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Tales From The Crypt

(Directed by Freddie Francis)

If you’re a genre fan, “Tales from the Crypt” means different things to different people. Of course there are the original EC comics from the 50s, and there’s the HBO series and movies from the 90s. But for UK horror fans of a certain age, this classic anthology from Amicus was their first exposure to the brand. A slight cheat inasmuch as only two of the stories are legitimately from the comics, this film was directed by the experienced Hammer/Amicus stalwart Francis. It manages to incorporate combine some of the ghoulish morality of the US comics, but it couldn’t be more British if it tried. It’s packed full of renowned English actors; including Ralph Richardson, Ian Hendry, Joan Collins, Richard Greene and (of course) Peter Cushing. The plot sees five tourists wander into some catacombs and becoming trapped, as the mysterious Crypt-Keeper (Richardson) foretells the manner of their deaths.

Any modern viewer of the movie (especially fans of the HBO interpretation) might be surprised at the Shakespearian thespian portraying the Crypt-Keeper as a sinister monk, rather than a cackling skeleton with bad puns. But aside from that, this shows the British studio at the top of their game, and it makes a surprisingly good stab at the gruesome nature of the original stories. Whilst each tale is basically built around the usual structure of “no-bad-deed-goes-unpunished”, the separate stories hold together well and deliver a genuinely macabre experience. It’s not generally explicit, but it still holds up today with some disturbing moments. Cushing’s zombie is pure EC undead, and one scene (sometimes missing from certain cuts) shows a character cursed with immortality survive a messy evisceration. Collins “Bad Santa” tale was also remade as an episode for the HBO show. On a sad note, Cushing’s melancholic performance has an extra edge to it, having just lost his wife before taking the role of an elderly widower. Otherwise, the film is a benchmark for horror anthologies, and directly inspired the production of “Creepshow” many years later.

Horror Express

(Directed by Eugenio Martín as Gene Martin)

This is a wonderfully out-there genre film that deservedly earned a cult reputation, due to plenty of late-night showings on UK and US TV channels during the 80s and 90s. Also known as “Pánico en el Transiberiano” (“Panic on the Trans-Siberian Express”) in some territories, HE was shot mostly in Madrid. It had an ultra-low budget and reportedly re-used some of the sets from other productions (such as “Pancho Villa”). From a film-fan’s perspective a big draw to the movie is the dual-billing of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, not to mention the sight of Telly Savalas as a mean-spirited Russian Cossack, who doesn’t just chew the scenery but seems to swallow it whole! The loopy premise (which is set in 1906) sees Lee’s stuffy British an