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Blu-ray Review: Tales from the Crypt/The Vault of Horror

THE FILMS

“There’s no way out… Sit down. All of you. I assure you, I have a purpose.”

Tales From The Crypt — When five unwary travelers with dark hearts stumble into a series of catacombs, they find themselves in a cavern with no way out. But the horror’s only just begun as a mysterious figure appears to reveal to each person the shocking events that will lead to their well-deserved, untimely – and unavoidable – demise. 

The Vault Of Horror — Five unsuspecting hotel guests step into an elevator, which leads them into an underground vault. Trapped with no way out, each guest shares a gruesome tale of an encounter with death. But as the stories unfold, the men begin to suspect that their presence in the vault is no coincidence, and that the only way out…is death. 

tales_crypt_vault_horror_7You might not know this, but the Tales from the Crypt brand is over 65 years old. Generally (especially these days), recognition of the brand comes from HBO’s long-running and very popular half-hour television series, which saw the most elite of Hollywood (Robert Zemeckis, Walter Hill, Joel Silver, etc.) looking to the original 1950s EC Comics line for stories to adapt in short film shockers. Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, The Haunt of Fear, and non-horrific but still dark Crime SuspenStories and  Shock SuspenStories were raided for their ghastliest yarns with the most twisty endings. These stories were eventually brought to life by some of the most recognizable faces in Hollywood, either at that time (Joe Pesci, Arnold Schwarzenegger) or who soon would be (Brad Pitt, Daniel Craig).

Only the dedicated horror aficionado even knows this comic line existed, being that they enjoyed a good run during the 1950s before they were brutalized by watchdog organizations and angry, paranoid parents, and after fighting the good fight, founder William Gaines threw in the towel and ceased production of all things Cryptkeeper. (The original comics were reprinted during the early 1990s in an effort to cross-promote with the HBO series, which resulted in exactly the same thing–the comics were again decried as being poisonous and were again pulled from production–because progress!)

The television series led to two feature films–the tremendous Demon Knight and the fucking terrible Bordello of Blood.

But before HBO got their hands on the Cryptkeeper and all his undead friends, the property had previously been explored in the 1970s by Amicus Films, a sort of rival to then-popular Hammer Films, but with none of the esteem.

The first of these was titled, appropriately, Tales from the Crypt, which took a different approach then that of its later progeny: instead of a feature-length story told with that Tales flavor, the 1972 take instead adapted five EC stories and presented them in what eventually became a very solid and consistently great anthology film, with all the horror, gore, black humor, and ironic twist endings this side of a laughing corpse puppet head.

tales_crypt_vault_horror_6Of the two features, it should come of no surprise that Tales from the Crypt is the far superior of the two, offering a distinct collection of stories without a dud in the bunch. Appropriately (or perhaps purposely), the very first tale on display is “And All Through the House,” which also kicked off the Tales from the Crypt television show, having the honor of being the first episode of the first season. There is no better litmus test for how one might react to the philosophy behind Tales from the Crypt or EC Comics in general than “And All Through the House,” as it offers a perfect display of both genuine terror as well as a morbid sense humor. The second tale, “Reflection of Death,” is classic Tales from the Crypt, resurrecting one of the most standard but effective shock endings in the horror genre. “Poetic Justice” is perhaps the most mean-spirited of the film, which makes the eventual comeuppance of our lead dicks all the more satisfying. “Wish You Were Here” looks to the short story “The Monkey’s Paw” for its inspiration. One of the most morally infamous short stories of all time, the Tales take on the adage “careful what you wish for” ends in a mind-screwing revelation. “Blind Alleys” is the most vicious of the stories, which presents another Tales classic setup of the victimized turning the tables on their jerk “captor” of sorts.

Vault of Horror, based on the success of Tales from the Crypt, was rushed into production and released one year later, and in keeping with the law of diminishing returns, it simply isn’t as good. Though it again relied on vintage EC Comics storylines for their inspiration, there was an oddly lighter tone with an emphasis on quirkier horror, leaving most of the stories rather timid and lame. “Midnight Mess” finds a murderer in an unknown town where he’s not the deadliest thing on the streets after sunset. (The ending is really really stupid.) “The Neat Job” is even stupider, whose only saving grace is the wicked and horrific shock ending. “This Trick’ll Kill You” features magic, so let’s move on. “Bargain in Death” features far more characters than is necessary for a 20 minute segment and becomes rather confusing in the moments leading to its finale. “Drawn and Quartered” comes the closest in resurrecting that previous Tales magic, with a dark sense of humor as well as a comment on how easily revenge can corrupt us all.

tales_crypt_vault_horror_5I’m not sure why Amicus never went through with The Haunt of Fear, aka Tales from the Crypt III, but perhaps we can blame it on a lack of interest. Interestingly, Amicus, who had found their greatest success with horror anthologies, would only make one more —From Beyond the Grave–before closing its doors for good just four years later,

THE PICTURE

tales_crypt_vault_horror_4Tales From The Crypt — 4/5. This is an excellent and surprisingly stable transfer for a film of its age. The image shows no signs of shakiness or tremoring, and print damage is kept to a minimum. Colors are strong, flesh tones are realistic, and textures are reasonably defined. Grain is present, but not overwhelming. The blood looks hilariously fake–and even more so now–but that’s all part of the fun, people. Cool it.

Vault Of Horror — 3/5. As expected, this less respected title does’t look nearly as good as its predecessor. While much of the above still applies, this particular print features a lot more speckling and damage in the forms of sporadic white lines and crackling. Grain is much more present, and there are signs of wobbling. BUT the blood still looks way fake, so there’s that.

 THE SOUND

tales_crypt_vault_horror_2Tales From The Crypt — 3.5/5. It was all going so well until we hit “Poetic Justice,” when the sibilant dialogue went out of control, peaking with every “s” word or sharp sound effect. This is an issue that’s been present on past Shout! releases, most prominently on Body Bags and The Slumber Party Massacre, but thankfully hasn’t been that noticeable in newer releases. Otherwise, the dialogue is perfectly fine, and the ambience makes good use of its horror environment.

Vault Of Horror — 3.5/5. No issues with sibilance in Vault of Horror, but the audio presentation comes across as somewhat underwhelming. Dialogue is, of course, clean and clear, and ambience is well utilized, but there’s something about this track that leaves a little to be desired. It all comes across rather…flat.

 THE SUPPLEMENTS 2.5/5

tales_crypt_vault_horror_1The complete list of special features is as follows:

— Theatrical Trailer (Vault of Horror)
— Alternate Title (for Vault‘s original title: Tales from the Crypt II)
— Vault of Horror Theatrical Cut (on bonus disc)
— Vault of Horror Uncut Open Matte Version (on bonus disc)

TECH SPECS

tales_crypt_vault_horror_3STUDIO: Amicus Films / MGM
DISTRIBUTOR: Shout! Factory
GENRE: Horror/Anthology
RATING: PG, R
THEATRICAL DATE: March 9, 1972; March 30, 1973
VIDEO STREET DATE: December 2, 2014
VIDEO: MPEG-4 AVC; 1080p; 1.85:1
AUDIO: English 2.0 Stereo
SUBTITLES: English
RUN TIME: 92 mins; 87 mins 
DVD COPY: N/A
DIGITAL DOWNLOAD: N/A
REGION: A

 OVERALL 3.5/5

tales_crypt_vault_horror_covAmicus Films’ presentations of Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror vary wildly in terms of tonality, viciousness, and overall quality. For fans of the brand who grew up reading the comics and watching the HBO series on repeat (as I did), this double-feature blu-ray from Shout! Factory makes for an interesting curiosity. You’ll see familiar stories that you’ve already experienced in one way or another, but done in a somewhat sophisticated manner and featuring some excellent and recognizable faces from the genre. (Peter Cushing, for one.) The lack of supplements is certainly disappointing, given the infamy that the brand carries, and the PQ and AQ are about on par with films of this age and reputation, but this is still a collection worthy of adding to your growing hi-def horror collection.

(Thanks to DVD Exotica for the screen grabs.)

THE DISTRIBUTOR

Shout!/Scream Factory, LLC is a diversified multi-platform media company devoted to producing, uncovering, preserving and revitalizing the very best of pop culture. Shout! Factory’s DVD and Blu-Ray™ offerings serve up feature films, classic and contemporary TV series, animation, live music and comedy specials in lavish packages crammed with extras. Shout! Factory also owns and operates Westchester Films, Inc., Timeless Media Group, Biograph Records, Majordomo Records, HighTone Records and Video Time Machine. These riches are the result of a creative acquisition mandate that has established the company as a hotbed of cultural preservation and commercial reinvention. 


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Written by

J. Tonzelli is a writer, film critiquer, and avid Arnold/Van Damme/Bronson enthusiast who resides in rural South Jersey. He is the author of "The End of Summer: Thirteen Tales of Halloween" and the "Fright Friends Adventure" series, co-authored with Chris Evangelista. He loves abandoned buildings, the supernatural, and films by John Carpenter. You can read some of his short fiction at his website, JTonzelli.com, or objectify him by staring at his tweets: @jtonzelli. He apologizes for all the profanity.

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