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Exhuming TALES FROM THE CRYPT: A Showdown of Ghosts of Past, Present & Future

I know it’s not nice to play favorites when it comes to kiddies, but this edition brings together two of my favorite episodes of the entire show, and the third one is no slouch either. From one of the creepiest creepshows to dust-choked dives into the human condition, this cornucopia of carnage illustrates why season four was so ridiculously strong.

Did it deliver more times than not? Of course. Was it interesting when it took a short stroll away from classic horror tropes? I’d say so. Did mixing these all up in a proverbial creative cauldron and getting the opportunity to take chances on pre-television renaissance HBO make it a relentlessly unique show that still holds up to this day? In case you’re new here, the answer is yes. But don’t take my word for it! Take my words down below for it.

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Season 4, Episode 7: “The New Arrival” based on Haunt of Fear #25
Directed by: Peter Medak
Written by: Ron Finley
Originally aired: July 25, 1992

Director and writer pedigree: If a filmmaker could be quietly towering, Peter Medak is the one who can pull it off. In 1980 he released one of the greatest horror films of all time with The Changeling, and his film The Ruling Class is part of The Criterion Collection if you needed the joint classed up a bit (and let’s be real: This joint needed some classing up.) Medak continues to be very active and has worked in horror television with the Masters of Horror episode “The Washingtonians” and episodes of the brilliant Hannibal, along with episodes from the Ron Perlman-led Hand of God. He released a documentary on Peter Sellers this year and is currently in production with a film in the thriller/crime genre.

While Ron Finley has mainly only written for this show, he seems to write my favorite ones, as he’s also behind “Undertaking Palor!”

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Other notables: We get a hilarious opening of Robert “The coach from The Faculty was kind of like a humanoid T-1000 if you think about it” Patrick as a sexual shock jock named Lothar antagonizing our lead, David Warner. Warner has undoubtedly had an amazing career, but for me, The Omen will always be tops: He was really at the head of the class in that one! We also have the angel Zelda Rubinstein presiding over a decidedly less-than-clean house in this episode.

Does It Deliver?: Ratings are bad in the pop psychology region of radioland, and Dr. Alan Goetz (Warner) is no charming Frasier Crane. During a recording, he finds out that he’s losing his show to low ratings. In desperation, he talks a frequent caller named Nora (Rubinstein) into letting them visit her home in person. She has problems with a little girl who’s both outwardly and self-destructive, and he’s hoping to show off his skills by exploiting the obviously weird dynamic to help save his show. With his producer and boss in tow (60’s supermodel Twiggy and Joan Severance!), assumptions that the child is made up are quickly buried in a true house of horrors. Madness, a little girl in a blank mask wrecking havoc and gruesome little traps made this a therapy session from hell.

More than any other episode in this series, “The New Arrival” scared me the most as a kid. The creepy, booby-trapped house and the little girl in the stark white mask gave me nightmares (and set me up beautifully when I’d see Eyes Without A Face years later.) With a house vaguely reminiscent of the one in The People Under the Stairs and a deeply creepy reveal, even old and jaded me gets the wiggins.

Best Cryptkeeper line: “You know what they say: The morgue, the merrier!”

Season 4, Episode 8: “Showdown”
Directed by: Richard Donner
Written by: Frank Darabont
Originally aired: August 1, 1992

Director and writer pedigree: The dream team from “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy” has returned! Crypt Daddy Richard Donner and Frank Darabont to do what is sadly their last episode, and if we have to lose them now, at least they did their finale with each other.

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Other notables: Actor Neil Giuntoli appeared in both Tom Holland’s Child’s Play and Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption, making him our honorary Kevin Bacon this round. This marks cinematographer Hiro Narita’s sole episode, so it’s a treat to see the talent behind The Arrival, Hocus Pocus, The Rocketeer and many more show up, though I wish he would have done more. He worked with Crypt Daddy Robert Zemeckis a few times, so why not?

Does It Deliver?: Billy Quintaine (Giuntoli) is one of the deadliest gunslingers in the Wild West, but a posse of lawbringers finally have his scent, and he and his posse are on their last legs. When they leave a marked grave on their trail, Texas Ranger Tom McMurdo (David Morse) is waiting for them in the next town. After a classic stand-off, Quintaine mosies on into the saloon where he’s offered a miraculous drink by a friendly salesman patron. After trying it (after getting haggled with a money-back guarantee) Billy finds out that things aren’t what they seem, and he wasn’t quite as untouchable as he thought he was.

I love, love, love the “twist” at the end. I was genuinely surprised the first time I saw it, and it balances both eeriness and poignancy extremely well. Episodes like this one are where I can see why M. Night Shyamalan was interested in reviving the series. It’s a gorgeous looking episode, and the pace is so languid and intoxicating that it almost feels like a full-length movie.

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For cryptologists, this is an important episode as it’s the first of only two episodes (read on for the other one) that wasn’t based on an original EC Comics story: It only shares a title with the “Showdown” in Two-Fisted Tales #37, but not a plot.

With the success of Tales from the Crypt and Hollywood being what Hollywood is, a spin-off was discussed. Before Perversions of Science took flight in a few years, Two-Fisted Tales was a two-episode guinea pig produced by Fox that aired on VHF broadcast TV on January 17, 1992, to good critical notices and a slam-bang comic book strip opening that let the audiences get a feel for the action-oriented anthology. Best of all, Tales from the Crypt Hall-of-Famer William Sadler was the wheelchair-bound-metal-plate-in-the-head-having Mr. Rush, taking over the narrator role from the Cryptkeeper as a furious, foul-mouthed gunslinger ranting from a wheelchair between each segment. Alas, it wasn’t destined for consistency, but they did make for crackerjack separate episodes.

Best Cryptkeeper line: “Talk about a sick shooter! Who’d have thought being a cowboy could stirrup so many bad feelings?”

Season 4, Episode 9: “King of the Road”
Directed by: Tom Holland
Written by: Randall Jahnson
Originally aired: August 8, 1992

Director and writer pedigree: Horror royalty Tom Holland is back for his third and final Tales from the Crypt episode. Looking back on them, Holland had a theme of slow burn, love-gone-wrong stories. I think “King of the Road” is his strongest, although “Four-Sided Triangle” still sticks in my brain as the most disturbing and affecting over the years.

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This is also Randall Jahnson’s last episode, following season two’s “Television Terror”. 

Other notables: It’s sad: Brad Pitt really could have become a bonafide horror icon. With his charming turn in the ultra-fun slasher Cutting Class in 1989 and starring in one of the most popular Tales from the Crypt episodes, he easily could have parlayed his good looks into Scream King status. Ah well, at least we have Se7en.

Warren “Werewolves of London” Zevon himself provided music for this episode, which includes the immortal refrain “Bad road, wretched road!” It’s… not one of his classics.

Does It Deliver?: Sheriff Joe Garrett (Raymond J. Barry) is hiding a secret from his past, but other than that, he’s living the facade of an ideal life pretty well with his sweet teenage daughter, Carey (Michelle Bronson). That is, until, a reckless outsider rolls into town and invades Garrett’s life. Billy (Pitt) knows about both his old racing reputation and the tragedy that struck because of it, and he isn’t afraid to use blackmail or his daughter to force him into one final race.

“King of the Road” is one of those great episodes that, while not traditionally “horror,” it uses so many thriller and moral tale conventions that it’s a rare genre fan who won’t be satisfied: It feels a bit like when John Carpenter does an Assault on Precinct 13 or Walter Hill in the Streets of Fire era. There was a lot of 1950s and 1960s nostalgia going on in the early 90s (just track the age of filmmakers if you want to know what nostalgia trends will hit in any given media. It’s fun!) and it’s dated, in the best way possible, in that specific lens where you could really feel the early 90s even in throwback pieces. This is a simple and pretty much bloodless episode, but the acting, story and performances make it more memorable than it otherwise would be. Plus, the firey ending is pretty choice.

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Best Cryptkeeper line: “You know what they say, kiddies: The slay’s the thing!” (He’s Shakespeare in this one. He’s throwing me more and more curveballs.)


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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