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Directors: Freddie Francis and Roy Ward Baker
Fox Home Entertainment

In the early 1970s, England's Amicus Films sought a new source for their horror anthologies in the form of the notorious EC comics. EC published controversial horror rags during the 1950s, and gained a reputable following, despite protests from those who found them immoral. Amicus co-founder Max J. Rosenberg, who had an office in New York, was able to set up a deal with EC publisher Bill Gaines, and the resulting effort became 1972's TALES FROM THE CRYPT. Scaring up enough dough at the box office, the film was successful enough for a follow-up to be produced the next year, VAULT OF HORROR, which was also sourced from the same pulpy literary source.

As Amicus' fourth attempt at a horror omnibus, the bulk of TALES FROM THE CRYPT's stories deal with the living dead. In the second tale, "Reflection of Death", Carl Maitland (Ian Hendry) unknowingly (to himself) dies in an auto wreck and stalks around as a monstrous corpse (the price he pays for adultery). In "Poetic Justice", Grimsdyke (Peter Cushing) is a nice old man driven to suicide by a greedy neighbor (Robin Phillips) but later digs out of his grave as a rotting zombie to tear out his tormentor's heart. "Wish You Were Here" retells the old "Monkey's Paw" chestnut as a bankrupt couple (Barbara Murray and Richard Greene) wish for a lot of money while rubbing an ancient statue. Their lawyer (Roy Dotrice) tells her that an insurance policy will make her wealthy after husband is killed in a car crash, but after his casket is delivered to the house, she regrets wishing for his embalmed body to return to life. The opening story, "All Through the House", has Joanne Clayton (Joan Collins) murdering her husband (for insurance money) on Christmas Eve, only for her young daughter (Chloe Franks) to let a murderous Santa Claus into their home. The final tale, "Blind Alleys", tells of a bunch of blind men in a private home neglected by their new chief (Nigel Patrick), resulting in the death of one of the inmates. Headed by George Carter (Patrick Magee) they are able to ingeniously set a deadly and rather demented trap for their heartless administrator, despite their lack of sight.

Many critics accused Freddie Francis' direction as being "workmanlike." This might be true when he was given inferior projects to helm, but here he delivers the frightful goods marvelously. TALES FROM THE CRYPT is still genuinely scary, and at the time of its release, it was considered pretty shocking. Those who caught it on its initial 1972 theatrical run remember it as being really gory in its day (at the same time that the likes of MARK OF THE DEVIL and LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT were packing 'em in the drive-ins), even though it got away with a PG rating. The film also gave Peter Cushing one of his best roles, even though he is only seen briefly in the grand scheme of things. As Grimsdyke, he's a kindly, misunderstood old man who loves children and communicates with his late wife (his real-life wife Helen had just passed away, and her portrait can be seen in the film), only to be tormented enough to hang himself, returning to life a year later (on Valentine's Day) to enact revenge. Cushing's memorable blank-eyed corpse face was created by former Hammer make-up man Roy Ashton, who had also done a lot of work for Amicus over the years. TALES FROM THE CRYPT's fine cast of British actors was topped by Ralph Richardson as The Cryptkeeper (a far cry from the animated incarnation which would grace the HBO "Tales" series some 15 years later), who embraces the role with dry sense of humor, yet he also seems to have wooden tendencies. The legendary stage actor only sports a monk's hood and robe, and no elaborate make-up.

The year after TALES, Amicus was back with VAULT OF HORROR, their second and final effort based on the old EC comics. The first story, "Midnight Mass", deals with vampirism, a familiar theme in past Amicus anthologies. After visiting a restaurant that oddly closes before nightfall, Rogers (Daniel Massey) pays a visit to his sister Donna (real-life sibling Anna Massey), ruthlessly murdering her for an inheritance. A later visit to the same restaurant uncovers a town inhabited by vamps that plan to make a late-night snack out of him. "The Neat Job" has tidy-happy Critchit (marvelously played by Terry-Thomas) driving his new younger wife Eleanor (Glynis Johns) to the point where she can't stand anymore of his neat fetish, violently reacting with a hammer in hand. "This Trick'll Kill You" has a married duo of professional magicians (Curt Jurgens and Dawn Addams) murdering and stealing to obtain the secret of a rope trick in India, with the expected tragic and twisted results. "Bargain in Death" has Maitland (Michael Craig) planning to fake his own burial for insurance purposes until he is double-crossed by his friend (an almost unrecognizable Edward Judd, sans toupee). Two anatomy students looking for a body later make a startling discovery when they dig up "late" housemate Maitland. In "Bargain in Death", the final and probably the best story of this collection, Moore (Tom Baker of "Dr. Who" fame) is a painter who learns about voodoo while living in the deep jungles of Haiti. When he returns to England, he is screwed over by a number of art-world scoundrels (including one played by Denholm Elliot), thus prompting him to paint portraits of them followed by his mutilating of the canvases. Now skilled in deadly mumbo jumbo, whatever horrible things happen to the faces in the paintings, occurs to their true likenesses.

VAULT OF HORROR was promoted as a sequel to TALES FROM THE CRYPT, but at times it actually feels more akin to the multi-storied antics of Amicus' ASYLUM, also directed by Roy Ward Baker the year before. Baker injects more satire into the stories, but the payoffs are still handsomely gruesome. Thought by many fans to be a weaker Amicus anthology, it's still an enjoyable viewing experience with the expected swift, twisted tales, and despite not having a Peter Cushing (their only anthology without his presence) or a Christopher Lee, the cast is still top-notch and really seems to be having fun with it. Unlike most of the previous anthologies, there is no host (which was usually represented as "death") but rather, it has the five protagonists having their high-rise elevator transport them to a rather plush basement crypt, where they all get the opportunity to relay their nightmarish accounts. Stills shown in a number of horror related publications show the five leads in skull-face appearance (again, the fine work of Roy Ashton), but no scene of this type ever ended up in the final product.

Fox has now introduced its own “Midnite Movies” double features which are pretty much identical to MGM’s line, other than the fact that each film has its own disc. The very good news here is that TALES FROM THE CRYPT looks spectacular. Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement, colors are vivid with life-like fleshtones, and detail is also excellent. Dark scenes that were too dark in past video transfers are now easy to distinguish, and the mono English audio is perfect with additional Spanish and French mono tracks, and optional Spanish and English subtitles. Also, this version of TALES is totally uncut, showing more gore (an extra shot of intestines during “Wish You Were Here” and an extra shot of a bloody, throbbing heart during “Poetic Justice”) which were never available in any previous video version or theatrical print (the extra bits did turn up on cable TV in recent years).

The bad news here is on VAULT OF HORROR. Though it comes pretty close to TALES in terms of video and audio quality, the presentation is cut, representing the PG version of the film. At the 16:50 point (during “Midnight Mess”) a scene where a tap plunged into Daniel Massey’s neck to extract blood, is replaced with an awkward still frame which optically blacks out the tap held by the bald actor with vampire fangs! At 31:07 (during “The Neat Job”) a hammer shot to the head is trimmed, and also during the same segment at around the 31:43 mark, extra shots of body parts packed in jars – notably a jar that’s labeled “odd and ends”, are missing. Granted, these missing shots only amount to seconds, but they are still crucial to the payoff of the first two stories. Additionally, at around 1:14:46 when a pair of hands are lopped off during the “Bargain in Death” segment, more brief gory footage is missing. The rest of the film looks to be intact. A British disc of VAULT was released years ago by a company called Vipco, and although it’s full frame and of inferior quality, it’s fully uncut. Back to the specs here, an additional Spanish mono track is included, as are optional English, Spanish and French subtitles.

The only extra on the disc is a full frame theatrical trailer for VAULT OF HORROR. Oddly enough (so don’t adjust your sets), it’s shown here in black and white! (George R. Reis)