Exhuming TALES FROM THE CRYPT: A Triangle of Loud Sacrifices

What are your favorite Tales From the Crypt episode? Do you like the quieter, crime-centric ones? Do you prefer the more comedic splashy entries? Maybe the truly creepy ones seasoned horror directors tend to do strike your fancy. Whatever your flavor, this deadly batch will whet your appetite and wet your whistle as it covers all of the deadly food groups…

Season 2, Episode 7: “The Sacrifice” based on Shock SuspenStories #10
Director: Richard Greenberg
Written by: Ross Thomas
Originally aired: May 15, 1990

Director and writer horror pedigree: Pinkies’ up, kiddies: If you don’t have some of your own, borrow some from a friend! Director Richard Greenberg is a Tony-winning playwright who only barely ventured into television directing and did “horror” exactly once for our Cryptkeeper.

Ross Thomas is a bit of an odd duck for a horror anthology series too: He was an acclaimed crime novelist who wrote the story for the films Bound by Honor (aka Blood In, Blood Out) and the Laurence Fishburne-starring Bad Company. This episode was the sole foray into horror for both director and writer… and it shows.

Other notables: John R. Leonetti is directing big-screen horror now (Annabelle, Wish Upon) but he returns as cinematographer for another episode, and man, his episodes stand out every time. He also did “The Man Who Was Death,” “Cutting Cards,” and “‘Til Death” before this, and he’d go on to do 8 more episodes. His episodes always tended to have a more cinematic quality, and it does help to add interest to quieter stories like this one.

Michael Ironside blesses us with his arched eyebrows and dark shark eyes here. It’s easier to choose a top three favorites rather than try to do his filmography any justice, so here’s mine: Starship Troopers, Total Recall, and Scanners.

Does it deliver?: Do you like Dynasty? Have you ever at least seen or heard of Dynasty? Whichever, this is DieNasty! (Cue Cryptkeeper laughter. Please. I need the buffer after that one.) Elegant, slick, soulless people darting glances over a subtle saxophone score while deals are wheeled, backs are stabbed, and alliances are shattered like mirrors. Most of the time, Tales from the Crypt completely embraced the humor/horror ethos of the original EC Comics, but sometimes the 1980s slipped in and took the wheel. “The Sacrifice” almost feels like one of those old Skinemax (sorry, HBO!) neo-noir takeoffs than our reliable gory morality tales. A will is a big plot point if you’d like to get a general feel for this one. You know the one: New lovers kill the rich husband, it seems like gravy trains as far as the eye can see until another party comes in making demands, and things take a turn for the deadly. Really, these stories are the bread and butter of Tales from the Crypt, and the ones with mutants, reanimated corpses, and deformities are the dessert.

It looks like the worst of the bad guys will win, but there’s a bit of a goofy “twist” at the end involving a talking parrot. If it’s a hint that they may get caught… it doesn’t really sell. If it’s supposed to be a funny coda… ok? Sure. Although we don’t get a satisfying payoff or any horror beyond the greed and avarice of the human condition, it’s a well-made episode with beautiful cars and nice 80’s houseboats and high rises. Still, the plot is fairly predictable, and this is a rare case that I’d argue that something is a thriller rather than a horror tale. If you’re in the mood for an episode before bed but don’t want to get nightmares, this is your Huckleberry.

Best Cryptkeeper line: “So remember, if your lady’s evenings are all booked up… drop her!”

Season 2, Episode 8: “For Cryin’ Out Loud” based on Shock SuspenStories #15
Director: Jeffrey Price
Written by: Peter S. Seaman
Originally aired: May 22, 1990

Director and writer horror pedigree: Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman are a tight duo, and this torrid tale is just one of many projects they collaborated on. From writing Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Doc Hollywood and… Wild Wild West, they have ties to the Tales producers (mainly Zemeckis) instead of the horror genre. Still, that’s part of why I started this column: Any series that mixes the grimy, punk rock horror kids with the big-budget movie guys with playwrights and television movie directors is the kind of series I want to give a chance to every time. They pop up again at the end of the season, and after that, the closest to horror they get to again is writing that live action The Grinch Who Stole Christmas movie that gave us the unsettling Jim Carrey and baby Grinch makeup.

Other notables: We’re lucky enough to have Michel Rubini do the score here, who was the composer on such gems as Manhunter and The Hunger, which starred David Bowie. Iggy Pop, who also appears in this episode, wrote “China Girl,” which Bowie covered, and this may be the rare chance I can sneak some Bowie trivia into this column. Thank you for your understanding.

Does it deliver?: Was “The Sacrifice” a little too quiet for you? How about a rock ‘n roll tale set during an Iggy Pop show in a club with Sam Kinison screaming throughout a good chunk of the episode? Now we’re talking! Marty Slash (a perfect Lee Arenberg) is a sleazy rock promoter about to make off with charity money that was just raised to help something involving the Amazon. But an incessant voice that sounds strangely like a notorious 80’s stand-up comedian starts acting as his very own mobile tell-tale heart—or tell-tale eardrum. Pair that with the sexy and devious banker Ms. Kilbasser (Kate Segal!) blackmailing him, and Marty starts flipping out. Is the voice really only his private, profane Jiminy Cricket… or can everyone else hear it broadcast his increasingly wicked deeds?

This episode is a blast, and it’s one of those bombastic episodes that a lot of fans tend to remember. The pace is fast and it’s a lot of fun—it’s basically a morality tale on coke. From cringe-inducing ear torture to broad comic acting and corpse hiding that involves Donny Osmond, there’s nothing quiet or subtle about this tale. Screen this right before watching Wes Craven’s Shocker and thank me in the comments.

Best Cryptkeeper line: “So I’ll never be a rock star… I’ll just have to settle for being a SHOCK STAR!”

Season 2, Episode 9: “Four-Sided Triangle” based on Shock SuspenStories #17
Director: Tom Holland
Written by: James Tugend
Originally aired: May 29, 1990

Director and writer horror pedigree: Tom Holland returns! This is the second of the trilogy of episodes the Fright Night director did for the series, and if anyone can bring true chills to a short episode, it’s the director of Child’s Play who brought true scares out a short doll. James Tugend seems to have written only a few shorts following this episode, so we’ll chalk “Four-Sided Triangle” up as a true celebration of American short-form storytelling.

Other notables: Patricia Arquette is our final girl here, and of course she was famously a favorite final girl in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors as Kristen. Susan Blommaert is one of our finest character actors, and her memorable face and voice can be seen in Tales-alum Mary Lambert’s Pet Sematary, Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands and Larry Cohen’s The Ambulance. From working with the Coen brothers to countless television shows, she’s pretty much done it all.

Chelcie Oats is a horror icon in my eyes as “Colonel Oats? No way!” in the military school mini-hell in Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey.

Does it deliver?: Mary Jo isn’t given a backstory, but we know she’s a young, beautiful girl somehow forced to being a farmhand to disabled Luisa and greasy George, a married couple. Furtive glances set the stage: Mary Jo eyes the keys on George’s necklace to the ignition of his truck, showing she’s shrewd enough to plan an escape. George perversely eyes her as she changes. Whether she’s an outlaw or paying off some kind of debt, she’s trapped in that middle-of-nowhere kind of setting that seems to attract only cruelty. In an attempt to rape her, George knocks her out cold. In a dazed state from a head injury, she sees their creepy clown-masked scarecrow before she blacks out. Waking up, she has a simplistic, childlike personality. She thinks the scarecrow is her new man, and both Luisa and George see sick ways to take advantage of her new lack of awareness. Karma is strong in these cornfields, however, kiddies.

Our four-sided triangle consists of just a three-person cast, and it’s one of the most evocative episodes yet. In fact, this is the first episode I’m covering in this column that I remember truly unnerving me as a kid. From the clown-faced scarecrow (anything remotely resembling a clown was a no-go for me growing up) to Mary Jo’s childlike vulnerability to the sexual assault tension that I didn’t understand at the time, even though this is low on gore, it was one that gave me nightmares. Seeing it now and fully understanding everything going on has obviously transformed that impact, but it’s still a tight little creeper. The power dynamics, weird loneliness, and isolated location are incredibly well done. It all comes together to create an episode that feels like an American folktale that’s been long-lost to storytelling for being too sick, and I’m still able to access that uncomfortable feeling it gave me as a child.

It would be fun if there was a supernatural bent to the end (Sadly, there’s no vengeful scarecrow come to life in this one. I’m sorry! I usually try to avoid spoilers here.) At the same, the viewer does expect that to a degree, and we do have some fine killer scarecrow movies to enjoy if you enjoy straw-based vengeance: My personal favorite is Jeff Burr’s The Night of the Scarecrow, which is so freakishly gory for a scarecrow movie that I needed absolutely nothing from this episode when it came to the gooey and the red stuff.

Best Cryptkeeper line: That young lady certainly knew how to make her POINT!

Based in the incredibly down-to-earth city of Las Vegas, NV, Stephanie Crawford is a freelance writer and co-host on The Screamcast. You can follow her hijinks on Twitter @scrawfish



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