In the 1970s the Amicus Studio emerged as a rival to Hammer Studios, although they featured more anthology movies than Hammer Studios ever did. Thanks to my public library I was able to view two films from them in a double bill package, as these films were the result of EC Comics, although Tales From The Crypt (1972) only had two stories from those comics. Both films are quite good and really entertaining, although I prefer Tales From The Crypt over Vault Of Horror (1973), even though Vault has the better cast. Each film has ghoulish tales that focus on wicked people paying for their sins in horrible ways, all powered by the supernatural or at least suggested as being the work of some evil power. Tales From The Crypt was directed by Freddie Francis, while Vault of Horror was directed by Roy Ward Barker. Both men also did work for Hammer Studios, and Francis also famously worked on the horror classic The Innocents (1961).
Just like many anthology movies Tales From The Crypt opens with a group of people brought to a certain place by a mysterious person for reasons unclear until the end of the film. The Crypt Keeper is such a person in this case, and he tells each of the people in the group how they died. The first tale is .”..And All Through The House,” which was later featured in the Tales From The Crypt TV series and is one of the best segments in the film. The killer Santa is really creepy, and this tale is well crafted and very freaky. Easily the stuff of nightmares, and starring famous actress Joan Collins as a woman trapped by her crime and deserving of her awful punishment. “Reflections of Death” on the other hand is a tad dull, even though the twist is a good payoff. Still after following the first great segment this episode left a little to be desired.
Now “Poetic Justice” on the other hand is the top episode, and is also my favorite as well, especially since it stars legendary horror actor Peter Cushing as a nice sad old man who is ruined by a pair of horrible rich neighbors. What occurs in the end is chilling and rather gory, and a reminder that revenge is a dish best served cold. And being dead is rather cold indeed. This episode and “Reflection of Death” were both taken from the EC Tales From The Crypt comics, while “…And All Through The House” was from The Vault of Horror, another EC Comics release.
Now “Wish You Were Here” is nice and proper creepy, taking from the classic story of The Monkey’s Paw and featuring a gruesome and nasty conclusion. I rather enjoyed this one as well as “Blind Alleys,” each which featured horrible endings. “Blind Alleys” covers the cruel major who runs a home for the blind and discovers what happens when you anger the blind by cutting off their resources and driving them to seek retribution. How they manage to construct a maze of razor blade lined corridors, which reminded me of a trap from the Saw series is a tad curious, yet I suppose when one drives people to rage and anger they are capable of anything. And that a starving dog has no true master….
Overall Tales From The Crypt is a nice addition to the collection of anthologies, and makes me want to view more such films. As does The Vault of Horror, which I also liked and which I will now discuss. Unlike Freddie Francis I am currently unfamiliar with Roy Ward Baker’s work, although I imagine that its more workmanlike and less interesting than Francis’ movies. Still The Vault of Horror is another fun and well made anthology movie, although this one as noted earlier has a much better cast, particularly Tom Baker, who famously portrayed The Forth Doctor on the classic TV series Doctor Who. Also present is Curd Jurgens, who was a Bond villain in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977).
Unlike Tales, Vault takes place in an sub basement that five strangers have been forced to go down to, even though none of them choose it. There is no way out, and so the men drink and mention strange dreams each one has been having. Instead of a figure that brings them together these men end up in the same place all by themselves. Most of the film’s tales are from the Tales From The Crypt EC comic save for the second story, “The Neat Job”. None of the stories here are as good as the top two in Tales, although a few come rather close and overall Vault is more consistent in tone and style.
Opening with “Midnight Mess,” Vault begins as strongly as Tales did with an unsettling and eerie story. Harold tracks down his sister over an inheritance, only to discover too late that there is a reason the people do not go out at night in a quiet yet weird little town. This story has some bite to it, if you know what I mean. Followed up by the semi-weak yet still humorous “The Neat Job,” where Terry-Thomas marries a young woman and proceeds to find out that marriage is not all its really cracked up to be. Unfortunately for him, this realization happens only after he’s driven his poor wife beyond mad.
“This Trick’ll Kill You” is a bloody tale of why one does not mess with things they do not understand, as Sebastian (Curd Jurgens) and his wife played by Dawn Addams only figure out to their own horror. The morality of these tales and how people who pay the price for their misdeeds is a strong element of the EC Comics, and is present in every episode. Particularly also in “Bargain In Death,” where Michael Craig’s Maitland’s supposedly foolproof scheme results in treachery, death, and more death. Sometimes money is not worth losing one’s life, or one’s head for that matter.
Closing out the film is “Drawn and Quartered,” which stars Mr. Baker as Moore, a painter that is forced to seek revenge on three men who wronged him, one of them being played by Indiana Jones actor Denholm Elliot. Although he achieves what he set out to do, Moore forgets that there in the world of voodoo magic you must be careful that it doesn’t come back to harm you in the process. Something that the painter forgets to his detriment. The Vault of Horror is another good anthology film, and since Amicus created other anthology horror films I’m looking forward to seeing others that they have to offer. Hopefully they are as good as the two I viewed back in August.