Who's next? Perhaps...you?
The Universal Monster movies were certainly my first foray into horror (not counting Ghostbusters), but Tales From the Crypt books, comics, and the TV show were my first ventures into a larger world. Back in the early 90s, adaptations of stories from the comics were published as children's books, which is pretty strange when you think about it. These are the stories that really set off an intense scrutiny of the comics industry back in the 1950s , and while they steered clear of stories like the infamous "Foul Play," my memory says they were still pretty gruesome. Nonetheless, I was already a monster-obsessed kid and these books were very much in my wheelhouse. I didn't have access to HBO, so the television series eluded my gaze temporarily, but the old comics were being reprinted around that time, so I picked up every one I could get my hands on at my aunt and uncle's comic shop. I devoured those things. I recognized there was a formula, stories of comeuppance with macabre, grizzly twists. I wrote, drew, and distributed my own comics amongst my friends, thinking then it was a tribute when in reality it was a very cheap knockoff. The HBO series eventually hit syndication, and I stayed up the latest I'd ever stayed up to watch (11:00 pm!). When it moved to a 3 am time slot, I actually set my alarm to wake up just so I could see it. Despite my fascination with all things Crypt, the 1972 film managed to elude me up until now.
Five strangers are taking a tour of a crypt, none of them fully aware of why the decided to do so. When they become separated from their guide, they meet the mysterious Cryptkeepr. He's not as repulsive as even his EC Comics version, nor does he spout puns with every sentence, but he's there and certainly carries a foreboding air about him. One by one the strangers receive a vision of how they will die, each vision being a story from the comics. Most recognizable to most people will probably be "And All Through the House," as this was also one of the most memorable episodes of the HBO series. It's a simple story of a woman who kills her husband on Christmas Eve, only to be tormented by an escaped maniac in a Santa outfit moments later. It's an even more minimalist take on the story that the TV show version, but because this movie plays it more straight, it's definitely the scarier of the two. "Poetic Justice" is probably my favorite of the bunch, a sad story that stars none other than Peter Cushing. I've always felt Cushing was a more diverse actor than given credit for, and this only goes to further prove that point. He's so sympathetic here, it really is heartbreaking. It has a violent ending I wasn't expecting, and though modern picture quality isn't doing it any favors, it features what might be my favorite zombie makeup ever.
There might be some pacing issues in a couple stories, even given the era in which they were made, but they're all very well done. Just like the comics, Tales From the Crypt is all about endings. Despite their age, a couple of the endings, "Wish You Were Here" and "Blind Alleys" will stick with you. The sequel, Vault of Horror, is also good and has Tom Baker in it, but Crypt clear winner. This has to be one of the most underrated horror films I've seen, highly recommended.
SCARE RATING: 3/5
OVERALL RATING: 4/5