Bad Girls We Love: Joanne Clayton from Tales from the Crypt

Out of all the segments in the 1972 British anthology film Tales from the Crypt, “…And All Through the House” makes the best use of its short running time, small cast, and limited setting—all of the action takes place in one house on Christmas Eve. It also happens to be genuinely terrifying. Plus it stars one of the most fabulous actresses to ever sashay across the screen: Joan Collins. Or, as she’s sometimes referred to: Joan Fucking Collins. Okay, I’m the one who sometimes refers to her that way, but you should too. She’s earned it, dammit.

We first meet the fabulous Joanne Clayton, played fabulously by Dame Joan, as she bludgeons her husband to death with a fireplace poker while he leisurely reads the evening paper. Our first shot of her comes as the camera pans up as poor, bloodied hubby falls out of frame, to reveal the murderous vixen. She’s sporting a festive yuletide party hat over luxuriously voluminous, bouncy brunette locks, and eyelashes that go on for days. Few actors have ever looked this perfect onscreen before or since, and that is just a scientific fact. After murdering the poor old boy, she wears look of quiet satisfaction on her face, while tightly gripping the phallic poker she just used to commit the crime. That one image acts as a subversively powerful upending of the Christmas spirit. Merry Christmas!

Then our hearts sink when the couple’s young daughter calls down for mummy. They sink further when, as our killer mum shuts the girl’s bedroom door, the little tyke lovingly yells out, “Night, Daddy!” Oof. The camera focuses tightly on Joanne’s reaction shot as the stark reality of what she’s done sinks in. Then, brilliantly, Joanne suddenly snaps out of her brief crisis of conscience, raising her eyebrows nonchalantly as if to say, “Eh, no regrets.” She marches downstairs and gets to work furiously scrubbing the blood out of the carpet. God bless us everyone!

This being based on an old EC Comics morality tale, there’s danger lurking just outside. Our murderous minx is about to learn that karma is indeed a bitch, or a dessert best served immediately after you’ve killed your husband in cold blood. Or something like that. A lunatic homicidal maniac has escaped from a nearby mental institution and, surprise, he’s right outside the house and he’s wearing a Santa Claus suit. Dude looks seriously unhinged, too. He roams the perimeter of the house, peering eerily into the windows as Joanne hides, then frantically runs around shuttering windows. But her sweet young daughter has been waiting impatiently for Santa all night, so she’s more than happy to open the door for Jolly Old St. Nick. At that moment, the look of sudden, absolute terror that flashes across Joanne’s face says it all. She’s about to pay the ultimate price for her sins. ‘Tis the season.

Clocking in somewhere around twelve minutes in length, “…And All Through the House” is simply perfect, expertly building the tension throughout, until the final, terrifying moment. We feel complicit in the husband’s murder, as we watch Joanne clean up the crime scene and dispose of the body. Then we feel genuine fear for her life once the madman in the red suit shows up. It’s that conflicting emotional response which makes for such a terrifically effective and spectacularly twisted horror short. Even though it’s not a feature-length film, I rank it near the top of my list of favorite Christmas horrors, right there with films like Black Christmas (1974), Home For the Holidays (1972), and Christmas Evil (1980). It’s damn-near perfect.

Joan Collins sells it all with grace and aplomb. Joanne is one seriously bad girl, but Joan makes her positively mesmerizing, gliding like a cat through this macabre holiday classic. There she is, a cigarette dangling seductively from her lips, tearing open a gift from her husband right after she killed him. Even while being stalked by the deranged Santa, she’s still poetry in motion, sleek elegance and glamour. You can see the fear building in her eyes as she frantically tries to stay alive, but damn, she still looks fabulous. And for Joan Collins circa 1972, looking fabulous at all times was just another day at the office. And joy to the world for that.

3 thoughts on “Bad Girls We Love: Joanne Clayton from Tales from the Crypt

  1. I loved reading this! Absolutely splendid writing. And I laughed at your manic cheer throughout. This is definitely my favourite Amicus film, and my favourite segment in TFTC. And I just realised this is part of a series you’ve written! *skips off to read the other posts*

    Liked by 1 person

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