By the end of season three, Tales from the Crypt was unstoppable. The Cryptkeeper was fast becoming a pop culture mainstay just enough to still be cool and not overexposed, and ratings were solid. The constant pumping of celebrity blood into the show kept even those who otherwise had no interest in horror talking around water coolers across the country, and merchandising and talks of expanding the show into a real franchise were in the works.
With all that cynical money and popularity talk aside, the Crypt delivered an incredibly solid season. From comedic vampire to neo-noir gore to old-fashioned reporters discovering the real grue of society, season three pulled off an insane balancing act. Let’s see how they capped that head off, shall we?
Season 3, Episode 13: “Spoiled” based on Haunt of Fear #26
Director: Andy Wolk
Written by: Connie Johnson
Originally aired: August 21, 1991
Director and writer pedigree: Andy Wolk is another director with no background in horror, and in fact, this episode was only the third foray in directing. Sticking mostly to television and highly acclaimed theatre work, Wolk’s only claim to horror genre fame was writing season 2’s “Dead Right.” He did direct an episode of Medium, which starred Patricia Arquette, who was also on this show, and now you know what it looks like when I’m reaching hard.
Writer Connie Johnson was an associate producer on the entirety on season 3, and she even appeared as “attractive nurse” in the episode “My Brother’s Keeper” from last season! This is her sole screenwriting credit.
Other notables: I’m so tickled that Anthony LaPaglia played the sexy cable guy here. He’s attractive, but not in a beefcake model way, and he’s perfect at delivering the ridiculous lines. Faye Grant (Janet) was a regular on the original V television series, and I have to give a quick shout out to Annabelle Gurwitch, who co-hosted Dinner and a Movie on TBS when I was a kid, and I freaking adored that show.
Does It Deliver?: This is one of the very few episodes that contain absolutely no death in it, accidental or otherwise, so no! We come here for puns, death, and celebrities, and two out of three IS bad. However, if you always wanted an episode that felt a bit like She-Devil and Soap and other early-90s pastel-dark comedies, then you just lucked out. The episode even gets in plugs for HBO and the actual Tales from the Crypt show itself, so it’s pure, end-of-the-season meta madness.
Janet is a beautiful, breathy redhead pulsating with passion… and her doctor husband only has eyes for his experimental medical work. Fanning the flames of her impotent red-hot sex drive is the soap opera “There’s Always Tomorrow,” starring Fuschia Moore, who takes what and who she wants. When Janet misses out on a big moment due to her picture going out, she finally upgrades to cable… and the cable man. Will copying the sex scenes from a soap opera also inspire its dramatic violence… or maybe even some weird science? Yes. The answer is yes.
With sexy lines like “I’m good with knobs” and male/female input/output innuendo with cable cords, this episode somehow managed to have a tongue firmly in both sides of its cheeks. This isn’t a comedic horror episode: It’s a soap-opera-softcore-porn spoof comedy with a weird, goofy ending. It’s an interesting choice, having this so close to the end of the season. From what I can figure, “Yellow” is so straight-laced and serious that the Tales ghoul gang decided that the audience needed a silly splash of pink before the big send-off. It’s fun, but it’s a strange choice. Also, is it just me, or did the cable installation logo on Abel’s uniform mimic the EC Comics emblem?
Best Cryptkeeper line: “What do you know? Par for the corpse!” (The Cryptkeeper was so lost on this episode, guys. He was golfing because doctors golf, I guess? But the doctor in this episode was too obsessed with work to have hobbies… his shoes were really cute, at least.)
Season 3, Episode 14: “Yellow” based on Shock SuspenStories #1
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Written by: Jim Thomas and John Thomas & Gilbert Adler and A.L. Katz
Originally aired: August 28, 1991
Director and writer pedigree: Founding papa Zemeckis is back! As one of the executive producer giants who brought this show to life, this is the second of only three episodes he ended up directing. His first (“And All Through the House”) is the most visually iconic and memorable, but this is the most respected.
Phew, the writers on this one! We covered Gilbert Adler and his impressive horror bonafides before. Brothers Jim and John Thomas wrote goddamn Predator before following that up with an incredibly uneven dual filmography that includes Wild Wild West, and all I want you to take away from that is that life is a journey and “The Predator Brothers” would be a great wrestling tag team name. A.L. Katz is another Tales from the Crypt legend, having written 11 episodes total along with frequently working as a co-producer and story editor. He also wrote episodes of Freddy’s Nightmares and Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice, which, if you’re a regular at this column, you’ll notice is a movie that seems to be home to a number of Tales alum.
Other notables: This is an all-notable episode. Kirk Douglas stars with his late son Eric, and it’s hard not to imagine that doing this episode with him must have been incredibly bittersweet in hindsight because of Eric’s early, accidental death in real life. Dan Akroyd is playing a straight role, and he’s wonderful in it. I always thought he had a vulnerability he could have used a lot more if he ever wanted to. Genre superstar Lance Henriksen returns to the show, unfortunately for the last time.
Does It Deliver?: This one is pretty terrific in that, while not really a traditional Tales from the Crypt story, it’s absolutely the perfect example of a “Shock SuspenStories” story, and it appeared in its first issue. “Yellow” is the first episode to end up in that Two-Fisted Tales movie that was an attempt at a spin-off, and if that idea was ever going to take root, this episode would have been the only effective way to sell it. (The next two will be appearing in season four, so slay tuned!)
It’s World War I, and American Lieutenant Martin Kalthrob is the son of a respected general: a general who happens to head Martin’s regiment. Martin’s the kind of pacifist that express his non-violent nature by hiding and drinking, and his decorated father has finally had it. He gives him a specific order that, if carried out in full, will move Martin off the front lines to where he won’t see actual battle. Unfortunately, Martin’s cowardice and carelessness cause death among his unit, and his sloppy lies only illustrate to his blood superior that he’s hopelessly “yellow.” Sentenced to death by his own father, familial loyalty and love clash violently with reputation and masculinity, and only one side will crawl out of the trenches alive.
This is considered by a hefty chunk of Tales fans as the greatest episode of the show, and it’s no surprise: Not only does it star a legendary actor, but it also looks and feels like an entire film unto itself. On top of that, it’s basically the “Cat’s in the Cradle” episode of Tales from the Crypt, and viewers who have had any kind of dad issues will most likely find something here to rip their hearts out. Beautifully filmed, acted and paced, this is one of the episodes that you can throw in any critic’s face who claims that Tales was simply a silly gore show.
Best Cryptkeeper line: “No guts, no gory!”
Based in the incredibly down-to-earth city of Las Vegas, NV, Stephanie Crawford is a freelance writer, frequent podcast guest and co-host on The Screamcast. You can follow her hijinks at House of a Reasonable Amount of Horrors and on Twitter @scrawfish