Ralph Richardson - Crypt Keeper
Joan Collins - Joanne Clayton
Ian Hendry - Carl Maitland
David Markham - James Elliot
Peter Cushing - Arthur Grimsdyke
Richard Greene - Ralph Jason
Barbara Murray - Enid Jason
Nigel Patrick - Major William Rogers
Patrick Magee - George Carter
Genre - Horror/Anthology
Running Time - 92 Minutes
While they weren't as big as Marvel or DC, E.C. Comics (Educational Comics) have crafted a legacy of their own whether the public realizes it or not. While created in 1947, it wasn't until three years later where William M. Gaines and artist Al Feldstein were inspired by their mutual love for radio horror serials, wanting to bring those to life visually through comic books. Their inspirations morphed into four comics - The Haunt of Fear [narrated by the Old Witch], The Vault of Horror [narrated by The Vault Keeper], Weird Science, and the most popular one, Tales From The Crypt [narrated by The Crypt Keeper].
With wise-cracking narrators, tales of cruel morality, and endings that bordered on black comedy, the comics were greatly popular. Unfortunately, this notoriety gained E.C. Comics opponents who claimed the comics promoted juvenile delinquency. And after going through trial to defend the comics, a Senate Subcommittee decided to create the Comics Code Authority in 1955 to monitor content in these books. And if comics didn't pass the code, they wouldn't be published. As a result, the E.C. Comics were forced out of business. However, the comics would become cult collectors' items, be reprinted for newer generations, and Gaines himself would create a magazine called Mad in 1954 that did some decent business, I'm guessing...
About 10 years after E.C. Comics were forced to end, horror in England was experiencing quite a boom period. Hammer Films were riding high with their revamps of Universal Monsters horror, creating stars out of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Another studio, Amicus Productions, wanted to capitalize on the success of Hammer. They decided to focus on anthology movies that could tell several stories within the same time Hammer would tell theirs. Amicus' first major success was 1964's DR. TERROR'S HOUSE OF HORRORS, which starred Hammer icons Lee, Cushing, Michael Gough, and directed by Freddie Francis.
Amicus continued the anthology trend, especially when they bough the rights to the E.C. Comics line. This led to the making of 1972's TALES FROM THE CRYPT and its follow up, 1973's THE VAULT OF HORROR. While both films are considered iconic horror anthologies, TALES FROM THE CRYPT was the more successful - to the point that a television show would be created in 1989 until 1996 with the same title, featuring the humorous Crypt Keeper giving us darkly humorous stories. But since it's Christmas time, we'll focus on TALES FROM THE CRYPT since one of its stories is an iconic holiday tale of murder. And even after 40 years, this anthology stills holds up pretty damn well, even if it does have a stinker or two in the bunch.
Five people are on some caving expedition, but get lost while following their tour guide. When a mysterious door opens, they walk through to find a monk who seems to know who they are, telling them stories about their futures.
An unhappy housewife named Joanna Clayton (Joan Collins) murders her husband on Christmas Eve for his insurance money. As she tries to hide the body in the basement from her young daughter, there's a news report about a maniac who has escaped a nearby mental asylum dressed as Santa Claus. And what do you know? The maniac shows up outside of Joanna's house, making her protect herself from this creep while she tries to get rid of her husband's body.
"...And All Through the House" is probably the most iconic story from this anthology, due to the fact that it's a Christmas horror tale that was actually recreated quite well for the later television series with Larry Drake as the maniac Santa. It also features Joan Collins, pre-Dynasty fame, as a villainous housewife whose greed leads her to commit murder, while trying to be a protective mother and homeowner. I really enjoy her in this story, as she always plays a great villainess that you'd like to have your way with. But the main reason why this tale is still considered a Christmas horror classic is because it's executed really well.
What I love about this story is how simple it is. There's barely any dialogue in this 12-minute tale, with director Freddie Francis using his visual presentation to give us all the information we need to know. We know Joanna is a greedy bitch who murders her loving husband for money. Even when she opens the gift he had wrapped for her, she seems displeased by what's inside because it's not "good enough" for her. We see her exchange a bit of dialogue with her daughter, whom she tries to keep the murder from. And then when she learns about the escape and hears noise outside her home, she's stuck between protecting herself, her daughter, and her home and hiding the body.
Francis creates a ton of tension and suspense during the stalking scenes, especially as Joanna attempts to dial the police, but realizes her husband's body is still in the living room. With a tight pace, every shot builds to its humorous climax. Joanna closing windows, dumping the body in the basement by rolling her husband carelessly down the stairs, and Joanna hiding from the Santa who is looking through the windows - this story is shot so well. And it's helped by the Christmas carols that plays throughout the story, creating an eerie feeling even when the music is supposed to be happy. And I just love the ending, which is pretty satisfying I gotta admit.
All in all, a great story to start the film.
Carl Maitland (Ian Hendry) leaves his faithful wife and children for his mistress, saying he's going on a business trip. As Carl and his mistress drive to start their new lives, they crash their car. When he wakes up and walks away from the accident, Carl is confused as to why everyone he encounters is frightened by him.
And after a great start, "Reflection of Death" brings it down quite a great deal. For a story that's about ten minutes, it feels much longer because it doesn't really go anywhere, unless you count a pretty weak conclusion any sort of direction. Carl is a cheater, leaves his family for his mistress for whatever reason, crashes their car, and then the rest is a first person point-of-view account of Carl's experience with strangers post-accident. Not exactly thrilling stuff.
I will say that I do like the first person point-of-view visual presentation, with everyone being frightened by Carl. Sure, it's pretty predictable and doesn't last as long as it should to truly be any sort of effective. But it's an interesting technique that makes the bland ending. Other than that, there's not much going for this tale. This is one of those that really needed character development and an interesting situation to be any sorts of compelling. I think this story is the worst of the five. At least the make-up effects at the end were pretty good.
A real estate prospector named James Elliott (David Markham) and his father (Robin Phillips) feel that an old widower named Arthur Grimsdyke (Peter Cushing) is bringing the value of the neighborhood down since he's a middle-class garbage collector. Even though Arthur is treated kindly by the neighborhood, James wants the man gone. After a smear campaign, with the cruelest one being on Valentine's Day, Arthur hangs himself. One year later, Elliott and his father are feeling a bit of guilt. But they won't have time to cope with their feelings as Arthur has risen from the grave, wanting revenge.
I think "Poetic Justice" may be my favorite of the stories in this anthology. The story will make you feel sympathy for Arthur, and hate for James and his father. Arthur is nothing more than a kind old man who has lost his wife, compensating that by giving gifts to children and living a quiet life. Watching the Elliotts destroy this man, just to raise the property value, makes you feel for poor Arthur. When the Elliotts frame Arthur for destroying his neighbor's prize roses, Arthur's dogs are taken away. When the Elliotts convince the neighborhood parents that Arthur's intentions with their children are less than pure, his joy of giving them gifts is taken away. And they even send him horrible Valentine's Day cards that depress him, leading to his suicide. As an audience, we want nothing more for these greedy real estate bastards to get theirs. And the ending will please anyone wanting vengeance.
The direction is pretty much point-and-shoot here, but there doesn't really need to be a whole lot of style here visually since the story and performances are so good. The last few minutes are the segment's best, with Arthur rising from the grave and getting revenge on those who wronged him. I thought the make-up on Peter Cushing looked pretty creepy, and the beating heart at the end is a great touch to cap off a perfect revenge.
This segment is carried by one of Peter Cushing's best performances. Art imitated life here, as Cushing had really lost his wife months prior to filming this role. All that grief and sadness is conveyed perfectly as Arthur, as you really feel bad for this man who has every single thing he loves taken away from him just to sell off his property. You just want to hug him and tell him that everything will be okay. Cushing, using real life tragedy, creates a role that's brilliantly portrayed and truly three-dimensional. David Markham is also very good as the pompous James Elliott. This is just a great segment period. I wish it were longer to be honest.
Based on the classic "The Monkey's Paw" by W.W. Jacobs, we watch a couple go through financial strife. Ralph Jason (Richard Greene), a businessman, is about to go bankrupt. He's persuaded to sell many of his valuable items to pay off his massive debt. When he talks to his wife Enid (Barbara Murray) about this, Enid notices that a statue she owns offers the owner three wishes. When she asks for lots of money, Ralph is called in about his finances. Unfortunately, Ralph dies in a car accident, which makes Enid rich due to his insurance policy.
Feeling guilt, Enid wishes that Ralph returns back to life looking like he did prior to the accident. Then when Enid wishes Ralph to live forever, Ralph is in constant pain - Enid not realizing that he has already been embalmed.
It seems the even numbered segments are the poorest ones in TALES FROM THE CRYPT. "Wish You Were Here" is a variation of "The Monkey's Paw", which the characters do bring up more than once and explain it [when you could have just let the story play out without that knowledge]. I'm not really sure why this segment is here. There's no real point to the story, and it only adds a long running time to the film overall. If this segment actually went somewhere interesting, I'd be more than okay with it. Instead, it runs way too short and things happen way too fast for anyone to care about what we're watching. Things are constantly revealed without any sort of breathing room, and the conclusion is supposed to be a cautionary tale - but all I felt was ho-hum.
The direction is okay here. Again, it's pretty much point-and-shoot. But the scenes on the road prior to the accident are quite nice and tense. And the special effect at the end was pretty cool as well. The acting was fine for what it was too. But other than that, nothing really to discuss concerning this segment.
William Rogers (Nigel Patrick), a former Major in the Army, becomes the new director of a home for the blind. Along with his dog, Rogers wants to live in the life of luxury while having control over people he believes aren't fit enough to govern themselves. Instead of making the experience better, Rogers decides to take away most of the food, starving the blind while feeding himself. He also cuts the heat in order to save money - money he uses to buy lavish things for his office. When one of the blind people passes away due to freezing to death, stoic George Carter (Patrick Magee) leads his blind friends into making Rogers suffer with an elaborate plan.
"Blind Alleys" is the longest segment of the film, as its almost a half hour long. And while it's not the best segment in the film, it's still a pretty good one. While a bit long, the segment does well in making you hate Rogers for what he does to these blind people. It also makes you root for George Carter and the other blind characters when they get revenge on Rogers for how cruel he has treated them. In fact, the entire segment builds to a really messed up ending, which makes "Blind Alleys" worth it.
The direction is fine as well, with the real good direction taking place within the last few minutes of the film. We see the blind characters making something in the basement for Rogers and his dog, but we're never sure what it is until the last bit of the segment. The mystery is well worth it, as the revenge situation is so disturbing and silly, you can't help but laugh in satisfaction in how Rogers is punished for his greedy actions. The segment probably could have been ten minutes shorter to get to the point, but it has a good build and conclusion. So I can't hate on it too much.
The acting is the star of this segment. Nigel Patrick is great as the greedy Major Rogers, coming across as a man who feels he's above the others due to the fact that he led an army and enjoys having that power. Patrick Magee is also very good as the blind George Carter, giving the group a leader who isn't as helpless as Rogers believes he is. I think it's a great story to end the anthology portion with.
As I written in the main plot, the main characters of each of these segments are told of their fates by the Crypt Keeper. There's not much humor to these scenes at all, and the Crypt Keeper doesn't come across as comical or scary as one would expect. It's a pretty dry wrapping tale that leads to an ending that's pretty predictable and uses a hilarious green screen effect. Ralph Richardson does well with what he's given, but he's not as iconic as the television version of the character would become.
THE FINAL HOWL
TALES FROM THE CRYPT is a good anthology film, but far from the best. It has two great segments [with Joan Collins and Peter Cushing], a good segment [with Patrick Magee and Nigel Patrick], and two weak segments that bring the film down. Even Freddie Francis' direction, while decent, has its issues as his visual style doesn't really fit with some of the storytelling. But the acting is quite good, and the special effects and make-up are nice for 1972. TALES FROM THE CRYPT is definitely worth a look, especially if you love horror anthologies. But I'm sure most modern audiences would be more satisfied with the HBO show from the 1990s, where some of these segments were recreated and given more time to shine. Still, a good Amicus Production, but not a great one.