5 bewildered individuals become stuck in a maze of odd catacombs together with a puzzling figure resembling a Franciscan. He is the Keeper of the crypt, and he shows his guests grueling visions that retell the stories of their deaths, including one in particular involving – you guessed it – a Ouija board.
Classical anthology film “Tales From The Crypt” from 1972 begins with scenic footage from Highgate Cemetery in north London set to the captivating overture of Baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor (BWV 565). A tour-guide leads what appear to be five tourists through the cemetery and into a dim crypt where they are greeted by the crypt’s guardian, clad in the robes of a traditional European monk. The visitors claim that they have no time to stand around, but on the other hand, as the Crypt Keeper asks them to specify their errands, they are no longer able to do so, nor are they able to recall how or why they happened to visit the cemetery and the crypt. The guests ask him to show them the way out, but he tells them that this can wait and asks them to sit down. Joanne, one of the guests, then reveals that she must have ventured into the crypt due to some form of compulsory movement, kicking off the anthology’s first story out of five:
… And All Through the House
It’s Christmas Eve, and housewife Joanne Clayton pokes the fireplace with a fire iron, amidst a wealth of sixties-modernist interior decorating. She pokes that fireplace and she pokes it good. One might even say that she pokes it with skill. Her husband, Richard, sneaks into the living room, where the Christmas tree is, and slips a present for his beloved Joanne under it.
Soon as he sits down to read the paper, he is struck to his head with the fire poker, and hits the ground dead, murdered by his wife. Joanne then takes his keys for his safety box or vault, hidden by a picture on the wall. Joanne grabs his life-insurance papers in the vault, but hears her daughter calls to her from a room upstairs, so she quickly cleans the poker of blood and runs upstairs to put her daughter to bed, saying that Santa Claus won’t come unless she goes to sleep.
She then finds and unpacks the present from her dead husband (it’s a golden brooch). She tries to drag her husband’s body away, and while she does, she overhears a piece of breaking news in the radio: That a criminally insane, homicidal maniac has escaped from a psychiatric hospital, and is now roaming the nearby area in a stolen Santa-costume. The authorities ask residents in the area to be on the lookout for this man.
At almost the very same time, that exact man tries to break into the house. Joanne closes all the shutters and wants to phone the police. She then realizes that there is a dead body in her house. She drags Richard’s cadaver, chucks him down the stairs to the basement and collects his blood in a wineglass to then spill it in a manner intended to make it look like he fell down the cellar and hit his head.
She puts the insurance-papers back in the vault, puts an extra log on the fire and wants to try phoning the police again. She then realizes her daughter’s bedroom door is open, so she goes to look for her but cannot find her. Her daughter suddenly comes in through the main door and introduces Santa, proudly stating that she let Santa in. Joanne runs but is outpaced by Santa.
Santa chokes then her to death, concluding the 1st story and taking us back to the crypt, where the Crypt Keeper turns towards Carl Maitland, another of the guests, and kicks off the 2nd story:
Reflection of Death
Carl Maitland leaves his house in the late evening, saying goodbye to his wife and children. He goes to the Hillside residence, where he enters the apartment of Susan Blake, his mistress.
Blake has packed her bags and had her apartment’s furniture removed and shipped elsewhere. The wrap it up and drive together towards an undisclosed location. Susan says that Carl is too tired to drive, and offers to take the steering wheel. Carl rapidly wakes up from a nightmare and scares Susan. Just in this moment, a big truck is on collision course with them. They swerve to evade the truck and are hurled over the edge of the road and straight through a fence. The car rolls around with them inside and ultimately bursts into flames.
The camera following his perspective or point of view, Carl gets up to escape the fiery wreckage of the crash-site, but cannot find Susan. He leaves the crash-site and encounters a hobo, but the hobo runs off as soon as he sees Carl’s face. Carl tries to stop a motorist on the road, but this man too drives off as soon as Carl gets near.
He somehow walks home and knocks on the main door. His former wife answers the door but becomes shocked and traumatized when she sees him. He notices that the name-label on the main door has changed from “Maitland” to “Wilson” He looks through a window to see another man trying to comfort her and calm her down. He then heads back to Susan Blake’s apartment at Hillside.
When Susan answers the door, she too is shocked and says that it cannot possibly be true that he is Carl. He sees that Susan is supporting herself using an assistive white cane. He asks why there is still furniture in the apartment and she answers that she had it shipped back after the car crash. She explains that she has lost her eyesight completely and that Carl died, now two years ago. Looking down at a glass-table in front of him to see his mirror-image, he discovers that he is correctly dead.
Carl wakes up from his nightmare in the car again, as seen before – Susan gets scared, the truck almost collides with them, the car is thrown off the road and Carl dies (again). The scene returns to the crypt, where the Crypt Keeper stares Maitland stiffly in the eyes, concluding the 2nd story.
A third among the visitors, James Elliot, asks the keeper what he wants from them, and the keeper answers that he only wants to show them what they themselves are capable of doing. To this, Elliot replies that he’d rather prefer not to know, but the keeper insists that he “must know”, leading us to the 3rd story:
James Elliot, a rich bachelor, looks out of his window, watching as his neighbor across the street, Arthur Grimsdyke, entertains local kids with puppets. James’ father, the wealthy Edward Elliot walks in and asks what James is staring at. James explains that he has gotten fed up with the way Arthur gives away vintage toys for free to the local children. He asserts that Arthurs household must be a dump on the inside and not befitting the neighborhood at all. He also reasons that the presence of Arthur’s house depreciates the value of his own estates. Edward explains that he has made earlier attempts to buy Arthur out of the house. Arthur’s wife, Helen, died while living there so Arthur feels that he should also live there until he dies.
In an attempt to harass old Arthur into leaving the neighborhood, James sneaks into the rose-garden adjacent to Arthur’s garden, and batters and rips out the roses with a hayfork. Mr. Baker, who owns the garden, becomes convinced that this was caused by the dogs that Arthur keeps (although in a kennel). Mr. Baker complains to the police, who consequentially take away Arthur’s dogs. Later one evening, one of Arthur’s dog returns to his house on its own resolve.
Arthur then tries to contact his beloved wife using a Ouija board. Through the Ouija board, his wife manages to send him a message; the message being simply “danger”.
James and his father bring in Counsellor Ramsey and ask him to fire Arthur from his job as a municipality garbage man and strip him of his retirement to “save the town some money”.
Edward and James also invite a number of townsfolk and begin to slander Arthur by implying that his motivations to be nice to their kids are that he wants to molest them. As a result, all parents forbid their children to interact with him, and this makes him lonelier. Arthur glances at the picture of his dead wife and says that as long as they have each other he will continue to live in the house.
Valentine’s Day is drawing nearer, so James decides to send Arthur a load of fake, poison-pen Valentine’s cards, expressing how much everybody hates him and wishes he was dead.
A week thereafter, Edward wonders why he has not seen Arthur for days. When James and Edward walk into Arthur’s house, they find that he has hanged himself. They are surprised however, that the whole place is spotlessly clean and not “filthy” as they expected. Arthur is then buried and some of the local children adopt his dog; Counsellor Ramsey remarking that it was kind of Edward Elliot to pay for the burial since Arthur would not have been able to.
A year after, again at Valentine’s Day, James finds some spare Valentine’s cards from last year under his desk and feels regret over having driven Arthur to suicide, so he chucks the postcards into the fireplace. It’s too late for atonement though, because meanwhile in the local graveyard, Arthur’s revenant body rises from the grave, enters the house and assaults James. Next morning, Edward finds his son sitting at the desk, soaked in blood. His heart has been torn out of him and is lying separately with a Valentine’s note.
This concludes the 3rd story, and the Crypt Keeper turns his gaze towards Ralph Jason, who asks what he is doing here, leading us to the 4th story:
Wish You Were Here
Ralph Jason’s solicitor and trusted friend, Charles Gregory, announces that Ralph has ended up in debt, and that, in his opinion, business funds should never have been entrusted to him in the first place.
Charles explains that he now has two options: Firstly, to file bankruptcy; Secondly, to attempt to pay back all his debts by selling as many holdings as humanly possible.
Ralph and his wife, Enid, scour their estate for things to sell first and stumble upon a statuette which they bought in a small shop in Hong Kong. Engraved into the base of the figurine is a message, stating that the owner will get three (3) wishes fulfilled. Enid puts both hands on the statuette and declares, partly in jest, that she wishes for “lot’s and lot’s” of money.
As his solicitor, Charles phones Ralph and asks him to come over very quickly because of a money question. While on his way in his car, a motorcyclist intercepts him and he sees in his wing mirror that the biker wears a skull-mask.
Charles gets call from the police, informing him that his client and dear friend has been killed in car crash. Charles breaks the sour news to Enid, but points out in a last attempt to comfort her, that Ralph always held a larger insurance policy with a double indemnity against accidents, so that she a least can call herself a rich widow.
Enid realizes what she has done, and now intends to bring her husband back to life by declaring a second wish to the statuette. Charles tells her that in the story “The Monkey’s Paw” by W. W. Jacobs, a mother also uses her second wish to bring back her dead son – but in the condition he died in: mangled beyond recognition in a heavy machine accident.
Clutching the statuette, Enid wishes for it to bring back her husband “as he was, immediately before the accident”, and within a few seconds, four guys dressed as morticians carry into the room a large coffin, while one of the guys remarks that he did indeed not die as a result of the car crash itself, but because of a fatal heart attack (which then led to the car crash). Enid asks Charles to leave her for a brief moment, so Charles waits outside of the room for a bit.
Concluding that her second wish didn’t work, Enid proceeds to the third, wishing that Ralph be alive and awake, and stay that way forever! Ralph immediately wakes up, kicking and screaming as if in tremendous torment. Enid panics and calls for Charles, who reminds her that Ralph’s body is filled with embalming fluids, giving him constant burning pains throughout his entire body.
Ralph screams for Enid to do something about it, so she grabs a samurai-sword from the wall and slashes him across the belly so that his intestines spill out and his hand is chopped off – causing him even more severe torture. Realizing that due to her wish, she cannot kill him, she gives up and falls weeping to the ground, ending the 4th story.
We are taken back to the crypt, wherein Major William Rogers, our 5th character, steps forth and takes us directly to the 5th story:
William is driving in his car, having put Shane, a Belgian Malinois, on the backseat. He is on his way to “Elmridge Home for the Blind”, where he has been appointed the new superintendent and as such will be taking over the administrative duties as Head of the institution.
As we’re getting further into the winter, William cuts heating expenses so severely that no radiators emit heat in the evening. This causes one of the patients to fall very ill. George Carter, another patient, wants to bring the man a blanket, but realizes that no blankets are left in the supply closet. George goes to William’s new office to file a complaint, but is dismissed without being shown any willingness to help.
The patients soon realize that the food served in the establishment has become significantly worse as of late. Meanwhile, William is living an increasingly luxurious lifestyle in his new office; the food spared no expense. When the patients go to his office to complain again, they are chased out by his dog.
As time passes, one of the patients dies, despite George’s efforts to save him. When the rest of the patients realize this, it becomes too much for them. The patients then devise a plan to trap William and his dog in two separate basement rooms.
When they are both trapped, the patients rush to the basement to construct a wooden corridor leading from one cell to the other. They line the inner walls of the corridor with razor blades, and since open the door. Soon as William is past the narrowest part of the corridor, they open the cell where his dog is. After days of starving, the dog has gone mad and attacks him in the middle of the corridor while George turns off all the lights, rendering William defenseless towards his own dog.
Such ends the 5th and final story, and the Crypt Keeper tells the five visitors that they may now leave. A glowing door opens nearby, and Ralph Jason goes to have a look at the powerful light coming through the doorway. He asks the Crypt Keeper how this is supposed to help him, and is told that this is the place for all people who have died without repentance.
Organ-music starts playing, and Ralph drops down the burning pits of Hell. The remaining four damned souls for some reason calmly rise from their seats to follow right after Ralph, into the fiery chasms.
Peter Cushing as Arthur Edward Grimsdyke
Ralph Richardson as the Crypt Keeper
Patrick Magee as George Carter
Joan Collins as Joanne Clayton
Ian Hendry as Carl Maitland
Robin Phillips as James Elliot
Richard Greene as Ralph Jason
Nigel Patrick as Major William Rogers
Roy Dotriceas Charles Gregory
Barbara Murray as Enid Jason
Geoffrey Bayldon as the Guide
Chloe Franks as Carol Clayton
Angela Grant as Susan Blake
David Markham as Edward Elliot