Sunday, July 16, 2017

Tales from the Crypt (1972) Part 1

I saw this film younger than I should have and it was one of my gateway movies to the horror genre. It still holds up even though its a little dated because it has the heart and soul of Tales from the Crypt with impressive performances. It starts with Bach's Toccata in D, an iconic horror choice, and pans over a beautiful cemetery. A group of people tour ancient catacombs. Their guide urges them to stay together as its a dangerous place, but 5 of them are delayed and get separated. They wander around until a door opens for them. The room is empty so they turn to leave when the door slams close. A man in monk's robes suddenly appears and tells their stories as if to warn them of the future. This Crypt Keeper has a scornful attitude towards his charges and a mysterious air.  

* ...And All Through the House

I love a lot about this segment. Everything is subtle and well crafted. The film doesn't have to narrate that the old man loves his family, but instead has an establishing shot of this man lovingly putting presents under the tree. The first indication that something is wrong is an amazing shot of blood splashing on the newpaper the older man is reading when he is killed. The woman, portrayed by Joan Collins, calmly goes straight for the safe to check his life insurance, showing that her main motivation is money. The chilling aspect of this part lies in the happy child upstairs waiting for Santa, unaware of the carnage downstairs, and the peaceful choral Christmas music that contrast with the violence.

Much of the film has no dialogue because the woman is trying to clean up the murder while her daughter sleeps upstairs. So much of Joan Collins' performance is in her eyes and her facial expressions. When the psychotic Santa reveals himself, she reaches for the phone and you know by her glance at the body and her defeated facial expression that she knows she can't call the police until she cleans up. She works tirelessly cleaning up the blood, dragging her husbands body to the basement, and planting blood to make it seems like he fell. In addition to this, she has to secure the house by locking all the doors and latching all the windows before Santa comes inside. As she works, her face becomes drenched with sweat and she's visibly drained.

Unfortunately, all her hard work is for nothing because her innocent daughter let Santa in the house after she's been waiting for him all night. Overall, this film has everything I want in a Christmas horror film: murder, suspense, good performances, and a concise story told in just over 12 minutes. The only downsides are the dated decor and not very scary Santa. This classic Tales from the Crypt story combines elements of wholesome Christmas traditions with murder and mayhem and ending with the evil being punished.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

* Reflection of Death

Carl Maitland decides to run away with his beautiful girlfriend Susan and abandon his family with no word. It disgusts me that he wasn't even going to say good night to his daughter. He only felt obligated because his wife prompted him, but he was just going to pause in her room and leave until he found her awake already. It adds insult to injury when he knows he's not coming back. Ian Hendry does a great job making him as odious as he possibly can. Moving forward, Susan drives so he can sleep, but he has a disturbing dream that wakes him up screaming. Then a truck comes out of nowhere. Carl fights for control of the wheel and they crash. This is probably one of the cheesiest car crashes ever to grace the silver screen.

Carl awakens from the wreck and the rest of the segment is directly from his point of view. Each person he encounters him reacts as if they've seen a monster. A homeless man screams and runs. A motorist drives as fast as he can away. His own wife screams in terror and slams the door in his face, then seeks the solace of her new husband. The only person to treat him fairly normally is Susan, but she lost her sight in the accident that claimed his life. He glimpses his reflection in a table, shocked at his grey complexion and rotting skin. He awakens back in the car and the accident happens again. This story is the only one that has the feeling of purgatory because he's doomed to repeat both the pain and panic of the accident as well as the puzzling treatment and the horrific realization of what he has become. It's not the best segment, but it has its merits.

My rating: 3.5/5 fishmuffins

* Poetic Justice

Grimsdyke is a dustman who loves his dogs, refurbishing toys for local children, and the home he made with his late wife. His neighbors Edward and James Elliot hate him for driving the values of the surrounding houses down with his "hideous" house and judge him for his profession. James hatches a cruel plan to drive Grimsdyke out of their neighborhood by systematically taking away anything that makes him happy or contributes to his livelihood. Slimy James uses every bit of his extensive influence and privilege in addition to underhanded tactics to drive Grimsdyke away. Robin Phillips makes James incredibly smug and snobbish with extreme arrogance.

Peter Cushing has his most sympathetic and soft role here that he's almost unrecognizable. Doing small acts of kindness like making toys for children brings him such joy. He has modest needs, contributes to the neighborhood, and keeps to himself. He only wants to live in the place he was so happy with his wife. Throughout his day, he talks to his late wife and practices Spiritualism to communicate with her using his spirit board and automatic writing planchette. His shock and sorrow at each of James' cruel plans is shown with stark clarity all over his face. His attempts to brush them off and keep his cheerful mood makes his suicide even more sad. This is the most heartbreaking story because he's so kindhearted and undeserving of such treatment.

The ending is my absolute favorite. No one in Tales from the Crypt stories has ever deserved an ending like this more than James. The zombie makeup is pretty good for the time (except the eyes look wonky), especially in the wrinkled hands and creepy nails. This story is exactly what Tales from the Crypt is about: evil people being punished in satisfying ways.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

To be continued!

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