31 Days to Scare ~ Tales from the Crypt (1972)

The Facts:

Synopsis: Five strangers get lost in a crypt and, after meeting the mysterious Crypt Keeper, receive visions of how they will die.

Stars: Joan Collins, Peter Cushing, Roy Dotrice, Richard Greene, Ian Hendry, Patrick Magee, Ralph Richardson

Director: Freddie Francis

Rated: GP (the old-school PG)

Running Length: 92 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: As evidenced before in this blog, I love anthology horror!  Brief tales of horror and madness serve as short bursts of fun that are pretty perfect for the short attention spans of most modern audiences.  Films like Cat’s Eye, Asylum, From Beyond the Grave, and After Midnight are nice examples of big screen releases that put recognizable stars in various states of terror.  The good thing is that if a segment doesn’t speak to you, you only have to wait 10 or 15 minutes for the next one to start up.

Many people will hear Tales from the Crypt and instantly think of the popular HBO series that ran from 1989 to 1996.  That series, like the movie featured in today’s post, were based on the popular comic of the same name that was published from 1950-1955 (tales from The Haunt of Fear and The Vault of Horror eventually made their way into the HBO series as well).  I actually thought I had seen 1972’s Tales from The Crypt long ago when I was trying to feast my eyes upon every anthology offering out there.  When I recently reviewed the And All Through the House episode of the HBO show, I discovered it had already been filmed before for this movie…so I took steps to get my hands on this pronto.

I’m sure glad I caught this one because Tales from the Crypt is a highly entertaining film, with nice production values, solid performances, and strong direction from Freddie Francis (Nightmare, and the cinematographer for numerous Hollywood films like the remake Cape Fear).  There’s great atmosphere and even its outlandish ‘70s styles don’t distract from the horror at hand.  For a B-movie, it looks great and holds up quite nicely some forty years after its original release.

On a tour of a local cemetery, four men and one woman get separated from the group and find themselves locked in a room with the mysterious Crypt Keeper (Ralph Richardson, looking far less ghastly than the withered puppet that hosted the HBO show).  None of the five individuals know quite why they’re there but the Crypt Keeper helps them see how they’ll wind up six feet under.

The first tale is the aforementioned And All Through The House starring the gorgeous Joan Collins.  She’s a materialistic wife that kills her husband on Christmas Eve, just as a maniac in a Santa suit comes a-callin’.  There’s a wonderful jump scare here which sent me out of my seat with a jolt with its unexpected arrival.  It’s a 12-minute wonderful nugget of tension, and it surprised me how much this one put me on the edge of my seat seeing that it takes place in bright light with holiday songs playing constantly in the background.

The subsequent tales are a bit longer and have varying degrees of interest.  There’s the tale of the cheating husband who leaves his wife but comes back a bit on the dead side, a couple that wishes for riches and pays the price for their greed, a young man that brings about the downfall of a harmless but dotty neighbor, and a cruel doctor at an institute for the blind that gets a taste of his own medicine.   All are fine to pass the time but none have the instant impact of the Christmas-set first sequence.

From the shag carpeting to the flared jeans and oversized belts, the production values on this are perfect time capsules of the era and it’s a little funny to see blood that looks like Pepto-Bismol used to show death’s aftermath.  If you’re willing to check your modern tendency to be jaded at the door, you’ll really get into the swing of this one.  If the tales feel a bit on the familiar side, it’s likely they served as inspiration for countless imitations over the years.

Well-made and scary, this nightmare omnibus is one to remember if you’re looking for something from the past that holds up quite well.  Very much worth seeking out, it’s available as a double feature with The Vault of Horror – more anthology fun for all!