Movie Review: Tales from the Crypt

Posted: September 21, 2010 in Movie Review, Reviews
Tags: , , , , , , , ,


Tales from the Crypt (1972 Amicus Productions Dir. Freddie Francis)

Tales from the Crypt! No, not this Tales from the Crypt, nor this one, not even that one that had Dennis Miller in it, but the 1972 UK movie. The Stories are based on the old EC comics though, just not all of them are from Tales. One is from The Vault of Horror, two are from The Haunt of Fear and two are from Tales from the Crypt. However, as they were all owned by EC Comics, I’m sure it doesn’t matter. Most the guys who actually wrote the stories that these short films were based on worked on all three comics so there was a lot of cross pollination and I’m sure it really didn’t matter too much which comic they actually got published in as long as there was money involved. Hell, since The Old Witch, Vault Keeper and the Crypt Keeper kept showing up in all three titles, I’m pretty sure any given artist or writer had no idea what title would end up being slapped on any given book on any given day! “Enough history!” I hear you cry out. “What about the movie?”

Scared yet?

Well, there are five stories, and a frame story around them. I know, it’s stunning the level of detail I’m willing to go into sometimes. The movie opens on a note that feels like a cliché, but actually wasn’t. Not that many movies really had the guts to have their opening credit sequence just being a camera panning around a cemetery while Toccata and Fugue plays on an organ. It’s actually not done for no reason though. The frame story is that some tourists are viewing some catacombs, so the cemetery thing is cool. The Toccata and Fugue thing? I’m less clear on that. Joan Collins, here playing Joan Collins, looses her broach down the hall and gets herself and four others separated from the tour group. They get lost and end up locked in a room with a man who tells them to sit on some stone seats and asks them questions. He starts by asking Joan Collins why she came and what her plans are for the evening. I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing at the end it’s going be reveled that this old monk was just lonely and wanted someone to talk to.

You suppose you can get that bitchin’ chair at Ikea?

Without any further ado, we cut to a fir tree, decorated for a certain Northern European winter festival. They even go so far as to play “All Come All Ye Faithful” and have a fire burning in the fakest fireplace I have ever seen. All of this is to convince us that it’s about the time of a certain holiday that I’m personally fighting a war against. I didn’t used to be fighting it, but a particular cartoon convinced me it was a good idea to destroy this holiday and I’ve been fighting ever since. Anyway, a guy puts out some presents, one of which is to his wife. He believes his wife, Joanne, to be the best in the world. She proves him wrong by smashing his head open with a fire poker. Okay, maybe not open, but she does give him a smack and that causes some pinkish fluid that I think is supposed to be blood on the newspaper he’s reading. It does turn to red paint the next time we see it, so it’s okay.

Side note: What the hell is up with the hand on top of that cabinet?

Anyway, it turns out that she killed him for the insurance money. We know this because the moment she’s killed her husband she runs to the safe and pulls out the policy. Because that’s what you do after murdering your husband, right? Before hiding the body, before destroying the evidence, before you even make sure he’s actually dead and not just stunned, you RUN (don’t walk) to the safe and make sure the insurance policy is still there. Don’t read it or anything, there will be plenty of time to read later, just make sure you’ve gone and grabbed it. I suppose to give the police a note about your motive… or something. She then tells her young daughter to go to sleep and wait for Santa, which brings another wrinkle into this story. If you’re going to murder your husband, why do it on the very night that your young child is going to be excitedly listening for every little sound? Does she not think the police might ask “Did you hear anything? Like any little sound that might have been Mummy murdering Daddy with a fire poker?”

Yes, just rush to the safe.

While she’s moving her husband’s body, a news report comes on the radio telling us that a homicidal lunatic is on the loose probably wearing a Santa costume. So guess what happens! Not one minute later, the lunatic shows up! Of course, Joanne knows if she calls the cops they might have some questions about the dead body and all. She tries closing the windows and making sure the shutters are closed. Instead of, oh, I don’t know, calling the cops and claiming the nut killed her husband, she instead goes at head with the whole pretending her husband fell down the stairs thing. There is a homicidal maniac out there, and she’s moving bodies, planting blood, cleaning carpets, replacing insurance policies… just going on as if nothing has happened. Well, that’s okay because the little girl who was waiting for Santa to come let in the lunatic and he kills Joanne. Well, we’re supposed to believe that he’s killing her, it looks like he’s giving her shoulders a massage, but what the hell. Can’t have everything, right?

How does that feel?

The next story doesn’t start right away. Joan Collins claims the whole thing is nonsense and the old monk asks the next man what he’s going to do. After the man claims he’s going home to his wife and children the old monk asks “And then? And then? And… then?” which leads us into story number two. The man who was claiming to be on his way home to his wife and kids is reveled to be leaving his wife and kids to run off with his mistress. The mistress is a terrible actress though. He tells her that he loves her and she looks like she’s disgusted by the very thought of even pretending to be in love with him. She only looks annoyed and worried that he’s going to try to kiss her or something. Anyway, he lets her drive and because the Brits are so much further ahead of us in PC and all… she immediately tries to get them in an accident. Women! Am I right fellas? The guy falls asleep, wakes up from a bad dream only to find her about to smash headlong into another car. He grabs the wheel, quite manfully, and sends them off the road instead of smashing into the other car. The next thing we see is the car on fire in a way it wouldn’t possibly be on fire. All the car did was run off the road, it wouldn’t explode into flames, but whatever.

Sorry… why is the whole car on fire?

After this, the rest of the story goes all FPS, which no filmmaker should ever do. At all! It never works, not ever. Even if you want to follow the conceit that the person experiencing the drama is holding the camera it never works. Whenever you have a first person view of the camera, the camera shakes and rattles and rolls too damn much. If this were done today, they’d probably have it go out of focus to create that “Documentary Style” that NO documentary cameraperson worth their salt would ever have in their camera work. It might seem a small point, but this FPS approach for camera work fails to impress me every single time. I find it massively distracting and more than a little annoying.

Every girl is crazy ‘bout a sharp dressed man!

The guy tries to talk to a bum, hitch a ride, and walk home, but everyone he meets recoils in horror at the site of him. Gosh, I wonder what the big revel is going to be. Could it be that he died in the wreck and now looks a mess? Could it? Hmm? Bet you four eggshells! So, instead of all that, he decides to go back to his girlfriend’s apartment. Why? I can’t say. I can think of no reason he would expect her to be there, she should have died in the fiery wreck that couldn’t happen earlier. Even if she didn’t, why would she go back? The apartment had been cleared. They were supposed to be running off to a new place to make a new life for themselves. That was the point of the car ride! Anyway, he goes back and she’s there, but doesn’t believe that he’s him. She tells him that she was blinded and he was killed in the car crash… and yet she has framed photos of both of them on a mirror-topped coffee table. Yeah, so he screams and wakes up to find he’s in the car and she’s about to hit another car headlong… lather, rinse, you know the rest.

Horror! Or it would be if it weren’t just him with black make-up on his face.

Our next story starts with a bit of banter between the old monk and the person who is the focus of the next story. This one is a really nasty piece of work and I’m not too happy about it. A pair of snob decides he doesn’t like Peter Cushing, which makes him the bad guy in any story. See, Peter Cushing is a great guy, the greatest guy ever, and this dick is jealous of him. He’s a nice old man who entertains children and loves the house he lives in and the bad guy just can’t stand that. So, he starts doing nasty deeds around the neighborhood. Destroying a rose garden with a pitchfork to frame the old man’s dogs… which wouldn’t work. Any idiot can tell the difference between damage done by a dog and damage done by a man with a pitchfork. Either way, the dogs are taken away from him. Next, the dick decided to forge valentines from everyone in town that they hate him.

Even like this, he’s a stylin’ cat.

Well it turns out the old man couldn’t take everyone not liking him and hanged himself. Now in some stories, that would be the end of it. You would hate the dick head, and get on with your day. Well, a year later, on… Valentines Day, February 14th, a year ago exactly, as the movie tells us. One imagines that if we’d stayed with that scene it would have gotten all Frank Miller on us “It’s Valentines Day, February 14th, a year ago exactly to the day when Arthur Grimsdyke, age 65, killed himself. He was 65 years old, and baked his own bread.” This reminder is just so we can see Peter Cushing being the Galactic Level Bad Ass I’ve always said he is. See, after a year, Peter Cushing comes back for revenge. Oh sure, he looks a little less dapper than usual, but he’s been underground for a full year. Well, he decided that he’d had enough because when the dick is found in the morning his heart has been ripped out and used as a pun in a poem. Only Peter Cushing can put a heart on a piece of paper and mean it to be the last word in a poem. Peter Cushing is awesome.

Zombie Peter Cushing will END YOU!

Our fourth story starts with a man deeply in debt and he has to sell everything. While discussing the facts of the case with his wife, she reminds him of a little statue they bought in Hong Kong, which neither of them have ever looked at very closely. It has an inscription that claims it gives three wishes… in English no less. Why would a Chinese figure sold in Hong Kong have an inscription written in English? Well, they reference The Monkey’s Paw, so you know how the wishes the wife makes are going to go. The wife puts her hands on the figure and wishes for lots and lots of money. It’s like no one ever reads anymore. You’d think, even one person upon being given a thing that grants wishes would wip out a copy of W. W. Jacobs’ The Lady of the Barge, turn to page 33 and just… you know… remind themselves of how well these things tend to work out for people.

Skull mask!

Well, our hero leaves the house to go talk to his lawyer about some money and finds himself followed by a man in black leather on a motor cycle. While we can’t see it clearly at first, the figure on the motor cycle is wearing a skull mask. We then cut to the lawyer being told about the death. Then cut to the wife being told she’s rich because her husband was insured up to the hilt. She then asks the statue to bring her husband back as he was before the accident. Well, it turns out that her husband is still dead because he died of a heart attack, which is why he crashed his car. So they deliver his dead, but pristine, body. The undertakers here are awesome by the way. They are the stereotypical undertakers right out of that one Monty Python sketch with the white face make up and black gloves and everything. They open the casket, and find that the body is in fine condition, and decides she has one more wish left. So, being the clever clod that she is, she wishes for him to be alive again saying she wants him “Alive. Now. Forever!” Yeah, well that means he’s alive, but filled with embalming fluid, which I’ve been told is quite painful if you shoot it. So, the wife quite cleverly grabs a sword off the wall and starts hacking at him. Only that doesn’t work so well because she asked him to be immortal so we end with his hand writhing around on his chest, which is just awesome. Presumably she’ll cut his head off eventually, when she gets tired of listening to him scream, and get his quickening.


Our last story begins after the last man demands to be told what’s going on. The Monk says he’s giving them a warning about what may happen, so presumably, these are the shadows of what might be and this guy is The Ghost of Valentine’s Day Future. The last story begins with a major who has just been hired to be the boss at a home for the blind. Well, of course the first thing he does is start cutting the heat and starving the occupants so he can live in luxury. One of the residents dies and the others decide to do the major in. If I seem to be rushing through this one, it’s because it’s the least interesting. I mean, yeah, yeah, yeah, the do the bastard in an interesting way but who cares? Out of all of them, this is the story that I’ve seen the most and is the least interesting.

You can even see the place where his wig is weaved on.

They kidnap the major, kidnap his dog, starve the dog and put the major in a trap they’ve built in the basement. We’re left forever wondering about what’s going on, but we all know what the result will be. They’ll have some kind of trap that is hard to navigate and then turn off the lights so he can see what it’s like to be blind before they kill him. The actual trap consists of a narrow corridor with razor blades in the walls, and when they let him out into the trap and turn off the lights they let the dog that they’ve been starving for two days loose on him. And so he dies and blah, blah, blah. These stories are the worst because you know exactly how it’ll turn out as soon as it starts. This is also one of the longest stories in the movie, which doesn’t help matters in the least. Always the longest story I seem not to like.

I just want one artsy shot of the razorblades. Makes it seem like I watched an art house movie. You have no idea how hard it was not to just make all the caps like this one.

So we get back to our frame story and the old monk tells everyone they can go. The door opens up and it’s just a bright light. The Monk then tells everyone that he wasn’t warning them about what might happen, in direct contradiction to what he said in the last part of the frame, but what had happened to them. I find that a rule breaker. The monk character should be completely honest and this is just pulling the chair out from under us just before we sit down. And just before the movie ends we get to see what had been the most blameless character fall into a flaming pit in a horrifically bad blue screen effect*. Then the guy, who was the Crypt Keeper all along says that we might be next. Oddly, the credits list him as Sir Ralph Richardson, which is supposed to be a No-No in British theater. You’re not supposed to put the honorifics on when you credit an actor, it’s sort of seen as bad form. I have no idea who’s idea that was, but it’s interesting that it was done. Maybe that’s a newer rule that has come up since Richardson’s time.
*Actually, given the time this was made, it was probably shot on a black screen. Still lousy though.

Noooo! This effect is aweful!

This movie does not hold up. It takes itself seriously, when it should really be winking. Maybe it was scary at the time, it was successful enough to warrant a sequel, The Vault of Horror. I don’t know, just it seems laughable now. The stories are kind of hackney, the execution is sort of slow and plodding and things people do are just ridiculous. I can’t, in all honesty, rate this very highly, and can only recomend it as something campy to watch on bad movie night.

Official Score:
8 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.

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