Every time I think of Amicus Studios I think of Doctor Terror’s House Of Horrors (1965) and The Beast Must Die (1974), two of my favorites, but as I was perusing a section of my DVD collection a couple of years ago I tend to forget Amicus also made The Land That Time Forgot (1974), The People That Time Forgot (1977) and At The Earth’s Core (1976). More favorites. They certainly loved making anthology movies though (i.e. Tales From The Crypt, Vault Of Horror, Asylum, Torture Garden, The House That Dripped Blood, From Beyond The Grave and the previously mentioned Doctor Terror’s House Of Horrors). The only one of those I ever saw when I was a kid was Doctor Terror’s. I have a vague memory of Tales From The Crypt (1972) being on and being somewhat interested to at least check out the first few minutes. But from what I gathered this was a movie more concerned with madmen than monsters so I lost interest and turned the channel.
That’s how it was when I was a kid. Monsters always won out over psychopaths. But in the intervening years as my tastes in movies shifted I have always wanted to see some of those other anthologies including Tales From The Crypt and it’s sequel Vault Of Horror (1973).
I probably wanted to see these two more so than the others ever since HBO launched their Tales From Crypt series (1989-1996) back in the late 80s. Tales ’72 wasn’t bad. I have to admit I kind of prefer the more serious and creepy performance of flesh and blood actor Ralph Richardson as The Cryptkeeper now to the animatronic John Kassir-voiced, wise-cracking puppet from the HBO series.
The setup to the Tales movie is simple. Five people take a tour of these underground catacombs and encounter an odd, monk-adorned figure (Richardson) in a chamber deep inside. There’s a clue early on that something “isn’t right.” The tour guide tells the five it’s dangerous down here so don’t go wandering around; an odd thing to tell tourists and then not show them around yourself, which is what happens. They all just start wandering around and taking in the sites. When they get to this one chamber, a slab of stone shuts them in and from out of nowhere appears The Cryptkeeper.
He tells them all to take a seat. They do reluctantly, and then the tales begin. Every time he addresses a person, a tale starts, after it’s over you get the impression what you just saw was a psychically implanted vision the individual just experienced. All of them felt compelled to come and take this tour, but the twist is all five are dead and the tales we see is how they died. All of them were “morally lacking,” so-to-speak, and Hell is where they are destined to spend all eternity, that is, after a quick visit with The Cryptkeeper first.
Here’s how the stories break down:
… AND ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE: Stars a young and hot Joan Collins as a greedy wife who kills her husband on Christmas Eve with a fireplace poker. At the same time over the radio it’s announced a lunatic dressed as Santa has escaped. Wouldn’t you know it Joan has the bad luck to be in the home psycho Santa picks to menace. Santa ends up killing her. This tale was also remade for the premiere of the HBO series in ’89.
REFLECTION OF DEATH: This one centers on Carl Maitland (Ian Hendry) who has made plans to leave his wife and kids for his mistress, Susan Blake (Angela Grant). While in the car with Susan (she’s driving) he wakes from a nightmare, then the accident happens. The car dodges a head on collision only to go rolling down a hill. When Carl comes to he stumbles around the woods horrifying people with his appearance. The segment from this point on is told from his perspective. He stumbles back to the apartment he rendezvoused at with Susan and finds the twist to his predicament. The apartment was empty when they left, all the furniture moved to the new flat. Now it’s all back, Susan’s living there and she can’t see. She’s horrified to hear Carl’s voice and she tells him he died two years ago in that car accident that also blinded her. A reflection of himself shows him and the viewer he’s a walking corpse. Carl suddenly wakes up in the car screaming, like he did previously and they’re both about to have that predestined accident. Again.
POETIC JUSTICE: Peter Cushing stars as Arthur Grimsdyke, a trash collector two years from retirement who lives alone with his dogs and routinely entertains the neighborhood kids. He’s not a bad guy, but James Elliot (Robin Phillips), the focus of the story, who lives with his Father across the street from Arthur, doesn’t like him. He’s under the impression he’s of the 99% and wants him to move out so the aesthetic of the neighborhood will be more to his liking. He comes up with several plans designed to make life hell for Arthur, like having his dogs taken away, then having him fired, then the coup de grace, a bunch of Valentine’s sent to him on behalf of the townsfolk but none of the poetic rhymes within are heartwarming, they’re insulting and this pushes Arthur to hang himself.
Not being seen for days, James and his father, Edward, visit and find Arthur’s hanging corpse and how wrong they were about his lifestyle. A year later Arthur returns from the grave as a walking corpse and pays now guilty conscienced Ed a fatal visit that involves poetry and an excised heart. James’ heart.
WISH YOU WERE HERE: Is an interesting tale based on The Monkey’s Paw legend. The characters even reference that legend, hoping to be clever enough to not do what was done in that myth, but they don’t. Leaving us the viewer knowing what they never had a chance to in that any scenario involving a Monkey’s Paw will always end up turning to unholy shit for all involved. The Paw in this tale is a jade, Chinese figure with an inscription on its base saying that it can grant three wishes. Apparently, rich husband and wife Ralph Jason (Richard Greene) and Enid (Barbara Murray) has had this statue in this particular room on obvious display for years and are just now noticing it. Just in the nick of time, too, since his lawyer, Charles Gregory (Roy Dotrice), has told Ralph, he’s now broke.
Enid makes the first wish. It’s simple. She wants a lot of money. Then a call comes in from Charles to come to the office ASAP. On the way Ralph is killed in a car accident and Enid is now rich due to his insurance policy. Second wish is that she wants Ralph alive again before the car accident, because Charles tells her of the particulars of The Monkey’s Paw legend and neither one wants to deal with a mutilated walking corpse. Ah, but the catch was Ralph died of a heart attack which is what caused the accident. Result, some morticians burst into the room with his corpse in a coffin and leave him there. So, there he is before the car accident, dead from a heart attack. And the third wish? She wants him to be alive and live forever. The catch? Ralph was embalmed. Now he’s alive and in pain from the embalming fluids in his body. Putting him out of his misery with a samurai sword doesn’t work either as she comes to find out. He lives forever, howling in pain, in pieces.
BLIND ALLEYS: This was the weakest of all tales, in my opinion. Ex-military man, Major William Rogers (Nigel Patrick), is put in charge of this halfway house for the blind and his focus is on keeping finances down rather than actually taking care of the patients. This means cutting off the heat at a certain time at night, cutting down the amount of food and cutting supplies. The blind strike back by locking the man’s dog in a room in the cellar, and then locking him up in a room right next door. Over the course of a week or two they build this makeshift hallway between both rooms. You see the dog hasn’t been fed and his door is unlocked, so naturally he goes after his master and eats him.
Now that I’ve seen Vault Of Horror this was like night and day. They should have called this Vault Of Boredom. In no way does it equal Tales From The Crypt. About the only thing I liked was the setup of the five victims, all men this time, entering an elevator one at a time seemingly going about their lives with no anticipation of anything untoward happening to them when the elevator inexplicably takes them all the way down to the sub-basement. A sub-basement that’s a small octagonal room with a table in the middle, chairs and some drink and snacks set out.
The elevator door closes trapping them for there are no buttons to get it back down. Presuming someone else will eventually show up to explain their circumstance and get them out they decide to make the best of it, sit down and wait. While they do conversation turns to the almost realistic nightmares each one has been having as of late. It’s these nightmares that kick off each tale, and like the outcome of the first flick these men are indeed dead. After the final tale the elevator door opens up onto a murky graveyard, into which each men feels compelled to walk into. It’s the last man standing that finally states what we already know. They’re dead, these nightmares are the evil deeds they have done in life and they are cursed to relive them in this fashion every night for all eternity.
Here’s how each tale breaks down:
MIDNIGHT MESS: This first one has potential and actually does have a creepy premise but ultimately it just didn’t get me to any point of wanting to like it. Real life siblings Daniel and Anna Massey play on screen brother and sister Harold and Donna. Harry hasn’t seen his sister in ages and hires a PI to track her down. He kills the PI after getting her address. He tracks her to a town where everyone needs to be indoors before nightfall. Not even the restaurants will stay open. He finds her, pulls a switchblade and explains father has died and left her with a shit ton of money. He then kills her ensuing that all that money is now his. But comeuppance comes in the form of vampires as he returns to that restaurant intent on eating and learns everyone inside is undead… even his sister, who shows up to drain her brother!
THE NEAT JOB: Terry Thomas plays neat freak, Arthur Critchit, who marries Eleanor (Glynis Johns). The problem is she’s not a neat freak and constantly gets on his bad side by making things untidy, unintentionally. One night she snaps kills him with one of his hammers, cuts him up and places his body parts neatly in jars on the shelf. Yawn.
THIS TRICK’LL KILL YOU: Husband and wife magicians, Sebastian (Curd Jürgens) and Inez (Dawn Addams), on vacation in India come across a “trick” they absolutely must have for their next act, but the woman won’t reveal it not even for a large sum of money. What’s a morally corrupt magician to do? Oh, right, call her back to their room, have her do the trick for the “sick” wife then kill her. You see it’s a rope trick and it rises out of the basket when the woman plays this flute much like snake charming, but Seb can’t debunk it, which means he must have it. What he doesn’t bargain on is the rope having a mind of it’s own, making his wife disappear forever and then strangling him to death.
BARGAIN IN DEATH: This one is about an insurance scam between two friends that goes south in a big way. You see Maitland (Michael Craig) thinks he’s a fucking genius coming up with the idea to fake his death by taking these pills that’ll slow his heart down long enough to fool the corner and everyone else. He wants his friend, Alex (Edward Judd), to dig him up after he’s buried. Yeah, we all know how this is going to end. Elsewhere two med students want to dig up a corpse to practice on so they and this gravedigger just happen to pick Maitland’s grave. He’s awake and waiting to get unburied, but Alex his driven off with the cash leaving him to suffocate in his own grave. Once they get his coffin open, Maitland is so dying for air he sits up gasping which scares the kids right into the middle of the road where Alex almost runs into them. He swerves and dies crashing into a tree. The gravedigger meanwhile freaked out and smashed Maitland in the head, killing him, but, hey, at least the med students got their corpse. So all’s well that ends well.
DRAWN AND QUARTERED: The final yawn inducing tale stars ex-Time Lord, Tom Baker as Moore, an artist who’s just been seriously bent over by three men in the art industry, who made a killing selling his art when they initially told him it was worthless. He gets revenge through a voodoo curse that enables him to paint the visages of those three dicks, then defaces the paintings in particular ways. Cutting the hands off one means that guy will lose his hands in a paper cutting accident, another he gouges out the eyes and that man gets acid thrown in his face, and the final one he draws a red dot on his forehead and this dude shoots himself right between the eyes. The catch with this tale is that Moore did a self-portrait with his cursed hand, which he must take extreme care of. An accident at the end where paint thinner is dropped on it while he’s heading back to clean up a crime scene manifests itself in a car accident that has a trucking over his head and squashing it like a ripe melon.
Shout! Factory released both movies through their Scream Factory sub-label in one blu-ray edition back on December 2nd. It was a double feature. Tales and the uncut widescreen version of Vault are on one disc, while the second holds the theatrical version and a full frame uncut version of Vault. The widescreen uncut Vault looks a wee bit better, but having taken a quick 5–minute look at the uncut full frame version I think I like seeing the extra head room on that one. Without the letterboxing it gives the environment a bigger part in the movie, which actually appealed to my sensibilities more despite not liking the movie at all.
Video/Audio/Subtitles (Tales/Vault Uncut LBX): 1080p 1.85:1 high definition widescreen—2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio, 2.0 English DTS—English subs only.
Video/Audio/Subtitles (Vault Theatrical LBX, Disc 2): 1080p 1.85:1 high definition widescreen—DTS-HD Master Audio, 2.0 Mono—English subs only.
Video/Audio/Subtitles (Vault Uncut Theatrical Full Frame, Disc 2): 1.33:1 full frame—2.0 DTS Mono—English subs only.
On Disc #1 for extras you get the Theatrical Trailer for Vault Of Horror only and an alternate opening credits sequence (no sound) when it was briefly under the alternate title of Tales From The Crypt II.