Friday, September 21, 2007

Midnite Madness: Tales from the Crypt/Vault of Horror

If I were to come up my kind of "baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet" list of American things that make me proud of being an American in a kind of raising a flag and singing patriotic jingles kind of way, one of the things that would certainly be on the list would be E.C. Comics.

Perhaps that explains why I've never gotten around to watching the two Amicus Productions anthology movies, adapted from those stories.

Mind you, I've long enjoyed the Amicus anthology movies, starting with a youthful viewing of Dr. Terror's House of Horrors, which remains my favorite, although I suspect many people's first Amicus anthology is their favorite... Mine manages to have the extra allure of remaining unavailable on Region 1 DVD.

The release of the Tales from the Crypt/Vault of Horror DVD, featuring both movies as part of the MGM Midnite Movie series, here at the height of Midnite Madness, made it impossible for me to procrastinate.

Tales from the Crypt, like Dr. Terror's House of Horrors, was directed by the great Freddie Francis.

Like all of the Amicus anthologies, the movie is told with a wraparound that weaves us through the stories. Frankly, this is one of my favorite parts of most, but seems somehow awkward next to the E.C. stories. This one features a tour group, wandering through a network of caves until they are brought to a hooded man played by Sir Ralph Richardson. This character is credited as The Crypt Keeper, but in no way resembles the pun loving character who welcomed us all to The Crypt of Terror nor is the name uttered in the movie itself.

The first story told is "... And All Through the House..." from The Vault of Horror #35. The original Johnny Craig illustrated story is something of a classic, and the only one of these stories that seems to have been also adapted on the Tales from the Crypt TV series. This adaptation features Joan Collins and is quite well done, scored almost entirely to religious Christmas carols.

The second is "Reflection of Death!", originally illustrated by Al Feldstein in Tales from the Crypt #23, is probably the weakest in both movies, but is certainly entertaining enough.

The third, "Poetic Justice!", originally illustrated by Graham Ingels in The Haunt of Fear #12. This is easily the best segment of either movie. It stars a particularly charming Peter Cushing as an eccentric old man whose life is slowly ruined by a nasty and greedy neighbor.

The fourth, "Wish You Were Here", originally illustrated by Ingels in The Haunt of Fear #22, is a twisted, slightly comic take on The Monkey's Paw by W. W. Jacobs, even going so far as to having a partial recounting of that story affect the outcome of the story.

The final story, "Blind Alleys", originally illustrated by George Evans in Tales from the Crypt #46, is a nicely done revenge story as Patrick Magee stars as a blind man who lives in a home for the blind that is taken over by a military man whose efficiency eventually leads to the death of one of their own.

The follow-up movie, Vault of Horror, directed this time by Roy Ward Baker, follows the same format reasonably carefully. A group of men end up in the sub-basement of a large building, recounting their nightmares to one another.

The first segment is "Midnight Mess!", originally illustrated by Joe Orlando in Tales from the Crypt #35, is pretty short and the twist is pretty obvious. The execution is nice, however, including one particularly nice special effect. This is, however, also the segment that was censored after release and, unfortunately, the new DVD maintains the censored version.

The second segment is "The Neat Job!", originally illustrated by Jack Kamen in Shock SuspenStories #1. It features Terry-Thomas and Glynis Johns as a married couple with issues over things being in the proper place. A classic E.C. set-up and delivery with delightful performances by the two actors.

The third segment, "This Trick'll Kill You!", originally illustrated by Kamen and Evans in Tales from the Crypt #33, stars Curt Jürgens as a magician traveling through India to discover new tricks in the mystic east. This is moderately executed, but goes on a bit long.

The fourth segment is "Bargain in Death", originally illustrated by Jack Davis in Tales from the Crypt #28. I recall this as a nicely paced comic story, but this drags generally, despite some decent performances.

The final segment, "Drawn and Quartered!", originally illustrated by Davis in Tales from the Crypt #26, is the best of the movie. Tom Baker stars as a British artist, living in Haiti, who is tricked out of his work, that he believes is undervalued, by a group of men, including Denholm Elliot. As I said Haiti, you were safe assuming Voodoo is involved in his revenge.

Both movies are well done overall. The story choices of writer-producer Milton Subotsky are generally well suited for being transposed to British settings. I suppose the recurring E.C. theme (in fact, one that would be carried over to Feldstein's long reign as editor of MAD Magazine) is the hostility of the proper against the just but eccentric, something that indeed carries over quite well in the British setting.

As I said, the stories don't especially lend themselves to the Amicus house style of having a wraparound with its own ironic twist. Frankly, I'd guess they even had that feeling in writing them, as they feel like less effort went into them then had in the other Amicus anthologies I've seen.

I note that I think the pacing of the first movie works better overall, but the second showcases the E.C. style humor a bit better.

More than anything, however, they made me want to curl up in a corner for a weekend with a big stack of those beautiful hardcover E.C. Archives and lose myself in them.


Cinebeats said...

I look forward to watching these again soon. Freddie Francis has long been one of my favorite directors and cinematographers, and like yourself. Dr. Terror's House of Horrors is my favorite anthology, but I like Tales from the Crypt a lot too.

Neil Sarver said...

Thanks for the comment.

Freddie Francis certainly was incredibly talented. I need to make an effort to fill in the couple of gaps I have in seeing his movies.

And if I'm not the only person who loves Dr. Terror's House of Horrors so much, why can't they put it out on DVD? Dammit!

Marty McKee said...

Is "Blind Alleys" the one with the razor blades?

Neil Sarver said...


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