12 days of Christmas horror (Day 2) -Tales from the Crypt (1972)

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tales-from-the-crypt-PosterIf the late Andy Williams and countless cinematic festive classics are to be believed, Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. So as we submerge ourselves within the festive rush (or are involuntarily thrust into it) it’s understandable that many film sites are keen to talk about their favourite holiday movies. However, Scott and myself of The People’s Movies thought it would be more fun to celebrate the darker side of Christmas. So please enjoy our alternative 12 Days of Christmas countdown where we celebrate murderous Santas, blood-soaked holly, and not getting those cha-cha heels.

For me the ultimate slice of Christmas macabre is featured in Freddie Francis’s 1972 Amicus horror anthology Tales from the Crypt. The fourth of Amicus Production‘s eight portmanteau flicks once again stars the cream of British acting talent from Sir Ralph Richardson to Peter Cushing, but it is Joan Collins lead segment ‘All Through the House’ that I find myself returning to each Christmas.

Before Collins became a household name through her role as superbitch Alexis Colby in night-time soap opera Dynasty, the actress paid the bills through a number of campy genre B-Movies (see Empire of the Ants, Dark Places, Fear in the Night). However the twelve minute long ‘All Through the House’ stands head and shoulders above the actresses’ other genre work.

Mixing black comedy with some genuinely disturbing imagery and narrative tension, ‘All Through the House’ could be seen as the film that kicked off the psychotic Santa subgenre. Opening on a majestic Christmas Eve, classical musical blares and gifts are planted under the tree by the family patriarch (Martin Boddey) in what appears to be an average Christmas in any loving household. That is until he’s fatally struck on the back of the head with a fire poker by his glamorous wife (Collins) while their young child sleeps upstairs. As Joanie cooly lights a cigarette and begins to drag her dripping hubbie down to the basement, the radio delivers an announcement that a homicidal maniac dressed as Santa Claus is on the loose.

Conveniently just after that announcement murderous Saint Nick appears at Joanie’s window – and he wants to play. What follows are some incredibly creepy scenes showing the wife frantically locking doors and windows as the costumed maniac prowls round the house searching for a way in. Francis sets the whole scene to classic Christmas carols – crafting a truly unsettled atmosphere throughout. With her home secure we see our hunter-turned-prey go back to tending to her nearest and dearest’s body – dragging it down to the bottom of the cellar stairs suggesting he was taken by a fatal fall.

Upon arriving back upstairs, the woman notices her child is not in her room, prompting a frantic search. However chants of ‘He’s here Mummy! It’s Santa!’ are enough to send shivers down the spine after it’s revealed the youngster has opened the door for Father Christ-mad.

It’s understandable why Francis went on to work on some of Hollywood’s biggest films (Cape Fear, Glory, The Elephant Man) and continue to direct horror films for several years. Packed with masterfully crafted tension, crackling atmosphere, and a unique Britishness – all the demented charm of the tale was lost when remade for US TV’s Tales from the Crypt in the nineties.

Tales from the Crypt is great festive horror, it’s outstanding horror in general. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t want to watch Joan Collins vs. Santa?

Andrew McArthur

12 Days Of Christmas Horror Day 1 – Black Christmas (1974)