“Unquiet meals make ill digestions.” – William Shakespeare, Richard III
When I first discovered Tales from the Crypt as a shy little girl, fascinated by horror but not allowed to see it, part of its fun was sneaking the episodes while my parents were asleep. These forbidden nuggets were the edited FOX syndicated episodes, and either they favored certain episodes or my brain stubbornly just knows the ones it likes best, but there’s a handful I remember seeing much, much more often than others.
This torrid triptych stands out in my mind both as episodes I both saw a good amount and loved quite a bit back then. “What’s Cookin'” especially shines, though as someone who revered Christopher Reeve as a Superman-loving kid, seeing him in a scary, darkly funny thing where he was certainly NOT Clark Kent might have seared that a bit more strongly. All that said, this pack reminded me of my childhood quite a bit when I revisited them, and like most of this column, seeing how that hits my adult brain with that nostalgia cloud stuck in there was fun and more than a bit strange.
Anyway, enough about me! It’s time for con artists, beauty queens and questionable cooks, and they’re all waiting right down these stairs…
Season 4, Episode 4: “Seance” based on Vault of Horror #25
Directed by: Gary Fleder
Written by: Harry Anderson
Originally aired: July 4, 1992
Director and writer pedigree: Directing the first of his two “Tales” episode, Gary Fleder has had what’s basically the ideal career to accompany doing an episode of Tales from the Crypt: He’s directed genre-adjacent films with serial killers (Kiss the Girls) classic crime (Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead) and lots and LOTS of television. Most recently, he mashed them all together in the TV horror movie A Midsummer’s Nightmare, written by The Shallows Anthony Jaswinski.
Harry “Richie Tozier in Night Court” Anderson is best known for his acting roles, including the earlier episode “Korman’s Kalamity.”
Working (obviously) predominantly in comedy, the late Anderson dipped his toes into writing horror just this once: here! As someone who was in one of the most famous Stephen King adaptations and had one of his earlier acting roles in an episode of George Romero’s Tales from the Darkside, however, he wasn’t a neophyte to mixing the screaming with the laughing. I’ve mentioned it before, and it remains true: If they have any talent at all, I’m a big fan of actors who also write. Especially when you’re dealing with a story that runs less than half an hour, their ear for dialogue can be a real boon.
Other notables: Cathy Moriarty and her smoky voice are legends (having your first acting job ever be a leading role in Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull will help with that), and she did an amazing job mixing kid-friendly scares and eye-rolling cynicism in the DEAD-action Casper movie and the thinly-veiled William Castle tribute Matinee, directed by Joe “Why the hell did he never direct an episode?!” Dante.
Ben Cross played the legendary Barnabas Collins in the less-than-legendary short-lived 1990’s revival of Dark Shadows, and John Vernon has been in everything from Killer Klowns from Outer Space to Alfred Hitchcock’s Topaz.
Does It Deliver?: A con artist couple, Alison (Moriarty) and Benny (Cross), are out to hustle the wealthy and married Mr. Chalmers (Vernon) with some steamy photos of an orchestrated tryst to get him to cough up the cash. Things take an unexpected turn, however, and instead, it looks like they’ll need to con a grieving, blind widow instead. With the kalamitous karma of the crypt, though, I don’t think we’ll have to worry about that poor lady too much. Cue the best seance sequence since Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey!
This episode is pure, sumptuous mood. Low, warm, flickering lighting, beautiful period clothing and music, and arch noir-style acting from the cast. It all pays off in Sam Spades, however, in another cacophonous, ultra-gory EC celebration. Instead of seeming jarring, the bloody payoff is keyed so perfectly to how disgusting the couple is that it ends up being one of the best and most satisfying episodes of the season, and probably the entire series.
Best Cryptkeeper line: “She has a great chest… cavity, that is.”
Season 4, Episode 5: “Beauty Rest” based on Vault of Horror #35
Directed by: Stephen Hopkins
Written by: Donald Longtooth
Originally aired: July 11, 1992
Director and writer pedigree: Stephen Hopkins will be best known to fright fans the most for directing A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child and Predator 2 (written, of course, by “Tales” alumni Jim and John Thomas from “Yellow”) This is the second of his three-episode run on “Tales.”
Ah, the mysterious Donald Longtooth returns from the grave. Who is he? She? They? If you have a scoop, get in contact with me! I have a deadline and I’d hate to not hack this mystery.
Other notables: It’s a regular Elm Street reunion! Jennifer “I’m beautiful… and bad!” Rubin from A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors plays a jealous but clever beauty contestant. Kathy Ireland was a very successful model, sure, but who can forget her turn in Alien from L.A.? This will also be editor Michael Robison’s last episode; he also worked on quite a bit of other genre television, from Poltergeist: The Legacy, The Dead Zone and The Collector.
Does It Deliver?: Did you like “Top Billing,” but you’re ready to see a pretty close version of it with women in the modeling world instead? Boy, you sure have some specific tastes, but you’re in luck!
Helen (Mimi Rogers) is a beautiful but aging model. Like Lovitz in “Top Billing,” she’s talented but constantly loses jobs to someone younger and perkier. Losing the big Ball Buster account (which has a hilariously amazing commercial at the start of the show, though who has the entire set-up for an expensive commercial for an audition?) to her roommate Joyce (Ireland) finally sets her off. When Joyce tells her she’s going to a beauty pageant where she’s already set as a winner, Helen decides to put sleeping pills in her tea to take her place. Sadly, Helen is no doctor, and she’s no good at doses. Everything should sort itself out once she wins a beauty competition that celebrates inner beauty though… right?
Helen is a total brat, and you can’t wait to see her comeuppance. This tale has a great, bitchy tone that’s almost a horror version of a latter-day Melrose Place episode. If that doesn’t sound like your cuppa, though, don’t worry. The ending shot is one of those deliciously ridiculous over-the-top setpieces that hints to weird secret societies that we’ll never know a damn thing about. This one is extra trashy and extra fun.
Best Cryptkeeper line: “Will she make it? Only her SCAREdresser knows for sure…”
Season 4, Episode 6: “What’s Cookin'” based on Haunt of Fear #12
Directed by: Gilbert Adler
Written by: A. L. Katz
Originally aired: July 22, 1992
Other notables: Seeing the best Superman (deal with it) Christopher Reeve in a Cryptkeeper tale is delicious, and Bess Armstrong is no stranger to weirdness after starring in Jaws 3-D. Meat Loaf is in this, Art LaFleur from the great The Blob remake is too… the cast is incredible. Judd Nelson as the sneaky butcher takes the steak, though.
Does It Deliver?: “It’s a dog eat dog world, and we’re all just different flavors of Alpo.”
Erma (Armstrong) and Fred (Reeve) are running an unusual greasy spoon: They service squid-only dishes. Shockingly, business is bad (I can’t believe people aren’t lining up for squid loaf! The logistics behind that alone are fascinating…), and their landlord Chumley (Meat Loaf) threatens to shut the place down if they can’t pay back their loan. This is the chance Gaston, a drifter turned busboy (Nelson) needs to provide some… special meat. An old family recipe. Soon, the place is a hopping steak joint as people can’t get enough of their barbecue. It’s a tale straight from the cannibal’s cookbook, and the only thing that could ruin this happy meal is the struggle over money and power… and this time it’s not over the bill.
This is one of my favorite episodes. The tone is light without being silly, the cast chemistry is amazing, and it’s so strange and gory (every scene in the meat locker is a tiny dream of Leatherface’s) and it proves that you can be both adorable and completely creepy.
Best Cryptkeeper line: “Talk about a flesh in the pan! I guess that’s what happens when you butcher money where your mouth is!”
BONUS! Best Cryptkeeper line from the DVD commentary: “This puts a whole new spin on The Breakfast Club!”
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