*. Tales from the Crypt is one of the portmanteau or anthology horror films that the studio Amicus was producing at a fast and furious pace during these years (I have notes on Asylum, as another example of the form).
*. I think this is one of their better efforts (Kim Newman dubs it “perhaps the zenith of Amicus’s spotty output”), though I think on balance I prefer The Vault of Horror. This one works mainly because of the stories themselves, which are all torn from the pages of various EC horror comics. As such they are well suited to the anthology format, being condensed vignettes with gruesome punchlines.
*. Familiar names in the credits include director Freddie Francis, Peter Cushing (who plays a sad widower, soon after his own wife’s death), Richard Greene, and Patrick Magee. Also showing up are Ralph Richardson as the Crypt Keeper (a role he shot in one day) and Joan Collins (who received top billing despite having only a handful of lines).
*. I found the first story, “And All Through the House,” to be the best. It may be the first time we’d seen a serial-killer Santa on film, making the outrage over Silent Night, Deadly Night seem even more over the top. I thought it especially interesting in that there is very little dialogue and nearly the entire segment runs to a radio playing Christmas carols and news reports in the background. And how could you not like that groovy phone Collins has in her mod home? I couldn’t even figure out how it worked.
*. Unfortunately, the first story also highlights the film’s failings. In addition to the obvious low production values, there’s also some really dreary, unsuspenseful direction by Francis. I mean, the Christmas story has a terrific twist in it as Collins realizes her daughter has let the evil Santa into the house, but the shock of his appearance falls totally flat and then the curtain comes down far too quickly.
*. Movies tend to favour certain breeds of dogs. By which I mean the popular breeds. I guess producers think that audiences like to see “their” dogs on screen. So you get a lot of golden retrievers, labs, and Alsatians. If you do see a giant breed it’s likely going to be a St. Bernard or a Great Dane. So it was with some delight that I saw Peter Cushing’s Grimsdyke had taken in a Pyrenean mountain dog (or Great Pyrenees). I grew up with this breed and they are fine dogs. Seeing a Newf would have been nice too, but you can’t have everything.
*. At least the fourth story has the grace to openly admit it’s a rip-off of the W. W. Jacobs classic “The Monkey’s Paw.” It’s actually kind of cute how the characters realize the connection but are still unable to avoid the same dire consequences.
*. Actually, if the husband in that story can’t die, then how does he end up in the crypt? And what did he do that was so wrong, anyway? The others are all guilty of performing acts of cruelty in the furtherance of the sin of money grubbing, but he perhaps suffers the worst of all, and for what?
*. It’s a movie that influenced a lot of later productions by directors who remembered it fondly. And it does hold a kind of nostalgic charm. But it’s a long way from a horror classic and can only really be enjoyed today as harmless comic-book fun.