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“TALES FROM THE CRYPT / VAULT OF HORROR” (Scream Factory Blu Review)

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Find us a scarier film than Freddie Francis’ Amicus-financed 1972 omnibus TALES FROM THE CRYPT, we dare you. Alright, maybe that’s a bold and fruitless dare, as fear is subjective and certainly there are other pictures that go into darker recesses of the mind. But from its first frames to its invasive final shot, this classic British creeper offers an unrelenting study in the art of the macabre. 

Never mind the decades-later HBO TV show or its spin-off movies, which traded in campy, sleazy Grand Guignol; Amicus (aka producers Max J. Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky) got their source material right, perfectly capturing the gleeful malevolence and somber lunacy of the controversial same-named EC comics line of the 1950s and grafting it onto a more refined and elegant British horror sensibility. It was a bone-chilling picture back in ’72 and has lost little of its power to terrify.

The good folks at SCREAM Factory have released this surprisingly PG rated (in North America, anyway) gem on Blu-ray for the first time, partnering it with its equally fun but not nearly as upsetting EC-inspired sequel THE VAULT OF HORROR (aka TALES FROM THE CRYPT II) and the results are visually immaculate.

Maybe too immaculate in fact,  as previously obscured kinks like the wires used to realize the haunted rope in VAULT and the black silk eye-sockets in Grimsdyke’s rotten face in TALES are painfully visible. Still, to love these movies is to suspend disbelief and to forgive some of the limitations of both the times and the relatively modest budgets.

In TALES, we have five stories of horror, bridged together by a framing device in which Crypt Keeper (Sir Ralph Richardson) traps a quintet of disoriented tourists in his tomb, gingerly leading them to recall the grisly incidents that lead to their coming together. In the first and most famous entry (later remade in the television series and copied several times since), a murderous housewife (played by a smoking hot Joan Collins) kills her seemingly sweet hubby for his money on Christmas eve, only to be plagued by an escaped, home invading lunatic dressed as Santa Claus. Meanwhile, her toddler daughter lay awake upstairs, excitedly awaiting St. Nick’s arrival.

91fjZ89c6dL._SL1500_In another, a man leaves his wife to run off with his mistress, but a violent car accident and supernatural twist of fate leads to one of the most blood-freezing moments in horror history. The third stars Peter Cushing as the aforementioned Mr. Grimsdyke, a kindly senior driven to misery and suicide by an opportunistic land baron, an act of cruelty that the greedy capitalist learns to regret.  The classic tale THE MONKEY’S PAW is riffed in yet another episode wherein a cursed totem grants literal wishes, resulting in death and things far worse. The climactic story sees Patrick Magee as a resident in an isolated home for the blind who devises a calculated and wildly vile plan for revenge against their ruthless, cruel facility director. Like the comic book stories they’re faithfully adapted from, each tale is a heavy handed morality fable in which terrible people do selfish things and end up paying a grave price indeed. And though saddled with that deceivingly tame PG rating, TALES is a film so dark, mean spirited and violent that only the hardest heart would show a child this film. It’s truly grim stuff.

Released the following year, director Roy Ward Baker’S VAULT OF HORROR is a mere shadow of TALES’ epic scares, opting to play many of its stories and situations for laughs. But kudos to SCREAM for delivering, for the first time in North America, the full uncut version of the film (TALES is also uncut, but that version has been available for some time). For decades, in every home video format (including MGM’s recent double feature DVD release), fans have had to make do with the insultingly edited version of VAULT, which not only eliminates such glorious scenarios as necks being tapped by vampires filling their goblets with pumping blood from dying victims, and a scene of a claw hammer sinking into a forehead, but annoyingly replaces them with freeze framed stills, while the audio gurgles along behind the shot. The unrated VAULT is a revelation, and though the picture isn’t up to its precedents hideous heights—despite heavy hitting UK talent like Tom Baker, Denholm Elliott and Curt Jurgens—seeing the violence displayed as it was shot is stunning.

SCREAM’s release is a double disc affair, though curiously packaged. TALES and the uncut VAULT are on one disc and VAULT gets its own disc as well, with both cuts available. Why each film didn’t get its own disc is a mystery but I suppose it’s all moot as there are absolutely no special features to speak of. It’s somewhat understandable as, well, most of the people who made the movie are dead, but the history of Amicus and the stories behind these films (not to mention the history of EC comics) are so ripe with historical import, it’s a shame SCREAM didn’t go the extra mile to make these releases extra awesome and give us some sort of supplemental, contextual programming.

No matter, having such pretty prints of TALES and its softer sister VAULT packaged so handsomely together is enough to sate any serious fan of the film, this writer included. And kudos again to SCREAM for ensuring that full version of VAULT can be seen as it was intended.

3.5_skull

 

For more on SCREAM Factory, pick up our limited edition magazine on the imprint here

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About the author
Chris Alexander
Author, film critic, teacher, musician and filmmaker (not to mention failed boxer) Chris Alexander is the editor-in-chief of FANGORIA Magazine. He got his first professional break as the “Schizoid Cinephile” in the pages of Canadian horror film magazine RUE MORGUE before making the move to FANGO in 2007. His words have appeared in The Toronto Star, Metro News, Wired, Montage, The Dark Side, Tenebre and many other notable publications and he appears regularly on international television and radio.
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