Thursday, September 20, 2007

Tales from my crypt

My own story is not much different from many others. As a child I loved horror movies. Since the first time I was given an issue of Famous Monsters magazine at the age of five, monsters became my “thing”. I learned to read at quite an advanced level early in life because of horror movies. Obscure words like Melodrama became signposts for me while dissecting TV Guide, since that was their classification for anything at all monstrous. I was also lucky enough to have parents that always had at least one subscription to a daily newspaper, and Sundays always meant at least two. And though I didn’t wander off of the movie and TV sections very much, I did start my habit of collecting useless ephemera at a very young age. Movie reviews and ads would be clipped out and dated and stuck into whatever latest issue of Famous Monsters I would have. I would grill my parents for any details they could give me about actors that had some connection to my world of horror. It became a kind of Kevin Bacon game whenever I would ask about someone. The Thing with Two Heads starred Ray Milland, who won an Oscar for the Lost Weekend, playing an alcoholic with delirium tremens. Tarantula starred John Agar, who was from Chicago, son of the owner of Agar Meat, married Shirley Temple when she was only seventeen. I seriously had a basic knowledge of stuff ranging from Alchoholism to meat packing to the age requirements to marry well before the age of ten. All thanks to horror movies.
Also before the age of ten came the song American Pie and the movie Tales from the Crypt. They both came together one fateful day in March of 1972 when I not only got my father to take me to the movie, but also to buy me that not yet classic two-sided 45 (which had just been moved to the discounted section of the 45 bin at the local Goldblatts store). That part of the record department became my favorite section, not only because they were cheaper than the songs on the chart (ie easier to talk dad into buying) but they also contained the more obscure or ignored songs that never made the chart in the first place. My introduction to rummaging began there. Onto that plain paper sleeve I scrawled “Tales from the Crypt – Holiday Theatre” to commemorate that day.
And the movie Tales from the Crypt certainly was my introduction into the world of blood splattered, machete wielding violence, and themes that, though adult, I sadly had some personal experience with. I can’t imagine the awkwardness my father must have felt with the scene where the husband says goodnight to his kids just before leaving the house to move in with his mistress. That scene was sandwiched between the maniac Santa, and before the pulsating intestines, and all I can say is that my father was a real trooper. I thank him to this day for sticking it out. This movie became a new obsession. I had to find out how they got the dismembered hand to move. How they created the throbbing heart. And who the heck were these people that acted in it. While most kids my age would have had nightmares for many months, I was impervious to such things. My brother was way more scary than any skull guy riding a motorcycle could ever be. That movie really kicked things into high gear for me. I got the novelization soon after, as well as some original issues of the comic books that the movie was based on. And a few years later, for my eighth grade graduation, my sister (God bless her) got me the original 27” x 41” one-sheet movie poster!
Finally appearing on a no frills DVD in September 2007 (packaged together with 1973’s very similar Vault of Horror) the folks at Fox obviously don’t hold as special a place in their hearts for Tales from the Crypt as I do. When “scene selection” is your only bonus, you’re into “at least it’s available” territory. That really is a shame, since the movie has built up quite the reputation in the ensuing years. Not only for the decent cast (Sir Ralph Richardson, Joan Collins) and performances (Peter Cushing as a heartbroken widow with a bent for mysticism), but for the solid direction of Freddie Francis, the Oscar winning photographer of Glory, as well as numerous David Lynch films. Oh well, at least it’s available.