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Friday, April 29, 2022

‘Tales from the Crypt’ Movie Remains One of the Best Horror Anthologies [Horrors Elsewhere]

Amicus Productions turned to an unexpected muse for its fourth portmanteau film; the horror output of EC Comics was the inspiration behind 1972’s Tales from the Crypt movie. While Amicus was not far from closing its own doors, films like this one demonstrate the company was still within its creative peak regarding anthologies.

Five macabre comics from the defunct American publisher were entwined with a signature Amicus wraparound. Here the framing device involves five strangers trapped in an enclosed section of some catacombs along with the anthology’s obligatory storyteller (Richard Greene). His guests say they have more important places to be, but the enigmatic Crypt-Keeper convinces them to stay. One by one, the visitors hear how they will die.

The first in this train of terror tales is the most familiar thanks to another adaptation of the same Vault of Horror story; it is the second aired episode in HBO’s Tales from the Crypt. “…And All Through the House” stars Joan Collins as Joanne, the murderous matriarch who kills her husband on Christmas Eve. Mucking up her best “sleighed” plan is the convenient arrival of a Santa-suited murderer (Oliver MacGreevy). This version of “…And All Through the House” is faithful to its roots, minus one minute detail. The original comic keeps a lid on the killer, whereas the film openly displays its sinister Santa. It ultimately makes no major difference; the just-desserts outcome is what matters in this naughty proto-slasher.

Tales from the Crypt Movie santa

Ian Hendry’s character Carl is then shown a vision of his own ghastly fate in “Reflection of Death”. Amicus founder and producer Milton Subotsky made some big changes from the Crypt comic; his screenplay has the protagonist abandoning his family with a mistress in tow as opposed to simply coming home with a friend from a New Year’s Eve party. The life-altering car accident still occurs, along with the same plot twist not exactly telegraphed but also not too surprising. If any segment in this anthology can be considered terror set on a low flame, it would be this one. Both the nocturnal cinematography and a fair degree of sustained tension help to keep the viewer engaged.

Peter Cushing chose not to play a narrator again after doing so in Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, although he would resume the part in Amicus’ final anthology, From Beyond the Grave. He instead plays opposite the conniving main character in “Poetic Justice”, the first of two consecutive stories taken from issues of The Haunt of Fear. The vignette’s doomed leading man, James (Robin Phillips), despises his and his father’s neighbor across the street; Cushing is a trash collector beloved by all the neighborhood children. So, James runs a secret smear campaign against Mr. Grimsdyke, hoping to drive him out of his home. “Poetic Justice” hardly deviates from the favored EC formula — bad people get their comeuppance — yet the audience will without a doubt rejoice at this one’s fitting resolution.

Wish You Were Here” is largely based on W. W. Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw”. This cautionary tale with a xenophobic undercurrent has since been adapted countless times in film and television. In this variation, Ralph (Richard Greene) is an unscrupulous businessman who is on the brink of monetary ruin until he and his wife Enid (Barbara Murray) discover the secret to their trinket from Hong Kong. This figurine, made in the likeness of the Chinese Eight Immortals, grants three wishes to its wielder. And, as things go in this kind of narrative, Enid naturally makes wishes that backfire on both her and Ralph. The pervasiveness of Jacobs’ story in pop culture will likely dull the shine of “Wish You Were Here”, but EC’s trademark grisliness sets this one apart. Interestingly, director Freddie Francis helmed the Tales from the Crypt episode “Last Respects”, which more or less reimagines this piece rather than taking anything from its actual comic counterpart.

So far, the Crypt-Keeper’s company has proven to be one lousy lot, but Nigel Patrick’s character, William, gives his peers a run for their money. In his chapter, the former military captain has been hired as the new director of a home for the blind. William immediately cuts costs to pay for his own luxuries, including steak dinners and expensive artwork for his office. Meanwhile, the residents go without in every respect. All it takes is one tragedy before they then retaliate in the most brutal manner possible. “Blind Alleys” is a slow yet satisfying approach to revenge. In addition, this Crypt-derived tale predicts more contemporary horror trends like torturous retribution and sadistic traps.

The emphasis on startling twists and turns applies more to the smaller stories of an anthology than the wraparound. After all, these films have made a habit of endangering the audience within. This enduring facet of horror omnibuses is inspired by 1945’s Dead of Night, but Amicus took the concept even further by subjecting the characters to fates worse than death: absolute damnation. EC Comics’ sense of morality was exceedingly black and white, as was its usual response to unethical behavior. Amicus’ Tales from the Crypt movie on the other hand, slaps on a god-fearing element that goes beyond EC’s notion of life after death. Instead of reanimated corpses emerging from their graves to carry out swift justice, folks like Joanne, Carl, James, Ralph, and William are sentenced to divine punishment on top of their individual demises.

EC Comics was sadly laid to rest in 1956 after losing a battle with the moral police; parents, psychologists, and churches all found the publication’s horror output objectionable, and they did everything in their power to shut the company down. In the years after the backlash, longtime fan Subotsky convinced Amicus partner Max Rosenberg to bring these gruesome tales to the big screen for two separate adaptations; the other being 1973’s The Vault of Horror. This daring move not only made a lot of previous readers happy and nostalgic, it was a reminder of how innovative EC truly was for its time. Still is, in many respects. The classic source material yielded enthusiastic and sharp films that, to this day, stand out among Amicus’ esteemed collection of anthologies.

Horrors Elsewhere is a recurring column that spotlights a variety of movies from all around the globe, particularly those not from the United States. Fears may not be universal, but one thing is for sure — a scream is understood, always and everywhere.

Tales from the Crypt Movie poster

The post ‘Tales from the Crypt’ Movie Remains One of the Best Horror Anthologies [Horrors Elsewhere] appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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