Friday, December 24, 2010

'Tales from the Crypt' is a classy, classic anthology film

Tales from the Crypt (1972)
Starring: Joan Collins, Peter Cushing, Nigel Patrick, and Ralph Richardson
Director: Freddie Francis
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

This anthology film from British horror company Amicus is the original screen adaptation of the "Tales from the Crypt" comic book. And it's a fabulous one--with a fine cast of actors, great camera work, and mostly tight scripting.

From the framing sequence--which features a group of tourists that find themselves stranded inside an ancient tomb where they encounter a mysterious crypt keeper (Richardson)--we know we're in for a treat. The crypt keeper's interaction with the lost tourists is the conceit that brings us into the stories.

The first tale in the film is "All Through the House", in which an evil, scheming wife (Collins) murders her husband on Christmas Eve... only to discover what Father Christmas does to those who have been naughty. There are some great visuals and fabulous contrasts of colors here, not to mention great acting by all featured (even the child actor, which is a rare occurance!)

Next up is "Reflection of Death", perhaps the weakest tale of the bunch, because it feels like it's been padded. It's the tale of a man who gets in a horrible car-wreck but finds that no-one will help him or his mistress after he's crawled from the wreckage. There's a nice, chilling twist in this one, but it takes entirely too long getting there.

The third story, "Poetic Justice", is my favorite of the bunch, and it features horror great Peter Cushing in his most touching (and probably deeply emotional) performance ever. He portrays a lonely widower who is driven to suicide after a pair of cruel businessmen cause him to believe that the neighborhood children, who have been his only joy since the death of his wife, have come to hate him. The poor old man gets his revenge, however, in a way that's fitting of "Tales from the Crypt". (In real life, Cushing himself lost his wife shortly before working on this film. I'm of the opinion that Cushing largely plays himself in this sequence.)

The fourth tale, "Wish You Were Here", is a pretty straight-forward spin on the classic "The Monkey's Paw" story. It is based around the standard of a string of badly worded wishes that backfire tragically and horrifically, but the climax of the story is so terrifying and skin-crawling that it literally had me squirming in my chair. Both as a kid and as an adult, the finale of this story is the one that hits me hardest.

Finally (aside from the creepy wrap-up to the framing sequence), we have "Blind Alley", the tale of a vicious administrator of a home for the blind, who is given a fitting punishment by his charges when they've finally had enough. This one also feels a bit padded and it drags a bit, but there are enough chills and scary moments--not to mention fine acting by Nigel Patrick as the hateful, gluttonous administrator.

"Tales from the Crypt" is a little-seen gem, and I recommend it highly to anyone who thinks fondly of British horror films from the Sixties and Seventies.

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