Tales From The Crypt (1972), The Vault Of Horror (1973)
These two anthology movies, produced by British studio Amicus, can probably be counted as two of the lesser-known entries in the ever-widening field of comic book adaptations. Both feature five short depictions of stories from the classic EC horror titles, as told either to or by five strangers in the titular Crypt or Vault, as it were. In Tales From The Crypt, a group of people on a tour of a series of historic catacombs find themselves detained by a mysterious Cryptkeeper (Ralph Richardson, not nearly as bony or puppety as his more famous HBO counterpart would be several years later), who spins creepy yarns specific to each visitor (said stories feature various ghouls, ghosts, and escaped lunatics dressed like Santa Claus). In The Vault of Horror, five strangers on an elevator are alarmed when the doors open to reveal a nicely-appointed parlor with five chairs, where each of them sits and recounts their recent nightmares (involving vampires, voodoo, and vengeful blind men). The framing sequences to both films also have shock endings that aren’t particularly shocking. Both of them were also written by Milton Subotsky, but handled by different directors—Freddie Francis helmed Crypt, while Roy Ward Baker took the reins on Vault. This might account for the disparity of quality between them; Crypt suffers from a weirdly stilted pace, maybe because the first two installments seem too short while the last three seem too long, and all of them are fairly dull. Vault, on the other hand, moves along nicely, and seems to understand the pitch-black humour inherent in the original EC stories. A fun double bill to be sure, but make sure you save Vault for last.
This tongue-in-cheek exercise, directed by Steve Miner (Friday The 13th Parts II and III, Halloween: H20) from a story by Fred Dekker (Monster Squad, Night Of The Creeps), was a staple of 1980s cable TV, which is probably the last place I saw it. A Stephen King-esque writer, Roger Cobb (The Greatest American Hero’s William Katt!) moves into his deceased aunt’s allegedly haunted house, following both his divorce and his young son’s mysterious disappearance. Cobb is skeptical, but he’s soon besieged by all manner of rubbery ghoulies and malevolent floating garden tools. The haunting may be connected to Cobb’s own experiences in Vietnam, conveyed through a series of flashbacks that feature a very unconvincing Vietnam set (as well as a William Katt who looks exactly like he does in the present-day scenes, right down to the hairdo). House doesn’t try hard enough to be either funny or scary, and as a result, it’s neither. The makeup job on the lead ghost at the end is still pretty cool, but everything else just looks like a puppet.The cast features NBC-in-the-Eighties Thursday night funnymen Richard Moll and George Wendt. Was Michael Gross unavailable?
It! The Terror From Beyond Space (1958)
This Cold War-era schlock classic begins with a cool locked-room murder mystery; all but one of the members of the first manned mission to Mars have all been killed shortly after their arrival on the red planet, and the solitary survivor is accused of doing them in. A rescue mission picks the astronaut up to return him to Earth for his trial, but the real killer—a carnivorous alien being who is the last of his race—hitches a ride and begins bumping off the latest crop of humans one by one. Sound familiar? The filmmakers did too, when they saw an extremely similar plot turn up in 1979’s Alien. There’s no doubt that Ridley Scott’s chestbursting classic is the superior movie, but both films definitely owe a debt to A.E. Van Vogt’s 1939 short story “The Black Destroyer” anyway. This is a very dated movie in a lot of ways—the mouthbreathing monster consists of a guy in a pig-nosed, overbite-laden mask wearing a rubber suit that resembles a burlap unitard. The heroic astronauts have no compunctions whatsoever about firing off round after round of explosive ammunition inside the pressurized hull of their spacecraft, and even in what must have seemed at the time like the far-flung future of 1973, the lady astronauts still have to bring coffee and breakfast to the men astronauts. Finally, even though they do it in Alien as well, it struck me as really funny that the astronauts pause from the action for a smoke break.
The Thing (2011)
I had gone on record for a long time now as saying that the newest version of this classic sci-fi horror tale was going to stink, but I secretly hoped I might enjoy it anyway; after all, it was produced by the folks behind the 2004 Dawn Of The Dead update, which, while not nearly as great as the original, was still a pretty good time. Sadly, though, my initial instinct was correct—this lifeless retread, billed as a prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 monster mash (itself a remake of the still-great 1951 version, The Thing From Another World), adds little or nothing of interest to the already familiar story. Set in the ill-fated Norwegian camp that first encountered the horrific alien shape-changer, the latest model tells largely the same story, tweaking a few details along the way (not in any way that’s interesting or better than Carpenter’s take). Rob Bottin’s fantastic, imaginatively disgusting practical effects work has been replaced by average-looking CGI, with the new alien beasties all managing to look like nothing more than crazy messes of tentacles and teeth. Important details from the Carpenter version, like the idea that every cell of the creature is a living thing that could infect and replace a host, are never discussed but the characters act as though they have been. And, worst of all, this supposed “prequel” has to all of a sudden rush a sloppy end-credits epilogue into the mix in order to match up all the details of where the Carpenter film picks up! Do yourself a favour and watch either of the earlier versions instead of snoozing your way through this cash grab.