It’s kind of amaz­ing that the punchy lit­tle shock-nar­ra­tives of E.C. Comics had to wait until the ear­ly ‘70s to cross over from comic books into oth­er media.   However, it makes per­fect sense that the first peo­ple to pick up the gauntlet were Amicus Productions: at the time, they were the reign­ing kings of the hor­ror anthol­o­gy thanks to titles like The House That Dripped Blood and Asylum. Their treat­ment of E.C. Comics’ clas­sic Tales From The Crypt title melds their approach with the comic book’s style nice­ly while weav­ing in a few TalesVaul-blusur­pris­es on the side.

As with any good hor­ror anthol­o­gy, Tales From The Crypt begins with a fram­ing device. A mot­ley group of vis­i­tors mak­ing their way through the tit­u­lar loca­tion sud­den­ly become lost and emerge into a large, carved-out tomb where they find the Crypt Keeper (Sir Ralph Richardson). As the vis­i­tors ques­tion why they are there, the enig­mat­ic Crypt Keeper gets them to reveal the cir­cum­stances of their above-ground lives.

A series of short hor­ror tales ensue, includ­ing gems where a homi­ci­dal house­wife (Joan Collins) has to square with an asy­lum escapee dressed in a Santa suit and a tale where evil neigh­bors try to force a kind­ly old-timer (Peter Cushing) out of his home, only to end up get­ting more than they bar­gained for. Of course, once every­one reveals their respec­tive tale, the Crypt Keeper has a nice lit­tle sur­prise wait­ing for them.

TFTC72-01The end result is a grand throw­back to the days when hor­ror was fun. Milton Subotsky’s script pre­serves the essence of the E.C. Comics sto­ry style, with tight, manip­u­la­tive short nar­ra­tive dri­ven by the idea that jus­tice might be delayed but it can nev­er be escaped — and the more some­one tries to manip­u­late jus­tice, the more grue­some their fate will be.

Given how much E.C. Comics have been plun­dered since the film, it will be easy for hor­ror fans to pre­dict the out­comes but there’s still an unde­ni­able sat­is­fac­tion in their manip­u­la­tive nar­ra­tive style. As for the fram­ing device’s coda, it owes a lot to a cer­tain pri­or Amicus pro­duc­tion but it’s han­dled TFTC72-02well here and gives the film and appro­pri­ate­ly spine-tin­gling coda.

The fun is fur­thered by sharp direc­tion from Hammer vet Freddie Francis. He plays again­st hor­ror con­ven­tions by fre­quent­ly giv­ing the film a bright­ly lit, pri­ma­ry-col­ored visu­al style that plays up the comic book vibe of the pro­ceed­ings: for exam­ple, the col­ors real­ly pop in the first, Christmas-set sto­ry­line. Norman Warwick’s cin­e­matog­ra­phy fur­thers this mood by fre­quent­ly going for comic book pan­el-style com­po­si­tions and Douglas Gamley pro­vides a suit­ably thun­der­ous musi­cal score that fits the film’s over-the-top style nice­ly.

TFTC72-03Finally, Amicus wise­ly sprung for an ace cast of English thes­ps who deliv­er strong per­for­mances that fit the E.C. Comics vibe. Collins is a lot of fun as the mur­der­er who finds her­self in dan­ger of becom­ing a vic­tim, hint­ing at her future soap star sta­tus as a bitchy manip­u­la­tor, and Cushing deliv­ers a gen­uine­ly touch­ing per­for­mance as a kind­ly old man who finds him­self at the mer­cy of a snot­ty young neigh­bor. The heart he invests his per­for­mance with real­ly amps up his storyline’s manip­u­la­tive pow­er.

However, the best per­for­mance in a sto­ry might come from Patrick Magee as a man liv­ing at a home for the blind who takes umbrage when he and the oth­ers are treat­ed poor­ly by the place’s new cheap, casu­al­ly cru­el admin­is­tra­tor. Magee shows a grace­ful touch as he gen­tly builds the character’s sim­mer­ing anger with the sub­tlest of facial and vocal cues, eas­i­ly get­ting the audi­ence on the side of the blind men for the story’s TFTC72-04inspired, deli­cious­ly mean finale.

Richardson’s per­for­mance also deserves spe­cial notice. Subotsky’s ver­sion of the Crypt Keeper char­ac­ter is quite dif­fer­ent from the comic, throw­ing out the ghoul­ish puns and chat­ty nar­ra­tion for a mys­te­ri­ous, qui­et­ly omi­nous char­ac­ter who is like­ly to answer a ques­tion with a point­ed ques­tion of his own. Richardson under­plays the part beau­ti­ful­ly, wield­ing his silences as a tool to unnerve both the oth­er char­ac­ters and the audi­ence. As a result, the change in char­ac­ter­i­za­tion works and gives a nice lay­er of men­ace to the link­ing sto­ry sequences.

TFTC72-05In short, Tales From The Crypt does an impres­sive job of trans­lat­ing E.C. Comics to the cin­e­mat­ic realm, set­ting the stage for lat­ter E.C.-inspired films like Creepshow and weav­ing in a clev­er change or two of its own. Those who enjoy the dark­ly humor­ous side of hor­ror will find plen­ty of macabre delights here.

Blu-Ray Notes: Tales From The Crypt was recent­ly released by Scream Factory in a new blu-ray dou­ble fea­ture set. The anamor­phic trans­fer looks nice, with appro­pri­ate­ly vivid col­ors, and is the same uncut ver­sion pre­vi­ous­ly used on an MGM DVD. Extras are lim­it­ed to a trail­er but you do get Vault Of Horror in three ver­sions: a new uncut pre­sen­ta­tion, the edit­ed the­atri­cal cut and an open-mat­te pre­sen­ta­tion of the uncut ver­sion. Thus, any fan of Amicus will want to pick this new set up.