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By Doug Brunell | April 16, 2005

Fans of horror, comic books and American history can rejoice.
“Tales From the Crypt: From Comic Books to Television!” is an excellent documentary that delves into EC’s humble comic book beginnings and shows how it transformed into the spectacle it is today.

For those who don’t know about EC (Entertaining Comics, as it was known in its heyday), here’s a brief lesson. EC started out doing tame comic books that explored American history and Bible stories. When William M. Gaines took over the company in 1947 after his father died, he turned it into the premier publisher of horror, crime and science-fiction comics. The horror stories were what caught people’s attention, though. They were gruesome beyond belief and kids loved them. (Me included, though I only discovered them in the ‘80s.)
Eventually Gaines would find himself testifying before the U.S. Senate about his comics’ effects on children. The story leading up to that and the self-imposed industry censorship that followed is the meat of this film, and I won’t spoil it here. If you’re a comic book fan, however, you most likely know the story, but this documentary sheds some new light on it as it features interviews with people who were at EC at the time and footage from the actual hearings.

This documentary also includes interviews with people who were influenced by the comics. There’s R.L. Stine, George Romero, John Carpenter, and Joel Silver. (Noticeably missing, however, is Stephen King.) If you ever wondered where Romero got those great camera angles in “Night of Living Dead,” look no further. As he explains, he was influenced by EC’s horror line of comic books.

This two-disc DVD is loaded with extras, too, including a great discussion with Al Feldstein, comic book historian Jerry Weist and legendary writer Ray Bradbury. Their love of the material is infectious, and if you’ve never actually seen an EC comic book, after watching this you’ll definitely want to check one out.

My love of EC is no secret, so I was thrilled to watch this documentary. I already knew the story behind the company and still found the film to be immensely interesting and more than a little sad. Here was a company at its peak, producing groundbreaking work that has yet to be surpassed, and the industry and the country turned against it. Even if you aren’t interested in comic books, this tale of censorship should alarm even the most conservative of viewers.

Find this DVD and then go read an EC reprint and see what all the fuss was about. If your knowledge of comic books begins and ends with Superman, this is going to be quite a surprise.

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