Thursday, July 23, 2015

#1,802. Tales from the Crypt (1972)

Directed By: Freddie Francis

Starring: Joan Collins, Peter Cushing, Ralph Richardson

Tag line: "DEATH LIVES in the Vault of Horror!"

Trivia: Director Robert Zemeckis said this is his favorite movie to watch on Halloween

Over the course of this challenge of mine, I’ve been lucky enough to watch some amazing horror anthologies, and Tales from the Crypt, a 1972 Amicus production based on the EC Comics series of the same name, ranks as one of the best.

While on a guided tour of the local catacombs, five perfect strangers are inadvertently separated from the group, and end up in a secluded room. But they’re not alone; a strange man in a dark robe (Sir Ralph Richardson) is there with them, and at his prompting, the five contemplate some of their recent actions. Housewife Joanne Clayton (Joan Collins) vividly remembers murdering her husband Richard (Martin Boddey) on Christmas Eve, only to be stalked immediately after by a homicidal maniac in a Santa Costume. Equally as treacherous is Carl Maitland (Ian Hendry), who left his wife (Susan Denny) and two young children to run away with his mistress (Angela Grant). James Elliott (Robin Phillips) used manipulation and fear to drive his neighbor, elderly widower Arthur Grimsdyke (Peter Cushing), to the brink of suicide; while unscrupulous businessman Ralph Jason (Richard Greene), along with his wife Enid (Barbara Murray), made a wish to a charmed statue, hoping it would end their money troubles. Rounding out the group is Major William Rogers (Nigel Patrick), who recently became the manager of a rest home for the blind, though his decision to cut costs didn’t sit well with patient George Carter (Patrick Magee) or any of the others. What Is it that brought these five people together in this dark room, and, more importantly, why are they unable to leave?

With the always-interesting Sir Ralph Richardson handling the framing story, Tales from the Crypt next weaves a quintet of spooky tales. The first, titled “And All Through the House”, stars the gorgeous Joan Collins as a woman who, because she just killed her husband, is unable to call for help when a psychopath in a Santa suit shows up at her front door. It’s a tense sequence, to be sure, and even features an effective jump scare, yet this story pales in comparison to the next three: “Reflection of Death”, “Poetic Justice”, and “Wish You Were Here”, all of which have a little something in common with Romero’s Living Dead films (Cushing, who plays a widower in “Poetic Justice”, lost his beloved wife to emphysema just prior to appearing in this picture. As a result, the scene where his character tries to contact his deceased spouse via a Ouija board hits pretty close to home). Though not as strong as the previous four entries, the fifth story, “Blind Alleys”, still has its moments, as well as a solid performance by Patrick Magee (who also portrayed the handicapped writer in A Clockwork Orange).

Directed by Freddie Francis, who made a number of fine films for Hammer Studios (including Paranoiac in 1963 and The Evil of Frankenstein the year after), Tales from the Crypt is a nice combination of zombies, psychopathic killers, and the supernatural. And while I wouldn’t rank it as high as either Dead of Night or Creepshow, it would definitely make my “Top 5 Horror Anthologies” list.

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