Thursday, October 29, 2009

Tales From the Crypt (1972)
UK --- horror

Dir: Freddie Francis

Had it not been for William Gaines’ EC Comics, the world would have no Alfred E. Newman, no crypt keeper, and and especially no Tales From the Crypt. The comic book horror anthology started in 1950, but only lasted till 1955 publishing 30 issues in total. It was filled with ghastly stories often about vengeance beyond the grave or twist endings that end in horror. The comic book featured art by the likes of Al Feldstein, Jack Kamen, Jack Davis, Johnny Craig, and many more. Each artist eventually had their own style to what kind of story they were telling. Gaines found that the hit comic originally called “The Crypt of Terror” should have sister publications such as “The Vault of Horror” and “The Haunt of Fear”. The comic book series was eventually attacked by censors who had followed guidelines of a controversial book titled “Seduction of the Innocent”, that suggested the idea
comic books were ruining children’s minds, and William Gaines’ EC Comics were prime targets. Eventually, censorship were the main killers of “Tales From the Crypt”, as the comic book company folded due to restrictions of the Comics Code.

The legacy of “Tales From the Crypt” was never forgotten. It found it’s most popular resurgence in 1989 with the HBO television series, “Tales From the Crypt” which aired stories more from “The Vault of Horror” than its namesake inspiration. Before that series would ever see the airwaves, the British Amicus Productions made a 1972 horror anthology called “Tales From the Crypt” as well. The film weaved five stories together, with a wraparound. The stories however were not all from the “Tales From the Crypt” comic, but mostly from “The Vault of Horror”. Interestingly enough Amicus would produce a film of that anthology too, serving as a sequel to “Crypt”.

This version of “Tales From the Crypt” also featured a crypt keeper, played by Sir Ralph Richardson who’s dressed like a monk and is sans any ghoul makeup. Directed by Freddie Francis, the synopsis tells of five tourists who go missing from a group in a catacomb. The crypt keeper makes his all too mild mannered appearance when they discover they’re trapped. He begins to unfold upon them stories of their futures. Joan Collins stars in the first story adapted from a story in “The Vault of Horror” #35, “… And All Through the House”. This is probably the most famous and memorable tale from any of the line of comic stories, as Collins portrays a woman who murders her rich old husband on Christmas Eve, only to get a visit from an escaped convict dressed as Santa Claus. The thing about this version of the story (which was also adapted by Robert Zemekis on the HBO series) is Collins portrayal of the bitchy wife. This wife seems the perfect foil for this story; she deserves what’s coming to her, as Zemekis’ heroine is boring. Also this Santa killer is an older frail chap that looks like someone’s crazed old uncle, not the stocky Larry Drake who poses more of a threat. One thing that always bothered me about this story is, the wife makes no attempt to get an alibi and should want to use the Santa killer as an alibi for her husband’s murder. It, in itself could make a good feature length thriller if done right.

The next story is pretty dull as an adulterous husband leaves home and drives away with his mistress. They get in an accident and he awakens to get help, but everyone who lays eyes on him is instantly runs away in fright, even his wife. He finally pays a visit to his mistress when she reveals she was blinded in the very same accident he died in. The story folds back to just before the accident, as all this was just a premonitory dream. This tale actually comes from the comic “Tales From the Crypt” and adapted from “Reflection of Death”. It also bears a slight resemblance to another British horror anthology film “Dead of Night”. The third vignette stars Hammer horror alum Peter Cushing as a fairly eccentric neighbor of a snobby father and son who toy with his emotions. It ultimately leads to his suicide, and of course the son is the first recipient of vengeance from beyond the grave. The fourth tale is based on the famous W.W. Jacobs horror short story “The Monkey’s Paw” as a business man learns he’s lost his money, his wife discovers a Chinese statue and makes a wish for money. The husband dies in a car accident after being chased by a skeleton like figure on a motorcycle. So, she gets his money, regretting her first wish she uses a second wish to wish him back to life just as he was before he died. Her husband does come back to life, but in great pain because he’s already been embalmed. The final tale is another original “Tales From the Crypt” story called “Blind Alleys” and is easily one of the best of the film IMHO. A newly appointed director of a home for the blind deliberately forces unnecessary changes in the place due to financial cutbacks. These cutbacks include no heat, very little amounts of food and a change in that quality of food, while the new director and his pet German Shepard seem to be having the time of his life at the blind patrons expense. The residents decide to seek vengeance in their own way, building a small labyrinth in the basement and forcing the new director to traverse through with razor blades affixed to the walls of a narrow corridor. Meanwhile, the best surprise is left for last as the director’s dog is starved for hours on the other side of that corridor, as the residents make him a blind man by flicking the lights off in the labyrinth and releasing the dog.

The wraparound tale ends with the crypt keeper revealing to the tourists that premonitions were actually the reasons why they were there. As a cave opens to a white light and they discover they are in eternal damnation. Amicus made a style of producing quality anthology horror films, and this one remains one of their best, if not one of the best of the genre period. It would come to inspire followers like Creepshow and many other horror anthology films. Alls well, that ends well.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Sunshine (2007)
UK/ USA --- science fiction/ horror
Dir: Danny Boyle

Science fiction has always been a genre where you could relatively tell stories with more than one meaning. Since before World War 2, scientists and writers really began to consider and imagination the possibility of space travel and life on other planets. The final frontier was really becoming the next great possibilty. With that, many fantasy creators had no problem imagining scenarios that were either beneficial to mankind, or horrorifc.

Danny Boyle's space exploration film Sunshine is really more of an amalgam of a lot of space films, that include 2001: A Space Odyssey and even Alien. If you've been following these films this month, you see that Sunshine has the earmarks of this subgenre. A manned space mission with a mixed ragtag crew that seems to have two women only and must follow-up an earlier manned space mission that went awry from some reason. This film is no different, albeit with a more desperate and urgent mission.
The plot here, seems to take a cue from the Twilight Zone episode "Midnight Sun", which suggested a horrorific scenario in which the sun moved dangerously too close to the earth, when in actuality it was moving farther away. Actually a little more plausible than this films premise, but not by much. Set in the year 2057, here we have the crew of the aptly named Icarus II comprised of various scientists must save a dying Sun by launching a bomb onto the Sun's surface in hopes of reigniting it. The crew of the original space mission, Icarus I, mysteriously disappeared without a trace. When the crew finally get a distress beacon from Icarus I, Captain Kaneda (played by Ringu's Hiroyuki Sanada) questions physicist Robert Capa (played by Cillian Murphy) if answering should they change course. Capa suggests using the Icarus I payload would increase the chance to reignite the Sun, so the decision is made. Meanwhile, Kaneda uncovers a strange message from Icarus I's Captain Pinbacker who has been become increasingly obsessed the Sun.

The closer they get to the Sun, the body count goes up, as Capa discovers Pinbacker is still alive and has become completely sun-burnt and insane and begins killing crew members and sabotaging the mission. Capa must try to escape Pinbacker, launch the stellar bombs into the sun, and save the earth from an eternal solar winter.

Now, this is more of a straight and narrow sci-fi film, the only thing is, it does kinda turn into slasher film in space. The parable here is closely aligned to the Biblical tale of the Tower of Babel. Wherein there is clearly a danger of humanity's reach into outerspace in general, the sun should seem completely off limits, and is not without its consequences for those who seek to venture too closely. These attributes all seem to make Sunshine an entertaining film. With a talented ensemble cast and versatile director Danny Boyle at the helm, it's no surprise that it hits all of its marks.