One of the strengths of the anthology film in horror, is that horror works really well in short form. It is almost as much the medium of the short story the way that Science Fiction is the realm of the novella and novel, and heroic fantasy is the realm of the novel. This is also why the horror comics of the 50s and 60s leant themselves well to anthology TV series and the anthology film in particular.
Tales from the Crypt is an Amicus Film, and pretty much their whole specialty was anthology films, the way that Gothic horror was the specialty of Hammer. The film has a collection of stories, collected around a frame narrative based around a group of people touring a medieval crypt, who get lost and find themselves in a room with a mysterious cloaked figure who confronts them with events from their past which all end in their deaths – this person naturally being the Cryptkeeper (though not with the decayed face of the character from the later TV series).
The stories are shot in a fairly similar fashion, and generally fit the standard formula of the EC Horror Comic morality play – in a large part because they’re all adaptations of stories from EC Comics – nasty people whose misdeeds lead them to horrifically gruesome ends, so what distinguishes the stories from each other, in a large part, is the performances of the cast.
The high point of the bunch is the story “Poetic Justice” – in a large part because the story features Hammer alum Peter Cushing. Cushing is an absolutely fabulous actor, and he brings a tremendous performance out of the material in this story, where he plays a widowed janitor who is tormented by his rich neighbors. “Blind Alleys” is a similarly excellent story, based around a callous military officer who has taken over management of a home for the blind, and who mistreats the residents. Finally, “Wish You Were Here” is one of the few stories which stands out for its writing more than its acting – as its a very well put together adaptation of the story “The Monkey’s Paw”. The remaining stories in the collection are not bad, but are not quite as memorable.
It’s a great film to break out when you’re in the mood for a fun creepy story, and it does really show the strengths, from the standpoint of acting and narrative, of the anthology film in horror.