The third film in Amicus’ series of anthology horror movies Tales From the Crypt is a collection of stories inspired by the E.C. comic of the same name with Milton Subotsky and Max J. Rosenberg, the two men who founded Amicus on writing/producing duties. Directed by Oscar winning cinematographer Freddie Francis the movie begins with five diverse people on a tour of some local catacombs, finding themselves lost, trapped in a secret chamber, they are bid welcome by a mysterious hooded figure, the Crypt Keeper. Unable to escape his somewhat macabre company they are each given a vision of their rather blood soaked futures.
In the first story Joan Collins gives a suitably callous portrayal of a wife with murderous intent on Christmas Eve. After committing the deadly deed, and with her daughter safely in bed, she overhears a radio report of a homicidal manic on the loose, dressed as Santa. An OK tale but you are left with a feeling of ‘is that it’ when it reaches its climax. The following story is much better with Ian Hendry leaving his wife and kids for another woman. After waking from a nightmare whilst in the car with his mistress she crashes, he gets out and makes his way home but something is amiss. Interestingly the tale is partly shot (for a reason) from his POV and has a neat little double twist at the end.
In Poetic Justice a kind old man is victimised by his evil neighbours, the final straw being the nasty valentines cards he receives from them all. Of course he wreaks a suitable revenge on his main tormentor, who is now in the company of the Crypt Keeper. This is probably the second best episode, due in no small part to the excellent performance by Peter Cushing. He goes against type here, portraying a lonely vulnerable old man who is the victim of malicious lies and torment. It is without doubt one of his best screen performances, a heartfelt portrayal of a man still suffering form the loss of his wife, something which may have had echoes in his personal life at the time.
A knowing variation on the classic Monkeys Paw, the penultimate episode Wish You Were Here is the best in terms of chills with its haunting finale but also oddly out of place in the movie. All the stories see the main character punished for their sins but here the lead is an innocent man, and the torment he suffers via his wife’s good-natured wish upon an oriental statue is undeserved. Finally we have Blind Alley, which may have been fine on the comic book page but doesn’t really work on the silver screen. This tale of a catoonishly evil new manager of a home for the blind and the revenge dealt upon him by the residents is a tad silly but it does have a decent finale, if you can overlook the remarkable DIY abilities of the blind residents (with those skills they should be hired by Changing Rooms!) Patrick Magee is his usual OTT self as the ringleader of the sightless revenge squad but the punishment doesn’t seem to fit the crime here. With the end of this tale the Crypt Keeper reveals the final twist, the reason that these people are here and the way out of the crypt.
Tales From the Crypt is an entertaining addition to Amicus' horror series but is a tad uneven, lacking that certain something which makes some of the other anthology chillers essential viewing. Freddie Francis appears to be going through the motions, there are a couple of nice directorial flourishes but the film, unlike some of the other Amicus movies, cannot hide its obvious low budget. It also suffers in that its story framing is too similar to the classic Dr Terror’s House Of Horrors, lacking that films style it has a finale that is far from unexpected. Ralph Richardson is miscast somewhat as the Crypt Keeper, not very creepy, more like a mischievous grandfather than a seer of doom. Most of the stories themselves are pretty good, with Wish You Were Here being the highlight, although as mentioned it sticks out a bit, not really fitting in with the eye for an eye tone of the movie. The stories seem to be a lot shorter on characterisation than in previous Amicus efforts, it’s as if they can’t wait to get to the shock ending. As a consequence the actors don’t really have a lot to work with and none of the characters is really very sympathetic, apart from the excellent Peter Cushing. Then again that is the point of this film, evildoers getting their just deserts. The good thing about these movies though is that each tale is relatively short, so whilst there is always bound to be a duff one you don’t have too long to wait for the next instalment.
Overall, despite not meeting the high standard set by Amicus’ first entry into the portmanteau horror genre (Dr Terror’s House Of Horrors) Tales From the Crypt is worth seeing. In today’s climate, where the majority of horror movies are self-referential and ironic, full of teenagers running around in the dark, it represents a movie from a different age with its mix of chills and gallows humour.
A much respected cinematographer for decades, British Francis made his way up from camera operator on films like The Small Back Room, Outcast of the Islands and Beat the Devil to fully fledged cinematographer on such films as Room at the Top, Sons and Lovers (for which he won his first Oscar), Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, and The Innocents (a masterpiece of his art).