Horror, or the best Visine commercial evah?

As I think I have mentioned in the past, movie genre popularity works like waves, moving from super popular to completely taboo and back again, in a never ending cycle of...cycle...things. In the 50's, in America, Horror was huge. Donald Trump huge. The Universal monsters had a reemergence, and kids were finding themselves drawn to creature features double features on Saturday mornings watching "I was a Teenage Wolfman" along with random westerns. But, even in the wonderfully clean 50's, kids found the classic monsters to be a little, how to say, underwhelming when it came to filling their blood and gore needs, which, no matter what generation of kids you are dealing with, are a universal and biological need; a need that movies, due to the strict censorship of the time, could not provide.

Luckily for all 12 year old boys, Entertaining Comics (EC Comics), heard the overwhelming call for decomposing zombies and entrails, and created "Tales From the Crypt" which, along with its sister comics "Tales from the Vault," and "The Haunt of Fear," filled kids heads with all the terrifying images and rotting boogieman they could ever desire. To this day, you would be hard pressed to find someone who doesn't recognize the iconic images of the comics, despite only running from 1950 to 1955 (when it was killed by the Comics Code, which would help almost ruin comics as an art form for decades to come), and the stories within their pages would inspire horror writers like Stephen King, and Clive Barker for decades to come.
But, as I said, things run in cycles, and by the late 60's, early 70's, horror movies in America weren't quite as in vogue as they were in the previous decade. In fact, in the seven years leading up to 1972, there were only three horror movies that made it onto the yearly top ten for highest grossing films (and one of them was "Rosemary's Baby", which hardly counts since even non horror fans saw that one, and another was "Willard" which lead to 1972's "Ben, with Michael Jackson singing the title song, the more you know). In 1972, there was only one horror movie on the American top ten..."The Legend of Boogy Creek" which would later have a a sequel be featured on an episode of MST3K, which should tell you all you need to know about that schlockfest, and there were three porn movies there. THREE of them. Because apparently porn and musicals were big then.

Side note: In 1973, "The Exorcist" is the top grossing film in America, and from that point on, horror is back in style, with "Young Frankenstein" and "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" in the top 10 for 1974 and staying in style pretty well nonstop until the present day, the reasons for which would take up a whole article unto itself.

What I am getting at, albeit in a roundabout way, is that, while horror was not a big thing in American cinemas in the late 60's, in Europe, it was in the middle of a golden age. With Hammer films giving Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee rent money every two weeks and a sudden emergence of "portmanteau" (anthology) movies, there was a TON of selection over the pond for your bloodied pound notes.

"Tales From the Crypt" was one in a long line of successful anthology movies, right along with "The House That Dripped Blood," "Tales That Witness Madness," "Dr. Terror's House of Horrors," and several others that all came out right around the same time, and played much the same, several stories were told in the course of the movie, all with some common string holding the whole production together. Blood is spilled and guts strewn about. Good times had by all.

Pictured: Good Times

In the movie version of "Tales From the Crypt," five strangers find themselves lost in a medieval tomb, and meet an old, robed Crypt Keeper (played to alliterate perfection by Ralph Richardson) and, one by one they are given warnings of what will happen to them in the very near future. Each story is an adaptation of a classic EC story, although only two of them are from "Tales From The Crypt," as the producer of the film did not have any of the original comics, but rather had trade paperback collections of the classic stories, so he ran with whatever tale caught his fancy. The segments are all really well done, and the acting is suburb.

Story 1: "... And All Thru The House"

Joan Collins plays a wife, who, after randomly killing her husband for the insurance money, finds herself and her daughter trapped in a house, hiding from an escaped maniac dressed as Father Christmas. Of course she can't call the police, cause, you know, dead guy on the carpet, and her daughter is all crazy for the Santa. Clearly nothing good can come of this...

Story 2: "Reflection of Death"

We see a man (Ian Hendry) leave his wife and family and run to the arms of another woman. While his new lady friend is driving, he nods off, has a nightmare and snaps awake, only to find that, for some reason, they are driving on the wrong side of the road? Women drivers, amiright? They swerve and suffer a prolonged crash. As he wanders back to his home, everyone seems to fear and run from him, but why. But. Why?

Story 3: "Poetic Justice"

A rich snob of a father, and his even more terrible son sit every day seething at the junk collector across the street (Peter Cushing), who, despite being loved by all the neighborhood kids and doing no wrong, has a tiny house, and that will simply not do. The son, being a terrible person, comes up with a idea. A terrible idea. The son comes up with a terribly, awful idea. Slowly he ruins the nice old man's life, taking every bit of joy from him, one by one, until one day, out of complete depression, he kills himself. A year later the son feels some regret, but what are those scratching sounds coming from the windows?

Story 4: "Wish You Were Here"

A rich man has lost everything, and his wife discovers that a statue they have will grant wishes. Now I ask you, has there ever been a movie, barring "Aladdin," where wishes are ever a good thing? Ever? No, the answer is no, and that includes this one.

Story 5: "Blind Alleys"

A former military Major (Nigel Patrick) takes over a home for the blind and runs it right into the ground. Soon the blind men are eating gruel and dieing of the cold while he is eating steak and feeding leftovers to his dog. Will they take this on the chin? Have you ever actually read a "Tales From the Crypt" comic before? Of course not! Someone's gotta die!

In the end, we find out that the warnings weren't really warnings at all, and the Crypt Keeper is actually damming each person in turn to their time in Hell, which they all wander off to willingly enough. But who will be in the next tale? Perhaps, you?

Here we see the Crypt Keeper, played by Bill Goldberg.

All in all, "Tales from the Crypt" does a remarkable job of capturing the feel of the original EC comics, villains look dirty and shadowy, zombies look all rotty, and blood is bright red (and paint!). Even the stories are all black and white as the comic's stories were, the good guys are 100% good (until they snap, of course) and the bad guys have no redeeming qualities what so ever. Morals are hamfisted and forced into the flow of the story, and if someone can die ironically, you better believe they will die in the most ironic way humanly possible. It all comes together into something that really does the original source material proud.

I'll end the review on a sad story from the production of the film. In "Crypt," Peter Cushing plays a man who recently lost his wife. This was not originally whom he was supposed to play, but Cushing insisted on playing the role of the widower as he had just lost his beloved wife of may years. In the roll he talks to a portrait of his wife (I cannot verify this, but I am almost certain it is an actual picture of Cushing's wife) and calls her Helen. The wife's name, according to the script, is Mary. Every time you see Cushing longing for his wife, talking to the portrait, or breaking down, it is for his actual real wife he is doing it. He channeled all of his depression and loneliness for this roll. So, take that good day you were having.

This man will make you cry.

I am not normally a fan of "anthology" horror films, simply because they lack the narrative structure I think horror stories need in order to be effective; but of course there are always exceptions to every rule. In movies like "Tales From the Crypt", and "Creepshow" we aren't really being presented with stories that are supposed to keep us up at night with the terror of the situation, so much as they are morality tales, and the fear we feel comes when we see bits of ourselves in the villains of the story. We know that we can be cheap, or vindictive, we can be cruel and we can be greedy, we know that these people who are dieing so terribly represent the worst in every one of us. They are modern morality tales, much like Aesop's fables and, truth be told, most of the stories in the Bible. And this will be the only time you hear me compare "Tales from the Crypt" to the Bible.

By staying so close to the original stories, "Tales From the Crypt" makes itself into a wonderful film, a little corny from time to time, but overall very effective as a film. Without it we would not have such movies as "Creepshow", and we would not have the "Tales From the Crypt" TV show, which was also damned fantastic in it's own right. All in all, boils and goules, "Tales From the Crypt" is a killer way to spent an dead night. It's terrifyingly good fun.
Rating - A
 





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