Tales from the Crypt / The Vault of Horror Blu-ray Review
Written by ZigZag
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Tales from the Crypt
Directed by Freddie Francis
Written by Milton Subotsky
1972, Region A, 83 minutes, Rated PG
Blu-ray released on December 2nd, 2014
Sir Ralph Richardson as The Crypt Keeper
Joan Collins as Joanne Clayton
Peter Cushing as Arthur Edward Grimsdyke
Ian Hendry as Carl Maitland
Robin Phillips as James Elliot
Richard Greene as Ralph Jason
Barbara Murray as Enid Jason
Nigel Patrick as Major William Rogers
Patrick Magee as George Carter
When a group of five strangers are separated from the rest of the group on their tour of the catacombs, they find themselves trapped in a large crypt without exit. Before panic can set in, a strange man appears and instructs them to have a seat. This Crypt Keeper assures them he has a purpose and proceeds to tell each a story involving their darkest secrets. Everyone listens closely, unable to stop him, as what he shares is both terrifying and accurate. What follows is a quintet of terror ripped from the pages of William M. Gaines' legendary comic Tales from the Crypt, a place where the wicked are punished in a gloriously gruesome manner.
The most famous story, “All Through the House”, involves a greedy housewife opening her husband's life insurance policy early, for Christmas. What the conniving murderess doesn't count on is being stalked by an escaped mental patient dressed as Santa Claus. “Reflection of Death” is up next and is a tale of infidelity with a twist (of course). The story is told through a flexible timeline and includes some nice hand-held camera work, but the less said about the actual plot the better. The third story, “Poetic Justice”, is a mean-spirited piece about a petty man who despises his elderly neighbor without good reason. The old man, Arthur Grimsdyke, is a gentle toymaker beloved by the children, but when he is stripped of all things dear to him, things take a dark turn. The classic Monkey's Paw fable is updated in the next story, “Wish You Were Here”, but given a much more sinister finale. Rounding things out is “Blind Alleys”, where a malicious administrator mistreats the residents at a home for the blind. Of course the men rise up to get revenge, but their method is rather unexpected and satisfying.
Tales from the Crypt is a fast-paced anthology that shares five stories in rapid succession, each with the gallows humor of the source material firmly in place. The scripts were adapted by Milton Subotsky (The Skull) and brilliantly directed by the legendary Freddie Francis (The Doctor and the Devils), who gives each episode a unique stylistic appearance. The casting here is inspired, starting with the legendary Sir Ralph Richardson (Richard III) as The Crypt Keeper, giving the role a much needed gravitas. His appearance is welcome and intimidating despite the limited screen time. The beautiful Joan Collins (The Bitch) is terrific as the Christmas villainess Joanne Clayton, a woman capable of brutally killing her husband while their young daughter is asleep upstairs. Peter Cushing (Corruption) plays the sympathetic Arthur Grimsdyke with such sensitivity that you cannot wait for him to get his revenge.
Tales from the Crypt went onto enjoy a new life almost twenty years later when HBO developed the property into a highly successful series that aired from 1989 – 1996. The pilot episode was an updated version of the story “All Through the House”, and the final season returned the storylines to the English setting, with Freddie Francis stepping in to direct the episode “Last Respects”. The show replaced the recently-deceased Sir Ralph Richardson with a puppet Crypt Keeper that introduced each episode with groan-worthy puns. The series was followed by a cartoon spinoff for kids, Tales from the Cryptkeeper, and an all-new trilogy of films (Demon Knight, Bordello of Blood and Ritual). This original film doesn't indulge in the comedy that takes over later variations and plays the material straight with surprising success. Audiences familiar only with the more recent incarnation will want to check out this predecessor, as it still packs a punch after more than thirty years.
The Vault of Horror
Directed by Roy Ward Baker
Written by Milton Subotsky
1973, Region A, 87 minutes, Unrated
Blu-ray released on December 2nd, 2014
Daniel Massey as Rogers
Terry Thomas as Critchit
Glynis Johns as Eleanor
Curd Jürgens as Sebastian
Michael Craig as Maitland
Tom Baker as Moore
Denholm Elliott as Ditant
Terence Alexander as Breedley
All right boils and ghouls, it's time to take a trip into The Vault of Horror, and this new release from Scream Factory restores all of the gory glory that was long ago trimmed by the nasty censors' scissors. Once again inspired by the works of William M. Gaines' EC Comics, we follow the misadventures of five hapless characters as they find themselves trapped in a room without exit. There is no guide this time and the cast members are all male, but their stories are all gruesome and deliver a bit of black humor as they share their worst nightmares for our viewing pleasure.
The first story shared is “Midnight Mess”, in which a man named Rogers tracks down his sister to a small hidden village that bears a unique secret. Nobody in town will have much to do with the stranger, but they advise him to be off the streets before the sun sets. Suffice it to say this is good advice, but our protagonist is quite confident of his survival skills. Up next we meet a newly married man named Critchit as he struggles to maintain his extreme sense of order with a new wife in “The Neat Job”. This darkly-comic tale is more comedic than the rest, but still quite enjoyable as his demanding structure tests her patience with drastic results. “This Trick'll Kill You” comes in third with a husband and wife team of magicians searching the world for a new illusion to freshen their act, but they find real magic harder to deal with than they imagined. The fourth tale, “Bargain in Death”, is the weakest of the lot, but is still entertaining, with a man faking his own death in order to scam the insurance company. These cons seldom work out as planned, and if this one had, it wouldn't be included here. Saving the best for last, “Drawn and Quartered” finds an artist seeking revenge on those who have cheated him, as he mixes voodoo with his painting skills to create a diabolical form of justice.
The Vault of Horror features five more classic EC Comics tales adapted by Milton Subotsky (Dr. Terror's House of Horrors). Roy Ward Baker (The Vampire Lovers) takes over the directing duties for this sequel, but lacks the flair of Freddie Francis' original Tales from the Crypt. The stories move at a decent pace, although the third and fourth episodes feel a bit rushed towards the end. Standout cast members this time around include Curd Jürgens (The Spy Who Loved Me) as the magician in search of new material and Terry Thomas (Danger: Diabolik) and Glynis Johns (The Ref) share terrific comedic chemistry as the newlywed couple that must keep things tidy. The real star of the film however, is Tom Baker (Doctor Who, 1974 – 1981) as the vengeful painter who must square off against a group of opportunistic businessmen, including Denholm Elliott (Raiders of the Lost Ark). Baker portrays the painter in a sympathetic manner that never dips into gleeful malice, but instead plays the role as that of a desperate man who has recently uncovered an unfortunate truth and seeks private justice.
Scream Factory has elected to release Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror as a double bill that will certainly satisfy fans of retro-horror. When originally announced, this disc was intended to include the uncut versions of both titles. Tales from the Crypt has long been available in its original form, but the sequel proved more elusive and the title was delayed until a proper source could be found. Their determination paid off and for the first time The Vault of Horror appears uncensored. Previous releases have neutered the endings of these stories by either playing the audio over a freeze frame preceding the offending content or worse, in the case of “Midnight Mess”, a sloppy black matte covers the gory material. This restored edition is something fans likely gave up on ever seeing long ago and I am glad to finally be able to enjoy the films as originally intended over thirty years ago. If you have never seen these films before, or are only familiar with the television program, then do yourself a favor and pick this one up now.
Video and Audio:
Both features are presented in the original 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The picture is fairly sharp with strong colors, deep blacks and natural-looking flesh tones throughout.
Each of the films offers a single DTS-HD MA 2.0 track that preserves the original mono audio with an acceptable yet slightly tinny mix. Dialogue remains clear and free from distortion.
English subtitles are provided for anyone in need.
There are only a few traditional special features for Vault of Horror, including a trailer and an alternate opening title sequence (as Tales from the Crypt II), but without music.
A second Blu-ray disc has been included in this release as a special added bonus: the original uncut version of Vault, as it originally aired on television in an (1.33:1 aspect ratio) open matte presentation, paired with the edited US version (1.78:1 aspect ratio). The choice to include the multiple versions is a real treat and a nice variation on supplemental materials.