Tales from the Crypt (1972)
Directed by Freddie Francis
This horror anthology opens with a camera prowling the grounds of an English ruin, garden to graveyard, accompanied by the drowsiest Toccata and Fugue ever organ’d. It’s no rum-tum-tum-tum Danny Elfman theme, and no haunted house model fogged and cobwebbed to perfection, but the similarity to the opening of the later HBO series based on the same source material is striking. Likewise, Ralph Richardson is no John Kassir—um, at least not in this context—but he makes a fine Cryptkeeper just the same, truer to the funny books with his flesh-covered face and wine-red cloak.
He hosts five strangers (Joan Collins et al.) touring a crumbling manor, who wander off and get stuck in a spacious stone crypt, where Richardson materializes to impart to each a personalized tale of the immoral thing they’ve done—killing a husband, abandoning a family, devastating an eccentric neighbor, Monkey Pawing recklessly, terrorizing the institutionalized blind—and the delicious comeuppance that followed: death by mental patient, by car crash, by wrongèd revenant, by embalming fluid in the veins, by a thousand razors and a starved dog. Each tale is taken from the title comic book or its sister publication, Vault of Horror (which was well-mined by HBO, as well), and retains what those EC Comics did, not to mention the TV show: wicked wit, squealing suspense, marvelous moralizing, guffawsome gross-outs and creatureful charm. Henry Stewart (December 16, 17, midnight at the Nitehawk)