Tales From The Crypt/Vault of Horror (1972/1973)
By: Mr Intolerance on April 2, 2010  | 
20th Century Fox | Region 1, NTSC | 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced) | English DD 1.0 | 169 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Freddie Francis; Roy Ward Baker
Starring: Joan Collins, Peter Cushing, Roy Dotrice, Richard Greene, Ian Hendry, Patrick Magee, Barbara Murray, Nigel Patrick, Robin Phillips, Sir Ralph Richardson; Dawn Addams, Tom Baker, Michael Craig, Denholm Elliott, Glynis Johns, Edward Judd, Curt Jurgens, Anna Massey, Daniel Massey, Terry-Thomas
Screenplay: Milton Subotsky
Country: UK
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Folks love an EC horror-type yarn. They always have some pretty gnarly violence, a bit of black humour, and always some poetic justice with an odd kind of film noir twist. It's only kind of natural that Amicus, who'd already started making portmanteau style movies (films with four or five stand-alone tales linked by a framing narrative) would move on to adaptations of some of William Gaines' more lurid and graphic tales of the morbidly funny and macabre from back in the day before the Comics Code shut fine comics like Tales From The Crypt and Vault of Horror down for being too gruesome, too grotesque and too graphic. The ironic thing is that they're always such moral tales, where while the innocent might end badly, the evil-doers always end extremely unhappily, and often hoist with their own petard. Poetic justice? Yeah, we got it.

Milton Subotsky and Max J Rosenberg, the evil genii behind Amicus, were clever businessmen. They knew what a horror audience wanted, and they knew that if they could deliver a series of frights and thrills and chills in the short story format as they'd done so successfully in Dr Terror's House of Horrors and even more so in the more recent Robert Bloch-written (he of Psycho fame) Asylum, they'd be onto a winner, and so rapidamento blitzed out the one-two punch of portmanteau horror fun presented here. Tales From The Crypt might not be one of the greater Amicus flicks, although its stellar cast has a lot to recommend it (and it is very odd to watch with Sir Ralph Richardson with his rather plangent tones in the role of the Crypt-Keeper playing things totally straight, bearing in mind the shrill, cackling animatronic corpse of the TV show bearing the same name, and more in line with the ghoulish humour of the comic), and there certainly are some fine moments to be seen (where else are you going to see Joan Collins locked in a life and death struggle with Santa Claus, eh? Eh?), Vault of Horror (unfortunately the cut version from the 70s as opposed to the restored version of the 80s, but dammit! This is all that we have) is where the pay-off arrives, and as a film I saw late one night on TV in the 80s, left a very lasting impression on me, and definitely turned me towards the awesomely wonderful power of the dark side that is horror film.

Tales From The Crypt

Opening to the rather gothic strains of Bach's "Toccata & Fugue in D Minor" to the picture of an equally gothic graveyard, Tales From The Crypt announces itself as a horror film right from the word go. Yet, from such a fine opening, the film fails to deliver on a similar level for much of its 83 minute run-time. Sure there are some wonderfully outre moments of fright and the grotesque on hand, but something sadly seems to be lacking as a whole. Popular it certainly was, and out of the Amicus portmanteau films, probably the single most popular one, but artistically successful, well...

Five fellow travellers, and they're a terribly bad lot believe me, are on a tour of some local catacombs (like you do), when they become lost, and stumble upon a room inhabited by the mysterious Crypt-Keeper, who shows them what might become of them if they won't mend their wicked ways – or if they can't, which is a much more frightening concept; imagine being shown what will happen to you if you're a total arse-hole, but you just simply can't get out of the locked groove of being that arsehole... You will be doomed. Or have you already been doomed, and are now repeating that doom forever... With our framing narrative now firmly in place, let us begin.

And All through the House

It's Christmas Eve, and yet, it doesn't appear to be either a particularly jolly season, nor one in which to foster goodwill among men. Joanne (Collins, before the lure of Hollywood TV turned her into a stereotype, and when she was well hot indeed) is not so happy with her husband Richard – so instead of any kind of marriage guidance counselling, she beats his brain out with a poker in order to collect a hefty insurance claim. Some might call that a bit of a liberty. What she hasn't factored in is that lurking around the house is a barking mad murderer dressed as Santa Claus, and that she may not be strong enough to protect herself and her child from his evil intents. She may have solved one problem, but in doing so, she may very well have created another, much worse one for herself...

Reflection of Death

Carl Maitland (Hendry, once upon a time he was Steed's original sidekick in The Avengers, Dr David Keel) is a dirty rotten philanderer, and is cheating on his wife with gold-digging floozy Susan, with whom he plans to run away. In a story like this, you just know that he's going to end badly...very badly. A near-death experience turns into something much, much worse than could ever be expected. Yet again, the film noir influence of the 1950s intrudes on the grimy horror of the Tales From The Crypt vibe, a la The Twilight Zone, with similar moralising, let alone plot development. This tale is very much a case of you gets what you pays for...

Poetic Justice

This is flat out the best of the stories here on offer – and it's a fucking superb one, with sadly sympathetic rag and bone man Grimsdyke (Cushing in one of his very best roles, child-like and innocent, a hapless and truly, sadly pathetic victim of class snobbery) being villified as some kind of kiddy-fiddling pervert by his grasping, avaricious and ungracious neighbour; the ageing victim of an uncaring modern world driven solely by the dollar. The vengeance we see is well deserved, and if you aren't punching the air and yelling "Yeah!" by the end of it, there's something wrong with you – if you don't want to see righteous vengeance for the misdeeds done to this old man, then your heart is most likely a shard of flint wrapped in ice. Cushing was always a class act and no mistake, and when he played a character you sympathised with, with his care-worn, lined and gaunt face, you felt for him deeply – oh sure, he could play an absolute arsehole like Gustav Weill in Twins of Evil, but here, he's positively heart-breaking; a misunderstood, lonely old man, broken and with everything he still has to live for being slowly taken away from him. Sure the director is manipulating you in terms of feelings, but sometimes that's no bad thing – a bit of tragedy is good for its cathartic effect upon the audience. And here, that's a very good thing indeed. A satisfying tale? You'd better fuckin' believe it, buddy, and quite possibly the best Amicus ever served up to its audience.

Wish You Were Here

A riff on W W Jacobs' The Monkey's Paw, this ghoulish tale is based around the fortunes of one Ralph Jason (Greene, in a memorably unlikeable role), who has to sell everything that he owns to prevent bankruptcy, but discovers among his possessions a Chinese jade statuette which promises three wishes, and being the rank opportunist that he is, decides to take up the offer, or rather, his wife does, looking for something for nothing, but not understanding that everything eventually has a cost. Good intentions? Bollocks.

Blind Alleys

Major William Rogers (Patrick) is the Superintendent of a home for the blind, but he's not the most sympathetic fella you'd hope for, to say the least, given his job. As a matter of fact, with him strutting about the institute with his fierce alsatian Shane, you'd think something very bad was likely to happen to him, oddly enough. Carter (the always reliable Patrick Magee) is the spokesperson for the blind who tries to talk sense into Rogers, who doesn't listen, overly-confident in the discipline of his military past to look after things. He's sadly wrong. When inmates start to die, the tone takes a very nasty turn for the worse indeed, including the villain of the piece being blinded, and having to sidle down a tunnel of razors. Yowch! But imagine being chased back up it by a hungry attack dog! This really is a story that leaves no prisoners. Grim stuff indeed.

Tales From The Crypt balances black humour with true horror, but tries to cram far too much into its very brief running time. A good movie? Sure. A great movie? I think it could've been, but the stories needed time in which to breathe, and that's something they didn't get here – it's all a bit of a breathless race to the finish line, to say the least, with not one of the tales, with the notable exception of Poetic Justice, given any kind of time in which to develop.

Vault Of Horror

Produced rather quickly to make the most of the box-office success of Tales From The Crypt, Vault of Horror plows a very similar field to similar effect, although in my eyes it gets the mean-spirited black humour of the source material across much more effectively and accurately. Five bad men, Rogers (Massey), Arthur (Thomas), Sebastian (Jurgens), Maitland (Craig) and Moore (Baker) get into a lift and find themselves trapped in an underground room, with nothing else to do except talk about their nightmares, and their nightmares are pretty grim, unsettling stuff indeed.

Midnight Mess

Harold Rogers is an appalling specimen; he has his sister (played by real life sister Anna Massey) tracked down by a private investigator, who, task done he garottes with a necktie, to a small country village where she has apparently run to ground, so he can kill her in order to take a bigger share of their father's inheritance. However, things are never as simple as that, and the town's populace presents a bigger problem- surely there must be a reason why no-one in the town wants to go out after dark...

This story is cut in this version of the film, and badly so, to the point where the poetic justice we've been hankering for is almost lost, and the awesomely gruesome pay-off (and believe me, in an uncut print it is that thing) is left hanging. It's like getting to smell the steak without actually getting to taste it. That said, there's still one pretty neat gag with a mirror that's well worth a look at. It's in stories like this where the horror and the comedy are well-balanced indeed – one does not overshadow the other.

The Neat Job

Arthur is a dreadful man, a petty and tyrannical neat-freak so anally retentive that if he stood up suddenly, he'd take the chair with him. Perceiving himself as "easy to get along with, actually", he marries a very ditzy younger woman, Eleanor (Johns), who, while not being a trophy wife by our standards today, is certainly Arthur punching above his weight. And she simply cannot do anything right about the house – she moves things from their accustomed places, doesn't keep the larder stocked, and basically lives in fear of her jerk of a husband, who lets her know loud and long when she's screwed up. However, everybody's got a sticking point, and everybody can learn a lesson, and come the end of this nasty little tale (which will wipe the smile from off of your face), we'll see exactly how Eleanor's coming along...

Again, this tale, which varies in the ending from the EC comic it's based upon, is trimmed, and loses some of its impact (hehehehe...) accordingly. Annoying.

This Trick'll Kill Ya

Sebastian is a magician. While on a trip to India with his wife trying to find a new trick to wow his audiences with, he discredits the wrong fakir, tries stealing a magic rope-trick idea, and unleashes a whole basket full of whup-ass on himself...

Bargain in Death

Maitland is a down-on-his-luck writer of horror stories who's trying to pull off the ultimate scam – insurance for his own death. He's got the whole thing planned out well, a drug to give him the appearance of being dead, and then his trusted accomplice to dig him from out of the grave once the whole charade is over. Of course, that means you have to trust other people, and more to the point, other people with a vested interest in your demise – after all, how else are you going to get the cash?

A ghoulish little tale indeed (and one that's hard to link with the genial white-haired bloke from GP, although given that he was also the merciless camp commandant in Turkeyshoot, it's a little easier to believe), and one that's slightly weakened by the pathetically stupid comedy stylings of the two numbskulls from Doctor In The House basically reprising their TV roles here, albeit in a much more nastily opportunistic way, and I'm sure that was the director's intention, in terms of getting bums on seats. It kinda works, but then again, it kind of plays a bit more like an epsode of Doctor in the Cemetary instead. Hardly what the doctor ordered... I'll get my coat.

Drawn and Quartered

Moore is an artist, and one who, after being hounded by UK critics, buggers off to the Carribean for a bit of solitude...and some voodoo. This delightfully horrid play on The Picture of Dorian Gray is easily the pick of the litter, the best of what Vault of Horror has to offer, and not just because Tom Baker was my favourite Dr Who. Moore feels that he's been hard done by, and swears vengeance against the critics who've made his life hell (one of whom is played by Denholm Elliott – an actor you're so used to seeing as a slightly useless avuncular figure it becomes hard to reconcile him with nastiness), and so he paints their pictures, and then...

But he's also painted a self-portrait – look out, Moore!

There's some awesome poetic justice meted out in this story, let me tell you.

Vault of Horror plays itself much more effectively for laughs (albeit some very uneasy ones) than Tales From The Crypt, and works all the better for it, being closer in spirit to its nasty-souled source material. That said, the owners of the franchise weren't too happy with Amicus' treatment of their tales, and the following film, From Beyond The Grave, was based on some R Chetwynd-Hayes stories instead – wouldn't have been my pick of horror authors, but there you go. While that film was a good one, it didn't quite hit the mark as well as Vault of Horror did. And the final moment is only equalled by Dr Terror's House of Horrors for that lasting shock to send the viewers home with.

Tales From The Crypt's transfer has ben struck from a pretty damned good print, crystal clear and presented in its original aspect ratio, as you'd hope, and fully uncut – as you'd even more fervently hope. Vault of Horror has a pretty decent picture, but it is a bit soft at times, and the fucking thing is cut. That really turns my crank – I hate to see a cut film, especially when I know that the uncut version exists.
Tales From The Crypt's original mono audio track distorts way too much with any loud volume; screams, sound effects, what-have-you. You'd think that remastering a mono track wouldn't have been that difficult, but this would apparently prove you wrong. Vault of Horror is aAlright, I guess, but not exactly the best – flat, and a tad lifeless. Better next time, please.
Extra Features
Tales From The Crypt comes with bugger all, which is kind of insulting. Given a film of this one's stature, there should have been a plethora of special features, to say the least. Vault of Horror features the original theatrical trailer, black and white and full-frame, which is hardly anything to stand up and shout about.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Despite the fact that Vault of Horror is cut, I'd still say that this is an essential disc. Oh, believe me when I say that if that film is ever released uncut, I'll double dip immediately, but regardless, there's enough mean-spirited nastiness and mordant humour to make this an essential purchase for the discerning horror fan. I mean, I'm a big fan of Romero's essay into the portmanteau-horror genre, Creepshow, but this two-fer really does show you where it all came from, and leaves you just slavering for more, more, MORE!

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