Heh, heh… good evening, Kiddies! I see it’s time for me to give you another spine-tingling post here on Psychobabble, and today’s chiller is no less than ten of the most horrid hunks of horror to appear in Entertaining Comics’ Tales from the Crypt magazine! And when I say Tales from the Crypt, I mean Tales from the Crypt, and not The Haunt of Fear or The Vault of Horror, because…well… I haven’t read all of those comics yet! So while favorites like “…And All Through the House…” and “A Grim Fairy Tale!” may be missing from this list, I’m sure you’ll agree the following stories earn the terrible title… Psychobabble’s Ten Most Terrifying Tales from the Crypt Comics!
1. The Living Corpse (Tales from the Crypt #18; artist: Wally Wood)
Its first tale to really nail both story and art reared its hideous head in just the second issue of Tales from the Crypt (never mind the kooky numbering system…issue 18 is really issue 2). Despite its unimaginative title, “The Living Corpse” establishes a strong mystery (why do these damn corpses keep coming to life and sprinting from the local morgue?) and resolves it with a clever series of twists. Though “The Living Corpse” isn’t a supernatural tale in the end, Wally Wood’s hallucinatory depictions of the morgue attendant’s fears are as nightmarish as anything in any zombie story.
2. Reflection of Death! (Tales from the Crypt #23; artist: Al Feldstein)
E.C.’s crypt keepers loved to pull the gimmick of placing you in the story with second-person narration. This gimmick was never used to more purposeful effect than in “Reflection of Death!”, in which you walk away from a car crash only to have everyone who sees you completely freak out? Why? Well, let’s just say that the Return of the Living Dead makeup crew must have drawn a lot of inspiration from Al Feldstein’s artwork when creating the Tar Man. Plus, the title panel monster mash illustration is fab!
3. Drawn and Quartered! (Tales from the Crypt #26; artist: Jack Davis)
A dose of voodoo causes everything that happens to an artist’s paintings to happen to the things his paintings depict. A horrible and classically ironic revenge plot ensues as the artist works overtime painting everyone who’s ever wronged him. What may be the cleverest of all E.C. horror stories is matched with Jack Davis’s signature goopy artwork.
4. The Ventriloquist’s Dummy! (Tales from the Crypt #28; artist: Graham Ingles)
Although the evil dummy trope has been done to death by now, it had only really been tackled once in the British portmanteau film Dead of Night before “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy!” Maybe that’s why this story so avoids the clichés of this type of story. Instead of the usual “dummy become outlet for ventriloquist’s madness” tale, we get a crazy conjoined twin one. The classic “Tales from the Crypt” episode this comic inspired diluted the horror with comedy. The comic is all horrific, and “Ghastly” Graham Ingles’s art makes good on his nickname.
The kids at E.C. must have been getting big heads by issue 31, because they began dabbling in a bit of self-referential cleverness with “Kamen’s Kalamity!” The results are gleefully fan pleasing rather than smugly self-satisfied as Jack Kamen turns himself into a moon-mad killer when he isn’t behind his desk drawing Tales from the Crypt comics. Bosses Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein fare even worse as a pair of degenerate secretary chasers! Fellow artists Graham Ingles, Johnny Craig, and Jack Davis are more diplomatically depicted as voodoo dabblers. “Kamen’s Kalamity!” would inspire another great TV episode, though one that took some drastic liberties with the story.
6. ’Taint the Meat… It’s the Humanity! (Tales from the Crypt #32; artist: Jack Davis)
Nice, old Jack Davis illustrated one of the most infamously nasty of all E.C. comic stories. A nebbish butcher deals with a meat shortage in a gruesome manner, but if you’re thinking cannibalism, you’re wrong. When his immoral schemes catches up with him in an all-too personal—and truly depressing—way, his wife snaps and, well, your initial assumption may prove to be correct after all. “’Taint the Meat… It’s the Humanity!” is as gruesome as Tales from the Crypt gets.
7. Lower Berth! (Tales from the Crypt #33; artist: Jack Davis)
The E.C. crew is high on their own fumes again with “Lower Berth!” But instead of showing you what goes down behind the scenes in the E.C. office, it lets us know how our old pal The Crypt Keeper came to be. “Lower Berth!” is a fabulous story of romance in a freak show with mommy being one of the ugliest mummies ever drawn. Hilariously, the C.K. had a full head of white hair even as an infant! The comic is much better than the TV episode it inspired.
8. There Was an Old Woman! (Tales from the Crypt #34; artist: Graham Ingels)
Graham Ingles got the plum gig of illustrating a story by one of horror’s iconic writers when he brought Ray Bradbury’s “There Was an Old Woman!” to life. The metaphysical tale unfolds as a dead woman refuses to allow a wicker casket holding her own corpse to be carted away. Bradbury reigns in his normally purple prose for the tighter comic style, and it works well. However, it is Graham Ingels’s ghastly depiction of the stubborn old lady that makes this cryptic tale a stand out.
9. Midnight Mess! (Tales from the Crypt #35; artist: Joe Orlando)
Classic monsters have been in short supply on this list so far. “Midnight Mess!” makes up for that with a swarm of vampires that greet a guy who accidentally stumbles into their exclusive restaurant. That the dude’s sister is one of the vamps is a particularly twisted twist, and Joe Orlando’s grisly, lit-from-below artwork is disturbing. His drawing of the protagonist with a spigot in his neck is so nasty that the shot it inspired in the Vault of Horror film was censored from the U.S. cut. His opening panel of the man making his way down a bat-infested street as a cloaked vampire trails him is more subtly chilling.
10. Only Skin Deep! (Tales from the Crypt #38; artist: Reed Crandall)
We end, Kiddies, with a simple little love story set at a Mardi Gras costume ball. That’s where Suzanne and Herbert first met and fell in love and where they resume their romance five years later when she returns in her old hag costume. This being Tales from the Crypt, you have probably already guessed that her costume is no costume, but how Herbert learns that is a hideous twist you’ll just have to find out for yourself… Gasp! Choke!