Exhuming TALES FROM THE CRYPT: A Maniac, a Puppet, and Twins Walk Into A Bar…
Kiddies, we just have prime, uncut Tales from the Crypt this go around. Serial killers. Joe Pesci in a ponytail. Clown puppets. When I think back on this show as a whole, that’s the crazy kind of mix my brain puts together. With my blessings, please just dive in.
Season 4, Episode 10: “Maniac at Large” based on Crime SuspenStories #27
Directed by: John Frankenheimer
Written by: Mae Woods
Originally aired: August 19, 1992
Director and writer pedigree: Whether he was swooping in on Richard Stanley’s The Island of Dr. Moreau or directing acclaimed dramatic thrillers like Seven Days in May and The Manchurian Candidate in the swinging 60s, John Frankenheimer was a deeply respected director who ended up having a tumultuous latter-day career. This is allowed when you direct Ronin, Black Sunday and Prophecy (the Talia Shire one not the Christopher Walken one), though, and his is a name that always surprises and impresses people when they see it pop up connected to this show.
Each episode in this putrid pack holds a notable last effort from a Tales regular, and sadly, this one is no exception. Mae Woods, one of the very, VERY few female writers on the show, would continue to associate produce on large films here and there, but she seems to have moved away from the entertainment industry completely since the late 1990s.
Other notables: Another Tales host! Clarence Williams III, Mr. Simms himself, from Tales from the Hood appears as the constantly bewildered and frustrated security guard, Grady. I hope that he talked with the Cryptkeeper a bit and picked up some tips about being a horror host, but I’m also actually only 10 years old and those are the kinds of hopes I guess I have.
Bill Conti came in with the soundtrack to this as his sole Tales episode. Conti, of course, scored F/X. Oh, and a few scattered, smaller gems like For Your Eyes Only and Rocky and what-have-you are there too, but mostly F/X!
Does It Deliver?: Some rowdy kids in a library graffiti “EC Comics” on a table, bringing us a good omen of what’s to come.
Margaret (Blythe Danner) is a new librarian at an old library in a shady part of town, and between the overbearing head librarian Mrs. Pritchard (Salome Jens) and news of a serial killer loose in the neighborhood, she’s more than just a bit jumpy. So when she finds out that tonight, of all nights, she’ll have to stay late… with a creepy handsome killer-obsessed bookworm lurking (Adam Ant!) and both the library’s security guard (Clarence Williams III) and a detective (Obba Babatundé) being unsure of the exact amount of caution everyone should reasonably have… well. Any bump in the night can bump you off, can’t it?
I’ve always been very partial to this episode, and I don’t think it’s solely because my mom is a librarian. The moody, low lighting in the dark wood library has a very creepy yet familiar bit of atmosphere to it, which only intensifies when the sun sets. This episode also takes much more time than most to build up the characters, location, and a general sense of dread. If you’re like me and like knowing and caring about characters before terrible things befall them, this one is a spooky, quiet treat. Danner is a nervy delight and everyone has crackling chemistry, even when they have to keep their voices down.
Best Cryptkeeper line: “There goes the neighBOOhood!”
Season 4, Episode 11: “Split Personality” based on Vault of Horror #30
Directed by: Joel Silver
Written by: Fred Dekker
Originally aired: August 26, 1992
Director and writer pedigree: This is pure Tales from the Crypt inbreeding through and through! Mega-producer Joel Silver is, of course, one of the men responsible for bringing the show to “life,” and this is the only thing he has ever directed. I like to imagine he used a megaphone even in the intimate scenes, but I’ve always been a hopeless optimist.
Fred Dekker is back for his fifth and sadly final “Tales” episode. Looking back, I think this one is probably the best example of his talent at mixing comedy with tension and horror. The characters genuinely do sound and act like they just stepped out of a comic book, but it never reads as fake. There’s a wonderfully weird balance going on here, and everyone seems to have been keyed into it. There’s so much about this episode that’s deeply Hollywood, but it also has a jolly, almost innocent quality to it.
Other notables: Every time I see him, I always happily exclaim “Joey Pants!” So if seeing Joe Pantoliano, Burt “Hey Paulie!” Young and Pesci in the same scene don’t convince you to watch this episode again or for the first time… what am I, just writing this column like a clown? Get out of here!
I’m veering off the horror guys here for a second, and for that I apologize. However: Do you know who shot this episode? Jan de Bont himself! Only two years before he’d direct Speed (and seven years before he’d direct the terrifying-for-all-the-wrong-reasons remake of The Haunting), de Bont worked on this, Lethal Weapon 3 (directed and produced by two separate Crypt Daddies, including Silver, of course) and Basic Instinct. With those credentials, he really was the only qualified cinematographer to shoot Pesci having sex scenes in the year 1992.
Does It Deliver?: Vic (Pesci) is a hustler who lives for two-timing: Whether it’s scams, women or drinks, “the best things in life come in twos.” One day, two black cats test that luck by running in front of his car… leading him to a very distinctive home where a pair of very unusual twins live. Once Vic realizes that they’re the daughters of a famous, rich, LATE architect, he launches into a scheme of seduction, a hilarious (fake) twin brother of his own, and dual quickie weddings. He gets sloppy, though, and while the twins April and June can share, it’s only to a point. The trick is that it has to be 50/50, right down the middle, and neither of them appreciates being tricked.
Finally, another comedy episode! From the extremely Pee Wee’s Playhouse-style home the twins live
Best Cryptkeeper line: “It just proves the old saying: Behind every bad man, there are two women… with a chainsaw!”
Season 4, Episode 12: “Strung Along” based on Vault of Horror #33
Directed by: Kevin Yagher
Written by: Yale Udoff
Originally aired: September 2, 1992
Director and writer pedigree: Kevin Yagher directs and masterminds the effects for every single episode in the amazing Cryptkeeper sequences, but this is his second and final episode of directing an entire episode. Like “Lower Berth,” Yagher seems to be attracted to darker tales that avoid the comedic route entirely. He balances that darkness with otherworldliness even better here.
Writer Yale Udoff had a fascinating, albeit short, career. The story goes that it was thanks to him that Batman became a TV show as he was the first one to pitch the comic book as something that would work on television. Even with that under his belt, he’s most known for writing the screenplay for the late Nicolas Roeg’s Bad Timing. You could create a mind in a lab and it still wouldn’t be as appropriate for Tales from the Crypt as the one of a man with a hand in bridging comics to TV and then writing an incredibly dark, intense Roeg production. This was Udoff’s last credited work, and he also passed away in 2018.
Other notables: Zach Galligan moves away from Gremlins to deal with some more pint-sized terrors, and it’s crazy how attracted I am to him and his hairstyle in this episode. Billy’s kinda hunky here, and it’s confusing me.
Also notable to me, an aficionado of unusual names, there’s a stand-out who worked on this and other Tales episodes in the hair and makeup department. Today, she’s known as Nanette Moore. When this was filmed, however, she worked under the name “No No Moore,” and why she moved on from that, I’ll never know. I’m dedicating this one to you, No No.
Does It Deliver?: We open on black and white television footage of an adorable Howdy Doody-esque puppet show. As the camera pulls back, we see Joseph Renfield (Donald O’Connor) gazing in sadness at his heyday’s visage before he returns to the basement, and we discover that his sidekick, Coco the puppet, is still very influential in Joseph’s mind. Renfield’s now a senior citizen, and while he lives in a beautiful house and has a gorgeous wife about half his age, she’s growing weary of his tortured artist routine and he’s more than a bit unfulfilled as a mostly-recluse who pop culture has left behind. That changes when he gets an offer to be on a new TV show, and young David (Galligan) shows up from Mrs. Renfield’s acting class to become his puppet protégé and punch up his prehistoric puns. Even with this new lease on life, Joseph’s paranoia that his wife might be cheating on him with her acting coach grows, and David and Coco are only too happy to help stoke those fears.
Evil puppets, possessed dolls,
Best Cryptkeeper line: “Now that what I call PAIN in FULL!”
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, writing and frequent podcast appearances on Twitter @scrawfish and at House of a Reasonable Amount of Horrors.