Monday, January 11, 2010

Chris 2010 Viewings #5: Tales from the Crypt

Some of the first movies I ever taped off late-night TV were from a week-long festival of Amicus movies. Amicus was sort of a second-rate Hammer, often using some of the same cast, and the mostly fondly remembered of their films are collections of short horror stories, linked by a (usually) lame framing story that 90% of the time involves the people who've told their stories finding out that they're all dead.

Tales from the Crypt's stories are all borrowed from old EC comics, mostly from the magazine of the same name. None of the stories is entirely successful, but most have merit.

The first involves Joan Collins offing her husband on Christmas eve while their daughter sleeps upstairs. While attempting to dispose of the body, she hears a radio report about a homicidal maniac who has escaped from a local asylum and was last seen dressed as Santa Claus. Guess who's lurking outside the house? It's a killer premise but it's over almost before it starts, and the punchline would be a lot more effective if the Santa madman were a scarier presence. Look at the still above, the guy looks like he's mentally thinking out his taxes.

The second is an Owl Creek Bridge setup involving an adulterous couple and a car accident. Even if that last sentence doesn't ruin the twist for you, you'll guess it even as the accident begins.

The third is probably the best, with kindly widower, toymaker, and all-around-friend-to-all-children Peter Cushing persecuted by a father-son pair of rich bastards who are upset that his ratty house brings down their property value. Cushing is the only cast member who registers as human in the film.

Fourth is a "Monkey's Paw" variation starring Richard Greene that even has the cheek to have one of the characters mention the source story. This is mostly forgettable, but the sting in its tail is potent and nasty in a way that the original story could only dream of.

The last tale involves a home for the blind whose stern new director enacts budget-cutting changes that put the residents through the wringer. He learns soon enough that people who don't waste their time looking at pretty things not only have sharper senses, but can think up extra-nasty revenge plans!

Ralph Richardson slums through the linking story that doesn't even bother to be evasive about its twist, being set in a crypt and all.

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