Most people know Tales From The Crypt as an 80s/90s cable TV show in the Twilight Zone / Creepshow vein -- sometimes scary, very jokey, with an animatronic near-skeleton as its host. Those more familiar with this version of the classic, famously-banned 1950s EC horror comics probably aren't even aware that it was previously filmed, ever so slightly more earnestly than maybe was needed, in 1972. This Tales from the Crypt was helmed by British director Freddie Francis and produced by Max J. Rosenberg and screenwriter Milton Subotsky, whose Amicus Films was the chief rival of the UK's more famous Hammer horrormeisters. Subotsky made a career out of making uneven anthology films like The House That Dripped Blood and The Vault of Horror, but this one stands strongest. The Crypt Keeper is here not played by a puppet, by a very game Ralph Richardson. Cloaked and enthroned in the British catacombs, he presides curiously over the ensnarement of five sin-soaked individuals and, in a delicious framing device, asks them each to tell the story of how they arrived there.
Joan Collins is a murderous housewife whose bloody Christmas Eve clean-up is interrupted by a maniac dressed as Santa (there's one moment here that ALWAYS startled theater audiences). In the one slightly drab segment, Ian Hendry is an adulterer caught in a confusing loop of nightmarish mayhem. Then, Richard Greene is a businessman who, in a Monkey’s Paw, variation, discovers an idol granting him three wishes (let’s just say he and his wife make all the wrong choices). The most inventively written episode has Robin Phillips playing an upper-class snob who taunts his unwanted neighbor, a poor old widower (the gentle Peter Cushing), into the grave (love those nasty little greeting cards in this episode).
And, in the best all-around section--as always, saved for last--Nigel Patrick is the greedy headmaster at a blind person's home where his charges, headed by Patrick Magee, plot vengeance for the steak-eating, wine-swilling pig’s continual skimping on their food and heat. You'll NEVER forget how this one turns out!! There's loads of veddy-dry humor and ominous atmosphere, complete with a memorably firey finale scored with a booming organ rendition of Bach’s spooky "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor." Like the best anthology movies, it leaves you wanting to take in even more episodes. This touchstone of British horror remains one of the best, or at least one of my most loved childhood favorites. Guess I was a pretty twisted kid.