TALES FROM THE CRYPT
What created the notoriety was when E.C. were jumped on in an hysterical campaign headed by psychologist Frederick Wertham who accused comic-book publishers of corrupting youth. In 1954, William Gaines was summoned before a Senate Subcommittee on juvenile delinquency and asked to defend the comics. There is the probably apocryphal story that Gaines was asked to justify a lurid cover drawing where a man is shown holding up the severed head of his wife, only to casually shrug and say Well, we could have shown more blood. As a direct result, the comics industry established the Comics Code Authority in 1955, where distributors refused to release titles that did not carry the Authoritys seal, which effectively forced Gainess horror titles out of business. Of course, Gaines had the last laugh in 1954, he launched a small title called Mad. Years later with the lessening of the Codes impact, E.C.s horror titles found a healthy afterlife in reprints and have become valuable collectors items.
In England in 1964, producers Milton Subotsky and Max J. Rosenberg, who headed Amicus Productions, tried a unique experiment. They were attempting to capitalise on the enormous horror boom that Hammer Films had created with their various classical monster revamps. Subtosky and Rosenberg had made one tentative venture into horror earlier with City of the Dead (1959) but found their feet with Dr Terrors House of Horrors (1964). With Dr Terror, they made a modestly budgeted anthology of five stories that were all riffs on classic horror themes, and recruited Hammer staples such as Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Michael Gough and director Freddie Francis. Dr Terror was a reasonable success and Subotsky and Rosenberg went on to make a number of other anthologies, including Torture Garden (1967), The House That Dripped Blood (1970), Asylum (1972), From Beyond the Grave (1973) and, following the break-up of Amicus, Milton Subotskys later solo effort The Monster Club (1980). Although Rosenberg and Subotsky made other single-story horror films, not to mention various psycho-thrillers, ventures into sf, rocknroll, adaptations of Edgar Rice Burroughs and even Harold Pinter, the horror anthology became Amicuss trademark.
E.C. Comics seemed a natural for the Amicus anthology formula. And so it was that Amicus brought the rights to the E.C. titles and several of the published stories and made this Tales from the Crypt film and its follow-up The Vault of Horror (1973). Tales from the Crypt proved to Amicuss most successful horror anthology. It is certainly the most well remembered, is often said to be Freddie Franciss best directorial outing and to contain one of Peter Cushings best performance. In retrospect though, the results are somewhat mixed in most cases, the adaptations are far too pedantically literal-minded and the black humour that William Gaines relished is missing altogether. Moreover, Ralph Richardsons Crypt Keeper is far too nice and lacking in any of the bad puns or manic glee that was so memorably associated with the equivalent character in the comic book.
Tales from the Crypt is certainly the better of the two Amicus EC adaptations. The most successful translation is the middle segment Poetic Justice, which gets the gruesome sense of humour and supernatural retribution plot just right, even down to the wonderfully ludicrous image of a heart lying on a piece of paper still pulsing with the poem You were mean/You were cruel from the start/Now you really have no heart. The first segment with Joan Collins vs a killer Santa fails to work as successfully in the black humour stakes but Freddie Francis pulls some nicely stylish shock effects opening on a shot of a newspaper being splattered with blood and the body falling to reveal Joan Collins standing over it with a bloodied sword in hand, saying Merry Christmas. The second episode is vapid and quickly fades in memory the principal deathdream payoff gag is weak and can be seen coming well in advance. The fifth episode, while it has some claustrophobic moments and a maliciously nasty ending, is merely long-winded and its moral tract shrill. However, the fourth segment, Wish You Were Here, a variant on the classic horror tale The Monkeys Paw (1902), is the best, with its creepy atmosphere and nasty twists of plot being skilfully accomplished.
The linking story, with an embarrassed Ralph Richardson sitting on a cheap skull set, is weak, while the final twist has been lifted almost entirely from the end of Dr Terror's House of Horrors. Despite its unevenness, Tales from the Crypt is a film made with consummate style beside setting up slick, stylish compositions that capture the eye as much as they ease into eerily unsettling shocks, Freddie Francis is a director whose economy of story-telling is custom-made for the anthology film.
Tales from the Crypt was later revived as a highly successful cable anthology show, Tales from the Crypt (1989-96), where the black humour tone of the originals was much more successfully retained and the character of the Crypt Keeper incarnated with greater faithfulness. This resulted in two film spinoffs Tales from the Crypt Presents Demon Knight (1995) and Tales from the Crypt Presents Bordello of Blood (1996), both of which are single story films.
Freddie Franciss other genre films are:- Vengeance/The Brain (1962), Paranoiac (1962), Nightmare (1963), Dr Terrors House of Horrors (1964), The Evil of Frankenstein (1964), Hysteria (1965), The Skull (1965), The Psychopath (1966), The Deadly Bees (1967), They Came from Beyond Space (1967), Torture Garden (1967), Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968), Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny & Girly (1969), Trog (1970), The Vampire Happening (1971), Tales That Witness Madness (1972), Craze (1973), The Creeping Flesh (1973), Legend of the Werewolf (1974), Son of Dracula (1974), The Ghoul (1975), The Doctor and the Devils (1985) and Dark Tower (1987).