Exhuming TALES FROM THE CRYPT: Curiosity Killed the Werewolf
I come to bury season four, and to praise it. This was a sweet spot in the history of the show in that is was wildly popular, received prestigious award nominations, and the star power was in no danger of dimming. Still, it was not yet in basic cable syndication and there were no movies or spin-offs yet, so Tales was still playing heavily to the die-hard horror crowd seats while the Cryptkeeper, while popular, was more at the level of Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors than the deep-soaked pop culture of Freddy’s Nightmares and the latter-day sequels.
In fact, many fans consider the fourth season the last time Tales from the Crypt was truly consistent with successfully pulling off balancing both comedy and humor. I don’t agree with that assessment, but I can see why this is a favorite season for those who prefer the show to be more horrific than funny or completely off the wall. Even with only two episodes left, we’re spoiled with werewolves, vampires, splatter effects that would make the angels themselves weep, and Beverly D’Angelo looking like a blonde Jessica Rabbit in a perfect blood red dress. I have a feeling a lot of these more stubborn opinions first started growing in the pubescent years.
All that aside, season four is one of my personal favorites too, and it yet again showed how much fun you can have when skilled creatives play with classic horror tropes. So let’s pour one out while we visit one of the last periods before the show became a full-blown cultural juggernaut.
Season 4, Episode 13: “Werewolf Concerto” based on Vault of Horror #16
Directed by: Steve Perry
Written by: Scott Nimerfro and Rita Mae Brown
Originally aired: September 9, 1992
Director and writer pedigree: Rocky, Lethal Weapon 2-4, Modern Romance… Steve Perry did second unit or assistant directing on all of them and many more. When it comes to being in the driver’s seat himself, though, Perry stuck to this single episode and a TV movie starring Marisa Tomei and Jeff Fahey two years prior. Additionally, he was a producer on everything from True Romance to Sudden Impact to Executive Decision, so you figure some people prefer a buffet to a single meal, and one of those some people are Perry. When it comes to horror, though, Perry is clearly in the “action directors who the producers were familiar with” camp rather than anyone with a burning love for the genre.
The late, great Scott Nimerfro returns (his last being “Judy, You’re Not Yourself Today”), and thankfully his sharp presence will pop up frequently throughout the rest of the series. Since he’s done so much and will pop up quite a bit later, I’ll focus on one project a time. Nimerfro became a producer for the series in season 5 and 6 before tying a bow over the Crypt with co- and associate producing (respectively) Demon Knight and Bordello of Blood.
Interestingly, Rita Mae Brown is an uncredited co-writer on the script. She’ll most likely be best known to horror fans as the screenwriter of the fantastic The Slumber Party Massacre, but she’s a (big, BIG) best-selling mystery writer and all-around badass feminist activist. I dug, but I haven’t been able to uncover how much of a hand (a finger? A fist??) she had in the script and why, although it’s easy to find out that she worked on the story in some capacity, she’s technically uncredited. Very clever for a mystery writer on a mystery-centric episode…
Other notables: This episode may be one of the most stuffed when it comes to notable guest stars. We have a James Bond (Timothy Dalton) his frenemy, General Gogol (Walter Gotell, who also played a general in Puppetmaster III and The Nightmare Years, and he was Uncle John in Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers, which doesn’t fit the theme of this parenthetical aside but is a moral imperative to mention), the screen’s finest cop (Reginald VelJohnson), Charles Fleischer (Roger Rabbit himself and future Demon Knight victim), Mrs. Clark Griswold (Beverly D’Angelo), the screen’s first Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina) and Wolfgang Puck, playing himself, because it’d be such a waste not to use that name in a werewolf episode.
Does It Deliver?: “You know what they say about men who do that to their ice, don’t you?” “You can always count on them to lick the competition.” Oh, IS there a James Bond connection in this episode?
Tales from the Crypt goes GAGatha CRISPY—why yes, this column did kill any possible pun shame I ever had, thank you for asking—when a hotel full of strangers trapped by a mudslide have to figure out what the hell is going on as they get bumped off one by one by a wildly carnivorous furry creature. A werewolf hunter (Dalton) recognizes the signs of lycanthropic malarky, though, and j’accuses his way through the cast with blunt force to figure out who, yes, is a werewolf.
This one is a lot of fun. Seeing the classic “And Then There Were None”-esque plot with a supernatural twist in the Cryptkeeper’s universe is a blast, and the ending is a sexy face-off between mythical beasts that the Underworld franchise got a whole lot of movies out of covering. It’s a lot of plot and numerous characters to balance in one short episode, but “Werewolf Concerto” knocks it out of the park with charm and impressive werewolf effects. While it’s strangely not one of the most memorable episode, I appreciate how I notice something new each time I revisit it.
Best Cryptkeeper line: “This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs. And this is your brain after watching TALES FROM THE CRYPT!” (smash)
Season 4, Episode 14: “Curiosity Killed” based on Tales From The Crypt #36
Directed by: Elliot Silverstein
Written by: Stanley Ralph Ross
Originally aired: September 16, 1992
Director and writer pedigree: Elliot Silverstein returns from last season’s “The Reluctant Vampire” to yet again wield his decades of television and film directing prowess. I’m always curious about people who have worked in television over a long period of time: When Silverstein started, television was black and white and something like HBO was a long-off crazed fever dream. Then he gets to his 60s, and he’s directing people getting eviscerated for the small screen on a subscription channel! The Cryptkeeper really is the great unifier.
Stanley Ralph Ross has lived a life. In the last column, we took a peek at Yale Udoff, who’s credited for helping to bring the Batman to the boob tube. Ross acted in a small role and wrote extensively on the 1960’s Batman series, voiced multiple characters in DC Comics cartoon shows in the 1970s, and later developed the Wonder Woman television show. Whoever made the decision to raid older comic book television creators was on fire, especially when they put Lois Lane herself in his episode.
Other notables: The late Margot Kidder was a legend, and her horror credentials are forever unquestionable thanks to Black Christmas, Sisters, and The Amityville Horror. She’s perfectly balanced by Kevin McCarthy, who has two of the most iconic film quotes of all time in two very different movies, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and UHF: “THEY’RE HERE, ALREADY! YOU’RE NEXT!” and “This community means about as much to me as a festering bowl of dog snot!” I just love this guy.
Does It Deliver?: A bickering elderly couple is unhappy on a sweet camping trip even though they could fit a small town inside of their badass RV. Jack (McCarthy) wanted to have a nice glamping trip, but Cynthia (Kidder) wanted a real hotel, and their fighting prompts a happy senior couple Lucille (Madge Sinclair, best known as Queen Aoleon from Coming to America, who tragically passed away only three years after this episode) and Harry (J.A. Preston) to note that they’ve been like this their entire vacation. They invite them over, and after a huge blow-up between the jerks, the happy couple hints that they have a secret that can solve their unhappiness. What follows is the expected unexpected from Tales from the Crypt: double crossing, double-double crossing, and some really sweet old age and corpse effects that got makeup artist Todd Masters a CableACE Award nomination.
The ending to this is kind of hilarious as it’s one of the juiciest, nastiest and meanest spirited codas of the series, but it’s so abrupt that it becomes high comedy. There’s nothing much to note here because everything just runs like clockwork: The actors get the tone and deliver, the morality is deliciously muddled, and the payoff is a one-panel comic book masterclass. The angry chemistry between Kidder and McCarthy is absolutely essential for every horror fan to witness, too.
Best Cryptkeeper line: “Don’t worry about me: It only HEARSE when I laugh!”
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.