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Face-Off: Tales from the Crypt vs. Vault of Horror

04.20.2016by: Cody Hamman
For me, one the most welcome trends in the horror genre today is the abundance of anthologies that have been coming out lately. Not only are we getting a lot of anthology films, but TNT is also working with M. Night Shyamalan to craft a new take on the Tales from the Crypt television series. This new series won't be hosted by the iconic, John Kassir-voiced Cryptkeeper puppet, but it will still be great to have EC Comics-inspired horror back on the airwaves. For this week's Face-Off, in celebration of this show's development, I wanted to look back at the EC Comics adaptations that preceded the previous Crypt TV show, the Amicus films TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972) and VAULT OF HORROR (1973).
STORYTELLERS
Far from the punster of the HBO series, the tale-telling Cryptkeeper here takes his job very seriously. A monk in a hooded robe, this Cryptkeeper ushers people into an afterlife of eternal damnation by telling them the stories of their horrible deaths. He does so with a demeanor like that of a stern teacher. No jokes, no laughs, all business and creepiness.
The Vault of Horror comics had a host, the fun-loving Vault-Keeper, but he didn't make the transition to film. Instead, the stories in this anthology are told by the men featured in them, sharing stories of their recurring nightmares. These nightmares were actually their deaths, and their punishment in the afterlife is having to tell their story every night.
SEGMENTS
TALES FROM THE CRYPT features five wonderfully chosen stories from the pages of EC Comics, most of which have left some kind of lasting impression on horror fans. I prefer the HBO version of And All Through the House, but this take is fun. Reflections of Death is short and sweet. Poetic Justice is a heart-breaking classic. Wish You Were Here will have you groaning at its characters' poor choices, and Blind Alleys takes things out on a high note of vengeance.
Most of the five stories in THE VAULT OF HORROR pale in comparison to those in TALES FROM THE CRYPT, but when taken on their own merits they're still some of the better anthology stories out there. While I didn't feel that Midnight Mess or Bargain in Death amounted to much, The Neat Job is a classic EC tale, This Trick'll Kill You is somewhat troubling fun, and Drawn and Quartered actually could have fit in quite well with the higher quality stories of CRYPT.
CHARACTERS
Murderers, cheats, scumbags, a daft wife who makes the worst wishes possible, tyrants. The characters in the Cryptkeeper's tales are not a nice or likeable group of people. The one character who shines bright amongst them is Peter Cushing as Arthur Grimsdyke in the Poetic Justice segment. This poor old widower gets such a raw deal that you can't help but feel for him, and I've always found what happens to him to be deeply disturbing.
Again, the characters at the center of these stories are not good people. We have a guy who will kill anyone who gets in the way of his inheritance, thieves, grave robbers, a maddening husband, a daft wife... No one is as purely good as CRYPT's Grimsdyke, but the lead played by Tom Baker in the Drawn and Quartered segment is the least abrasive of the bunch, and following him on his mystical mission of revenge is quite entertaining.
COMEUPPANCE
Most good anthologies feature at least one segment of horrible people getting a bloody comeuppance, and this film is almost entirely built upon that idea. The murderess who encounters a lunatic, vengeance delivered from beyond the grave, a jerk forced to navigate a razor-lined maze... If you like seeing villains get what's coming to them, you'll definitely enjoy these stories.
Crime doesn't pay. Murderers encounter greater threats than themselves. Revenge backfires when taken too far. As with CRYPT, the filmmakers attempted to make a crowd pleaser by having most of the stories build to a much-deserved comeuppance. The most satisfying of these for me came at the end of This Trick'll Kill You, because the villains of that piece stood out as the most detestable.
MONSTERS AND MADMEN
There are some good ghouls and creeps to be found here, presented in ways that will leave them burned into your brain. Years have passed between my viewings of TALES FROM THE CRYPT, but I've never been able to forget the hideous killer in a Santa Claus costume, the heart-ripping zombie, or the skull-masked motorcycle rider.
Nothing here is as memorable as the sights in CRYPT. There are vampires, but their teeth look really silly. That's about it for the creatures, and there aren't any maniacs on the level of Santa. It is impressive that one of the segments features a magic rope doling out deadly punishment and manages to make that one of the best things about the movie.
TALES FROM THE CRYPT
I expected VAULT OF HORROR to put up a bit more of a fight, but it turns out that when VAULT is pitted against TALES FROM THE CRYPT, it really doesn't stand much of a chance. Entertaining as VAULT is, it's just a weaker movie with lesser stories than its predecessor. I'd take VAULT over many an anthology, but CRYPT has it beat.

What do you think of the outcome of this Face-Off? Do you agree that CRYPT is the better film, or would you give the edge of VAULT? Or is it a tie in your eyes? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below. If you have suggestions for future Face-Offs, you can send them to me at CodyHamman@joblo.com.

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