EXHUMING TALES FROM THE CRYPT: Trapped in Love and Death

Season three of Tales from the Crypt clawed its way back onto HBO in June of 1991 with its traditional three-episode opening night. HBO premiered Gremlins 2 directly before showing the new episodes, guaranteeing an already hot show would murder in the ratings that night. Much like season 2, one of the first episodes had a blockbuster actor directing and appearing somewhere in their episode (Arnold Schwarzenegger then, Michael J. Fox now) and another had a respected action name (Walter Hill in season two and Steven E. de Souza for season 3). It was savvy keeping the pattern of mixing up serious with sillier episodes with darker ones, and they’d keep the tradition of having a popular actor direct one of the first episodes from now on, excluding season 6.

So if you still have a craving for some sex, death and grim laughs in your pop culture, come with me as we summon season 3 back for a thorough autopsy…

Season 3, Episode 1: “Loved to Death” based on Tales From The Crypt #25
Director: Tom Mankiewicz
Written by: Joe Minion
Originally aired: June 15, 1991

Director and writer horror pedigree: With his legendary Hollywood last name, Tom Mankiewicz never really dipped his toes in the horror blood pool, but he did write some delightful gems that crossed a few different genres: 1987’s Dragnet, Ladyhawke, three James Bond films and various work with Tales from the Crypt executive producer Richard Donner on the first two Superman movies.

Working under the name Joe for this episode, Joseph Minion is best known as the screenwriter of Martin Scorsese’s After Hours. However, he also wrote the delightfully unhinged Nic Cage-starring vampire comedy Vampire’s Kiss, marking him as a writer with a great understanding of balancing insanity with a touch of creepiness, so it’s almost a bit of a surprise that this is his only outing on the show.

Other notables: David Hemmings is wonderfully creepy here, and it’s no wonder with his background: Dario Argento’s Deep Red and the Ozploitation vampire film The Thirst included, I completely believe that he was the good luck charm for the maiden voyage.

Does it deliver?: Truly a tale of men being impossible to please: If you ice them out because they grope you in your home without your permission, you’re a frigid bitch. If you become sexually insatiable for them, it’s too much!

Edward Foster (McCarthy) is a hacky young screenwriter who’s unhealthily fixated on an actress in his building, Miranda Singer (Mariel Hemingway.) He strikes out again and again because he’s a weird creep with no discernable personality, but luckily for him, his creepy building supervisor (David Hemmings) sees all with his constant surveillance cameras and has decided to help Edward get the girl of his dreams (and his screenplay.) How? With magic potions, because why not? Since this is Tales from the Crypt, however, things instantly escalate into madness and, gosh, he’s “all fucked out.” There’s a “solution” for that too, but Edward should keep in mind that true love never truly dies… and it ain’t always pretty.

Ok, so this is about the folly of man, right? Being careful what you wish for? I’ve noticed fans either love or hate this one, but I find myself firmly in the middle. Most of it’s played for comedy, but Hemingway acting super horny throughout the episode wasn’t quite the height of hilarity to me. This is one of those episodes that’s kind of sexual and kind of funny and VERY kind of off-putting, and it’s so “kinda” that it doesn’t go all the way to leave any kind of impact on me. So far, this is my least favorite first episode.

Best Cryptkeeper line: “Maybe then he wouldn’t have ended up in a state of HOLY DEADLOCK!”

Season 3, Episode 2: “Carrion Death” based on Shock SuspenStories #9
Director: Steven E. de Souza
Written by: Steven E. de Souza
Originally aired: June 15, 1991

Director and writer horror pedigree: Philadelphia’s Steven E. de Souza is a superstar in the action movie screenplay world. This guy wrote so much (48 Hours! Commando!), but—most importantly—nature’s perfect script: Die Hard. He also co-wrote Bad Dreams, aka “the rip-off of the Dream Warriors.” Look, there are (a lot) of parallels, but I love that movie and will defend it any day. He handled the screenplay of The Running Man as well, which puts him in the extended Stephen King universe family. (Yes, Bachman counts!) And while The Return of Captain Invincible isn’t a horror film, it does feature Christopher Lee as a singing villain, and there’s no way in hell I’m not mentioning that.

Other notables: Kyle McLachlan is most known for being David Lynch’s favorite boy in Dune, Blue Velvet and, of course, Twin Peaks. He’ll return to do some directing for us, and I can’t imagine a better introduction to him in the Crypt than this.

Does it deliver?: From the man-on-man-on-vulture spartan cast to the sweltering, dust-choked desert landscape, this is one of my top 10 favorite episodes of the series. Earl Raymond Digs is a serial killer/bank robber on the lam (you kind of have to be with a three-name moniker like that.) Hot on his trail is a motorcycle cop (George DelHoyo) who proves to be about unkillable as Jason Voorhees… to a point. One thing leads to another, Earl ends up handcuffed to a corpse, and the vulture hunting him throughout his exploits gets closer and closer to his next meal…

As someone who grew up in the southwest United States, I’m a sucker for horror in the desert. Classic New England foggy horror seems more romantic to me than anything else, but I know that oppressive heat, that throat-coating dust feeling very well, and it can put you in a bad mental place. The weird claustrophobia you can feel in wide swaths of flat space are captured chillingly well here, and it’s one of the most original and visually striking looking episodes.

“Carrion Death” also holds a special place in Tales from the Crypt/EC Comics on TV lore. This is the first episode that aired in the show that would be added to the 1994 Vault of Horror movie, which would also contain “Abra Cadaver” and “None But the Lonely Heart.” We’ll discuss the Tales spin-offs a little later, but this was basically an easy package cash-in to use pre-existing properties.

Best Cryptkeeper line: “Cook ’em, Danno!”

Season 3, Episode 3: “The Trap” based on Shock SuspenStories #18
Director: Michael J. Fox
Written by: Scott Alexander
Originally aired: June 15, 1991

Director and writer horror pedigree: Beloved actor Michael J. Fox of Class of 1984 and The Frighteners and I’m sure some other well-loved film and television properties didn’t break with his nice guy Canadian reputation here, handling another one of the lighter comedic episodes for the show.

Scott Alexander has a fascinating array of credits to his name, including 1408 (another Stephen King boy!), a personal favorite of mine, Ed Wood, and he has story credits for the first Goosebumps film. Recently he’s moved to more real-life horrors on the American Crime Story TV series.

Other notables: We’ll have to look past the modern comedic legends to cinematographer Robert Draper for more horror scoops. Draper was also director of photography/cinematographer for Tales from the Darkside: The Movie and 15 episodes of the television show, Dr. Giggles and Halloween 5. He was the cinematographer for seven Tales from the Crypt episodes in all, including… scroll up a bit… “Carrion Death!” In the last column we covered another episode he shot, “Television Terror,” and comparing those three episodes clearly shows an immense talent riddled with versatility. As much as a playground the show clearly was for writers and directors, the same has to be said for directors of photography to set designers: It’s a veritable GHOULffet!

Does it deliver?: As a charming little comedy of errors? Absolutely! As a horror story? Absolutely not! That’s Tales for ya, though: Sometimes you get flea-bitten zombies and haunted houses, and sometimes the terror is based comes solely from how us humans use and abuse each other.

Lou (Bruce McGill) is a slob, rude, pusher, a schemer and a user—on the Tales from the Crypt Kinsey scale, he’s actually not that bad—but he’s a classic Tales jerk. He’s married to his long-suffering sweetheart of a wife, Irene (Teri Garr!) who makes the best out of their piles of bills and debt while dreaming of a tropical getaway. Lou gets canned from his pizza shop job, but he refuses to let Irene get a job to help. Lou’s the type to go for get-rich-quick schemes, though, and what’s more foolproof than a life insurance fraud? Lucky for him, his brother Billy (Bruno Kirby! RIP) is a mortician and reluctantly agrees to help them fool everyone…. after Lou blackmails him.

Well, one thing leads to another, and Lou discovers that get dead quick schemes tend to pay off on a more regular basis than insurance ever could.

From the lighthearted soundtrack to a cast stuffed full of comedy actors (including Michael J. Fox as a lawyer, whose reveal makes me laugh every time), this episode makes no pretense at being one of the disturbing or gory entries. I did love seeing Carroll Baby Doll Baker as the mother, though, as she looks so much like Barbara Hershey in aged makeup in this episode I had to do a double take! If you’re a parent interested in getting your kid into the show slowly, which I think is amazing, “The Trap” has some language but no sex or real violence. That’s most likely a drawback for most viewers, but Tales from the Crypt didn’t become a pop culture juggernaut by NOT appealing to a wide audience.

Best Cryptkeeper line: “Can I interest you in a policy? The benefits are great, but the SCREAMiums will kill ya!”

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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