To think of classic British horror, one automatically goes straight to Hammer. That’s reasonable, they put out some stellar genre films (a favorite of mine remains Captain Kronos– Vampire Hunter). In competition with them was Amicus and their varied slate of films. Their horror was predominantly anthology movies and the best of them, better than any Christopher Lee Dracula or mummy outing, was Tales from the Crypt.
The movie tells five stories ripped from the pages of the classic EC Comics’ Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, and The Haunt of Fear. In the wrap around story, five strangers find themselves in the lair of the Crypt Keeper. Their creepy, cryptic host then tells each of them a story specific to their lives.
The first story is the best, and I say that because it’s my favorite. “…And All Through the House” stars Joan Collins, in top form, as a murderous housewife. After offing her husband, she is foiled in her attempts to dispose of the body by as an escaped homicidal lunatic (in a Santa suit no less) who is trying to break into her house. She can’t phone the police because, you know, she killed her husband. Poor Joan has to clean the crime scene, manipulate so it looks like the psycho killed her spouse, and pray the lunatic doesn’t kill her or her sleeping daughter.
“Wish You Were Here” is the fourth story, and a close second for best. A businessman with a run of bad luck discovers that a Chinese statue in his possession grants three wishes. The wish for more money sends him to his death in a car accident. Luckily, his wife can bring him back with her other wishes. It does not work as planned.
The remaining stories are good, with “Reflection of Death”, the second segment, being the weakest. It’s good, but not up to snuff with the rest of what’s going on here. The third story, “Poetic Justice”, stars Hammer stalwart Peter Cushing as a kindly old man falling victim to a snooty neighborhood bully. The final segment, “Blind Alleys”, stars Patrick Magee (crazy wheelchair man from A Clockwork Orange) as a blind man leading his fellow blind men in a revolt against the cruel new director of their group home.
Anthology films are a tricky business. Celluloid flash fiction tales, much like their literary counterparts, have to have some semblance of a beginning, middle, and end. Or as much of them as possible to keep the audience oriented and following along. Tales from the Crypt excels at the short-form narrative, its micro-stories are still as creepy and crisp as they were in ’72. A lot of its successors have failed to live up to its standard.