Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Tales From The Crypt: "...And All Through The House" 1972 vs 1989

If you're reading this blog, you know what I'm talking about when I say that the "...And All Through The House" segment of the classic Amicus anthology Tales From The Crypt flat out RULES!  In fact, it rules so much that Robert Zemeckis decided to remake it as the second episode of the classic television version of Tales From The Crypt.   So, since it's the holidays and all, I figured now is as good a time as any to look at both versions of this creepy classic tale.  Let's get into it shall we?

Of course, there will be spoilers here . . . so if you haven't seen either the 1972 film or the TV episode yet . . . turn away now!

Tales From The Crypt is a fine example of a British Horror anthology (of which, there was quite a boom in the early to mid-1970s, with Amicus releasing the best of the bunch).  It's got five separate stories, tied neatly together by an engaging wrap-around, all of which serve as the sort of morality tale the original source comics did in the 1950s

"I know he's got that insurance money on him somewhere!"
The first segment, of course, is "...And All Through The House" and it stars Joan Collins as a Joanne Clayton, a woman who kills her husband on Christmas Eve, with the hopes of finding a rich insurance settlement in her stocking!  As Joanne methodically arranges her victim so that it appears he had an accident, she fails to hear a radio announcement of an escaped mental patient dressed in a Santa Claus outfit in her area.  Of course, he comes straight to her house and she gets into a bit of a juggling act trying to arrange her late husband's corpse, barricade her home, and pull the St. Nick wool over the eyes of her daughter who is anxious to see the Jolly One and won't stay in bed.  Amicus mainstay Chloe Franks plays the daughter, Carol, who eventually lets "Santa" in at the story's climax. 

Joan Collins thinks it's Linda Evans outside her window!
Everything here is played for sheer terror and director Freddie Francis works hard to make the audience's blood freeze when the killer Santa first shows up.  Collins is exceptional at showing off her range of emotions with very little dialogue (she only really ever speaks to her daughter and once to her husband after she's killed him).  She goes from cold and calculated as she arranges the "accident" scene and cleans up the murder scene to fright once "Santa" reaches in through and open window.  All the while, she's trying to let on what happened to her husband even though Carol let's out a "goodnight Daddy" and her prying eyes are constantly on the verge of exposing Joanne's misdeed. 

Santa, wash your hands before taking a cookie please!
The gore is minimal here, though, as it was 1972.  However, the little bit of red stuff that we do see is effective and works well within the context of a "comic book film".  When Joanne first clobbers her husband over the head with the fireplace poker, there's a squirt of very pink blood on the newspaper he's reading.  There's also a messy -- again, very pink -- stain on the white shag carpet that the body collapses onto.  Honestly, it looks as though Collins spilled some pink nail polish onto her groovy carpet . . . but the color is so splashy that looks right at home in the context of a 1970s comic book!  Joanne also collects some of the spilled blood into a champagne glass to effectively dress the scene of the "accident" once she throws her husband's body down the basement stairs.  Although, as she cleans up her tools later on, the "blood" comes off a little too easily with some soap and water. 

All in all, this original version of "...And All Through The House" is the perfect kick-off to a great film where every story is a corker!  In fact, it also may very well be the first (?) [or at least first "modern" - ED.] "Killer Santa" film!  Everything is played pretty straight, though there is an underlying sense of dark humor in the segment's penultimate twist as young Carol finally lets "Santa" into the house with the same sort of na├»ve and giddy smile any child would have at seeing Saint Nick at their house! 

True be told, the television remake of "...And All Through The House" was actually the first Tales From The Crypt episode that I ever saw -- at least part of it!  I vividly remember my dad being excited about the premiere of Tales From The Crypt, recalling the old comics and there was even Mom chiming in about seeing the 1972 film back in the day as well!  Of course, the first episode was "The Man Who Was Death" with William Sadler taking the law into his own hands after he's laid off as the city jail's executioner; of course, being a good dad and shielding my then 6yr old eyes, my Daddy-O quickly changed the channel at the first sight of female nudity!  We, of course, came back to HBO a short time later, picking up with the "...And All Through The House" episode which, again, I recall Dad putting his foot down and changing it quickly deeming it to be "too scary" for my young eyes!

Alas, series show-runner Robert Zemeckis directed "...And All Through The House", which effectively retells the classic story as seen in the original 1972 film [and Vault of Horror #35 - ED.] though, as with most remakes, things are expanded a bit. 

Drinking too much can cause a splitting headache.
Zemeckis' then wife, the late Mary Ellen Trainor (Dr. Stephanie Woods in the Lethal Weapon films), stars as the wife, killing her second husband (played by the always awesome Marshall Bell), once again, for his insurance money.  Following the same set-up, there's an upstairs daughter who is supposed to be sleeping, whom the wife desperately tries to hide the evidence of the murder from.  Larry Drake also stars as the decidedly more gruesome Jolly Old homicidal maniac, caked with blood and gore in his beared and suit!  There are some subtle changes to the story here as well -- the wife tries to dispose of the body via an outside well, the story is expanded with a lot more action between the wife and "Santa" as he tries methodically tries to get into the house. 

What? No more Lethal Weapon movies?!
Zemeckis plays up the dark humor of the original story, really ramping up an almost cartoonish vibe as "Santa" becomes like Wile E. Coyote, always getting bonked on the head and mugging for the camera before falling out of frame, unconscious.  It's also worth noting that Marshall Bell is great at playing a stiff; he's always displaying a goofy death face -- even with a plastic bag on his head -- and expertly plays dead weight as Trainor drags him out of the house, through the snow and decides just how to dispose of him.  Another comedic moment comes when, after the "Santa" has first shown up, the wife decides to make it look like her husband was axed to death by the killer!  Even though she herself is a cold-blood killer, she still cannot bare to smash an axe into her late husband's head -- his dumb expression peering back her probably doesn't help!  So, she closes her eyes and blindly swings, completely missing him! 

Trainor herself is quite effective as well, as she again displays a range of emotions; going from cold-blooded murderer to a mom whose trying to hide her misdeed to a frightened mom trying to protect herself and her daughter.  Her blood-curdling screams at the story's close as, once again, "Santa" finds his way into the house, are pretty chilling too, if not a bit over the top.

'Dem cookies ya got there are bad for my teeth!
Drake really steals the show here though, as the homicidal maniac.  At the time, he was known for back to back Emmy wins as mentally-handicapped Benny on L.A. Law (his only previous foray into Horror as the similarly challenged Bubba Ritter in the CBS TV movie Dark Night of the Scarecrow some eight years earlier).  Drake is effectively menacing -- again, that nasty shit in his beard probably helps sell it -- without saying a single word until the very end when he utters a "Naughty...or nice?"  His comedic chops are also on display as he gets manhandled and beaten up like a Looney Tunes character, displaying a stunned expression and muttering something that sounds like a Gremlin, just short of seeing stars and tiny, cartoon birds circling his head. 

Ultimately, this episode perfectly sets the tone that the rest of the series would follow -- horror morality tales, soaked in dark humor.  It perfectly updates the (then) modern sensibilities of the story and expands a little to pad out the running time for a full episode.  All in all, not a bad piece!   

If you were to hold a gun to my head and ask me to choose which version of "...And All Through The House" was better, I'd probably go with 1972 because Joan Collins.  Although, my love for that particular telling may be mostly due to the nostalgia I feel for the first time I saw Tales From The Crypt from front to back; the same could be said for the Zemeckis version as well, with a similar nostalgia for the television series!  If you haven't seen either of them, do yourself a favor and make it happen -- Tales From The Crypt is available on Blu-ray from Scream Factory in its original, uncut form, paired in an awesome double feature with its 1973 sequel The Vault of Horror (presented in two different versions!) and, of course, HBO's awesome Tales From The Crypt series is available via Complete Season sets or multi-packs depending on your needs (you wants Season 1, of course, for "...And All Through The House").

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