TALES FROM THE CRYPT was the title of the film that did it. That caused all this…mayhem! The Amicus portmanteau film released in 1972, that is considered by some to be the pinnacle of achievement amongst that company’s oeuvre. With a now familiar feeling wrap-around story of several disparate people (who often turn out to be in hell/purgatory a. n. other) suddenly confronted by a mysterious stranger, in this case a happily hammy Sir Ralph Richardson as the crypt keeper. No, not THAT Cryptkeeper. He turns up later…
Although Richardson, all twinkly eyes, and morbid glee at his visitors’ fates, feels as though at any time he may look straight to camera, wink, and pronounce, “Hello kiddies!”
But, Mark, you all say, this is all very/mildly/not at all interesting, (delete as appropriate) but what’s it got to do with the rapidly approaching festive season?
Fair point. The inclusion of this movie here is down to it’s opening story, ‘And All Through The House’. The original story first appeared in EC Comics The Vault Of Horror way back in 1954. When Amicus’s Max Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky were hunting around for material for their fourth anthology movie, it was perhaps inevitable that they would turn to the popular horror comics EC had produced, with hundreds and hundreds of tried and tested short stories, it seemed like a match made in heaven. It was, but only for 2 films. Vault of Horror was the EC fueled sequel of sorts, and while it had an
impressive cast, and some good stories it just didn’t have the zeitgeist that Tales From The Crypt somehow tapped into. Crypt’s iconic imagery, The skull headed motor cyclist, the crypt keeper, Peter Cushing’s incredible zombiefied Grimsdyke make up, but most crucially for this article, Joan Collins being terrorised by the escaped lunatic….dressed as Santa!
Told you there would be killer Santa’s!
Joan Collins plays a clearly disgruntled wife who at the beginning of the story, on Christmas Eve, kills her husband, whilst upstairs her young daughter is sound asleep. Whilst attempting to cover up her grisly deed she hears an announcer on the radio warn listeners that an escaped lunatic is believed to be in the area. Of course he’s outside, and poor Joan can’t exactly call the police as there’s a murdered husband to consider…
It’s a gloriously simple premise. The woman can’t risk calling the police as they may well discover her handiwork. The filmed version, and the TV remake for the Tales From The Crypt TV show in 1989, are fairly faithful to the original comic story. The short running time works in favour of such a conceit and I cannot help but wonder if having to pad out the running time ( normally with numerous slasher movie style kills) ultimately works against other killer Santa movies. Here a woman who has been very naughty is trapped by the killer, and her daughter is asleep upstairs. Her options are limited and so we have a cat and mouse game unfold before us.
Truth be told the TV ‘remake’ is in many ways better. Certainly director Robert Zemeckis (Forest Gump, Back To The Future) uses black humour more effectively, and Santa, all bleeding gums, and gloriously over the top relish (Larry Drake, Darkman, Dr Giggles) plays to the expectations of a late 80’s television audience. But, in this version, directed by Hammer/Amicus/British horror go to guy in the 60’s and 70’s (The Skull, Dracula Has Risen From The Grave, (it is the underplaying and subtle nuances that help lift the story to another level)9@”. For instance, the only music in the short is the Christmas carols playing on the radio, whilst the maniac Santa just looks like a crotchety old man who happens to be in a Santa costume ( and wants to kill Joan Collins!). It is certainly a slow burn, but the story and images stay in the memory long after you’ve seen it.
What’s more the whole movie, no doubt in no small part to this story, feels like a Christmas film. The morality tales somehow seem to share their DNA with the transgressions (often quite minor) undertaken by the mainly academic characters from M.R. James’ short stories, filmed for the BBC’s Ghost Stories For Christmas.
While it may have been the first ‘killer Santa’ movie it certainly isn’t the most successful or the most disturbing. But it is the film that launched that most surprising of sub-genres…
The killer Santa movie!
Next instalment… A round up of the Killer Santa movies, and a run down of my personal favourite and least favourite festive chills?
( you may be surprised!)