Tales From The Crypt (1972)
Tales From The Crypt is the most unfairly maligned of all the Amicus anthologies. Torture Garden just isn’t very good, and Vault Of Horror is too silly to be completely effective, yet they rarely get as lambasted as Tales. The critics, then and now, just don’t seem to get it, yet it remains a firm fan favourite – not quite up there with the sublime delights of Asylum or From Beyond The Grave, but not as far behind as the reviews might have you believe.
Perhaps the film’s chequered history with the censors and even its own makers might have something to do with it – after all, producer Milton Subotsky actually admitted that its massive success was “surprising”, and despite the on-screen shenanigans having that usual dreamlike, fairytale quality of most other Amicus fare, for some reason the powers-that-be decided that bits of it were too ripe for public consumption.
Until fairly recently the bloodletting in the opening segment had been rendered faintly ridiculous by a scene of Joan Collins washing her hands of purple paint in the aftermath (one assumes that someone had fiddled with the colours to achieve this – a new print has the blood once again bright scarlet).
And viewers were also spared the sight of Richard Greene’s intestine’s wriggling about of their own accord as his wife tries desperately to end his eternal suffering with a sword (once again, this little extra has now been replaced).
Due to its uncompromising source material (the EC horror comic of the same name), Tales also stands out from the other Amicus anthologies for its astonishingly bleak subject matter. You might not see much on-screen (even with the censor’s cuts resurrected), but once you start thinking about each of the respective fates of the damned (even before they have been consigned to the pits of hell) they are fairly wince-inducing.
Condemned to an endless cycle of death and zombie resurrection? Still-beating heart torn from your body? Slashed to pieces by razors in a pitch-black tunnel? Or, for a piece-de-resistance, wake-up-sweating utter nightmare, eternal life as a screaming, hacked-up body buried alive? Joan Collins’ character might get strangled by a homicidal tramp, but she gets off pretty lightly, considering…
The story begins as a group of sightseers are being shown around a cave.
Warned by their guide (Geoffrey Bayldon) that the catacombs are dangerous,
five of them waste no time in managing to lose him, and find themselves
in a large, stone-walled room, presided over by Ralph Richardson. “Please
sit down,” he tells them all. “I assure you I have a purpose.
What are your plans when you leave here?”
And All Through The House
Joan Collins’ husband is busy enjoying his Christmas Eve, wrapping up his present to his trophy wife and wearing a Tommy Cooper-style comedy fez. As he reads his newspaper, his beloved steals up behind him with a poker and twats him one with it. “Merry Christmas,” she tells his corpse, coldly.
She opens the present he has got her – it’s the brooch she was looking for in the catacombs, which caused her party to lose their guide. Let us ignore the lack of logic this brings to the proceedings (for the moment).
The carols on the radio are interrupted by a newsflash: “A man described as a homicidal maniac has escaped from the hospital for the criminally insane…” apparently he’s dressed as Santa, which isn’t good news, as someone dressed in much the same way has picked her house as the target for a concentrated attack – his raddled face appears at the window, his filthy hands burst through the door, but the plucky murderess manages to keep him out. She goes for the phone, but then realises she can’t phone the police – not with her husband’s body lying on the shag pile and his congealing blood splattering the hearth…
Thinking she’s seen off the threat, Joan starts cleaning up her funky 70s home (which is so retro it looks like she bought it off Austin Powers), scraping up the blood and tipping the body brutally down the cellar steps. But in her cleaning reverie, she’s forgotten one important thing, as her daughter calls down from upstairs: “He’s here, mummy! I let him in – he’s Santa!”
Joan is looking quite stunned at these revelations, so the crypt keeper
turns his attention to her neighbour – British horror staple and
legendary drinker Ian Hendry. “And you?” he asks, pointedly.
“I’m on my way home to see my wife and children!” comes
the angry retort.
Reflection Of Death
Hendry’s character does go to see his wife and children, but then says his goodbyes and hot-foots it over to his young lover’s flat. He has left them (“I meet someone, and suddenly that’s it…”).
The couple leave in his Jaguar, and she takes over the driving, allowing him to fall asleep in the passenger seat. But he suddenly wakes from a nightmare. He relaxes when he sees that all is, in fact, well – but then the car crashes.
From Hendry’s point of view, we see the car burning, his own gloved hands. He wanders away from the wreckage, but something is wrong – a tramp he comes across looks terrified, a driver he flags down gurns at him in horror through the car window. He makes his way back to the family home, but is greeted by screams and slammed doors. Eventually arriving back at his girlfriend’s flat, he finds her there, but blind. “Carl?” she asks, shakily. “It can’t be. Please go away.” He catches sight of his reflection in a glass table top, screams and wakes up, only for the car to crash again…
“So that is why you were in a hurry,” says the cryptkeeper to a shocked Hendry.
“What do you want?” asks the young man sitting next to him.
“To show you something,” comes the reply. “Something in your own mind. Something you are capable of doing.”
All the children in the surrounding area congregate at Arthur Grimsdyke’s house, but over the road, his wealthy neighbours (a father and son) aren’t happy – they feel he’s bringing the area down. The son (the young man who just spoke to Richardson) begins a one man war against the harmless old man, starting by digging up Grimsdyke’s next-door neighbours roses. Grimsdyke’s multitude of dogs get the blame, and are taken away by the authorities (“But you mustn’t take them away,” the old man protests. “They are my friends…”).
Worried at this turn of events, Grimsdyke (the recently widowed Peter Cushing, in heartbreaking form) contacts his dead wife using a ouija board. It spells out “Danger”. “Danger? Danger?” he asks, upset. “Who to? Is it one of the children?”
Next the son makes Grimsdyke lose his job, and his retirement pay, and then tells the parents of the local children just who they’ve been visiting during the afternoons (“Heaven knows what his motivation is…”).
“No work, no children, no-one to make toys for,” says Grimsdyke
to a photograph of his wife. “Never mind, we’ve always got
The old man has tried to maintain a sunny disposition throughout all his trials, but this final one tips him over the edge. Now believing he is hated by everyone, he hangs himself, his body found a week later by the neighbours.
One year on, however, his body bursts from the grave and wreaks bloody revenge, leaving his own Valentine’s card, written in gore: “You were mean and cruel, right from the start. Now you really have no…”
Presumably, the cryptkeeper’s rapt audience have figured out the way things are going, so we move straight on with the next tale:
Wish You Were Here
Ralph (Richard Greene) has lost all his money – he’s been ruthless and cruel in business, but has gambled badly. As she looks around her home at all their beautiful possessions (this being the 1970s, and a typically underfunded Amicus film, the tat they’ve accumulated wouldn’t look out of place in Steptoe’s yard), Ralph’s wife notices a statuette her husband acquired whilst gun running in Hong Kong. It bears an inscription: “Three wishes I give, and no more… something something… deplore” (nice of the maker, who was presumably Asian, to write it in English for us).
Ralph has grave misgivings, but as he tries to remember just why such things were a bad idea in “The Monkey’s Paw” (oh, the post modernity), his missus goes ahead anyway and wishes for stonking great wedges of cash. The phone rings and Richard races off in his Jensen Interceptor to talk to a business colleague about money, but he is followed by a biker with a skull-like face…
His grieving widow is sensitively informed that Ralph’s death has made her very rich, but she ignores another warning about “The Monkey’s Paw” (okay, okay, we get it) and this time wishes Ralph back, as he was immediately before the accident. A group of spooky undertakers arrive with her hubby dead in a coffin, and she is told: “Mister Jason died from a heart attack at the wheel.”
Now panicking, she grabs the statuette again: “Only one more wish… only one. I mustn’t waste it, I must be careful. I wish Ralph were alive now, I don’t want him to die, ever!”
A terrible scream comes from the coffin – Ralph is alive alright, and embalming fluid is coursing through his veins. Horrified, his wife picks up a handy sword and tries to end his pain, but she only makes things worse. Ralph’s business partner, Charles, looks on aghast, and explains: “You can’t kill him – every piece of him is alive! Alive and suffering – forever!”
With those images reeling in their minds (what on earth is she going to do now? It doesn’t bear much thinking about…) the group become aware that there is just one member left whose story has not been told. An upright, military-looking man…
Major William Rogers arrives at the Elmridge Home For The Blind determined to run it with military precision. He starts making changes straight away – the heating will be turned off at 20.00 hours, because: “You should all be in bed by then. After all, there is no reason for you to stay up – you can’t see anything.”
The elderly men who stay there are understandably perturbed by the actions
of their new governor, and their spokesman, Carter (Patrick Magee) tries
to explain why to the Major: “Do you know anything about blind people?
With all due respect sir, we are not soldiers. We have lost one sense,
but the loss of that sense only tends to sharpen the others. Do you know
what that means? We feel more acutely.”
As he sits in his dark cell, Rogers can hear work going on outside – and his dog, driven frantic with hunger, howling in another room nearby. We’re as wise as he is as to what is going on beyond the door, but eventually it creaks open, to reveal a new corridor, which narrows as he walks down it. And the walls are lined with thousands of razor blades. Suddenly the corridor is plunged into darkness, and the maddened dog is released. Rogers is left with a choice – face the animal or cut himself to ribbons trying to escape…
For this reviewer, Tales From The Crypt is not only one of the best Amicus films, but one of the best British horror movies made during the 70s.
The viewer does have to ignore several gaping logic problems with both the stories and the linking device, the main one being that some people appear to have already committed the crimes (otherwise why would Joan Collins’ character already have the brooch?) while others seem almost unaware of the problems that will lead them to kill (“It’s true… I didn’t… don’t… like Grimsdyke,” stammers his murderer). Yet they’re all in the same boat - “in a place where people go when they die without repentance”.
And if they are already dead, and waiting to enter hell, then do some of them really deserve it? After all, poor old Ian Hendry has only left his wife and children – surely not a reason to be damned into the pits of hell for all eternity? Richard Greene’s character makes a veiled reference to arms dealing, so fair enough, but how can anything hell offers be worse than his fate in the story? And it looks like the evildoers in Poetic Justice and Blind Alleys died looking pretty repentant to me.
And most importantly, if Richard Greene’s wife wished him back exactly as he was before the accident, how come he’d already been embalmed?
But once you get past the inconsistencies, which most anthology films have in spades anyway, you’re left with five of the best, most horrific tales the genre has to offer, with nasty comeuppances for everyone and strong performances all round (particularly, as is always noted, by Peter Cushing as Arthur Grimsdyke).
Reflection Of Death, in particular, has always chilled me – the clever use of the point-of-view camera leaves the audience genuinely worried about what we’re going to see when Hendry finally gets to a reflective surface, but before we’ve had the time to take it in properly, the scene switches and we get that terrifying noise. I love it. All of it.
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