Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Shepperton Screams (Part XII): From Beyond the Grave (1974) dir. Ken Connor

For sixteen weeks, Jose Cruz of The Grim Reader and I will be delving into the complete horror filmography of Amicus Productions and regaling you with our spirited discussions. Below is our mutual consideration of Amicus's FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE (1974). Check back every week for more dialogues and (naturally) more nightmares.

GR: Having plundered the collected works of American frighteners Robert Bloch and Entertaining Comics to varying degrees of success, Amicus turned to the short stories of one of their fellow countrymen, Ronald Chetwynd-Hayes, to supply the sundry beasts and bloody bits for their next portmanteau feature, FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE (1974). Chetwynd-Hayes was a literary brother to Bloch in many ways, mainly in the manner in which he utilized stock genre tropes and seasoned them with black humor, though Chetwynd-Hayes lacked some of the sharpness in prose that Bloch demonstrated with his snap endings and biting dialogue, be it however laden with bad puns. Chetwynd-Hayes’ fiction was a bit jollier in comparison, but his stories were an ideal fit for Shepperton Studios, always eager as they were to leaven their grisly subjects with little winks and pokes at the audience.

FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE is especially notable for its expert art direction and inventive design. The film is filled with neat little camera transitions, a delicious color palette, and sumptuous sets. The screen becomes awash in hues of blue when the supernatural is present, showing us ghostly vistas of fog and skeletal trees as well as decadently decorated parlors of Gothic furniture festooned with dust and cobwebs. Even the most innocuous of decisions—letting a blood drop fall from a ceiling to fill the camera lens with red—add a significant amount of visual wit to the proceedings. The overall technical skill of FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE is somewhat surprising when you take into account that this was director Kevin Connor’s very first film at the helm. Having worked previously as an editor and sound editor on a handful of features, it’s evident that Connor brought his expertise and that of cinematographer Alan Hume (THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE, THE WATCHER IN THE WOODS, STAR WARS: EPISODE VI – RETURN OF THE JEDI), art director Bert Davey (THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY, SUPERMAN III, ALIENS) and set decorator Simon Wakefield (BATMAN BEGINS, CASINO ROYALE, MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND) to the project to give us a very pretty-looking picture.

Sadly, the style seems to outweigh the substance here. As wonderfully macabre as all the knick knacks are, the stories themselves are not quite as memorable as one would hope. Whereas Bloch had his share of ingenious little plots—you could easily name them off as “That one with the head-eating cat” or “The one where those body parts came back to life” and have someone instantly recognize which one you’re talking about—Chetwynd-Hayes’ offerings run a little on the dry side and, had it not been for the engaging and fun tech work, might be completely forgettable. There’s at least one entry here that stands firmly on its own two legs as a singular horror fable while the others fall on the wayside. Two of them are practically interchangeable! But we’ll get to that in the bit.

The film’s wraparound segment involves a curiosity shop called Temptations Ltd. owned by the Proprietor (Peter Cushing), a quiet little man whose shop is packed to the brim with grim antiquities that would make any genre fan’s heart skip a beat. This uniting framework is used once more to promote the moral justice of the Amicus universe, though here the punishments seem quite disproportionate to the crimes of our characters. Instead of the murderers and sadists that we’ve seen before, the victims of otherworldly justice in FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE are basically just a bunch of folks who are trying to skimp on paying the Proprietor the proper price for his artifacts. Whether it’s switching tags on the items or boorishly haggling for a lower rate, these folks find out that even if you’re nothing but a cheat in Amicusland, you’re screwed. It’s even wryly remarked that the film’s final customer, a young lad low on funds, still has to go through the hellish wringer before Cushing sees that he did in fact pay him the total and correct amount for his purchase. No one’s safe!

Speaking of which, I suggest that you step away from that iron maiden you’re eyeing there to give us your side of the story before ol’ man Cushing kicks us out for loitering.

NT: For me, FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE is the dark horse among the Amicus anthologies.
When we began preparing for these dialogues, I was surprised to realize that FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE existed. I’d previously seen every one of Amicus’s anthologies, and yet somehow this one had managed to elude my memory. Of course I fondly reminisced about the one in which Peter Cushing ran a curiosity shop, but, I thought, wasn’t that in THE VAULT OF HORROR? It was only while watching FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE—the production company’s (sorta) penultimate portmanteau—for the second time that faint recollections of the individual episodes began to flicker across my consciousness like the blue flame of a spooky séance candle. In my experience, FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE began to resemble an Amicus-patented Vengeful Corpse: dead and long forgotten in my ignorance, the film was resurrected by a second viewing and crept its way inexorably into my den, eager as it was to unleash its delectable morbidity upon me once again.

In truth, FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE might be my favorite Amicus film we’ve done thus far (though TORTURE GARDEN runs a close second). Why, then, had I almost completely forgotten about the film and all of the small, ghoulish treasures contained within? It’s difficult to say.

It’s not the fault of director Kevin Connor (MOTEL HELL) or the assembled cast and crew. As you’ve duly pointed out, this is an attractive film full of technical flourishes that set it apart from the usually quite static (if still attractive and appropriately atmospheric) Amicus visual style. The acting is on par with what we’re accustomed to in these bite-sized sketches of wicked souls, and we even a get few new welcome faces added to the roster who put in distinctive performances of their own (Donald and Angela Pleasence, David Warner). The score is effective, the sets are impeccable, and the production’s (most likely) miniscule budget was wrung dry. FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE feels invigorated by its fresh but experienced creative talent behind the camera, unlike our last entry, THE VAULT OF HORROR, which gave the impression that Amicus was exhausted with (or perhaps had exhausted) the anthology format.

You’ve pointed towards the writing as a possible culprit for the film’s unmemorable status, but I’m not sure that I can agree. These four segments feel no more featherweight than any other segment we’ve seen in an Amicus portmanteau and— as you also note—they certainly express a similarly wry wit interspersing the bloodshed. The film’s longer than average running time might lead us call them quieter, more slow-burning tales in comparison to what we’re used to from Bloch and EC Comics by-way-of Milton Subotsky. Yet, I can’t think of a finale in the Amicus oeuvre more explosive than the one we witness in the final tale, “The Door.” Hell, even “The Elemental” jumps farther over the top than we’re accustomed to with its climactic living room windstorm. All four tales are recognizably Amicus material, and (I’d argue) they’re stronger than the majority of their peers.

So what is it about these tales, then, that prevents them from sticking? My best guess relates back to your remark about how two of these tales are essentially interchangeable (I’m guessing you’re referring to the first and the fourth). FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE presents a coherence that’s foreign to us anthology connoisseurs. Rather than being disparate tales plucked at random from an author’s collected works and crammed (however clumsily) into the confines of a frame narrative (looking at you, HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD), these four tales are all of a piece. Each focuses around witchcraft, the occult, and the ancient supernatural evil that lurks in the cracks of the world (and within the cracks of various mundane antiques). These tales work together, revising each other’s basic themes and story content. This grouping of tales isn’t designed to be as attention-grabbing as we might expect (we’re not barreling swiftly from a story about a head-munching cat to a story about a murderous piano, after all), and thus they do tend to blend together in our minds. This is made especially apparent when, as you’ve said, two of the episodes only significantly differ in the identity of the haunted object and in the story’s final outcome. Even the film’s curious anthology format (which finds the film moving sequentially in time from the events of the frame narrative to the events of each tale without utilizing the conceits of flashbacks or visions of potential futures) encourages us to view the film as a cohesive unit, as a single chronological story rather than subdivided bits of horror fantasy. When we think of Amicus anthologies, we think of their wild variety of horror elements, their abandonment of consistent tone, and their tendency towards a disregard for internal coherence. FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE possesses none of these attributes, and I can only imagine this is what left it underrated in my estimation until now.

Now, I’m going to go gaze into the beyond (courtesy of this nifty haunted mirror) while you give your further thoughts on these specific curiosities.

GR: As a matter of fact, I do agree with you in regards to the high amount of sturm und dang on display in FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE, as it truly is the most ferocious Amicus picture we’ve yet seen when it comes to scenery-destroying action. So why then, as you admit, does it leave such a foggy impression in the mind? Let’s see if we can find out.

“The Gate Crasher” is the first of our crackly tales, telling of the young Edward Charlton (David Warner) who purchases a gilded, antique mirror from Cushing’s store to enliven the atmosphere of his flat. It’s a great conversation starter, as it so proves when his friends are inspired by the spooky looking-glass to hold a séance. Afterward Edward is haunted by a Rasputin-like figure from the mirror-world who demands that Edward feed him blood. Because what else do ghosts do? Connor and company certainly start with their best foot forward here, as “The Gate Crasher” is the vignette in which they really let loose with those little flourishes I mentioned earlier. The séance scene is particularly notable, the blue flame of the candle dancing high like an angered wraith as the camera pans around the little table to each of the participants’ leery faces. When Warner is transported to the mirror-world in a dream, the primary color scheme and close camera angles recall the memorable, off-the-cuff night terror that Cushing himself suffered in the “Waxworks” episode of THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1970).

Even at its abbreviated length, “The Gate Crasher” comes close to feeling a little overlong, the narrative supported solely on our protagonist’s seemingly endless supply of plasma to his new, reflective friend. The bit with Warner knifing a prostitute is a cute little wink pointing towards his future turn as Jack the Ripper in TIME AFTER TIME (1979), though it is curious how, in his hypnotized state, Warner doesn’t bother cleaning up the sticky mess in his apartment yet makes it a point to dress in his pajamas before going to bed! The story becomes an intriguing parable of a man descending into the pit of addiction, as we see Charlton’s once handsome lodgings go to shambles and his healthy pallor transformed into a waxy, sickly countenance. The Face, as it is credited, is like a demonic monkey on Charlton’s back that constantly demands more hits of the juice it loves so much; as it so tellingly intones to him at one point, “You must feed me.” Charlton eventually becomes lost himself, a restless specter ready to plague the next foolish mortal to fall under the mirror’s hold. And if that’s too self-consciously high falutin’ for you, check out that bit when the Face, finally released from his prison, orders Charlton to take his own life with the instructions of “Grip my shoulders. Now thrust forward.” That naughty monkey!

The following story, “An Act of Kindness,” is probably the film’s high mark for a number of reasons. For one, it probably has the strongest sense of character and purpose of the lot, not to mention being the one that is perhaps the most cleverly and tightly plotted. I don’t say this merely because “An Act of Kindness” has a twist ending but because for the whole of its running time you are never entirely sure where it’s going to end up. It has a canny unpredictability that’s gripping to watch. Ian Bannen portrays Christopher Lowe, a by-all-means average man who tries to become just a little more than that in the eyes of a streetside ragman, Jim Underwood (Donald Pleasence). He does this by obtaining an honorary military medal from Temptations Ltd. and Pleasance duly offers Bannen his home and heart, not to mention the hospitality of his daughter Emily (Angela Pleasence). Not only are the Underwoods remarkably kind, they also know just how to alleviate Bannen of his nasty wife and apathetic child with a little brand of their own magic.

Or is that really the case? “An Act of Kindness” is a sneaky little number, and its general atmosphere (barring the wickedly cruel finale) seems like an anomaly compared to the wild and woolly haints and ghouls that inhabit the other stories. The second vignette derives its chills from more quietly shuddersome moments, like when the veiled and white-faced Emily stalks over Diana Dors as she sleeps, a gleaming knife in her hand. Angela Pleasence is wonderful here, even outshining her father a bit as the waifish girl whose toothy smile can inspire warmth and cold-blooded terror equally. “An Act of Kindness” feels more substantial for its tragic arc of events as well; when we see Bannen, we see the insignificant worker ant who only wishes to have some kind of importance to his fellow humans, so much so that he’s willing to lie about who he really is. He sees his own life as having so little merit that he must build up an alternate, more heroic personality just to receive some kind of warmth. He’s not trying to scam Cushing out of one of his antiquities just for the sake of material possession like the others. He needs the medal to become important. It’s this that makes his ultimate fate seem harsh. He was merely a stooge, a means to an end. Just as he was in life.

“The Elemental” makes it evident from its opening prologue that this segment is going to be the oft-dreaded (but generally not too terrible) “funny” one. Think “Golf Story” from DEAD OF NIGHT (1945) or “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” from CREEPSHOW (1982). Cushing indulges in a little humor himself when he tells customer Reginald Warren (Ian Carmichael) upon making his purchase “I hope you enjoy snuffing it.” Because Warren has bought a snuff box, you see. Apparently the little case is bedeviled, as Warren finds out when he is pestered by a spiritualist named Madame Orloff (Margaret Leighton, channeling Aunt Bedelia) on the train ride home. The woman claims that Warren has an elemental perched on his shoulder, a mischievous demon that proceeds to make his life a living hell. Fairly stumped by his supernatural quandary, Warren calls on Orloff to help him exterminate the pest.

Most of this story’s humor stems from Leighton’s fruity turn as the cat-lady-as-exorcist Orloff. Her wavering, eccentric tone is matched by her brassy expletives such as when she commands the elemental to “Get out, ya bastard!” Leighton has quite a few lines that tickle the ribs due to the earnestness with which she delivers them, like when she describes the demon feeding off its victims’ energy (“Sucking up the fluids like a babe at his mother’s breast”) or the evil’s magnetism to Warren’s wife Susan (“She’ll attract them like flies to a dung heap!”). A disquieting moment occurs in the middle of the program when Warren’s familiar coyishly tickles Susan in bed only to start strangling her. The scene is rather unsettling in its own small way, though the sight of Nyree Dawn Porter struggling with her invisible attacker and her race to the bathroom as she retches at the poltergeist’s awful stench will certainly provoke some laughter. The exorcism finale is a pretty crackerjack set piece, as Orloff bellows her commands as pillows burst in an eruption of goose-feathers and a ghostly wind nearly tears the house right out of the ground. Its played-for-cereal ending is just a tad ludicrous though, as we see the now-possessed Porter strike down her hubby with a poker (déjà vu…) only to break down the front door with superhero flair as she exits into the night. “The Elemental” has such an odd mixture of terror and triviality that the moments when it plays for laughs feel more and more off-kilter and weird the more you think about them. This is perhaps epitomized no more succinctly than in another “context is everything” chestnut that Orloff offers on par with the Face’s orders from “The Gate Crasher”: “His main objective is to get inside you.”

Our final selection for the evening is pretty much simplicity personified in both title and content. It’s a weird fairy tale called “The Door” in which happy couple William and Rosemary Seaton (Ian Ogilvy and Lesley Ann-Down) acquire an ornate, Gothic stone door from Cushing’s shop to use it as the entryway to a pantry (!) in their home. When Rosemary fancifully imagines the door opening to a more dramatic space, William discovers that it does just that, as his meagre shelves are replaced with a sapphire-hued parlor of the previous century. Not only that, but it is the room of the dreaded Sir Michael Sinclair (Jack Watson), a depraved aristocrat who spent his sordid life immersing himself in the study of evil. And you can bet your ascot that Sir Michael is not resting easily now that the portal to his realm has been opened.

You were correct in your guesstimation that my earlier comment about the interchangeable stories was referring to “The Gate Crasher” and “The Door,” seeing as how they both deal with two different kinds of gateways that grant access to vampiric men of the past who terrorize the modern worlds of their young protagonists. They act as interesting companion pieces though, as the former shows our hero giving in to the power of darkness where the character from the latter tale hacks it to pieces with a battle axe. As pale as it might be as a reworking of the Bluebeard tale, “The Door” certainly grabs one’s attention with more adept technical skill and bombast. Light and darkness are used to good effect when William reads Sinclair’s journal, the implications of his sacrilegious acts made by the dancing shadow of a crucifix on the wall, and Sinclair’s own entrance is quite creepy as we initially see him only as a raggedly-breathing shadow before he is revealed for the bewigged bogey that he is. Once in the light, Sinclair becomes a regular cackling villain when he sweeps the fainted Rosemary off her feet, snickering to William as the lad tries to stop him “Two souls are better than one!” Enthusiasts of performers such as Tod Slaughter will surely get a kick out of that. And the segment ends on a real blood-and-thunder note as William lays waste to the evil door, the carvings oozing plasma and causing Sinclair to collapse like a heap of sticks. I especially liked how William’s blows on the door’s hinges apparently caused Sinclair’s spine to break in two! A small amount of cleverness and a rarely-seen happy ending make “The Door” stand out, but amongst its fellows it may seem like it’s retreading ground we’ve literally just seen. But, to be fair, typing all my thoughts out has actually made this story rise in my estimation. What’s up with that? Maybe I just have a thing for bloodsuckers in curly period wigs.

Okay, I think somebody better bash my head with a poker before I babble on any more than I have. Even this little sprite on my shoulder is pissed off at me now.

NT: If only that little gremlin had stopped you sooner: For the most part, you’ve summed up my exact feelings about each of these witchy tales. I could stare long and hard into the blue candle flame and try to drudge up some further interpretations from the beyond, but why bother? Amicus anthology tales are slight by design. All I shall offer are a few stray observations about these tales before moving on to place the final nail in this flick’s coffin.

I find “The Gate Crasher” to be a rather wonderful witch’s brew of horror subgenres. Part psycho-slasher (David Warner’s murder of prostitutes brings us into seedier territory than we’re used to); part ghost story (a séance and a haunted mirror, even if this mirror doesn’t give the ones from THE BOOGEYMAN (1980) or OCULUS (2014) much competition); part LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1960) master/slave dynamic (yes, to Warner the ghost mirror commands, “Feed me!”); and part Lovercraftian tale of cosmic coercion (we learn that the mirror leads to a shadowy beyond of immortality and ultimate power, and that those who occupy this nether realm “are Legion.” The implication may be Satanic, but the details seem to point towards a horror far grander). I think the problematic homosexual undertones you’ve picked up on are on point: sure, the mirror man tries out the blood of women, but it’s ultimately the blood of Warner and his effeminate, cat-toting downstairs neighbor that return him to a corporeal state. Warner himself seems to be dealing with similar feelings of sexual confusion (recall, he’s unwilling to get all pointed and thrusty with his presumed galpal, Pamela). We can only hope that one day the masses become a little more understanding of other people’s lifestyles, enabling Warner and his extra-dimensional pals to come out of the ghost mirror.

“An Act of Kindness” is certainly the film’s best tale, for all the reasons you’ve mentioned. The segment captures in its characterization of Christopher Lowe (Ian Bannen) a depth, subtlety, and pathos rarely angled for in these roughly twenty minute long Amicus short films. But, yes, every scene is enlivened by the waifish, ghostly presence of Angela Pleasence. Her filmography is sparse, but those who have witnessed her in films like this and Jose Ramon Larraz’s SYMPTOMS (1974) aren’t soon to forget her. Her unsettling, improvised, nearly tuneless rendition of a creepy lullaby (which includes the charming and reassuring line, “eaten by worms in the cold wet earth”) while doing absent-minded chores around the house is going to rear up in one of my nightmares someday, I just know it.

When considered among to the other (quote unquote) funny episodes of prior Amicus anthologies (I’m thinking “Voodoo” from DR. TERROR or “Bargain in Death” from VAULT OF HORROR),  “The Elemental” is assuredly a cut or two above. I believe I chuckled a few times, thanks to the insuppressible Madame Orloff (Margaret Leighton), so that’s something. For me, the ultimate success of this segment rests upon its POLTERGEIST-y climax, all sound, fury, and living room windstorms. The image of a possessed Susan (Nyree Dawn Porter) bursting out through the front door like She-Hulk in the final shot will never cease to strike a spark of amusement in me. Or perhaps that’s just the elemental perched on my shoulder pulling at my cheeks?

And despite its niggling impression of “been-there-done-that-literally-half-an-hour-ago,” I quite love “The Door.” Allow me to count the reasons: 1.) the absurdity of a grandiose antique door being installed on the hinges of a stationary pantry, 2.) said stationary pantry (who has ever even heard of such a superfluous thing?) doubling as a time travel portal, 3.) the sheer brutality of the drawn out final conflict in which the door and its demon get the butt of an ax handed to them, and 4.) the revised ending in which one of our victims is allowed to escape through good behavior, producing the cleverest sting in the tail we’ve had yet.

Again, if you average them out, I’d have no hesitation placing FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE near the very top of the Amicus canon. It’s lively, creative, provocative, well-acted, well-shot: a real devil of an anthology. I still wonder, then, why it so quickly faded from my memory. If I were to disregard the influence of its supremely unmemorable title, I might hazard that part of the reason is portmanteau fatigue. When I first viewed the Amicus anthologies several years ago, I tackled them all in short succession. By the time I arrived at this, their seventh anthology, I suppose I’d had enough of anthologies altogether. During our Shepperton Screams series, I’ve again made short order of them due to our schedule, and, believe me, I’ve felt the effects of this bombardment. I think there’s only so much anthologizing a poor elemental soul can take. Let’s agree to move on to redder pastures, shall we? Let’s see that if it’s at this late point in Amicus’s brief life that the screaming truly starts…

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Shepperton Screams (Part XI): The Vault of Horror (1973) dir. Roy Ward Baker

For sixteen weeks, Jose Cruz of The Grim Reader and I will be delving into the complete horror filmography of Amicus Productions and regaling you with our spirited discussions. Below is our mutual consideration of Amicus's THE VAULT OF HORROR (1973). Check back every week for more dialogues and (naturally) more nightmares.

NT: The success of TALES FROM THE CRYPT at the international box office and the abundance of remaining comic book source material licensed from EC Comics encouraged Amicus to speedily put a follow-up film into production. Surprising, then, that the resulting anthology, THE VAULT OF HORROR (known in some territories at release as TALES FROM THE CRYPT II), wound up as different from its progenitor as it is. While THE VAULT OF HORROR follows the structure established in the prior film (a skimpy, graveyard-set wraparound supporting four short segments and one longer episode all adapted from EC horror comics), it diverges in its approach to tone. For better or worse, VAULT OF HORROR is a “funny” film. In our last discussion, I discussed the peculiar tonal balancing act TALES FROM THE CRYPT performed with its simultaneous dark, ironic humor and deathly sincerity. THE VAULT OF HORROR, on the other hand, sees its predecessor’s dark, ironic humor and raises it a handful of visual sight gags and punchlines.

I don’t particularly mind this alteration (the film ranks only slightly lower in my estimation than TALES), but it’s easy to imagine that it might rankle a few. For instance, it might rankle you, my friend. Having already heard your preliminary consideration of this film on the Hello! This is the Doomed Show podcast, I know you’re not too fond of the various jars of pickled cinematic goodies the film places on its cluttered shelves. I can’t exactly disagree with you: when comparing Amicus’s two EC anthologies to one another, VAULT OF HORROR is unquestionably the inferior product. It feels rushed, it feels cheaper, and it feels broader. Worst of all, it feels less inspired: up until this point, every Amicus anthology has sought to complicate the established formula in one way or another, but this one is content to lay dormant, to simply cash-in.

Fortunately, the problems listed above have never stopped me from enjoying a film. I recognize THE VAULT OF HORROR’s flaws, but I embrace it all the same. The wry, bloody charm of the comic originals emerges intact, I think, and the emphasis on overt, exaggerated humor in the film (without sacrificing the grislier aspects) is a valid method of representing the comics’ cornier qualities. (Its exaggerated humor also helps us horror historians discern a clearer bridge between the Amicus anthologies and the later HBO television series in terms of their approaches to adaptation.) In a prior discussion, I criticized director Roy Ward Baker for making ASYLUM (1972) too grim and humorless, and—if nothing else—I could never accuse him of doing the same in this one. Additionally, there are some striking moments and images to be found in THE VAULT OF HORROR (both of the comedic and the horrific variety) that could rival those populating TALES FROM THE CRYPT. It even manages to best TALES at a key moment: the conclusion of VAULT’s frame narrative hits a curiously melancholy (and, dare I say it, poignant) note that we haven’t seen in an Amicus production since the conclusion of DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS (1965), and I’d go so far as to argue that this melancholy note is the better of the two. It also beats tumbling like lemmings into a white hot hell pit.

However, it must be noted: to (a white hot) hell (pit) with the censored version of THE VAULT OF HORROR. To achieve a PG rating from the MPAA for its American theatrical release, Amicus cut out the closing darkly comic visual punchlines from the first two segments. This censored version then became the version most widely distributed on home video, and thus the uncensored version exists today only in shoddy-looking composite bootlegs and open matte overseas releases. This is an unfortunate state of affairs. The cuts don’t amount to much of the running length (certainly less than a minute), but the effect of their absence on the film as a whole is devastating.

We’ve taken an elevator to hell with this one, pal. Do you still despise the ride?

GR: The inferno-like rage I might have previously held against THE VAULT OF HORROR has certainly cooled in the intervening years, but as I found out in watching it for this assignment there’s still a small but very present part of my brain that wails “This is no TALES!”, usually right around the start of “Midnight Mess.” But you’re certainly right. VAULT has its moments, and perhaps it’s my general disinclination towards it that helps to make them shine all the brighter. I can see this film slowly inching itself a little closer to my heart upon subsequent viewings, but there are aspects of it that taste like bitter, bloody broth in my mouth that I may never be able to get over.

Roy Ward Baker establishes a very different mood (as does Subotsky with his script) than the arch melodramatics that Francis had tinkered with so wonderfully in the prequel. The establishing shots of modern England—the House of Parliament on the Thames to be exact—are worlds away from the Gothic cemetery of TALES and the robustness of the previous film is traded in for a more dreary sense of foreboding, despite the footage itself looking like it could have been ripped from the reels of any old travelogue. This is the same sensation that, for me, carries on into the rest of the film with a few brief exceptions. Where TALES seemed vivacious, VAULT is on the whole pictorially lackluster; indeed, at one point I actually wrote “This movie looks like it has a cold.”

The cinematography doesn’t have the same pop as Norman Warwick’s compositions. The muddy browns and faded greys of DOP Denys N. Coop can’t help but rub off on me and bestow an overall sense of “blah.” This look isn’t a bad thing in of itself, but supplanted in the bigger-than-life world of garish comic book horror, it can’t help but look, as you say, cheap and run of the mill. Composer Douglas Gamley is one of the few hangers-on from TALES, but even his score can’t help but feel like a bittersweet reminder of the completely bonkers and one-of-a-kind orchestrations he made under Francis’ direction. It even becomes a bit unintentionally funny in the beginning when we see the gentlemen boarding the elevator as naturally as anything else, but then there are those intense horns of his blowing away in the background like we’re seeing the destruction of Pompeii.

The wraparound segment may seem to be uninspired and a bit far-fetched, but I actually have soft spot for it, recalling as it does the type of “gentlemen’s club” story that was quite popular in Britain, where gruesome subjects were discussed in between drinks and cigars to the nameless narrators willing to hear the accounts to their black finales. It also acts as a kind of bridge to the earlier DEAD OF NIGHT (1945) which also shared a host of tale-tellers provoked by the strange dream of one of their number into sharing accounts of the uncanny. Its patented weirdness (people calmly sitting down to tell each other scary stories while never *once* looking for a damn way out) is given a quietly mournful punctuation by the film’s climax as we see that the characters who were never in search of an exit have been in the eponymous vault the whole time, for those who might have been wondering when that shoe was going to drop.

We skip out on the sardonic tones of the Cryptkeeper in order to hear the solemn realization of Curd Jürgens that he and his fellows are doomed to an eternity of telling each other of their horrid lives. It’s a quieter version of Hell than that of TALES FROM THE CRYPT for sure, and in some ways it seems much more terrifying and sad that instead of being forced into the fiery cauldron kicking and screaming like Ralph Greene these men realize in their hearts where they are and what they have done and walk out amongst the mist-shrouded graves to accept their fate. There was actually ghoulish makeup done by Roy Ashton for this scene that would’ve shown the cast as shrivel-faced corpses. That might have taken away some of the tragic sting, and its deletion from the final film due either to an editorial decision or the further bastardization of the censored version (it really is the worst) is perhaps for the better. It’s a strangely affecting ending to cap off a film that has given us such sights as vampires with snake fangs and grown men in ladies’ underwear. Such is the perplexing picture that is THE VAULT OF HORROR.

My glass is getting empty. Tell me about the strange visions (dreams, phobias, obsessions, fears…) that you had while listening to the gents recount their ghastly phantasms while I fill my decanter.

NT: You’ve perfectly summarized my feelings about the film’s denouement.  And, I agree, it’s an odd choice to infect the film with a strain of somber and restless sorrow after five straight tales of awkward chuckles. I’d argue that the choice was rooted in a desire to reflect (in reverse) the occasional abrupt tonal shifts the original EC comics audience experienced when moving between the humorous frame stories and ghastly narratives proper, but such an argument would seem somehow off. Despite the sly intelligence and subversive wit of the EC brand, such subtle pathos as that which the film’s ending creates for its audience was beyond the ken of those horrific funny books. Rather, understated pathos is Amicus’s game, and I think this ending is a product of the Amicus of DR. TERROR, THE PSYCHOPATH (1966), I, MONSTER (1971), and nearly every Peter Cushing performance creeping on set and making its presence known. It’s a curious marriage, but a fascinating one.

But on to a discussion of these tales from the… vault:

“Midnight Mess” (originally published in TALES FROM THE CRYPT #35, 1953): As with TALES FROM THE CRYPT, we open with a surprise murder. That film’s fire poker whack to the head is a good deal more shocking and visually arresting than the strangulation we witness in “Midnight Mess,” but the moment nonetheless stands as another deliberate call-back from this film to its successful predecessor. (As the Crypt-Keeper might say, “If it ain’t broke, beat it to death.”) The forced connection between the two films is especially obvious considering that this scene doesn’t exist in the original comic. This is because the film’s version sends Harold Rodgers (Daniel Massey) on an elaborate, sister-murdering inheritance scheme, while the original comic has its hero stopping by his sister’s place merely because he was passing through town. Yes, the film ramps up the stakes appreciably, but in truth Subotsky’s script works to improve upon its source in most every way. While us dedicated horror fiends can likely sniff out the town’s vampire menace before it’s revealed, the film at least tries to conceal this surprise through vague references to a shadowy “them” being those fiends responsible for all the blood-draining. Al Feldstein’s script for the comic, with its constant warnings to the protagonist from the townsfolk to “watch out for those darned vampires,” lacks this subtle grace. The addition of the inheritance plot—and Harold’s presumed murder of his sister, Donna (Anna Massey, his real life sister)—also adds a wonderfully ironic karmic twist to the ending revelation, which fails to connect on the four-color page. Yes, the fangs in this tale are quite ostentatious, and the jugular tap might be a step too far into comedy for some, but I relish these aspects. The tap, for instance, is lifted straight from the comic’s final panel. For me, this macabre and comical elevation of a standard horror premise is precisely what EC Comics excels at, and in this segment the film translates that sensibility to the screen with wicked skill.

“The Neat Job” (originally published in SHOCK SUSPENSTORIES #1, 1952): My favorite episode of the film, “The Neat Job,” is derived from the inaugural issue of one of EC’s pulp crime comics, yet its horrific twist ending (present in the original comic) makes it a fine fit for this gathering. Both the comic and the film act as wonderful exaggerations of the resentment that erupts from time to time when trying to please your significant other in a domestic setting, despite you and your partner’s wildly different conceptions of what “neatness” and “order” look like. Arthur (Terry-Thomas) places an undue amount of pressure on his new wife, Eleanor (Glynis Johns), to conform to his ideas of those concepts, and his constant berating of her when she fails to live up to his standards cause her to go a little mad in her attempts to do right by him. Unlike “…And All Through the House,” this tale is slightly more sympathetic to the plight of the housewife with a demanding husband, demonstrating the absurdity of his arguments and the helplessness of her situation until she empowers herself through violence. The fact that she screws up one final time by reversing the word order of Arthur’s catchphrase (“A place for everything, and everything in its place!”) is a delightfully quaint stinger that’s an invention of Subotsky’s own. To give our screenwriter/producer extraordinaire more credit, the film version elevates the silliness (the sight of Terry-Thomas wearing women’s underwear will not soon leave my mind’s eye) but also the grotesqueness of the source material (the lovingly long pan across the many jars or Arthur’s pickled parts was one of those grotesque moments trimmed from the American theatrical release). The episode’s best (because least explicable) joke of all is the casting of the fifty-year-old Glynis Johns as a young trophy wife of the sixty-year-old Terry-Thomas. Oh, how times have changed.

“This Trick’ll Kill You” (originally published in TALES FROM THE CRYPT #33, 1952): This episode is one of those standard-issue “supernatural revenge against evildoer” tales that EC (and Amicus) were so fond of. I like the segment, though I find in it scant material worth remark save for one particular scene that demonstrates Baker and Subotsky’s filmmaking intelligence when crafting their source for the screen. The scene I’m referring to is the one in which the magician, Sebastian (Curd Jurgens), and his wife, Inez (Dawn Addams), are testing out their new charmed rope magic trick back in their hotel room, shortly after murdering a young Indian girl for it. What the pair discovers is that the rope is not an illusion, of course, and after Inez climbs to the top of the rope she looks up above her, screams, and vanishes into the ceiling. Up until this point, the comic and film remain identical in their presentation of this scene. But then Amicus does it better: on the ceiling, at the exact spot where Inez vanished, blood begins to spread from above, bleeding through the paint. It’s a tremendously creepy moment, adding a touch of genuine fright that the comic original sacrifices for bombast (in the comic, Inez’s bloodless, dismembered doll limbs tumble down from the ceiling onto Sebastian). All of the THE VAULT OF HORROR’s previous visual scares have been deliberately laughable and extravagant, so this moment stands apart for its preference for chilling suggestion over outright gore, adding some surprising and very welcome variety to the proceedings. I appreciate the restraint.

“Bargain in Death” (originally published in TALES FROM THE CRYPT #28, 1952): Well, you can’t win them all. “Bargain in Death” is adapted almost precisely from its source comic, and yet it ends up so much sillier on the silver screen. From the blast of wind emanating from the scream of the casketed Maitland (Michael Craig) that sends the hair of the medical students blowing wildly back, to the cloyingly metafictional, intertextual reading one character is seen making of the novelization of Amicus’s own TALES FROM THE CRYPT, this is some goofy tripe. The implausibility of the central insurance scam—which, in its clumsiness, unintentionally implies that its two schemers are financially dependent homosexual lovers—ensures that we won’t discover much to take away from these events, except that perhaps medical school fees are much too high. If this were a longer segment, it would significantly mar the film. As it is, it’s a brief wisp of post-burial bad breath in the larger sensation.

“Drawn and Quartered” (originally published in TALES FROM THE CRYPT #26, 1951): Before he donned a scarf he wore a ginger beard. This segment stars Tom Baker (the fourth Doctor Who, and the second Doctor, after Jon Pertwee, to pop up in an Amicus anthology) as a poor and downtrodden painter living in Haiti who discovers that various critics and art dealers back in the homeland scammed him by telling him his art was worthless and then selling it for exorbitant prices for their sole profit. Pissed, Baker’s artist, Moore, employs the aid of voodoo to bestow his art with magical properties of revenge. Don’t worry, it doesn’t all blow up in his face or anything. Oh, never mind, yes it does. Of course it does. There’s a fine premise supporting “Drawn and Quartered,” but it’s not one chock full of bombshells. As soon as Moore realizes his powers, our minds flash back to the self-portrait he painted in the opening scene and we know precisely what’s about to occur. Like “Blind Alleys” from TALES, this final segment is given a much longer running time in which to weave its yarn. Unlike “Blind Alleys,” “Drawn and Quartered” doesn’t benefit nearly as much from the expansion. Subotsky and Roy Ward Baker aren’t certain what to do with the extra time, so they throw in another revenge murder for kicks (which enables them to bring in Denholm Elliott for a glorified cameo). Tellingly, the art dealer who becomes the victim of this final attack in the film only appears in the source comic by name: Moore is stomping off to take care of him when the neglectful workman’s turpentine makes goopy work of his self-portrait’s face. The comic realizes that by this point the conceit was worn out and needed its grim ending posthaste; the film, in contrast, attempts to squeeze the last glob of ruddy pigment out of the tube. A misstep.

Now, I daresay I haven’t yet squeezed the last glob out of this conversation, so take it away.

GR: I’ll try to keep it brief and splatter my last few impressions of the film onto the canvas of discussion without making too much of a mess. I’ve been drinking.

“Midnight Mess”: As I stated earlier, this one kind of sours my view of the film right from the get-go and leaves me hungering for more. It reminds me of stories I used to write in middle school where the characters would lay their motivations right out before doing that very same thing. I’m talking about those fleeting five seconds where Jonathan goes to his sister’s place, tells her he’s there because of their late father’s inheritance, establishes his goal to get it no matter what, and then knifes said sister before leaving her to rot. Oh, and then he goes to a restaurant that’s directly across the street to grab a bite before returning home to claim his riches. And look, I understand that the very presence of vampiric diners demands at least a little suspension of disbelief from us but a murderer hanging around the exact neighborhood where he just committed his crime and going into a crowded eatery just to grab a glass of tah-mahto juice strains one’s patience. Subotsky’s rewriting of the main character’s motives for passing through the strange town hampers the narrative rather than beefing it up, and all of Feldstein’s fun set-pieces (the revealing mirror, the blood tap) lose some of their punch, especially if you have the horrid misfortune of seeing the edited version of the film which just shows the latter as a still shot with a big ol’ ink blot covering up Massey’s jugular faucet. It’s as if Baker felt the material unworthy of his time and passed over this appetizer in a rush to get on to the entrees. The only thing that THE VAULT OF HORROR does right is show us a switchblade-swinging Anna Massey, an element which was sadly lacking from the original comic book.

“The Neat Job”: It seems we have similar tastes in E. C. tales, as this is also my favorite entry from the film. I had been surprised when watching it in preparation for Richard’s podcast how much I ended up enjoying it, as my spotty memory of my initial viewing of the film on muddy VHS years before had not conjured up any fondness I might have attributed to it. Glynis Johns is cute as a button as the soft-voiced Eleanor trying to maintain her household and her sanity under the fastidious hand of Terry-Thomas. Seeing him with ascot and wine glass, all of the contents of his cabinets diligently marked, speaks to the prissy obsessive-compulsive within me, and it’s somewhat interesting that for all his demands Thomas never quite comes off as the abrasive brute one might imagine an abusive spouse as. He just happens to be very particular, and the comeuppance he receives is one perfectly matching his foibles which all of the best E. C. paybacks accomplished. Johns’ frantic last minute cleaning of the house, the messes only escalating in her hurry, is like something from a sitcom with the laugh track taken away, as tragic as it is funny because we know from Johns’ sensitive portrayal how much she truly wants to make her husband happy. I think Thomas would have approved of her tidiness in cataloguing his remains. As a matter of fact, they do share a laugh together at the end, even though his smile happens to be pickled.

“This Trick’ll Kill You”: It seems appropriate that this journey into magic and morbidity is the third entry of five in THE VAULT OF HORROR as it strikes me as middle-of-the-road. It doesn’t quite devolve into perfect inanity (we’ll be seeing that soon), but it’s really nothing to stand up and cheer for either. Curd Jürgens does have a nicely sinister air as the imposing Sebastian trying to find the secrets of an Indian girl’s fantastic dancing rope, while Dawn Addams appears to be caught in an attempt to literally act her face off as his wife Inez. When she climbed onto the magically suspended rope and proclaimed “It HOLDS me!” I imagined a vein tearing itself through her forehead. (There’s an equally unintentional hilarious bit where, after briefly examining the girl’s basket and feeling the rope for any sources of suspension, Sebastian angrily tells Inez “If I couldn’t figure out how it worked, no one can!” He’s a trained professional; no one can feel a rope like he can.) Thankfully that did not happen, and the slowly pooling plasma on the ceiling is an even better fate and the one truly chilling moment from the film as we’re left to ponder just what the greater cosmic forces have done to Inez. The feminine link that the Indian girl’s powers seem to have (her blessed rope was in the possession of only the mothers in her family) is an interesting twist that seems reminiscent of the world from Fritz Leiber’s CONJURE WIFE in which magic was solely practiced by the hands of women. The enchanted rope used to mete out punishment is rendered somewhat convincingly as it comes to full malevolent life to viciously whip at Sebastian as he tries to escape, and the final few seconds with the girl’s slightly smiling corpse tumbling from its hiding place to gaze up at her killer adds a nice stinger on this little sleight of hand act.

“Bargain in Death”: Oh, boy. I don’t know what kind of bargain the boys at Shepperton Studios thought they were making with this one, but I want my money back. Overall, this story has the same graveyard comic-vibe that informed many of E. C.’s stories, but something is just lost in translation in adapting “Bargain in Death” for the British screen. The art by Jack Davis from the original source (whose exaggerated style adorned everything from MAD Magazine to TV Guide) adds a lot to the corny aesthetic, but on camera with flesh-and-blood actors the whole affair is pretty lame and generally mind-boggling. “Bargain in Death” makes “Midnight Mess” feel like BRAVEHEART, if for no other reason than the fact that this vignette leaves one with the uncertain feeling of whether or not they really did see it or if it was just a crazy dream they suffered through during a two minute power nap they took while watching the movie. The utterly painful pandering (I could have sworn Michael Craig looked at the camera after his line “There’s no money in horror” as if to say “Wah-wah-wah!”) and the further need for characters to say exactly what’s on their mind (“I wonder how long it will take him to realize his friend Alex isn’t coming?” Craig’s partner in crime Alex said while driving, to no one in particular) is particularly irksome. When the bulldog groundskeeper of the cemetery tells the two medical students “Sorry bout the ‘ead,” I think he was talking about us.

“Drawn and Quartered”: The final fatal vision that is offered to us from the vault dwellers is this, a fanciful reworking of THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY and just about every voodoo story you might have encountered. Tom Baker has an intense power as the suffering artist Moore (with his red hair and beard, perhaps his first name is Alan), whose path of vengeance is marked in blood and vibrant pastels. I admit that I find the overall concept neat and actually like the various brands of death and mutilation that Moore enacts upon his enemies, though the solemn lead-ins with Moore confronting the paintings with their crimes and marking them for destruction are pretty much blown up when we see the actual, hysterical scenes of the characters getting what’s theirs. One, an art critic, is rightfully accused by his wife for sleeping around, so she decides to fix his lascivious eyes by grabbing what we can assume is a bottle of acid from a bureau in their bedroom and tossing it into his face. The other, a curator, tries to show his simple assistant how to properly use a paper cutter only to lose his precious hands in the process, said appendages seeming to fly off the table like a pair of mittens in a gust of wind. The final standoff between Baker and the oily Elliot does actually manage to generate some tension; I do love Baker’s preamble of setting the wristwatch on the table and saying “You have two minutes to live.” Between this, Elliot’s forced suicide, and Baker’s race back to the office to reclaim his watch a nice sense of urgency is worked up towards the end, but it can’t hold a candle to the sweaty climax of “Blind Alleys.” It along with the funereal wraparound end things on a fine enough note, but holding THE VAULT OF HORROR up to its predecessor can’t help but make on remiss for what could’ve been.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Shepperton Screams (Part X): Tales from the Crypt (1972) dir. Freddie Francis

For sixteen weeks, Jose Cruz of The Grim Reader and I will be delving into the complete horror filmography of Amicus Productions and regaling you with our spirited discussions. Below is our mutual consideration of Amicus's fifth anthology, TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972). Check back every week for more dialogues and (naturally) more nightmares.

GR: Before I advance any further in my estimation of TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972), I feel it only fair to mention that, if my shady memory serves me right, this week’s film marked the first time that I was ever exposed to an Amicus picture in the days of my youth; after fervently tracing the whispers I had heard of a feature-length film based on those gory yarns from Entertaining Comics—one that was British (!) and whose scintillating pictures of shambling corpses and posters shouting “Death Lives!” I had spied in the pages of Alan G. Franks’ HORROR MOVIES—I finally saw in the TV Guide that the source of my obsession was airing on that week’s installment AMC’s “Fear Fridays.” With beating heart and sweating palms, I faced my 10 to midnight vigil with a fresh tape in the VCR to diligently record the movie (even as a kid I knew how precious those little black spools were and would fanatically stop and restart the recording to cut out any of those wasteful commercials). And I was, to say the least, in horror heaven.

So I thought it only honorable that I admit from the start that this particular write-up is going to be very biased. It will in fact contain certain criticisms against some facets of the film, but even after re-viewing TALES FROM THE CRYPT this weekend it was still clearly evident that this is a work of art that’s still very close to my heart (so long as any vengeful cadavers don’t rip it out). It is in my opinion the best and most accomplished work that Freddie Francis turned in to Shepperton Studios as director, and the varying moods that each of the stories call for are perfectly embodied with the filmmaker’s characteristic flair and verve. Milton Subotsky’s adaptations of the vignettes originally scripted by Al Feldstein are faithful and, somewhat conversely to what one might think, full of life; these are not dry carbon copies of storyboarded panels but adaptations dripping with sweat and blood that you can feel running through your grubby little paws. It should then come as no surprise that both Feldstein and William M. Gaines, the inherent son of E. C. Comics and fellow spear-header of the terrifying “New Trend,” professed great admiration for Amicus’ take on their pulpy and putrescent spook stories and TALES FROM THE CRYPT so successful itself that it was the only feature from the company to warrant a direct and true sequel, 1973’s THE VAULT OF HORROR.

The lead-in to this film has to rate as the tops of any other Amicus picture (and ranks as one of my favorites in any genre film period). It is simplicity personified: a sinister stroll through an historic cemetery set to Sebastian Bach’s famous “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.” It’s so very predictable and cliché and yet it is wholly comforting in its familiarity. The shots of the graves and sculptures, all weathered and covered with windblown ivies, with the sun shining in the sky only bringing more definition to the shadows that lurk by the creaking iron gates bestows a feeling upon me that is something like what home feels like. In cruder terms, it gives me one raging Gothic boner. 

The framing device used here is somewhat paler in comparison to this and the other inventive wraparounds we’ve seen thus far: five tourists enter a crypt on a tour only to lose their way and then, trapped in a cavernous room that boasts a wonderful skull-faced throne, are accosted by a weird old man who appears to be monk but is, as the faithful will know, the one and only Cryptkeeper (played by *Sir* Ralph Richardson). Anyone expecting John Kassir’s noseless, wisecracking skeleton from the HBO television show might be a bit chafed at seeing Richardson’s wrinkled but refined face peering out from under the hood, the grave witticisms we’re used to hearing traded in for wavering, old time radio-styled precipitations of doom (Subotsky for whatever bizarre reason equates eeriness with Richardson repeating things either he or the other characters have said). 

This plus the overall lack of any rib-tickling morbidity might be the only major complaint that could be lobbied against TALES FROM THE CRYPT as it was such an integral part of the EC formula and one that other Amicus efforts (TORTURE GARDEN and even THE VAULT OF HORROR) pulled off with more determinedness. I personally prefer the touch of sardonicism used here over the out-and-out whackiness that the television show would strive for at times. It has a mordant quality more akin to Edward Gorey than Gahan Wilson, if you catch my drift, and it sits well with the frosty British attitude that this production would indelibly possess.

I’ll continue my lover-of-all-things-equally-good-and-terrible trend by stating that all of the tales within this crypt are winners (okay, with the exception of one) that successfully capture vibes of pathos, suspense, and terror like we have yet to see. Hey, I did tell you I was going to be biased. But before I pour out my noxious love for this film any further like so much brightly-colored blood, I’d would like to hear what you plan to say about this creepy confection stirred up from the Old Witch’s bubbling cauldron.

Yes. Plans…


Ah, yes, plans. My plan for our discussion of TALES FROM THE CRYPT is to compliment it with only a few reservations. Sure, it’s not my favorite Amicus anthology (that title would belong to either TORTURE GARDEN [1967] or THE MONSTER CLUB [1980]), but it’s pointless to deny the film’s legacy. TALES FROM THE CRYPT looms large in the canon as a classic horror anthology film, and its striking, comic book-sourced iconography is perhaps the most memorable and enduring in Amicus’s filmography. This is the Amicus film people tend to remember, in no small part because it was one of their most popular. Made for less than $200k, it raked in over $3 million at the box office, with most of its success in America, where it opened over half a year before it premiered in England. (A dubious piece of IMDb trivia states that TALES FROM THE CRYPT was the second most successful U.S. release of 1972, behind only THE GODFATHER, and while this is obviously suspect it remains undeniable that the film was a major financial success for Amicus—as you note, they even dared to make a sequel for it!) 

That American audiences swooned for the film’s varied horrors was inevitable: TALES FROM THE CRYPT expertly adapts those lurid, banned American comic book thrills while encasing them within the façade of British respectability. This is gory, fiendish material made up to seem classy, and—in the era of ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968) and THE EXORCIST (1973), before the trashiest and nastiest of horrors began to dominate the box office—horror with a touch of class was in. Certainly, TALES FROM THE CRYPT lacks the artistic polish and auteur-driven sensibilities of those aforementioned films, but Amicus didn’t cast Sir Ralph Richardson for nothing. While previous Amicus advertising campaigns played up their films’ B-movie aesthetics, the promotional material for TALES chose a more reserved path, its iconic cobwebbed skull one-sheet managing to toe the line between respectable horror and Amicus’s usual tricks only with the inclusion of a single living eyeball. Consequently, the film at least in part resembled the sort of horror film that people could trick their hesitant significant others into attending with promises of a sophisticated viewing experience. And tricked they clearly were.

For me, the film errs on the side of solemnity. Though its seriousness is tempered by the ironic humor of the five segments’ conclusions (it’s no ASYLUM [1972], thankfully), its strivings towards respectability make it occasionally stuffy. As you note, I think this is most noticeable in its frame narrative, which comes up shoddy in comparison with that of any previous Amicus anthology. Unlike you, my first exposure to the EC comic oeuvre was through the HBO TV series and its cartoonish formulation of the Crypt Keeper (who was in fact so cartoonish that the series was further spun off into a cartoon for children, which I was also a fan of). Having exposed myself to the original comics since then, I’m now certain that even at its cloying, pun-smattered worst, the HBO series and its cackling host were a better approximation of the source material’s charm than the film’s wraparound and its Keeper’s laughable parrot routine. And yet as cornily humorous as the introductions and conclusions of the EC tales were, the stories themselves (especially those adapted for this feature) play out relatively straight, and so in this way the film appears more perceptive of the comics’ original intent than the sometimes-too-funny-for-its-own-good series. The EC horror comics often strove to scare their young readers, though never too much, as evinced by the fact that their panels would always cut back to the quips of the Crypt-Keeper, the Old Witch, or the Vault-Keeper before events became too gruesome. My ideal version of TALES FROM THE CRYPT probably exists somewhere between the two approaches to adaptation: a balance of humor and horror, a metafictional self-awareness coupled with a genuine affection for spine-tingling storytelling. 

But in and of itself, Amicus’s effort is as appetizing as the meal Major William Rogers (Nigel Patrick) became for his starving dog in the film’s final segment (read: very). Now, let’s pick the meat off these segments till naught but the bones remain. First you, and then me.


GR: Ahh, and what a gruesome spread we have here. It’s a meal fit for a creep, with enough heaping helpings of horror to scare the palate out of any fright-fiend. So, like the hungry maggot said to his fellow, “Let’s dig in!” Hee-hee-hee-hee! 

I couldn’t resist.

The first story is a sugary Yuletide treat that gives a nod to C. Clement Moore’s famous tale in its title, “And All Through the House…” before beating that nod in with a poker! (I think it’s catching.) More accurately, it’s Joan Collins’ frosty housewife that does the beating, delivering a deadly blow to her hubby’s cranium as radio carolers sing in heavenly harmony. This very naughty girl has decided to sleigh her spouse in order to gift herself with his hefty insurance policy, but her plans are fudged by an escaped maniac patrolling the quiet neighborhood adorned in a Father Christmas costume. Nothing to worry about though, so long as he stays outside…

“And All Through the House…” tends to be a favorite tale amongst fans, within the original comics as well as without in both this adaptation and the Richard Donner-directed installment of the television series. The tale does hit that certain sweet spot that lovers of Christmas-themed horror crave in similar fare: that enticing combination of the merry and the macabre. When I covered this film for Richard’s Hello! This is the Doomed Show, both he and I were musing if this story might have been the first of its kind, that of a psychotic killer dressing up as the jolly old elf himself. The original tale penned and illustrated by Johnny Craig appeared in the February 1954 issue of THE VAULT OF HORROR (boasting a great front cover that had no resemblance to the story whatsoever save for the shared holiday), so it marks “And All Through the House…” as an innovative twist on the old murder-and-marriage trope, not to mention perhaps being the virtual progenitor of all the various “killer Claus” movies that we seem to see almost every year. 

Subotsky sticks true to Craig’s original stripped-down narrative in his adaptation, Francis expertly weaving his camera all about the gaily-decorated living room as Collins crouches and slinks about under the ever-watchful gaze of Kris Kringle. I particularly love the subtlety at work when we see Joan, hands-only, prod the logs in the crackling fireplace with the golden poker and then pull away as her husband enters the room. It is only after the killing blow has been dealt while her husband reads the evening paper—inspiring the most active and fun amount of splatter that we’ve seen thus far as his head wound gushes all over the print—that we see the poker gripped in Joan’s hands as his body slumps forward, only now fully realizing the extent of its use. I can’t help but wonder if Subotsky, in light of our previous estimations of his “talent,” had the artistic mind to detail this in his script or if it was the cinematographic eye of Francis that dreamt that little sequence up. Either way you slice it, it’s great.

In some ways I actually prefer the version from the television series to this, mainly because that iteration had the opportunity to explore more interesting and suspenseful avenues (which it did indeed do, quite successfully). Mainly how the villainous wife realizes that she can’t phone for the police without indicting herself as her husband’s murderer; in the TV version, the wife finally gets the bright idea to blame Larry Drake’s hatchet-happy crazy for the deed but this, sadly, doesn’t work out so well for her. I was actually surprised by how short this segment felt upon rewatching it. It feels like it doesn’t have enough time to completely explore the cat-and-mouse game between the murderess and the maniac. We get one good jump-scare when the loony grasps for Joan’s pretty throat through a back gate and the way that Santa rings his little bell as he strolls about the house is a good chill-raiser. But this segment could have been more fully realized had we seen Joan sweat just a little more. 

I’m sure that there are plenty of people who would say that this time could (and perhaps should) have been taken from the movie’s next segment, “Reflection of Death,” as this one for all its good intent can’t help but fall on the “blah” side amongst the mostly excellent company it keeps with the rest. Ian Hendry’s criminal act is abandoning his wife and children to abscond with a dark-eyed beauty. But en route to his new life, he dies, in a horrible car accident to be precise. Awaking from the crash, he attempts to find his way back home… but for some reason everyone he meets reacts with absolute horror.

The payoff here can be seen a mile off (unfortunately not like the truck that ran the couple off the highway), especially if you grew up with books like SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK that included variations of this old legend (I believe it appeared in Volume 3 under the title “Better Late than Never”). But that’s not so important so long as the journey’s engaging, right? Sadly “Reflection” suffers from a slogging two-thirds that feels a bit bereft of any real menace or dread. It also has some rather funny lapses in logic that leaves one scratching their skulls; how can Hendry awaken to the sight of his burning vehicle when he is told what seems like mere hours later by his now-blind, former mistress that the accident took place two years prior? This would imply that A). Hendry has seen the longest-raging fire known to humankind; B). the emergency personnel in this part of Britain is grossly negligent of their duties; or C). it took Hendry two years exactly to walk from the accident site to the mistress’ flat. Some might say it certainly felt like that. 

I do greatly enjoy the “train horn” musical stylings of Douglas Gamley, his compositions heard here for the first time after the silent night of our previous tale. But even these horror horns can’t quite drum up any tension and Hendry’s final realization of his sorry state and the twist finale can only conjure up an oh-so-slightly bemused reaction of “Oh, so that’s how it ended” from me.

At the beating center of this anthology is “Poetic Justice” which is, without a shred of doubt, the best piece. It concerns the snobbish son of a local landowner (Robin Phillips, looking sublime in his black leather coat and rose brooch in the film’s wraparound) who takes on the task of evicting his impoverished neighbor Arthur Grimsdyke (Peter Cushing) from his shabby house. And from life, if necessary. But as we all know, bad things come to bad people, as evidenced by the rotting corpse that shows up in Phillips’ study on the anniversary of its death, Valentine’s Day…

“Poetic Justice” is, if you’ll pardon me, a genuine heartbreaker, most of its pathos stemming from the genius portrayal by Cushing. The veteran actor has shown us before that he was more than capable of eliciting sympathy with his portrayals of tragic characters and here he is yet again in the role of a mourner, sitting with a framed photo of his late wife at dinner and even using a Ouija board to contact her spirit when his situation is at its direst. The parallels to Cushing’s own life are unmistakable, and perhaps it is cruel that he was made to play this kind of character so many times when his own spouse had passed on only a year earlier. It makes the pain we see him suffer onscreen only more real and raw and by God does it work. The plot that Phillips forms against Cushing is even worse than Gran’s gaslighting from WHAT BECAME OF JACK & JILL? (1972). There the aim was to introduce a fabricated threat upon the shuttered life of a little old lady. Here the goal is crueler, as Phillips’ Elliot slowly but methodically takes away every scrap of happiness that Grimsdyke has left: his beloved pet dogs, the presence of the neighborhood children, and finally his sense of belonging. When all that is left is the very life that Elliot has made so miserable, Grimsdyke offers it up to his tormentor at the end of a noose. I can watch this segment, especially the utterly evil sequence when Grimsdyke reads the horrible Valentine’s Day cards that Elliot has written under the guise of the town’s citizens, and feel a lump growing in my throat every single time. 

Oh, but what sweet vengeance is wreaked upon that most deserving fiend! In retribution for Elliot crushing his spirit and convincing him that he was ever unloved, Grimsdyke shambles forth from his weedy grave and, in a bravura set-up, slinks through the shadows of Elliot’s parlor unnoticed before resting his own grimy claw on the tabletop directly in front of the sinner next to a single brass hand (perhaps a nod to “Method to Murder”?). And it is in this spot that Elliot’s father finds him the next morning, spattered with hot-red blood and a crazily-scrawled, handmade Valentine’s on top of him wrapping up his wicked, still-beating heart like butcher paper. The catharsis is boundless here, as we can’t help but delight in seeing the scales righted so perfectly in favor of the oppressed and terrorized Grimsdyke. Cushing’s passion and pathos is matched tit for tat by Phillips’ snooty sociopath, reviling his hated neighbor so much that he nearly spits anytime he mentions him (“A dustman!” he memorably sneers of the old man). It’s as ghoulish and delicious as anything Amicus has offered so far, and it fills me with much, much joy. 

“Wish You Were Here” is the next parable, and I will be the first to admit that it’s an exercise in silliness. For me, this vignette is more in tune with the risible qualities you saw in ASYLUM (1972) than anything from that actual film, because “Wish You Were Here” takes the seed of W. W. Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw” and goes all the way out there with it. The middle class, old couple of Jacobs’ version are morphed here into middle-aged and wealthy Ralph Jason (Richard Greene) and wife Enid (Barbara Murray), the token of their ill luck coming in the form of small Chinese statuette purported to have the power to grant three wishes to its owners. The usual pleas for money and the return of loved ones are met with the expected grim results but here they are decidedly… kookier. 

Greene’s auto accident is depicted with a real Eurohorror flair, as the smug businessman looks in his rearview mirror at the persistent motorcyclist that’s been following him only to see that it’s a grinning skeleton on his tail! The Grim-Reaper-as-biker image is hard to erase from the memory and one that works oddly and incredibly well, the patented hood and cloak turned in for tough leather and a helmet and his pale steed replaced with a set of roaring wheels. There are other equally neat and confounding touches made to the story, such as the ghostly pallbearers that bring the entombed Ralph right into his living room for display. Why, you ask? Well it’s because Enid had wished for Ralph to come back in the exact condition he was in before the accident… except that her hubby had actually suffered a heart attack at the wheel, thus explaining his very inanimate remains at present. So when she wishes him back, alive and forever, Ralph protests mightily now that there’s embalming fluid coursing through his veins.

You don’t have to squint too hard at “Wish You Were Here” to see the absurd farce that it truly is under its horror clothes. The laughter can hardly be stifled when the revived Jason, squirming in his casket, begs “Enid, do something!” like the harried husband in a TV sitcom and she reacts by grabbing a samurai sword and chopping him to pieces. Stretching credulity along with everything else is the fact that both Jason and his associate Charles (Roy Dotrice) are both familiar with Jacobs’ story, a metafictional touch that loses its charm every time one of the men chastises Enid for making a wish because of her unfamiliarity with the story. I was really hoping that she’d respond to Dotrice’s incredibly dramatic closing lines of (paraphrased) “Don’t you see what’s going to happen? It’s just like in the story!” with “No, dammit, I didn’t read the fucking thing!” 

Restoring considerable gravitas to the proceeding is the closer, “Blind Alleys.” Nigel Patrick plays a retired army major who assumes leadership of a home for the blind. His stern demeanor and harsh budget cuts force the disgruntled throng to devise a vengeance most befitting of the miser. For whatever reason, I don’t tend to come across a lot of praise for “Blind Alleys” which kind of astounds me. Many comment on the vignette’s length compared to the others, but this is a necessary component to the building of its tension as we see each succeeding trial that the residents of the home go through under Rogers’ iron hand—eating watered-down soup and having the heat turned off on bitingly cold nights, Patrick Magee’s wild-haired resident memorably spitting out “Dishwater!” and “Stone cold” at these indignities—and how they contribute to their final decision to take justice into their own hands. There’s no defying act of the supernatural to make Rogers pay for his crimes, only the desperation of a group of men who have been pushed to the brink and whose only natural response is to push back.

And they don’t settle for just tearing out Rogers’ innards and serving them on a silver platter like a mindless ghoul. They are men after all, and only man can devise means of mental and physical torture to prey upon his victim’s sense of safety and sanity. The punishment used in this contes cruel is one of the more ingenious to come forth from the genre, something akin to the delicious savagery you see displayed in fiction like Gustav Meyrink’s “The Man in the Bottle” or Poe’s “Hop-Frog.” They imprison Rogers and his faithful German Shepard Shane in the home’s cellar, finally revealing to him that they have constructed a veritable maze that he must escape from, groping through the darkness as the blind would. The piece de resistance is a section of the maze where the close-built walls are studded with razors, so Majors must ease himself gently along or be cut to ribbons. Gamley goes full force with the score here, the close shots of the blades and Rogers’ sweat-lined eyes augmented by chilling instrumental stirrings and tinkling pianos that greatly bump up the unease of the scene. And then we see the latch on the door keeping the now-starving Shane in slowly pulled back and then out comes the hungry hound, chasing Rogers back to the bladed corridor where the music pumps louder as he lurches forward before the lights go out and he stumbles and falls screaming, screaming. The breathless quality of those final few seconds are pure adrenaline and I can’t think of any other Amicus segment that stirs my blood and makes my pulse beat quite like that one.

The fate of our listeners in the crypt shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s been keeping track of the company’s filmography so far: it turns out that they are all in fact dead and have entered the Gates of Hell, the Cryptkeeper’s narrations not glimpses into the future but rather recollections of his guests’ bloody pasts. Greene’s plunge into the fiery pit will either make you shit your pants or make you love the movie more, and I fall solidly into the latter camp. For all its imperfections, the things that make me come back again and again to TALES FROM THE CRYPT always win out in the end. The minute that Richardson sits in his throne, the skull eyes all ablaze and the organ cueing up once again, and asks the immortal “Perhaps… you?” I want to take the journey all over again. In fact, I think I may go watch it now… 

Heh, heh, heh!

NT: Way to go scarfing down all the juiciest servings from this horrific buffet and leaving me with scraps. Suffice it to say, we're in agreement about the major points here (though I will admit to enjoying the "Wish You Were Here" segment more than you appear to). Thus, there's little left for me to scrape off my plate in terms of straight-up analysis and evaluation.

However: luckily for me, I prepared a dessert. In the following paragraphs, I'm going to embark on a reading that compares the segments of TALES FROM THE CRYPT with the short comics that inspired them. Amicus producer Milton Subotsky's script for the film doesn't make all the right moves when adapting the original stories but it certainly makes enough of them, and it feels appropriate to finally give some faint laudatory praise to a man whose work we've been blathering on about for two months straight.

"...And All Through the House" (originally published in THE VAULT OF HORROR #35, 1954): In a way, this Killer Santa slay ride is the most emblematic EC horror tale. It's the only comic that both Amicus and HBO independently adapted, and (as you note) its ushering in of the homicidal Kringle figure has proved extremely influential, as indicated by its countless cinematic permutations in the decades since. When I think of EC horror, in any form of media, I tend to think of this tale first. Yet, it’s far from being one of the print version's most thrilling entries. As the unnamed murderess goes about her business of hiding her husband's body while also boarding up her doors and windows from the killer outside, the tale takes on the frenzied repetition of a 1950s homemaker's daily chores. Her attempts to juggle her domestic responsibilities (giving the terms "tidying up" and "preparing for guests" a macabre twist) repeatedly result in the harried shuffling of her priorities (eg. in paraphrase, "Oh no, I can't call the cops before I hide my husband's corpse, but, oh no, I can't hide his corpse until I board up the house, but, oh no, what if my daughter wakes up and sees her father's corpse while I'm making all that racket?"). These complexities create a form of paralysis in the wife's thoughts and actions, in which she half-enacts much but completes nothing. Suspenseful, maybe, but as her problems pile up, as her actions recur incessantly in her dialogue with herself and edge her ever closer to inaction, the prevailing tone of the piece is more humorous than anything. 

Perhaps the comic is acting in part as a light satire of some 1950s housewives' desire for independence: even after violently extricating herself from the control of her allegedly domineering husband (if we're to take her word for it), the wife is still saddled with the unending and impossible-to-complete demands of motherhood and housekeeping. It's telling that this killer Claus only attacks unaccompanied women, and leaves men and children be. Wouldn't things be so much easier if she had a husband around to board up the windows for her? Humorous, maybe, but also callously conservative.

The film adaptation, though much the same in content, doesn't communicate quite the same things. That sense of indecision and half-completed action, though present, gets lost under Joan Collins's sleepwalk of a performance (she's nearly unfazed when the killer reaches at her through a gate with greedy mitts, and that's about the most emotion we get out of her). Also lost is any sense of the heroine's persecution by a crappy husband. A brief opening passage-- replacing the "WHOMP!" in the first panel of the comic (a form of visual onomatopoeia only possible in the comics medium)-- briefly introduces us to Collins's loving husband before he dies, as he proudly places a gift for her beneath the Christmas tree and settles down to read his newspaper and be murdered. Here, he seems a benevolent figure, and ultimately the wronged party. In the context of the film's wraparound, this better justifies Collins's fate as an evildoer, but it also serves to highlight the comic's more complex and ambiguous message. The notion that the life of a housewife might be difficult doesn't cross the film's mind. Instead, Collins's murderess is pampered femininity run amok, scooping up incriminating blood with a champagne flute and scheming for her hardworking husband's insurance money. Her fate is just desserts. 

Even if this episode jettisons the comic's thematic weight in the interest of streamlining character motivation, it's a still an attention-grabbing opening. The segment's only real flaw comes in its final moments, when it decides to expand beyond the comic's closing tableau of the drooling killer being led inside the house by the daughter. The film continues by briefly depicting the yuletide madman's attack and strangulation of Joan Collins's character, which sorta just belabors and deflates the impact of the ironic twist, right?

"Reflection of Death" (originally published in TALES FROM THE CRYPT #21, 1951): This segment is indeed a vaguely disappointing one. I'd hazard that this feeling arises because the film hews too closely to its source material, which is easily the most unsuccessfully realized of those chosen for inclusion in the film. It's easy to see why "Reflection of Death" was selected, though: with its panels on the inked and colored page largely exploring a first person perspective, the tale is rife with cinematic potential. Its use of second person in its exposition attempts to place the reader into this first person point-of-view, but this is at odds with the fact that the story's true protagonist is a more-or-less clearly defined guy named Carl. Unless you're a Carl too, you're going to have trouble seeing the world through his eyes, like the story would prefer. I wish that the comic had made its protagonist nondescript so that the reader could easily maintain participation in the story. The film was given a great opportunity to amend this error but, alas, it neglected to. Imagine with me, for a moment, an alternate version of TALES FROM THE CRYPT in which "Reflections of Death" is the last tale, beginning immediately after Richardson's Crypt Keeper softly intones "Perhaps you?" before the credits roll. In this position, we the viewers could actually live out our own tale from the crypt through the camera eye. (Amicus, why you didn't hire me to write your movie I'll never understand.) For this switch-up to be successful we'd also of course have to eliminate any trace of Carl as an actual character, but would that be such a loss? The best the film does with him in its regrettable final iteration is give him a mistress instead of a pal to drive around with. Not all of us have mistresses, movie.

"Poetic Justice" (originally published in THE HAUNT OF FEAR #12, 1952): Of course, I agree that "Poetic Justice" is the film's finest moment, for all of the reasons you've listed above. It's also a faithful adaptation, though its few divergences from the original text are of some interest. The comic features the laughably villainous Henry and Harold Burgundy working together to run poor Abner Elliot out of town. This father and son team share equal blame for the kindly old man’s downfall, and artist Graham Ingels’s pencils always makes certain to capture the duo in the most unflattering poses, with mouths ajar in wide swine smiles. To fit its wraparound and make sense of the comic’s ending (in which only the son is punished), the film emphasizes that the younger Edward Elliot is the wicked schemer, with his father James depicted as often busy reading the newspaper and only vaguely annoyed by the continued presence of their lower class neighbor (named Grimsdyke in the film). These are sensible alterations, but they cause the unfortunate side effect of the film losing out on most of the comic’s social consciousness. The original comic takes pains to dramatize a sort of baseless mob mentality forming within the community as the Burgundys (as the wealthiest members of the community, and thus the most respected members of the community) rally the townsfolk against Elliot simply because he’s poor. Important to note is that the insulting Valentine’s Day cards sent in the film by Edward Elliot to Grimsdyke pretending to be from all of the townsfolk are actually from the townsfolk in the original comic, those folk having spent the few days prior to the holiday yukking it up with each other over who has the funniest put-down about the garbage man. Sure, the town's disapproval of the old man is still in the film, but it’s far less pronounced and carries little of the comic’s condemnation of class warfare and neighborly suburban cruelty. 

One other small change of note is that the film gives us an explanation for Grimsdyke’s return from the grave. That which simply happens due to the supernatural forces of karma in the comic is in the film explained by Grimsdyke’s interest in the occult, brought upon by his poignant desire to communicate with his deceased wife through a Ouija board. This desire influenced Grimsdyke’s bedside reading, and there’s the implication that Grimsdyke’s new knowledge of the supernatural world enables his anniversary jaunt out from the cemetery. It's comforting to know that becoming a vengeful zombie takes study.

"Wish You Were Here" (originally published in THE HAUNT OF FEAR #22, 1953): So, yeah, I definitely like this one more than you do. I find the cheeky metafictional stingers in the film more amusing than patience-trying. If anything, it takes the critique of imprecise language use from "The Monkey's Paw" to new and goofier extremes. As a writing instructor, I can appreciate this, despite the creaky misogyny that blames all the trouble on a poorly cultured and spoken woman. As an adaptation, it's nearly identical to its source. The cinematic version does invent the skeletal motorcyclist, which I think we can agree is a worthy addition, and one of the film's most iconic images (it's the most prominent image on my VHS copy of the film). The only unfortunate omission in the film is the absolute mess Enid has made of her husband, as depicted in the comic's final panel. Surely, the film's Enid chops him up into bits and pieces, but those bits and pieces aren't as grotesquely oozy as those suggested (though not exactly shown) in the comic. In this case, the implication was all the more queasy. 

"Blind Alleys" (originally published in TALES FROM THE CRYPT #46, 1955): Here, Subotsky pulls off a perfect adaptation by both amplifying the tension of and lending thematic heft to the original comic while remaining true to the source's intentions of sweet, sweet revenge. Gunner, the director of the home for the blind in the comic, is a sadistic dilettante who uses the home's funds to supply himself with lavish comforts and entertain young women. (The most absurd moment comes when we're presented with a panel of the portly, smiling Gunner standing in his underwear and wiggling his rump above a space heater in his office while, we're informed, the blind residents shiver in their cold rooms.) When we're shown that Gunner plays juvenile and mean-spirited tricks on his residents-- like removing the banisters from staircases-- we realize he's a standard issue cackling fiend, and that's as deep as it goes. This shallowness of his character actually makes the residents deadly revenge plot seem like overkill: he's horrible, certainly, but did he really deserve that?

With the film's home director, Major William Rogers, the case for revenge becomes more compelling. Major Rogers's military background leads to him treating his residents not with the outright disdain of Gunner, but with the lack of concern those at the top of the military totem pole feel for those nameless and faceless troops at their command. Rogers structures the home for the blind as if it were an actual military compound, and as if the harsh, rationed conditions he forces the sickly residents under (so as to pamper himself) is simply the chosen lot of the common soldier. This blatant critique of the military hierarchy and lifestyle is much more pointed than the cartoonish villainy employed by the comic, especially as seen in an added scene in which one of the inmates dies because of Rogers's inattention and he treats this occurrence as if it were yet another unavoidable casualty of the conflict, not worth lamenting. One hopes that the Major's punishment-- a plunge into a deadly trench battlefield that he has clearly forgotten the feel for-- teaches him a little humility.

(To note: "Blind Alleys" was partially adapted by HBO during the sixth season of their TALES FROM THE CRYPT, under the title "Revenge is the Nuts" and combined with plot elements from that eponymous comic tale.)

In conclusion, I would like to give a brief farewell to director Freddie Francis, our longtime friend. This is the last film he would helm for Amicus Productions, closing out their long and storied collaboration together. And what a finish it is. He would go on to direct one more portmanteau horror film, the oft-mistaken-for-Amicus World Film Services' production of TALES THAT WITNESS MADNESS (1973). It's worth noting that this is a delightful film and a worthy successor to his work for Amicus. In fact, its asylum-set tales of horror far outclass Amicus's own in ASYLUM (1972) (alas, we've already waged that war of words). I think I speak for both of us when I say that you'll be missed, Freddie.