Anthology films have been a staple of horror for a long time and continue to be. Entries such as Creepshow in the 80s and, in more recent times, the V/H/S found footage series show the portmanteau structure shows no signs of losing its popularity.
The short tale has always been well-suited to the genre, with the traditional shock ending being par for the course. EC Comics in the 40s and 50s made a booming success from such stories, particularly in its series Tales From The Crypt and Vault of Horror, before censorship effectively brought the run to a close.
In 1972, British film production house Amicus Productions had already put out a string of anthology horror films – Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), Torture Garden (1967) and The House That Dripped Blood (1971) – before the release of this, adapting five tales from the old EC Comics.
The wraparound story involves five people, separated from a tour party in a labyrinthine catacombs, who encounter a hooded crypt keeper (Ralph Richardson). He confronts each, one-by-one, with a story of how they have died.
All of the stories follow the same pattern. Some central character carries out acts of dubious morality and then receive their comeuppance – often through supernatural means. None of the stories feature any great narrative twists and while workmanlike, none are particularly effective. The laziness even extends to the set-up…one of the people doesn’t actually die in their story, so it does not make sense for them to be present.
Joan Collins appears as a housewife whose attempts to call for help when her house is threatened by a homicidal maniac are hampered by the fact she has just murdered her husband. Peter Cushing is a gentle old man whose ramshackle house is bringing down property prices for his rich neighbours who plot his demise. Other tales include a riff on the old “three wishes” standby and a group of old blind men who go a bit Saw in their torture trap vengeance on their tyrannical hospice superintendent.
The shooting style is solid, with a very Hammer Horror feel. The edges of the budget show at times and the filming rarely tries to be anything overly striking, but it is all efficient and professionally-done. The acting is comfortably above-average, though, with some classy British thespians lending weight to b-movie concepts and the performances are the strongest aspect of the whole.
A decent set of unspectacular stories, Tales From The Crypt is far from a bad movie but ultimately, lacks anything particular special to be considered memorable, either.