Director: Freddie Francis
Writer: Milton Subotsky
Starring: Sir Ralph Richardson, Peter Cushing, Joan Collins, Ian Hendry, Geoffery Bayldon, Angela Grant, David Markham, Robin Phillips, Richard Greene, Barbara Murray, Roy Dotrice, Nigel Patrick, Patrick Magee
Favorite Quote: “Who’s next? Perhaps…you?”
We have yet another Amicus produced horror anthology film, this time based on the old EC comics of the same name, though some of these stories have been adapted from its sister periodical, the Vault of Horror. I first caught this movie in my youth on a Saturday matinee on a local television station, I had missed probably a good half of it but many years later in the early 90’s I was able to buy it on VHS and a few years back I added to my collection on DVD. I probably watch this film twice or perhaps three times a year because as I’ve stated before I love anthology entertainment and I’ve never seen an Amicus production that let me down. We shall put that to the test, Netflix has sent me Torture Garden on DVD, I’ll check it out and report what I think in a day or two.
As the film opens we are shown a cemetery while Toccata and Fugue in D minor eerily sets the mood as tombstones give way to rows of Crypts before we see a locked gate, with a hooded monk who we shall later learn is the Crypt Keeper (Richardson). We travel underground into one of the crypts where we meet a guide (Bayldon) calling for some stragglers to keep up as he begins to start his spiel, standing beside a large stone coffin, he explains that during the reign of Henry the 8th those people who were religiously prosecuted for practicing their beliefs found themselves going into hiding and those religious martyrs are the ones that are buried in the catacombs they are about to tour. He cautions they are dangerous and no one should lag behind.
Five of those in the tour are apparently not listening very well as they stay behind while the rest of the group moves forward. We will come to learn they are Joanne Clayton (Collins), Carl Maitland (Hendry), James Elliot (Phillips), Ralph Jason (Greene), and Major William Rogers (Patrick). After Joanne mentions her brooch is missing, luckily its near her feet as Carl stoops to pick it up and hand it to her, the group realizes it has delayed them enough that the rest of the tour are nowhere to be seen. Trying to find their way back to the rest of the tour they follow the catacombs to a dead end, they are about to turn around when the grating of stone upon stone captures their attention. We see a stone door slowly opening revealing an antechamber, the group enter but find there is no other exit and before they can leave the door slams shuts. Suddenly as their attention is on the door from behind them appears the Crypt Keeper, sitting in a throne-like chair with a massive stone skull above him. He has an almost hypnotic effect on the group as he beckons them to sit on the five stone seats before him, which they all do except Carl, explaining they will have their answers in do time, assuring them as well that he has a purpose. The Crypt Keeper begins to question Joanne, “Why did you come here?” She comments that she just saw it while driving by…but then she hesitates as she touches the brooch, the Crypt Keeper continues, “And what are your plans when you leave here?”, the woman repeats the questions and the hooded man fixes her with a bemused but unfriendly stare, “Plans…”
We find ourselves in the Clayton home, it’s Christmas Eve, the tree is bristling with presents beneath its boughs and ‘Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful is on the radio. Mr. Clayton sneaks into the living room with a few new presents, reading aloud from a gift card, “To Joanne, the best wife in the world.” Satisfied with his work he pours himself a drink and takes a seat in his reading chair with the paper, unfortunately Joanne would seem to have her present for Richard already prepared as she sneaks up behind him and bludgeons him with a heavy fire poker. Joanne wishes her deceased husband a Merry Christmas before pulling a keychain from his trousers, unlocking a safe behind a painting in the next room where she withdraws her husband’s life insurance policy. From upstairs we can hear her daughter, Carol, calling for her which causes Joanne to experience some stress since the little girl’s father is still laying dead on the floor in the next room (I’ve luckily never been in such a situation but I can understand how this would cause one to feel agitated.). As Joanne cleans the fire poker her daughter calls for her once again, upon entering her bedroom the child wants to know if Santa Claus has arrived yet. Tucking Carol back into bed, Joanne goes downstairs to deal with the problem of her husband’s corpse. At this point she spots his gift to her and upon opening it reveals a brooch, yes the same one she is wearing during the tour. Joanne finds that her husband has bled out on the white rug and as she begins to drag him out of the living room, a special report breaks in on the radio, “A man described as a homicidal maniac has escaped from the hospital for the criminally insane…”. Here is where end the spoilers for this tale.
The Crypt Keeper next questions Carl, who says that he is on his way home to see his wife and children, the hooded man repeatedly asks, “And then?”. We next see Carl at home, walking down a staircase with two suitcases in his hands, setting them near the front door he looks over, his living room separated by a glass wall, his wife sitting on the sofa is distorted. Carl looks down and seems guilty about something. He speaks to his wife about his pressing business meeting that he’ll have to drive all morning to reach it in time. He runs back upstairs to kiss his two sleeping children on the forehead, one of the children wakes up to say goodnight but Carl responds quite broken up with a good-bye. Promising to phone his wife when he gets to his destination we see Carl arrive a few minutes later at an apartment complex, taking the elevator he approaches a door with a name next to the buzzer that reads Susan Blake (Grant), he pulls out a key and lets himself into the apartment. Susan waits inside with three packed bags of her own and the two embrace, she complains about having to give away her nice furniture but Carl gently reminds her, “Yes, I know that darling, but we’ve both had to give up quite a bit haven’t we?”. As the two drive away in Carl’s vehicle they talk of what they are doing, he seems to be getting a bit too emotional for Susan’s taste, chalking it up to being tired she takes over the driving. As he sleeps we hear him muttering, “No…no…”, as he has a terrible nightmare, so bad that he wakes up shouting it. He apologizes about startling Susan but before she can respond a truck veers into their path, Carl quickly jerks the wheel to the side out of his lover’s hands which causes them to break through a barrier and over to a wooded area below. The car rolls and as Susan screams out in fear, Carl is thrown about the inside of the vehicle until he passes out (Remember to wear your seatbelts kids!). Upon waking, Carl, finds he has been thrown from the wreckage and as we see through his eyes as he stumbles out of the brush…the car had burst into flames, the fires dying already. We see Carl walk towards the vehicle calling Susan’s name but she is not in the car either. So we must end the spoilers for this tale.
We find ourselves back in the antechamber where Carl walks slowly to one of the stone seats, angrily he demands who the robed man is, the Crypt Keeper reminds them he has a purpose to which James add what kind of game is being played here. The robed man questions the comment and James continues, adding that the Crypt Keeper is trying to scare them for some reason (Though if he actually said his name was the Crypt Keeper it probably would have frightened them!) and then asks what he wants with them, the robed man responds, “To show you something…something in your mind, something you are capable of doing.”. James remarks that he doesn’t want to know but the Crypt Keeper insists that he must. We then hear children playing, from within his father’s home James looks out the window to the shabby house across the street with a scowl. Inside said shabby house, Arthur Edward Grimsdyke (Cushing) is entertaining a group of neighborhood children with a puppet show, he ceases the Punch spectacle to give a small wooden duck to one of the children. Some of the children in his home have to leave and we see that he has given them all toys on their way out the door, toys we later learn he has salvaged from the junk piles of the town, cleaned up and restored himself. He is the town’s junkman in trade. Grimsdyke’s wife Helen has passed away (though he contacts her spirit with the aid of a Ouija board we later learn) and the children of the neighborhood and his many, many dogs are the old man’s only joy in life. Which for some reason annoys James and his father, Edward. So much so they make it their duty to take away each of his joys…ruthlessly and without any heart…with some unforeseen consequences. I have to stop the spoilers for this segment here.
We see James awaking as if from a dream, “I don’t like Grimsdyke.”, he mutters. The Crypt Keeper turns his attention to Ralph commenting that he’ll see when asked why the businessman is in attendance. We see Ralph and his lawyer, Charles Gregory (Dotrice), speaking of an urgent matter. Ralph is flat broke and worse he had gambled in a business venture with monies that were entrusted to him. We learn rather quickly from his own mouth that he has been ruthless in his ventures, cruel even but he explains that he had to work his way up, no one would have handed him a fortune. He is less than sorry for his actions. Charles explains that he has two options to avoid the massive debt he owes. He can either file for bankruptcy or begin to sale the many valuable items he and his wife, Enid (Murray) have gathered over their lifetime. Both options are met with scorn but Charles drives home the point that there is simply no other option to be had. Enid is less than pleased when she hears the news but Ralph also mentions they have no other options, looking at a particular Asian piece of artwork, a statue, his wife fondly recalls when they purchased it, “We got it in that strange shop in Hong Kong, when you were selling guns to…” So it would seem that Ralph really is shady businessman. When they purchased it they were told by the shopkeeper, “Use it. Use it wisely.”, and we are soon to learn that the statue grants the bearer three wishes. So end the spoilers for this tale.
As return to the antechamber, Major Rogers grows upset and demands to know what Ralph has ‘seen’. The Crypt Keeper warns that it is more important to the Major what he himself shall see, Rogers takes this less than serious and like the others demands to know what the robed man is wants with them to which he replies, “To warn you of what might happen.” The Major tells the Crypt Keeper he doesn’t want any warning but to leave, and the robed man says he really should heed the warning. We then see the Major driving in his car, behind him in the back seat is his Belgian Malinois (Thank you Wikipedia), Shane, as they arrive at the Elmridge Home for the Blind. Upon exiting his vehicle he is met by an orderly, who is dressed down sharply when he calls the Major simply Mister Rogers. Major Rogers is the new superintendent of the Home and wastes very little time in using his authority to make the patient’s lives miserable, upon their first meeting he treats the patients rigidly as he would soldiers. He cuts their food down to two meals a day, drastically decreasing the quality of the meals as well. Going from mash potatoes and vegetables to a watery soup. Bear in mind that Major Rogers doesn’t hold himself to the same standards as he furnishes his office with paintings and the finest meals. As the winter settles in, the patients are freezing to death, one old worn blanket is allotted to each of them. Finally they ask George Carter (Magee) to speak to Major Rogers, to inform them of their suffering. He is less than accepting of the request to raise the heating explaining, “For reasons of economy the heating is now turned off each evening at twenty hundred hours. You ought to be in bed by then…after all there is no point in staying up, you can’t see anything.” So as we can plainly be seen from the above quote, Major Rogers is an absolute jerk. Conditions continue to worsen for the patients, resulting in pneumonia for one of the men. It is then that the patients decide to…well, end of the spoilers for this tale.
So what happens when we return once again to the antechamber and the Crypt Keeper? You’ll just have to find out for yourself when you put Tales From the Crypt on your Netflix list or possibly find it online. While there are a few parts of the stories that when you look back on it all really don’t make any sense, particularly a moment in the second and fourth tale, it’s never enough to derail the film. Peter Cushing needs to be singled out here with his performance as the sad and lonely, Grimsdyke. A year before this movie debuted he had lost his wife of 28 years, Helen. He is using his pain from her loss in portrayal of the elderly junkman and during this time of his life he commented to a reporter, “Since Helen passed on I can’t find anything; the heart, quite simply, has gone out of everything.” Yet he continued to be a professional, bringing the most to his roles. I would bestow the film with four and a half pumpkins out of five but Cushing’s performance raises it wholly back to five pumpkins out of five.