Tales from the Crypt: Season 1
January 31, 2006
Walter Hill, Robert Zemeckis, Richard Donner, Tom Holland,
Starring: William Sadler, John Kassir, Mary Ellen Trainor, Larry Drake, Joe Pantoliano, Robert Wuhl, Lea Thompson, Amanda Plummer, M. Emmet Walsh, Audra Lindley, ,
In the late ’80 and early ‘90s HBO backed an attempt to bring back the famous E.C. comic book Tales from the Crypt in the form of a half hour anthology with a powerhouse group of filmmakers behind the camera that included the likes of Walter Hill, Robert Zemeckis, Richard Donner and Joel Silver. In front of the camera would be an interesting ensemble of character actors like Bill Sadler, Joe Pantoliano, Amanda Plummer and M. Emmet Walsh.
The show mixed liberal doses of horror and dark comedy preserving the spirit of the comic itself. It also adhered to a basic template: the Crypt Keeper would bookend each episode with an introduction and an afterword rife with his trademark cheesy puns and one-liners that offset some of the more gruesome aspects of a given episode. Each story featured an amoral person who gets their well-deserved comeuppance by its conclusion in true E.C. horror fashion.
The first episode, “The Man Who Was Death,” was directed and co-written by Hill and features two of his regular collaborators, Ry Cooder who provides his trademark bluesy music and Bill Sadler (Trespass) plays an executioner who’s been downsized after the death penalty is abolished and decides to kill criminals who slip through the justice system.
Sadler’s character narrates the story right into the camera as Hill adopts a playful, loose style with low angle shots, unusual points-of-view and smooth tracking shots in what is the strongest episode of the season. Sadler is excellent as the vigilante executioner who shares his skewed worldview with us.
“And All Through the House” features an adulterous wife (Trainor) who has murdered her husband only to be terrorized by an axe-wielding psycho (Drake) dressed as Santa on Christmas Eve. Director Robert Zemeckis plays this one more for laughs (albeit very dark ones) as an immoral woman’s greed is punished by fate…and a very naughty Santa.
Richard Donner directs an episode about a man (Pantoliano) who is given the nine lives of a cat and puts it to the test, dying in several ways only to come back again and again. Lea Thompson stars in “Only Sin Deep” as a vain hooker (although, she isn’t all that convincing) who pawns her looks in order to impress a rich playboy only to suffer the consequences of her pact with forces she doesn’t understand.
In “Lover Come Hack to Me,” a man marries a woman for her money. When they take refuge in a seemingly abandoned mansion during a dark and stormy night he realizes that she isn’t as vulnerable as she appears to be. Amanda Plummer is well cast as the initially mousy bride with a dark secret that she would later play for laughs in the underrated Mike Myers film, So I Married An Axe Murderer (1993).
The final episode, “Collection Completed,” sees a recent retiree spend his free time getting revenge on his wife’s cats and dogs that are a continual source of aggravation to him and are constantly doted on by her. M. Emmet Walsh is excellent as the perpetually grumpy curmudgeon who has a tough time adjusting to retire life and his wife’s obsession with her animals.
Fans of this series will be pleased to find all the episodes uncut with swearing and nudity intact just as when they were first aired on HBO. Watching the censored versions on regular TV for years made me forget that they originally aired on the pay-TV channel back in the day. The TV format is an ideal platform for these self-contained mini-B horror movies that stay true to the comic’s pulpy roots, right down to the slightly cheesy production values (i.e. the obvious fake snow in Zemeckis’ episode). Since the demise of Tales from the Crypt (apart from the occasional movie that comes out) nothing has really filled the void. Although, the recently announced horror anthology that will air on Showtime in the fall does hold some promise as it features an exciting roster of talent behind the camera. Let’s hope it builds on the foundation that Tales for the Crypt established years ago.
The first DVD features an all new introduction by the Crypt Keeper who is still full of bad puns after all these years.
The second DVD features an excellent 50 minute retrospective documentary called “Tales from the Crypt: From Comic Books to Television.” William Gaines was one of the pioneers of comic books and helped create Tales from the Crypt with artist Al Feldstein. Once they started making horror comic books, the demand for them shot through the roof. Imitators started upping the ante on the gore forcing Gaines to do likewise and this opened them up to attacks from the moral majority. Filmmakers like John Carpenter and George A. Romero offer their two cents on the appeal of the comic and how it inspired them. The bulk of this doc traces the development of the comic book over the years with a small portion devoted to producer Joel Silver’s desire to bring these stories to life. At first, he envisioned a movie but then decided that TV would be a better format. This is a very entertaining and informative look at the history of Tales from the Crypt.
Finally, there is the “Crypt Keeper’s History of Season 1.” The decrepit one takes us through the season, cracking awful jokes with clips from the show mixed with behind-the-scenes stills.