Tuesday, October 28, 2008

#105: Tales from the Crypt


Tales from the Crypt
Directed by Freddie Francis
Written by Johnny Craig, Al Feldstein, William M. Gaines and Milton Subotsky (stories from The Vault of Horror and Tales from the Crypt
Released March 9, 1972

One of the discoveries I made when watching the Tales from the Crypt documentary a few nights back was that there was actually a anthology movie made in England that predated the HBO series by almost 17 years and featured stories from those old EC comics. Here I was thinking Creepshow was one of the first of its kind...

While that movie was a little more faithful to the style and tone of the comic books, Tales from the Crypt still does a fair job of sticking to the ideas of those books, especially in keeping the character of The Crypt Keeper. In this movie, unlike the TV show, he isn't a rotting corpse puppet but rather a hooded, monk-like soothsayer who confronts a group of guests (including Joan Collins) and tells each one of them their ultimate fate.

Collins is given a premonition about herself as a murderous wife who kills her husband on Christmas Eve night as a mass murderer dressed as Santa Claus wanders the streets by her home. This same story, titled "And All Through the House," would eventually wind up being used (to better effect) in the very first episode of the HBO Tales from the Crypt series.

One of the drawbacks of this movie is that the vignettes look even more like they've been made for television than the actual TV show. Granted, special effects had come a long way in those years, but there's just something about the staging and the lighting that makes the film look less like a Horror movie and more like a bland episode of Masterpiece Theater.

By the second story in the movie, we begin to see cracks in the premise and its effectiveness (or lack of) in being terrifying. Because these vignettes are being foretold to the people in them, we know that none of them is actually taking place. There was a terrible suspense movie released a few years back starring John Cusack where, about 3/4 of the way through the movie, we the audience discover that all of the movie's events are happening inside the mind of a fat crazy man. Once this was revealed, I absolutely could not care about anything I was seeing because it held no weight at all. And yet the filmmakers dove back into the fat guy's imagination so we could see the outcome. Who gives a shit? We're still, at the end of all this, just in a fat guy's mind, right?

The third story is not just a take on the old "Monkey's Paw" story: they literally reference it within the story! When the characters know exactly what you know, there is no dramatic tension to be had. If this one had been played a little differently, it would have made for great comedy. When the story ends and they cut back to the group of people gathered around the Crypt Keeper, you half expect the lead in this story to say, "Come on now, that one was just bad."

I must admit that the fourth story (while a little slow), plus a twist at the end, both helped put to rest my annoyances with what came before as for as the "in a fat guy's head" complaint, but they didn't make up for how slight the movie seemed as a whole. It definitely put the TV series and aforementioned movies like Creepshow (but not that awful Creepshow 2) into a new and better light.

I honestly would have rather read the comics tonight.

For more on Tales from the Crypt:
- Movie information at IMDB and Wikipedia.
- Buy the DVD.

The Tales from the Crypt trailer:

No comments: