthology film based on material from the horror comics published by EC Comics in the fifties. Co-written by Bill Gaines (of Mad Magazine fame, which was also initially published by EC Comics), it has a tongue-in-cheek quality to it to offset its macabre intentions.
EC Comics is particularly notable for being central to the post-WWII censorship battles. Comic books were considered harmful to children and restrictions were put in place to prevent the publication of questionable material. Gaines fought these restrictions even after pulling his company’s horror comics.
‘Tales from the Crypt’ begins with a group of people doing a tour of some catacombs somewhere in Britain. As the tour leader moves the tour group through the darkened passageways, five of them are left behind. Lost, they try to find their way back to the group, but instead find themselves locked in a poorly-lit crypt.
In this chamber appears a cryptkeeper, sitting on a stone armchair, who proceeds to challenge each of the five visitors. In turn, each is asked to consider the plans that they were making that evening. In so doing, they each see a horrible fate awaiting them – in the form of short episodic segments.
1. …And All Through the House: Taken from issue #35 of ‘The Vault of Horror’, this one tells the story of a housewife (Joan Collins) who murders her husband for the insurance money on Christmas eve. But, just as she prepares to hide her crime, a serial killer dressed as Santa Claus stalks the home. Collins is terrible, the fake blood is paint, and her plan is poorly thought-out, but the final twist is excellent. It worked better in the comic book, truth be told. 7.75
2. Reflection of Death: This one’s from issue #23 of ‘Tales from the Crypt’, and it’s about a man who decides to leave his family to move away with his mistress one night. Unfortunately for them, they have a terrible car accident on their way out of town. The man wakes up thrown clear of the burning wreckage, only to find that his life has change considerably since. There’s an eerieness to this one, and I love the punch. It just wasn’t delivered well, due to poor make-up and direction. 7.25
3. Poetic Justice: Culled from issue #12 of ‘The Haunt of Fear’, it’s probably the better produced, directed and acted of the lot, but it’s so depressing that it sucked the air out of the room. It’s about an eccentric but lovable old man (Peter Cushing) who, for reasons unknown, is so despised by his two neighbours that they decide to destroy him, tear down every bit of life. It’s just plain mean, and no tongue-in-cheek twist can make up for the feeling it created to that point. 6.75
4. Wish You Were Here: This one’s taken issue #22 of ‘The Haunt of Fear’. It tells the story of a bankrupt couple who, while assessing their valuables, notice that one of their statuettes has an inscription at its base, promising them three wishes. The woman decided to ask for wealth, but everything goes awry from there. It’s based on the same principle as W. W. Jacobs’s ‘The Monkey’s Paw’, and there’s a twisted pleasure in finding out what will come next, even if it’s shoddily put together. 7.0
5. Blind Alleys: The final one is from issue #46 of ‘Tales from the Crypt’ and it tells the story of a former Major who gets a commission running a home for blind men. Having been in the Army, he treats the residents like he would lowly recruits, rendering them miserable. Since he won’t listen to their pleas, they decide to exact their revenge on him. It’s not a particularly compelling piece but the final twist is so deliciously twisted that it makes up for it. 7.0
At the end, there’s a final twist as we discover what the wrap-around story was really all about. It served as a terrific closing moment.
I’m no great fan of ‘Tales from the Crypt’, but I like that it’s gleefully macabre in a way that would serve ‘A Nightmare On Elm Street’ so well a decade later. It’s not as imaginative or humourous, mind you, but it’s a good representation of the iconic EC Comics of the day – even the slow pace is similar.
These comics were so popular with certain crowds that Stephen King and George Romero were reportedly considering remaking this movie when they eventually decided to make ‘Creepshow‘, and Robert Zemeckis (who says it’s his favourite Hallowe’en movie) produced the television series and directed its first episode.
It may not resonate with modern horror audiences, but fans of anthologies and old school horror will be well-served with ‘Tales from the Crypt’.
Date of viewing: March 13, 2015