Follow TV Tropes


Film / Tales from the Crypt

Go To

Tales from the Crypt is an Anthology Film released in 1972 by the British Amicus Productions. It is a horror anthology, adapting five stories from the EC Comics titles Tales from the Crypt, The Haunt of Fear and The Vault of Horror.

Three of these tales ("All Through the House", "Blind Alleys" aka "Revenge is the Nuts", and "Wish You Were Here") were later adapted into episodes of the Tales from the Crypt television series.

It was followed in 1973 by a second anthology of EC stories, Vault of Horror.

Received something of a Spiritual Sequel in the Tales from the Hood series.

Synopsis (from Wikipedia, with additions):

Framing Story (Opening)

Five strangers go with a tourist group to view old catacombs. Separated from the main group, they find themselves in a room with the mysterious Crypt Keeper (Ralph Richardson), who presents each of them with visions of how they will die.

...And All Through the House (The Vault of Horror #35)

After Joanne Clayton (Joan Collins) murders her husband (Martin Boddey) on Christmas Eve, she prepares to hide his body but hears a radio announcement stating that a homicidal maniac in a Santa suit (Oliver MacGreevy) is on the loose. She sees the maniac outside her house but can't call the police because of her husband's body.

Reflection of Death (Tales from the Crypt #23)

Carl Maitland (Ian Hendry) abandons his family to be with Susan Blake (Angela Grant). After they drive off together, they are involved in a car accident. He wakes up in the wrecked car and attempts to hitchhike home, but no one will stop for him. Arriving at his house, he sees his wife (Susan Denny) with another man. He knocks on the door, but she screams and slams the door. He staggers to his lover's house and is received, but she reveals she was blinded in the same car crash that killed her lover...

Poetic Justice (The Haunt of Fear #12)

Edward Elliot (David Markham) and his son James (Robin Phillips) are a snobbish pair who resent their neighbor, elderly garbage man Arthur Grimsdyke (Peter Cushing), who owns a number of dogs and entertains children in his house. To get rid of what they see as a blight on the neighborhood, they push Grimsdyke into a frenzy by conducting a smear campaign against him, first resulting in the removal of his beloved dogs (though one of them comes back to him), getting him fired without pension, and later exploiting parents' paranoiac fears about child molestation. Grimsdyke, in despair, eventually hangs himself, but one year later...

Wish You Were Here (The Haunt of Fear #22)

A variation on W. W. Jacobs' famed short story "The Monkey's Paw". Ruthless businessman Ralph Jason (Richard Greene) is close to financial ruin, when his wife Enid (Barbara Murray) discovers a Chinese figurine and wishes for a fortune. Ralph is killed on the way to his lawyer's office, the lawyer then advising Enid she will inherit a fortune from her deceased husband's life insurance plan. She uses her second wish to bring him back to the way he was just before the accident but learns that his death was due to a heart attack (caused by fright when he sees the figure of 'death' following him on a motorcycle).

Blind Alleys (Tales from the Crypt #46)

Major William Rogers (Nigel Patrick), the new director of a home for the blind, makes drastic financial cuts, reducing heat and rationing food for the residents, while he lives in luxury with Shane, his Belgian Malinois. When he ignores complaints and a man dies due to the cold, the blind residents—led by George Carter (Patrick Magee)—exact revenge.

Framing Story (Ending)

The confused and baffled strangers ask why they were shown these visions, and the Crypt Keeper reveals that he wasn't warning them of future events, but explaining why they had been sent to Hell.

This film contains examples of:

  • Abomination Accusation Attack: Insinuations of pedophilia are used to help drive Grimsdyke to suicide.
  • Adaptation Name Change: Major Rogers's name was Mr. Gunner in the original comic.
  • Adaptation Personality Change: The Crypt Keeper is quite somber and subdued, as opposed to the snarky Pungeon Master he was in the comics and later TV series (although in exchange, he is a fairly good physical likeness of the comics' version, unlike the later TV depiction).
  • Adaptational Sympathy:
    • Very slight, but both of the Elliots (particularly Edward) are shown to feel a small amount of remorse for having driven Grimsdyke to suicide, which their incarnations in the original story did not have.
    • The comic version of "Blind Alleys" had the director of the home go so far as to play malicious tricks on his charges (like taking the handrails off the stairs), whereas the film's Major Rogers doesn't stoop that low. Quite.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Compared to the comic, most characters are attributed some terrible deed to justify their suffering.
    • "Reflection of Death"'s main character is given an extramarital affair he didn't have in the comic.
    • "Wish You Were Here" adds dialogue between Ralph and his accountant about being a ruthless man who took dishonorable actions to get ahead, and with his wife about selling guns to a shop in Hong Kong (implying underground arms dealing was one of those actions) instead of just an unlucky guy as in the comic.
    • Oddly, inverted in "Blind Alleys". Although the home directors are selfish and neglectful in both, the comic version actually plays cruel pranks on his blind charges while the film version does not.
    • Likewise inverted in "Poetic Justice". In the original version the neighbors feel no guilt for driving their elderly neighbor to suicide, whereas in the film they are implied to actually feel guilty about the incident.
  • Amnesiac Dissonance: The memories of the people in the framing stories have been rolled back to the point before they committed their misdeeds. They're all pretty shocked and confused to learn they had done—from their perspective—things they had only thought about doing.
  • And Show It to You: The conclusion of "Poetic Justice".
  • Asshole Victim:
    • All the main characters really, especially Joanne Clayton, James Elliott, and Major Rogers, who all directly or indirectly killed somebody.
    • Nearly averted by Maitland. When he's about to go off with his mistress, he's momentarily reluctant to leave his wife and children, and seems to be reconsidering. But, he goes ahead with his plan anyway, and later looks pretty satisfied with his choice.
  • Back from the Dead: Carl Maitland does this without realizing it in his story.
  • Bad Santa: The Santa suited serial killer in "...And All Through the House".
  • Beat Still, My Heart: For something like eight or nine hours, actually.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: "Wish You Were Here".
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: Downplayed but evident in the case of Edward Elliot. His son James was the more cruel and vindictive of the two, for one thing, Edward regretted their actions enough to pay for Grimsdyke's funeral. This was probably the reason why the reanimated Grimsdyke ultimately killed James but spared Edward's life.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Grimsdyke is put through a painful Trauma Conga Line, and when he comes back he has something to say about it.
  • Couldn't Find a Lighter: After murdering her husband and burning the evidence in the fireplace, Joanne lights a spill from the fire and uses that to light her cigarette.
  • Couldn't Find a Pen: At the end of "Poetic Justice", Edward Elliot finds his son James' body slumped over his desk. In front of him is a sheet of paper with a mocking poem on it written in James' blood. And the paper is wrapped around James' heart.
  • The Dead Have Eyes: Notably averted in "Poetic Justice" (even if the makeup effect is a little primitive).
  • Dead All Along: Everyone in the framing story.
  • Death Course: In "Blind Alleys", the abusive manager of a home for the blind gets his comeuppance when the visually-impaired men he's been mistreating lock him in his office and construct a Death Course through which he must exit, with hundreds of razor blades set into the walls of a very narrow passage.
  • Disability Superpower: Invoked in "Blind Alleys", but it's definitely a Blessed with Suck situation.
    Carter: With all due respect, sir, we are not soldiers. Blind people are not like people with sight. We have lost one sense but the loss of that sense only tends to sharpen the others. Do you know what that means? We feel things more acutely! If food tastes bad it tastes worse to us, if a room is dirty we feel every speck, if an insect scurries across the floor we hear it, and if it's cold we feel the cold more. Why don't you sell that painting and buy us fuel or extra blankets?
  • Disposing of a Body: Joanne Clayton needs to find a way to do this before she can call the police about the Serial Killer outside her house.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Sure, most of them did terrible things, but the people in the framing story cannot actually remember committing their various misdeeds at all. Nevertheless they still get sent to Hell. Then again, they're already dead, and therefore presumably beyond any chance of repentance or atonement. The Crypt Keeper himself tells them that this is the place for the people who have died without repentance and showed them why they are there.
    • Played straight with Ralph Jason. All he did was play into a magical money-making scheme and gets killed in a car accident, brought back to life after he'd been embalmed, chopped up with a sword in a futile attempt to end his suffering and is ultimately the first one of the group to be sent to Hell, despite the fact that his suffering was all his wife's fault.
  • The Dog Bites Back: "Poetic Justice" and "Blind Alleys" couple this with Pay Evil unto Evil as the victims of the wicked turn into their punishers.
  • Downer Ending: The "tourists" have been dead the whole time, and the catacombs they're supposedly touring is actually Hell.
  • Driven to Suicide: After a sustained campaign of psychological warfare from the Elliots aimed at driving him out of his home, Grimsdyke hangs himself.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Seeing a neighbor tending to his prize flowers is when James Elliot first gets the idea to crush Grimsdyke's hopes.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: The sole redeeming feature of most of the damned ones is that, in life, they had someone they cared about. Joanne had her daughter, Maitland his lover (and to a lesser extent, his children), the Elliotts each other, Jason his wife, and Major Rogers his dog.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: The Elliotts are genuinely unnerved when their plan drives Grimsdyke to suicide in "Poetic Justice". Edward even pays for the funeral out of guilt, and a year on they're still very clearly uncomfortable about it. The latter might explain why Grimsdyke spares Edward.
  • Evil Versus Evil: In "...And All Through the House" there is the financially motivated murderous wife against a serial killer with a fixation on killing random women.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Ralph Jason, thanks to his wife's poorly thought out wish, is immortal, which in his case means being brought back to life when filled with caustic embalming fluids, and then still alive and in even greater pain when his wife hacks away at him with a sword in a failed effort to put him out of his misery.
  • Feeling Oppressed by Their Existence: The Elliotts (James in particular) don't care for Grimsdyke because of his class, his job, the way he keeps his house, despite him being the nicest guy in the world with nothing bad to say about anyone.
  • Fire and Brimstone Hell: The film ends with the five strangers all being cast into one of these by the Crypt Keeper.
  • Foreshadowing: There are several small clues throughout the framing story that these aren't visions of what may be, but what has already occurred. Examples include:
    • The brooch Joanne wears was a Christmas gift from her husband... whom she murdered in the first story.
    • After the third story, James Elliot rather somberly admits that he didn't—that is, doesn't—like Grimsdyke.
  • The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: At the end, after the Crypt Keeper dispatches all his unwilling guests to a Fire and Brimstone Hell, then settles back down on his skull-throne:
    Crypt Keeper: And now... who's next? (turns to camera) Perhaps... you?
  • Framing Device: The characters are all learning why they're in Hell/paying for their sins by being forced to relive their stories.
  • Genre Savvy: The characters in "Wish You Were Here" are familiar with "The Monkey's Paw" story and try to proceed accordingly. (Not that it does them any good...)
  • Gold Digger: Joanne almost certainly married her much older, wealthy husband for his money.
  • Gone Horribly Right: The Elliots very much want Grimsdyke out of their neighborhood, but their reaction to the discovery of his suicide suggests that they didn't really intend for that.
  • The Grim Reaper: Shows up to give Ralph Jason a heart attack.
  • "Groundhog Day" Loop: Maitland seemingly gets stuck in one of these in "Reflection of Death".
  • Happily Married: Played straight with Ralph Jason and his wife. Despite their financial troubles, and the implications of Jason's business, the two do genuinely love each other. The only reason he ends up in an And I Must Scream situation is because she wanted him to be alive again and worded her wishes poorly. Averted with the main characters of "And All Through the House" and "Reflections of Death" who murdered and left their spouses for their lover, respectively.
  • Here We Go Again!: "Reflection of Death" ends with Carl waking up from the dream of the car crash and his resurrection after the accident. As he wakes, he sees the lorry about to run in to the car, and grabs the wheel from Susan, thereby causing the accident in his dream. May be a "Groundhog Day" Loop.
  • Heroes Love Dogs: Grimsdyke adores his dogs and is devastated when they're taken away.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Major Rogers uses his large German shepherd to intimidate the blind men at the residence home. When Carter and the other blind men exact their revenge on Rogers, they do so by starving the dog so that it would attack, kill, and presumably eat Major Rogers.
  • Hope Crusher: This is what the Elliots did to Grimsdyke, by taking away from him everything that he loved— his dogs, by using the law and framing them for vandalism; the neighborhood children, by indirectly accusing him of being a pedophile; and his feelings of social acceptance, by making him believe that everyone hated him and wished he was dead.
  • Hope Spot: One of Grimsdyke's dogs manages to escape and return to him, which he is thrilled by. Unfortunately, the smear campaign against him gets worse immediately afterwards.
  • Horror Doesn't Settle for Simple Tuesday:
    • Christmas for "...And All Through the House".
    • Valentine's Day for "Poetic Justice".
  • Howl of Sorrow: Grimsdyke's remaining dog wails after he commits suicide. Apparently, this went on for a whole week, as that's how long it took the Elliotts to learn about the suicide.
  • Ignored Epiphany: After Greenwood dies, Major Rogers seems to recognize that it's his fault and to be genuinely dismayed...but it's business as usual the next day. It would've been too late anyway.
  • Insurance Fraud: Joanna's motive for killing her husband in "...And All Through the House".
  • It's All About Me: Once he's put in charge of the Home for the Blind, Major Rogers sets about enriching himself (and his dog) at the expense of his charges' health and amenities.
  • Jackass Genie: The Chinese statue in "Wish You Were Here" grants its owner three wishes, but grants them in the most perverse way possible. The inscription on the base even warns them of this.
  • Jerkass:
    • The Elliotts ruin poor Grimsdyke's life and drive him to suicide because, well, he looks scruffy. That's it.
    • Rogers treats his charges like shit and kills one of them indirectly because of it.
  • Karmic Death: Most of the characters, especially Joanne (strangled to death by a serial killer after murdering her husband) and Major Rogers (mauled to death by his own starving dog after he freezes and starves the blind people under his care).
  • Kick The Son Of A Bitch: In "...And All Through the House" and "Wish You Were Here", the main characters' comeuppance comes at the hands of just-as-evil punishers who just happen to encounter them and unknowingly make them pay.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Joanne Clayton does this with her husband's body in "...And All Through the House", so she can phone the police about the Santa-killer. Unfortunately for her, she never gets the chance to do so.
  • Murder by Inaction: Major Rogers kills Greenwood, one of the blind men at the care home, by denying his charges decent food, heating in their rooms, or even warm blankets on the pretext of saving money (while Rogers and his dog live in lavish luxury on the same premises).
  • The Neidermeyer: Major Rogers was one of these, and runs the Home for the Blind in exactly the same way.
  • Nightmare Face: Grimsdyke doesn't look too well after returning from the dead.
  • Offscreen Teleportation: The Crypt Keeper makes his appearance in this manner in the opening segment.
  • Oh, Crap!: After Greenwood dies due to Major Rogers's poor care, every single blind person in the room either sits up or gets out of their beds in silence, staring sightlessly in his direction and for a moment Rogers seems to realize just how many of them there are.
  • P.O.V. Cam: Used for part of the "Reflection of Death" segment.
  • Pet the Dog: After the Elliots' plan drives Grimsdyke to suicide, Edward pays for his burial.
    Edward: It was the least I could do. He was a neighbor.
  • Plot Hole: Ralph Jason ends up alive, but in eternal pain at the end of his segment, yet is somehow with the group and sent to hell in the Framing Device..
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: Johann Sebastian Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor is utilized as a theme tune.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: In all of Peter Cushing's scenes involving Grimsdyke's deceased wife, Cushing was not acting; he had recently lost his wife who he was very close too, she had passed away the previous year in 1971 after she and Peter had been married since 1943, so the sadness in Cushing's voice and the tremors in his hands when trying to summon his late wife was real. Cushing also had the original name of Grimsdyke's wife changed to that of his deceased wife; Helen.
    • Cushing was so close to his wife that his autobiography, written years after her passing, ends on the point where she died; the only thing that kept him going was the thought that she and he would be reunited, and while he did attempt suicide by running up and down the stairs trying to induce a heart attack, he later admitted that this was only done out of a hysterical fit of grief and never made a conscious effort at suicide again, as her final gift to him was a poem imploring him to live life to the fullest, leading him to resolve that taking his own life would be letting her down. Anyone have any tissues?
  • Rise from Your Grave: In "Poetic Justice", Grimsdyke digs his way out of his grave on the anniversary of his death to take revenge on those who drove him to suicide.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: A rare variant born of frustration rather than fear; between the fourth story and his own, Rogers gets fed up with being forced to listen to the Crypt Keeper's morbid and graphic stories about each character and demands to be let out.
    Rogers: Well, what do you want with us?
    Cryptkeeper: To warn you of what may happen.
    Rogers: (angrily) I don't care about your warnings, I want to get out of here!
  • Shut Up, Kirk!: Major Rogers reacts to Carter's speech in Disability Superpower by brusquely telling him that he was unaware that Carter had been put in charge of the budget and wishing him good day.
  • Smug Snake: Several of the characters:
    • Joanna gloats with smug satisfaction when she murders her husband and looks over his life insurance papers.
    • James Elliot takes similar delight at watching Mr. Grimsdyke suffer one humiliation and injustice after another.
    • The pompous Major Rogers never misses an opportunity to show his cruel authority over the blind men under his "care".
  • Something We Forgot: At Grimsdyke's funeral, his one remaining dog is seen with the children, suggesting that one of them will take the pooch in.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The Christmas carols playing on the radio throughout "...And All Through the House".
  • Spooky Séance: Averted. Grimsdyke actually has a rather sweet relationship with his deceased wife.
  • Stealing from the Till: The blind people whom Major Rogers is in charge of aren't so blind they can't see how he's conspicuously consuming while the amenities they need to live and be healthy are suddenly somehow breaking the budget.
  • Theme Serial Killer: Likes to wear a Santa suit. Got a kid who can open the door? Uh-oh.
  • They Call Me MISTER Tibbs!: When Rogers arrives at the home for the blind, the orderly politely greets him as "Mr. Rogers". Rogers snippishly corrects him to "Major Rogers".
  • Tranquil Fury: When Carter finally has enough of Rogers' bullshit after one of the blind people dies because of it, he exacts revenge in a cold and calculating manner, with his features almost utterly expressionless as he traps Rogers, drives his dog mad with hunger, and sets him through a torture maze before setting his crazed dog on him.
    Carter: It's our turn to give the orders now, Major Rogers... sir.
  • Trophy Wife: Joanne is implied to be this to her much older, wealthy husband.
  • Undeath Always Ends: Ralph must eventually have passed on somehow in order to end up in the Crypt.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Neighbors and local officials are all just pawns in James Elliot's secret smear campaign against Grimsdyke.
  • Villain Protagonist: Every single main character in the stories.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • Nothing is said of what happens to Joanne's daughter after her mother is murdered.
      • In the HBO version, the Cryptkeeper assures us that 'Santa likes his women older...and deader!' so the girl wasn't harmed — at least, not physically. However, if this version caused Joanne's delay in calling the police to result in the girl's death, that would be an extra thing she would have to answer for.
    • The last we see of the cook at the home for the blind, he's grabbed by the patients and forced into a room, with no indication of whether they're going to kill him, beat him, or merely detain him while they deal with Rogers. Since he was apologetic over how his cut budget means he can't even give them second helpings, and he happily served them great food before, it's unlikely anything beyond being very shaken up happened to him.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Probably averted in the case of the serial killer who strangles Joanne. Joanne's daughter opens the door for him and tells her mother "it's Santa" afterwards. Had he wanted to kill the girl he would have done so. Whether this is a case of Even Evil Has Standards, or if he's simply not aroused by killing children (as opposed to adult women) is unclear.