Exhuming TALES FROM THE CRYPT: From the Cradle to the Crypt

You ever feel the walls closing in, kiddies? Like you need to branch out or possibly even look back at where you came from to figure out how the hell you got exactly where you are? Well, you’re not alone, as these triplets of terrorvision show us. Whether you’re single, in a committed relationship or just feel like you need to be committed, this is a safe space to be unsafe in.

From the dangers of suppression in all its forms to how loneliness can create monsters, you can find a lot of reflection in these episodes—just make sure to clean off that mirror first.

Season 2, Episode 13: “Korman’s Kalamity” based on Tales From the Crypt #31
Director: Rowdy Herrington
Written by: Terry Black
Originally aired: June 26, 1990

Director and writer horror pedigree: Rowdy Herrington should need no introduction, and that really goes for anyone who professionally goes by the name “Rowdy.” He’ll probably always be best known for the masterpiece that is Road House; however, his first feature-length film directing was Jack’s Back, the James Spader neo-Jack the Ripper movie. Scream Factory released the Blu-ray, so you know it’s legit.

Terry “Dead Heat is underrated and will especially appeal to Tales from the Crypt fans so go check it out” Black returns for his second screenplay of three episodes total, although he did some additional dialogue writing on some future episodes.

Other notables: I’ll forever love Cynthia Gibb for her role in Modern Girls, but she also appeared in Herrington’s Jack’s Back. Colleen Camp has had a long and varied career, but she got her start in some very cool exploitation movies and has magic in her soul forever for appearing in Bruce Lee’s Game of Death.

Harry Anderson (R.I.P.) was a legendary comedian and magician, of course, but after playing adult Richie Tozier in 1990’s It, he’ll always have a cozy alcove in the amiable actors’ wing in the horror hall of fame. Not only that, but Anderson will also return to… drum roll please… script a future Tales episode!

“Korman’s Kalamity” was originally published as “Kamen’s Kalamity!” It was illustrated by Jack Kamen, who did countless great works for EC (most notably for Shock SuspenStories), but he’s the one who drew the gorgeous poster for Creepshow. While Bernie Wrightson did the interiors for the accompanying graphic novel, it’s hard to undersell what an impactful piece of pop culture art that is.

Does it deliver?: You gotta (hopefully!) love it when Tales goes meta, and there’s something so wrong and so right with seeing The Cryptkeeper hold a copy of the Tales from the Crypt comic book in the opening scene. That’s right: The ‘Keeper knows his whole storytelling spiel is based off a comic book series!

Our story feels very 1960s when in the offices of the Tales from the Crypt comic book (yes, it gets its own office!) and early 1990s outside of it. This dissonance is perfect for this off-kilter, more comedic story. Jim Korman (Anderson) is a beleaguered comic book artist, hounded and bullied by his classic nagging wife. It looks like he’s trapped… until we meet Lorelei Phelps (Gibbs.) She’s a cute, sweet and smart cop, and she’s attacked by a monster while she’s in a laundromat. After seeing some of Korman’s very familiar looking ghouls on a newsstand, she hunts him down for some answers. Apparently, people have been getting attacked by weird monsters all over, and they’re all on the covers of his horror comics. Is Jim’s tortured psyche to blame? Are his issues with women both numerous and not really solved by the end of the episode? Probably!

This is one of the best “funny” Tales episodes in my eyes, and it’s just a lot of fun. The monsters in this (especially fridge ghoul!) are absolutely fantastic, and the actors are onto every joke without hamming it up. “Korman’s Kalamity” has to be one of the most charming episodes yet, and it makes great use out of the horror comedy format.

Best Cryptkeeper line: “Maybe if she had been nicer to him, she wouldn’t have ended up a… monsterpiece!”

Season 2, Episode 14: “Lower Berth” based on Tales From the Crypt #33
Director: Kevin Yagher
Written by: Fred Dekker
Originally aired: July 3, 1990

Director and writer horror pedigree: Beyond his legendary makeup and effects work, Kevin Yagher is quietly the most prolific Tales from the Crypt director, having directed all of The Cryptkeeper’s segments and the show’s promo videos. He’ll return to directing the main story in 1992, but this was the first marriage between the crypt and the story IMproper… in more ways than one.

Fred Dekker returns for his fourth Tales outing, and we’ll do our best to not focus on the fact that he only has one more episode following this one. Every single episode of his has been unique from the others; it’s interesting to not only see him deal with weightier episodes, but it’s also one of Tales’ strongest and most interesting traits that we get to see multiple directors handle one screenwriter’s work in a short timespan.

Other notables: Jeff Yagher, Enoch, the two-faced man, is Kevin’s brother! An actor who’s had a consistent career for decades, genre fans may know him best from the original V—you know, the one with Robert Englund!

Lewis Arquette isn’t only the proud papa of those Arquette actors you always see running around (like Patricia Arquette in the episode Four-Side Triangle!) but he’ll forever be the bean-loving narrator from Waiting for Guffman to me. It’s not horror, but dammit, we all have layers. Like a three-bean casserole.

Does it deliver?: “Korman’s Kalamity” may have broken the fourth wall, but “Lower Berth” barrels on through it to another building by giving us the backstory of our beloved Cryptkeeper. Well, of his parents, anyway…

Poor Enoch is a sweet, two-headed sideshow act at a classically abusive traveling circus sideshow. It looks like he’s stuck in his crappy lot in life until his crooked owner buys a real-life mummy from an even more crooked guy. Enoch falls in love with the mummified beauty, and as we all know: First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in the scabie carriage!

The episode itself is classic, from its detailed backdrops to a pack of talented character actors really selling the time period and setting; this is one of the episodes that gives you a full meal. Heavier on a creepy and somewhat maudlin mood over gory scares, it’s well-crafted episode that’s worthy of The Cryptkeeper’s bloodline. While it’s a slower paced experience when compared to other episodes, the attention to character and mood building keeps it from dragging. I thought about the show Carnivale a few times while watching this, and that’s a big compliment.

Best Cryptkeeper line: (Delivered in my favorite performance by John Kassir yet, through tears) “We never even got a chance to play hide and go shriek together!”

Season 2, Episode 15: “Mute Witness to Murder” based on Crypt of Terror #18
Director: Jim Simpson
Written by: Nancy Doyne
Originally aired: July 10, 1990

Director and writer horror pedigree: While Jim Simpson doesn’t really have genre experience, he IS married to Sigourney Weaver, and I think that’s a pretty big accomplishment on its own. Writer Nancy Doyne had previously written an episode of Tales from the Darkside.

Other notables: We have another adult alum from the 1990 version of It, this time with Richard Thomas, who played Bill. Even though he’ll always be known best as John-Boy from The Waltons, I always got an intensely creepy vibe off him, and he’s almost too effective as our demented heavy in this episode. If you feel the same way I do, see if you can hunt down I Can Make You Love Me, where he stalks Brooke Shields and profoundly scared me when I randomly caught it on TV as a kid.

Patricia Clarkson, while not being a scream queen, is one of the most respected working actresses in both television and film today. Don’t count her out of horror completely, though: She was nominated for a Fangoria Chainsaw Award for Best Actress for Wendigo! Never forget your roots, kiddies, no matter how hard someone tries to yank them out. (In case you’re wondering, she lost the chainsaw to Naomi Watts.)

Does it deliver?: Medical horror was pretty big in the early-to-mid 1990s, and Tales dipped its gnarled toe into that murky water with an asylum plot rather than, let’s say, a bloodthirsty surgeon. Still, we get a Cryptkeeper wearing scrubs and unusually huge syringes, so we’re covered.

Suzy and Paul are a happily in love couple celebrating their anniversary at a costume party, where we see Suzy is articulate and quick, and she’s clearly smart enough to have a cool costume theme for her anniversary party. Proving that one of your happiest nights can quickly become a nightmare, however, she happens to see her neighbor kill the woman he’s with through the window. This ain’t your grandpappy’s Rear Window, however! The shock immediately turns her mute, and when the doctor who comes to help turns out to be THE NEIGHBOR HIMSELF, things go from bad to worse as Suzy isn’t able to articulate to her husband what’s going on as she’s taken under the crooked wing of the killer. In a padded cell, strapped in a straightjacket, and with no words to help her, is there any hope?

I love this episode, and I’m usually partial to the goofier ones. With tight editing from Sonya Polonsky (who got her start as an assistant editor on Woody Allen films and Raging Bull), the actors sell this fairly standard plot like the rent is due. Within 25 minutes, we’re given the feelings of a realistic escalation of surveillance, sick power plays, reversed surveillance, the resiliency of a loving relationship, and the strength of revenge. If you want to introduce the show to someone who’s not into a whole lot of blood and guts, this would be one of the best.

Best Cryptkeeper line: “I just had quite a scare: I actually thought my heart was beating again!”

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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