I tend to love the fourth seasons of television shows. By then, everyone is confident in what works and what doesn’t, but it’s still young enough to still be fresh. Season four of Tales from the Crypt certainly isn’t the exception: we have some of the most memorable episodes here, and the quality is more consistent than in the past two seasons. Plus, they keep up with the fun tradition of having one of the three premiere night episodes being directed by a movie star and one by a blockbuster filmmaker.
Sadly, this was the first season EC Comics’ godhead Bill Gaines wasn’t alive to see; he passed away only a few weeks before its premiere. It was no secret he was a fan of the show, though, and I have little doubt this gory rollercoaster of a season would do him proud. What of that premiere night, though? Let’s take a look at the first three episodes and see what’sinew…
Director and writer pedigree: Like Michael J. Fox when he directed his episode, Tom Hanks appears in a supporting role, here as the guy running a video dating service. Heck, he even did some stunt work! Fun fact: while he has directed a few things, Mr. Hanks is best known for his acting career.
Donald Longtooth is obviously a pseudonym that will appear once more this season, but I haven’t been able to crack the case on who it belongs too. With that in mind, I’m assuming it’s the Donald Longtooth in the episode “The Reluctant Vampire,” played by Malcolm McDowell. Yes: a Vampire wrote two episodes of Tales from the Crypt! We have a new bar to lower, ladies and germs.
Other notables: Treat Williams starred in Dead Heat, which I’m sure you’ve seen by now with how much I push it as the unofficial mascot movie of this column.
A male black widow strikes again: Howard Prince finds lonely, rich old women to seduce, then murder. After his latest “conquest,” he and his partner need just one more score to finally retire from his sugar baby murder mill business. After seeing the wealthy Effie (Frances Sternhagen) in a video dating service, he focuses his sights on her bank book by way of her heart. She falls for his act, but her butler Stanhope (Henry Gibson) remains suspicious. Once Howard starts getting messages hinting that someone knows what he’s up to, however, he needs to tie up some loose ends before he can truly make it ‘til death do them part.
The ending is a beautiful, predictable, creepo, gory all-out EC Comics classic: you can practically see the vengeful corpses illustrated in vibrant four-color in your mind’s eye. While this episode doesn’t offer plot surprises, it brings everything else. It’s fun as hell.
Best Cryptkeeper line: “Damn you, Marcel! I told you they wanted violence, not violins!”
Director and writer pedigree: Robert Longo is an interesting dude. His directing credits center around music videos, this episode and Johnny Mnemonic. What he really is, though, is a highly respected painter and sculptor.
A.L. Katz returns as, quite possibly, the reigningest champ of Tales from the Crypt.
Other notables: American Horror Story and Hardware’s Dylan McDermott stars, and the prolific Rick Bota returns as cinematographer—we’ll be seeing a lot of his work in this and the next few seasons.
Does It Deliver?: With an opening scene straight from the classic noir D.O.A. (“I’m already dead… and this is my killer!” “I’d like to report a dead body… mine!” “This area isn’t zoned… for life!” You get the idea.), we’re thrust into the tight, fun pacing that’s become a signature of scripts based on the Crime Suspenstories issues. It’s also one of the most sexually explicit. No Hays or Comic Code to worry about here!
Two scientists (Kiss of the Spider Woman’s Sônia Braga and the late Cleavon Little) have only noble intentions for a cure for disease in mind, but their selfish supervisor, George (McDermott) wants the fame and fortune attached. His reckless and showy attitude is scraping their shared last nerve, and it all comes to a head when Geoge is “accidentally” injected with the experimental serum rather than his insulin. As they warned him, it wasn’t ready for human testing, and he has only hours to live. As his panic grows, so does his paranoia, and if he’s going down… he’s not going down alone.
Since this is the end of Noirvember, it’s appropriate that we have an episode that follows the conventions of the genre. While we do get a nice, bloody death scene, this definitely falls firmly into the dark crime camp, jazzy soundtrack and all. It’s beautifully shot, and the pacing handles the build-up from exposition to kinetic frenzy much more masterfully than it has any right to in a show this short.
Best Cryptkeeper line: “I always wanted a SWING set. Just a little something for when I’m HANGING out watching the NOOSE!” Now that’s what I call WELL HUNG!” (I’m telling you, he’s getting fast and loose with these themes.)
Director and writer pedigree: William Friedkin doesn’t need the likes of me to introduce him, but The Exorcist, The Guardian, Bug and non-genre fare like Sorcerer, To Live and Die in L.A. and The French Connection? Well, I’m always happy to recommend masterpieces-to-near-masterpieces to the classy, discriminating readers of my humble column.
Scribe Larry Wilson returns for his second episode! The screenwriter of The Addams Family and one of the story writers of Beetlejuice will return on a consistent basis to work on scripts until the final season.
Other notables: Both this episode and Wayne’s World were released the same year, making Tia Carrere the Official Hot Rock ‘n’ Roll Girlfriend of 1992. Horror-wise, she appeared in the classic Zombie Nightmare! Paul Hipp was also busy in rock movies that year: He played DJ Dan O’Dare in one of my favorite Full Moon Pictures… pictures, Bad Channels. There’s also an Allman brother running around, so you know the whole thing’s legit.
Does It Deliver?: The Crypt yet again gets backstage passes to a rock ‘n’ roll episode, this time amping up the intensity rather than the humor.
The heavy metal band Exorcist (!!!) is putting on a hometown show after a successful tour, but lead singer Danny Darwin (Yul Vazquez) can only focus on his lead guitarist and best friend, Nick (Hipp), getting recently married to Scarlett (Carrere.) Obviously, she’ll be a “Yoko” and break up the band even though she clearly just loves her new husband. Danny’s anger and betrayal are stoked by a jealous groupie, Vendetta, who assures him that ALL the groupies hate her too. She shows off a tattoo she got right on her breast and encourages him to get one from the same guy for some distraction and defiance.
She takes him to the tattoo artist, Farouche, played by the late Heavy D. (“Esprit farouche, rien ne te touche.” See? Opera! This is a very tony article.) The only catch? He can’t pick his own tattoo. His skin will tell the story, and that determines his ink. Well, you can probably guess whose beautiful face appears ends up on him. It’s his version of a telltale heart emblazoned right on his chest — his Scarlett letter — and he’ll do literally anything to get rid of it… and a simple laser surgery won’t do the trick.
It’s interesting that Friedkin directed this one, though it also makes great sense. He’s spent his career diving into the sacred and the profane, and whether due to the short runtime or for a sense of fun, only the profane is splayed out here (Killer Joe is its closest theatrical companion in my opinion.) The simplistic story that’s choked with heightened emotion is purely operatic, and it works freakishly well with the plot centering around an immature heavy metal band. Strangely, this is an episode that I’ve most noticed a lack of background music, though that may be a home video rights issue. Whatever the reason, it created a creepy dissonance. This is humanity at its most petty and jealous, and the ending is so violent, fantastical and insane that it works with absurdity rather than get beaten down by it.
Also, there’s a dragon in this.
Best Cryptkeeper line: “Still, you gotta like where the band is going: America’s CHOP 40!” (Bonus points for “gore-age band.”)
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