Exhuming TALES FROM THE CRYPT: You Can’t Take It With You, But It Can Take You

How does the Cryptkeeper get his props? In this trilogy of terror alone, he has a dummy, a gun, a full at-home spa set, a basketball hoop and SCARE Jordans. This was before online shopping, so what gives? Did Arnold hook him up after he visited the crypt? Are people buried with so many beloved belongings that he’s able to have a backlog of stuff that’ll eventually fit a story? Whatever it is, he’s our king of accessorizing, which is appropriate with these sick stories. Objects are the trappings du jour, as the poor souls in the following tales find themselves tied to trinkets, tools of the trade and penny-pinching shortcuts, which all lead to severed limbs and broken hearts. Let’s join them, shall we?

Season 2, Episode 10: “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy” based on Tales From the Crypt #28
Director: Richard Donner
Written by: Frank Darabont
Originally aired: June 5, 1990

Director and writer horror pedigree: Crypt daddy Richard Donner has returned as director! That’s right: The illustrious director and one of many executive producers of Tales from the Crypt directs his second of three shows, following season one’s kookily great “Dig That Cat… He’s Real Gone.” We’ll see his signature handling of humor and smart-talking characters in season 4’s “Showdown” later. (Spoiler alert: That’s one of my favorites.) Here, he shows why he’s had so many hits in different genres: This has special effects (like in The Goonies!) some genuinely creepy moments (you know, like The Omen!), quick banter between two leads (Superman and Lethal Weapon of course!) Do you want a quickie Donner party that’s the length of one episode? Take a seat.

Frank Darabont is one of my very favorite writer/directors, and it’s a real joy to see him on Tales from the Crypt for the first time. (Sadly, “Showdown” will be his only other script, and he didn’t direct any episodes.) While he’ll always be known for The Shawshank Redemption (hi, William Sadler!) his horror pedigree is hard to top. Whether directing or writing or both, he helped give us The Mist, the good season of The Walking Dead, 1988’s The Blob, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors… listen, it’s no accident that he was nominated for the Writers Guild of America Award for Television: Anthology Episode/Single Program for this episode.

Other notables: This episode wouldn’t have worked without using real comedians, and thank goodness they cast Don Rickles and Bobcat Goldthwait. Still, I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t say this to the Hollywood bigwigs I’m sure are reading this: If you end up rebooting this show, please, please have Goldthwait direct a Bigfoot episode.

Rickles also appeared on The Twilight Zone, so he’s no rank amateur when it comes to brilliant anthology television.

Does it deliver?: Was Rickles good at dressing down people? Hell, this episode almost delivers too much! A flashback opens with a young, nerdy kid named Billy rapturously watching Mr. Ingles and Morty, a classic (some might say HACKY) ventriloquist show at a nightclub in a Catskills-like resort. Tragedy strikes, however, and after the show a fire breaks out, killing a showgirl and damaging Mr. Ingles hand so he can no longer perform. Flash forward 15 years, and little Billy is now a wannabe ventriloquist. After coaxing the reluctant Ingles out to see his disastrous show, Billy leaves, and Ingles feels an urge that he hasn’t had to deal with since that deadly night.

This episode has everything: Great chemistry between Rickles and Goldthwait, fast-paced action, body horror and a hilariously gory finish. Seeing two comedians get thrown around a cabin like they were each Evil Dead‘s Ash is hilarious, and we get gems like “You inbred fucking Cabbage Patch Kid!” “Oh no, not da meat grinder. What are you doing?” “I’m making an asshole casserole, pal, and you’re the main ingredient!” Morty himself ended up reminded me of Baby from the Dinosaurs TV show, so we’re firmly in gonzo territory here.

Blood, guts, goofs and bad jokes: Even when other anthologies did lighter episodes, they couldn’t even dream of reaching the delirious heights that Tales from the Crypt reached with episodes like this one. The ending shot alone is so baffling, weird and hilarious that the mere thought of someone seeing an image of it before seeing the actual episode upsets me.

Best Cryptkeeper line: “You’ll never see MY lips move. Why? I don’t have any!”

Season 2, Episode 11: “Judy, You’re Not Yourself Today” based on Tales From the Crypt #25
Director: Randa Haines
Written by: Scott Nimerfro
Originally aired: June 12, 1990

Director and writer horror pedigree: Randa Haines is our second female director on “Tales”, following season one’s Mary Lambert. Unlike Lambert’s background in horror, however, Haines is best known for directing Children of a Lesser God, which Marlee Matlin won her Oscar for. She does have experience with anthology TV, however, as she directed a segment of the pilot for the relaunch of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Tragically, we lost Scott Nimerfro in 2016; he was only 54 years old. A frequent collaborator with Bryan Fuller, he wrote multiple episodes of amazing shows like Pushing Daisies and Hannibal. Following this episode, Nimerfro wrote 10 more scripts for Tales from the Crypt and became an associate producer for seasons 5, 6 and Bordello of Blood, and he co-produced Demon Knight. He’s true Tales royalty, and you can check out a nice tribute to him on Fuller’s site here.

Other notables: Carol Kane is an unbreakable goddess, and she brings every bit of her signature manic energy (and no small measure of sexiness) to this role. Sticking to genre, though, she has a firm place in horror history thanks to playing Jill Johnson in When A Stranger Calls and When A Stranger Calls Back.

Éva Gárdos edited this, which is kind of fascinating. Director of American Rhapsody, she did get her start as an apprentice editor on the Nazi zombie epic Shock Waves, but her directing and editing work beyond these bloody touchstones hits pretty much everything other than horror. The pacing very much feels like a comedy, and I think this ended up working in this episode’s favor.

Does it deliver?: “She told me to go to hell like she knew the way.” I have no idea what was going on during the writing of this, but I love it. This basically takes the concept of Chekov’s gun, multiplies it, then throws it in a blender. Judy and Donald are a couple who seem to live kind of a throwback lifestyle: Judy keeps a highly decorated home as meticulously as she hunts for potential wrinkles on her face, and Donald, while also preoccupied with his looks, is obsessed with guns.

He warns Judy that her trusting nature is what’s faulty, not his casual gun slinging, and he’s proven partially right when what I dub “an Avon witch” arrives at their home. Her products are just a ruse, of course, and we get a body switching plot with all the fun trappings without having to watch a parent and child learn anything about each other by the end.

Around this time there was a short trend of cynical, satirical, faux-retro genre fare like Parents, Meet the Applegates, and the “Foreverware” episode of Eerie, Indiana, and “Judy, You’re Not Yourself Today” fits right in that milieu. A soundtrack that uses music meant for tango, foxtrot and various other dances sets a very specific mood, one that’s a bit sweet while constantly nudging the viewer just a little bit off track. Though our couple is a bit shallow, they’re really very loving and have some clever moments, and we get some gorgeous gooey makeup reminiscent of “The Switch” episode from a little earlier this season. The ending is goofy-turn-tragic-turn-kinda-goofy-then-back-to-tragic, and I love how everything revels in its quirkiness in a very natural way. This one is pure fun, and anything with a witch in it should be watched anyway.

Best Cryptkeeper line: “You’ll be glad to know that witch gave up door-to-door sales and joined the Peace CORPSE!”

Season 2, Episode 12: “Fitting Punishment” based on Vault of Horror #16
Director: Jack Sholder
Written by: Jonathan David Kahn, Michael Alan Kahn & Don Mancini
Originally aired: June 19, 1990

Director and writer horror pedigree: We’re lousy with genre superstars in this episode. Jack Sholder gave us A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, the only Freddy Krueger movie with Clu Gulagher for some reason, The Hidden, and Alone in the Dark, so he’s an absolute legend to me. Those, along with co-writing and directing Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies, points to a guy who’s a real wild card, which I love on this show.

This Don Mancini kid seems to like playing with this doll named Chucky quite a bit, and we all know the Cryptkeeper welcomes anyone related to him, but to continue these weird coincidental threads that these episode groups always end up having, Mancini also wrote some episodes of the fantastic Hannibal show. Glibness aside, I’ve always loved how Mancini balances absurdity with real chills in his scripts and dialogue, and I think he really stretched and tried a few new things in this episode.

Jonathan David Kahn has only this episode in his filmography. Michael, however, is well-known as a second and assistant director on numerous action films like Die Hard, Lethal Weapon 2, (Ah, so Donner must have brought him in!) and David Fincher’s Se7en. This is his sole writing credit, however.

Other notables: Jon Clair also appeared as Malcolm in Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest.

The legendary Moses Gunn appeared in many memorable films and television shows, including horror fare like The Ninth Configuration and Amityville II: The Possession, but c’mon: He’s Bumpy Jonas in the Shaft films! I also found out we share a birthday, so I’m even more comfortable praising his impeccable work in this episode.

Does it deliver?: Unlike the levity the latter two episodes brought us, “Fitting Punishment” is blunt-force cruelty. This is a straight horror tale that we’re meant to swallow with no sugar to help it down. Teenage Bobby arrives at his estranged uncle Ezra’s funeral parlor/mortuary, letting his uncle know that his parents were killed in a violent accident. After intense insensitivity to the grisly details, Ezra lets the sweet-natured boy stay because he can use him as free labor. His abuse ends up taking away Bobby’s ability to walk, though, and things only get more twisted from there.

The ending is so classic EC Comics that it brings a shocked laugh out of a lot of people… right before they cheer. This is, sincerely, an entire episode about physical and emotional abuse that ends in a very campfire tales way. While that probably shouldn’t work, Ezra’s calculated brutality towards his nephew is so akin to a fairy tale’s evil stepmother in how heightened, selfish and cruel it is that it’s truly is a fitting punishment to have him meet an almost cartoonishly grisly end. The feeling of this episode put the house in The People Under the Stairs in my mind quite a bit (there are a few Wes Craven flourishes in this episode, actually), and it’s a great example of how dark some of these episodes can feel. While some horror creatives embraced the fun side when they worked on the show, some of them showed how skilled they were in coaxing the dread out of a potentially silly supernatural twist.

Best Cryptkeeper line: This may be a controversial choice because it’s not a classic pun, but I had to choose it thanks to how out of left field it was and the Cryptkeeper’s derisive way of saying the name. “That’s what he gets for having a name like… Ezra.”

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 at House of a Reasonable Amount of Horrors and on Twitter @scrawfish



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