[Horror Movie Review] Tales from the Crypt (Amicus, 1972)
While Amicus does not hold the genesis cap for the anthology horror (referred to elsewhere as portmanteau horror)*, it certainly holds the award for keeping the torch alive and nailing the genre specifics down. You've seen movies of the category: Creepshow or Twilight Zone: The Movie, for instance. Maybe some cheaper horror movies in the same vein. They generally take one of three forms. Type A: the external wrap-around, puts three to five horror/thriller stories together with abrupt endings and openings, held together with a thin glue of a framing story that discloses them as dreams, stories, alternative lives, past experiences, or such. Often, after the final story is told, some "twist" happens in the framing story, usually a horror cliche. Type B: the internal wrap-around, is similar except the framing story is more vital to the plot and/or provides thematic elements directly to the other stories (think Creepshow, which is somewhere between Types A and B). The framing story is essentially an extra story, a lot more developed than that from Type A's framing story which might have plot-elements but is pretty vapid. It still serves its main purpose by providing a base for the other stories to fit into. Type O (blood motif!): the interlocking story, tends to eschew a direct wrap-around for some other quasi- to full-narrative where the stories are linked, and often criss-cross (think Trick or Treat). This is all to say that Tales from the Crypt is a Type A anthology horror.
Now that I have introduced the structural element, let's take a moment to look at the character of the stories. If you do not know the story of EC Comics and the trial they underwent because their horror titles—Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror, and Haunt of Fear—were deemed immoral, you should look it up. Realize that the allegation was something of a farce, since EC's horror tales tend to contain, pound for verse, more moral fiber than your average holy book. While there are variations, 90% of their stories have one well-oiled and well-worn plot line: person A does something bad to person B, and dies for it. Maybe a husband leaves a wife, or a wife murders a husband, or a friend screws another over in business, whatever it is, the end result is the same: someone is coming back from the dead and ripping out a heart. Of course, it wasn't the moral of the stories that plaintiffs were complaining about, it was storylines that included a bad sportsman's intestines and organs being turned into a baseball field, or of a butcher's wife serving her husband up as meat of the day because he gave bad meat to a neighbor and their child died. They were gruesome, but they were all essentially the reductio of the Golden Rule. People were getting done to them what they had done to others. They acted like monsters, and were beset upon by monsters.
In the five stories, we get no real derivation from this. First up is the Joan Collins starring "...And All Through the House". A woman kills her husband on Christmas, right before being menaced by a serial killer in a Santa Claus outfit. Guess who can't call the police? While the final twist is classic, the violence is marred by really fake blood and a strangulation that might be described as a neck-rub at best. This one's highlight is Collins, herself, a gorgeous beauty surrounded by early 60s riche pastiche. Then we cut to an even shorter "Reflections of Death", involving a man leaving his wife for another woman, getting in a car crash, then causing everyone to flee from him until he discovers his secret. Stick it into minor-but-fair category. The fourth tale (and third of the more minor of the five) is a retelling of "The Monkey's Paw" where a once-rich and maybe immoral banker is killed (one quick line says that if he had to step on others, that is business, basically), only to be brought back to life in the worst possible way by his wife. Could have worked with more room to breathe, and has the most gruesome effect in the whole movie: but still we are wondering what the crap was up with the dude in the skull mask and the one-two-three punch of the wishes plotline fall so fast as to be almost comical. Only the aftertaste left by this one saves it from being nothing but filler.
Number three chronologically and the first of the more major stories stars Peter Cushing (focusing, this time, on the victim, means that Cushing is the one star of the movie to not show up in the Crypt itself). Cushing, recently after the real-life death of his wife, brings an immense performance to the table as the widower Grymsdyke. Grymsdyke is a poor but well-intentioned rubbish man who inspires hate in his neighbor, a elitist Euro-trash wastrel who cares more for property values than for human life. The story works well as a study of passive acceptance of evil, since the dad lets his do-nothing son destroy a man while he sits back and smokes numerous pipes and cigars. If anything is against this one, it is the fact that the "real horror" at the end is a pale reflection of the more realistic horror leading up to it. While most of these stories are about just deserts, I cannot imagine anyone actually caring what habits to the boy horror or his milquetoast father. Bonus points given for the visual pun/poem that shows up (the name of it being "Poetic Justice").
Finally, the fifth story, "Blind Alleys", playing out as the most developed and the longest, follows two men: Major William Rogers and a blind man who cannot take the abuse Rogers is heeping upon them. The story is old hat: Rogers cuts the heat and the food budget while taking care of himself. This progresses until it reaches the death of a patient, at which point in time the others begin an elaborate revenge plot (the cold intonation of "Very well" by the leader of the blind men, played by Patrick Magee, being perhaps the single scariest delivery in the whole movie). The problem with this one is that the you-know-where-it-is-going revenge machinations take up half the screen-time of the story, and are mostly unhelpful to the plot overall. Even though the actually "alley" at the end is an ingenious device of torture, we could have used this time to develop "Wish" or to give some suspense to "Reflections". It also has the same problem as "Poetic Justice": we are left with no option but to root for the "monsters". A little ambiguity might have went a long way.
To break it down:
- "Wish You Were Here": Meh (-0.6)**
- "Reflections on Death": Fair (-0.3)
- "...and All through the House": Fair (+0.0)
- "Blind Alley": Fair (+0.4)***
- "Poetic Justice": Good (+1.2)
- Framing Story: Eh (-0.1)
Final average looks to be around the plus side of Fair (+0.3) but I'll go ahead and throw in a reviewer's tilt for the whole and put it at a lower side of Good (+0.8). For fans of classic and British horror, consider it a must own. For those who appreciate the genre, consider it a likely-to-watch. Everyone else: not a bad movie to toss in on a Halloweeen.
Si Vales, Valeo
file under Horror