This Amicus portmanteau is crap. Everyone says so. The critics minced it with down-the-nose-isms like “beleaguered grotesque” and “waste of a talented cast”. The audience stayed away in their thousands. EC Comics head honcho Big Fat Bill Gaines hated it so much (in contrast to Amicus’ previous adaptation of his properties, Tales From the Crypt) he huffily stomped off with the rights to any further productions, thus denying us the prospect of such tantalising Subotskiana as More Tales From the Crypt, Haunt of Fear and the 3-D Tales of the Incredible. Even director Roy Ward Baker hated it, and when he barks horror fans jump.
Thing is, it isn’t crap. Honest. OK, so the gambit of having five tales instead of the usual four is spreading the chilling chips a little thin on the bloodcurdling baize of the creepy casino (we’re even starting to annoy ourselves here, sorry). For instance, Michael Craig’s tale wherein he fakes his own death, only for gravedigger Arthur Mullard and ‘do you see?’ cameoing med students Robin ‘Doctor’ Nedwell and Geoffrey ‘Doctor’ Davies to louse things up with a bit of rubbish graverobbing falls a bit flat, and the one where Curt Jurgens gets his via a load of old rope is money for precisely that, the presence of Dawn Addams lounging about in some nifty silk pyjamas notwithstanding. But three out of five is pretty good going. The marvellously titled vampire dealy Midnight Mess sees Daniel Massey admitting he’s never been to a Horrific Harvester before, and impersonating a Grand Guignol version of a Stowell’s of Chelsea wine box for his trouble. Then klutzy Glynis Johns reaches the end of her tether with pathologically fastidious Terry-Thomas, and sends him the way of a Hayward’s pickled onion, in one of the best “funny” horror portmanteau interlues ever attempted, and all set within the most 1970s suburban house you ever did see (love that yellow cookware set!)
Best of all is, of course, the well-documented Drawn and Quartered, with Tom Baker in Bohemian beard and repulsively wide-gauged corduroy suit, getting his revenge on the art world (in the shape of Denholm Elliot and Terence Alexander) via a bit of voodoo painting hocus-pocus, until vanity and a clumsy decorator lead to his inevitable downfall. Point of order about that last tale – when Baker tests out his newfound capabilities to make anything he paints become reality, he settles for drawing a slice of bread, then erasing a bite being taken out of it. If he wanted conclusive proof from the off, why didn’t he paint, say, a unicycling otter with the face of Gilbert Harding? Granted, the bracketing story and its final revelation (a clumsy mixture of the punchlines from Dead of Night and Doctor Terror’s House of Horrors) is no great shakes despite being set in a stylish octagonal dungeon-cum-Late-Night-Line-Up-set, and it can’t hold a cobwebbed candle to From Beyond the Grave, but than again, what can? (Oh, and Marianne Stone is of course here, as Glynis’s chum in the T-T tale.)