Saturday, 12 December 2020

Tales From The Crypt

Ghost Crypt

Tales From The Crypt
UK 1972 Directed by Freddie Francis
Amicus/20th Century Fox Blu Ray Zone B

Warning: Some spoilers here.

Okay then, I’ve seen three previous Amicus horror portmanteau films this year and the reason I’ve been holding back on watching these since I bought them is because the first segment of Tales From The Crypt is actually set on Christmas Eve so, yeah, I really didn’t want to be watching this film anytime other than in December. So this is the first of three Christmas movies I shall be reviewing for the blog this year. Tales From The Crypt is, of course, based on the 1950s EC comics of the same name, which featured five or six short horror strips with, usually, a twist ending. I’ve been reading those for this blog over the last few months but I still haven’t worked through all three EC horror title runs yet to be able to write a review (hopefully you should see that mid 2021). What this means is that I’ve only read two of the stories on which segments are based on in this film because other segments are based on stories from The Vault Of Horror and The Haunt Of Fear. Of course, it’s these EC comics which were the cause of all the shameful outrage ushered in by Wertham in the 1950s, leading to the reduction of free speech in comics for many decades and introducing the self regulating ‘Comics Code Authority’, with their famous seal of approval.

The film is nowhere near as good as the first film in this unofficial series, Dr. Terrors House Of Horrors (reviewed by me here) but it’s pretty consistently entertaining and makes for a more watchable, consistent experience than Torture Garden (reviewed here) and The House That Dripped Blood (reviewed here). The idea of adapting EC comics, which were horror compilations anyway, absolutely fit what Amicus were doing like a glove and so it’s kind of a marriage made in heaven (they would also go on to do one for The Vault Of Horror but, that will be another review, I haven’t watched it yet).

The location of ‘The Crypt’ in this movie version is Highgate Cemetery and the opening credits are views of this famous landmark grave yard but, it’s all rendered a little heavy handed, it seemed to me, with Bach’s famous Toccata and Fugue in D Minor roaring over the credits and, as far as I’m concerned, totally failing to set the tone of the original horror comics, which were never once poe faced or serious, tempering their grim tales with a large dollop of humour. In fact, despite their source, the first and fifth stories of this collection don’t even stray into the horror genre but, this is made up for by the supernatural shenanigans of the other three stories.

After the credits we join a guided tour of Highgate with guide Geoffrey Bayldon who, when they all enter the catacombs, wants his party to stay by him as the place can be dangerous. Almost immediately after he says this, five characters played by Joan Collins, Ian Hendry, James Elliot, Richard Greene and Nigel Patrick become accidentally separated from the tour group and, instead, enter a crypt... the crypt of terror! Or the crypt of actor Sir Ralph Richardson, actually, who keeps them there in the tomb (the entrance way slamming shut behind them) so he can tell his tale of each of the five to themselves... so, yeah, this is the kind of framing story which we are all familiar with now. Mr. Richardson is, I have to say, dreadfully miscast as The Crypt Keeper, who talked to the audience and presented each tale to the readers in the original comics. He’s fine for the script but, yeah, there’s nothing of the character, the look and the humour of The Crypt Keeper in this movie so, I reckon they really fumbled the ball here.

The first tale, which is probably the shortest but also the strongest, is called ... And All Through The House and its the one that is set in the home of Joan Collins, her husband and her daughter on Christmas Eve, the night a maniac from a lunatic asylum has escaped and is prowling the neighbourhood in a stolen Santa Clause costume. However, the maniac is not the person the husband should be worried about. After he creeps downstairs and puts his presents under the tree, with his daughter already tucked away in bed, he sits down to read the paper. Now the film has no real stylistic traits that stick out in the mind as a signature of the director to lift the film (it’s not a patch on the Dr. Terror film that Freddie Francis directed) but this first segment is easily the most dynamic of the five. As we look at the front of the newspaper that the husband is reading we hear the loud cracking of his skull and it’s a nicely done shot as the blood from his mortal wound seeps through the front of the newspaper before he drops to the floor with a 'caved in' head. We see Joan Collins revealed as his murderer behind him. It’s made clear she’s much more interested in his insurance policy than him and with her daughter relatively quiet in bed and after locking her doors against the escaped maniac, who seems to be lurking outside her house and trying to get in, she elaborately re-stages the killing to look like an accident in the basement of the house but, when she’s done, the little girl has let ‘Santa’ in and the maniac ‘gets her’. This is the only sequence in this film (which is untypical of the time but I’m guessing this is one of the earlier films to employ this technique) which includes one or two genuine ‘jump scares’, which are quite effective when they happen, thanks to Francis using a lot of moving camera to invest a sense of paranoia and panic in Joan Collins’ character. A brooch she is gifted by her husband in this scene is pretty much a foreshadowing of the timeline of the whole movie, if you spot it.

The second section, Reflection Of Death, is one which is based on a story I’ve read in the comic and, frankly, it’s not one I would have picked but it’s done fairly competently. This involves ex-Avenger Ian Hendry covertly leaving his wife to escape with his lover. However, they are caught in an accident and when he stumbles from the wreckage, something is different about him and, unknown to him, some time has passed. All is revealed with the second half of this short tale being done almost completely as a point of view shot from Hendry’s character’s eyes (pretty much the only way you could keep the, not so twisty, reveal kinda secret), just like in the comic.

The third section, Poetic Justice, finds Peter Cushing playing a widower (he had recently lost his wife in real life), a man whose face doesn’t fit in with the well to do neighbourhood and whose rich neighbours, especially the son played by James Elliot, try to get him to sell his house up and go. Although Cushing is in touch with his dead wife through a ouija board, he doesn’t count on the cruelty shown him by his neighbours and some insulting St. Valentine’s cards are the final nail in his coffin. He kills himself and his neighbours get what they want (if not in the way they wanted it). However, one year later, he rises from his coffin and gets a very poetic revenge on the son and, frankly, it’s the only tale in this collection which comes close to the humour of the original comic in the irony of the final denouement that finishes this section. Cushing is absolutely brilliant here as a kindly but broken old man and, seriously, the brilliance of his performance is very moving.

The fourth segment, Wish You Were Here, is a quick retelling of The Monkey’s Paw (with references made in the actual dialogue) and what happens when Richard Greene’s wife, played by Barbara Murray, uses the three wishes granted to them by a Chinese idol to try and get them out of bankruptcy. The demise followed by the unpleasant ‘fate worse than death’ conclusion to Richard Greene’s character oddly, in a way, doesn’t match up to the endgame of the framing story very well but, well, I guess it doesn’t really matter all that much.

The fifth sequence, Blind Alley, is what happens when an ex-military, penny pinching Nigel Patrick takes over a blind people’s home. This is the other story that I’ve read in the comic. He treats the people there poorly and lets one of them die unnecessarily. Then the ring leader of the group of blind people, played in his usual, wonderfully grim manner by Patrick Magee, hatches an elaborate plan of revenge involving Patrick’s ravenous Alsation dog and a wooden alley made by the blind people with walls decorated by many razor blades. The ending is suitably grim but, I honestly remember the comic book story seeming a lot harder hitting than this version of the tale.

And that’s that. When the five stories have played out, The Crypt Keeper reveals to the five characters what the audience has, by now, surely already figured out in an ending similar in intent to that of Dr. Terror’s House Of Horrors. And I’ve not got much else to say about this one, to be honest, other than to add that Douglas Gamley’s score for the movie is much better suited to the material than the heavy handed Bach piece at the opening and closing credits. Tales From The Crypt is a nice enough film but it’s certainly not the best, or worse for that matter, of the Amicus portmanteau horror films. I think I’ve got two more of these on my ‘to watch’ pile, which I hope I’ll get to sometime next year.

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