Exhuming TALES FROM THE CRYPT: Sowing Death… Forever

Tales from the Crypt

Welcome to the fifth season kiddies! It’s latter-day Tales now, and the stakes are high. The Cryptkeeper was getting even hotter, and things were getting weird. This gory, often mean-spirited series spun-off a children’s cartoon show, Tales from the Cryptkeeper, about two weeks before the premiere of season five, where a cute animated Cryptkeeper introduced age-appropriate mildly spooky stories to actual kiddies. Two months after the fifth season premiere, HBO would settle a syndication deal with FOX, and an edited version of the show would start airing on the network to big ratings and even bigger fame for our scarred star. So with this in mind, let’s see what this cool ghoul and his Hollywood pals are up to in this batch of opening episodes, all which premiered on my birthday. How sweet!

salesmen1 300x234 - Exhuming TALES FROM THE CRYPT: Sowing Death... Forever

Season 5, Episode 1: “Death of Some Salesmen” based on The Haunt of Fear #15
Directed by: Gilbert Adler
Written by: A. L. Katz & Gilbert Adler
Originally aired: October 2, 1993

Director and writer pedigree: Gilbert Adler, while unquestionably a Tales from the Crypt all-star, will direct his last of only two episodes with this entry. He’ll “return” to direct Bordello of Blood and an episode of the spin-off Perversions of Science, but it’s all writing from here on out on the show proper. Co-writer A.L. Katz continues his chummy relationship scribing with Adler with co-producing the show. I truly love this duo, and I think they’re indispensable parts of the rotting backbone of the crypt.

Other notables: Tim Curry is one of the few famous people who deserves all the adulation he gets. His recognizable versatility has made him a living legend in the horror landscape, the theatre world, a comedic giant and honestly… just name it, he’s done it. This man has no fear in losing himself in a character, and he works that to the hilt in “Death of Some Salesmen.” While he doesn’t play anyone as sexy as Frank-N-Furter or Pennywise here, if you disagree with me, I won’t judge. (Sexy Pennywise is canon, though.)

Anthony Adler makes his editing debut on this episode. He’d go on to edit multiple episodes of both Tales and Perversions of Science, Dark Castle’s (Hi, Gilbert Adler!) House on Haunted Hill, and the Hellraiser sequels Hellseeker, Deader, and Hellworld. I bet those Adler kids give out great candy on Halloween.

salesmen2 300x229 - Exhuming TALES FROM THE CRYPT: Sowing Death... Forever

Does It Deliver?: Slimy salesman Judd (an absolutely perfect Ed Begley Jr.) is running a kind of Paper Moon-like grifting game by selling cemetery plots door-to-door to grieving families. Much like Moses Pray, he trawls through obituaries like a ghoul, tells the bereaved that their plot was mostly paid off, and just a small final payment will get them a sweet double tombstone deal that their dearly departed planned out as a gift. He pulls this on Morticia (Yvonne De Carlo) herself, so you know he deserves to suffer. Well, a mistaken address leads him to the Brackett home, where Ma and Pa and daughter Winona (all Curry) know what to do with them salesman parts. It’s a one-man version of fuck AND marry AND kill!

From the clever title to Tim Curry’s trio of unhinged latex makeup glories to Begley’s hilariously horny performance, this is one of the most popular episodes for good reason. Plenty of corpses, a creepy house, and a huge sense of fun make this a quintessential episode. It knows how to handle weird humor and fun horror and bring them together in one hell of an unholy marriage.

Best Cryptkeeper line: “I guess it’s true what they say: The family that SLAYS together, STAYS together!”

Season 5, Episode 2: “As Ye Sow” based on Shock SuspenStories #14
Directed by: Kyle MacLachlan
Written by: Ron Finley
Originally aired: October 2, 1993

sow1 300x227 - Exhuming TALES FROM THE CRYPT: Sowing Death... Forever

Director and writer pedigree: Since season two, the proud tradition of having an A-list actor direct one of the first three episodes of each season (except season six, of course, which throws me off something awful) has been one of my favorite little quirks of the show. We had Schwarzenegger, Michael J. Fox, Tom Hanks, and now the illustrious Kyle MacLachlan. This is his sole directing credit… and that’s fine. This wasn’t shot with any particular passion, and the man who brought us Agent Dale Cooper (among other treasured David Lynch roles) as well as a performance in “Carrion Death,” one of the best Tales from the Crypt episodes ever, he clearly just wanted to try his hand, and this is about the best place to do that.

Other notables: Hector Elizondo is one of my romantic comedy favorites, and it does make sense that, if he is going to be in Tales from the Crypt episode, it’ll be one of the gentler episodes centered around a relationship. Adam West (Yes, the REAL Batman) makes a great cameo.

sow2 300x229 - Exhuming TALES FROM THE CRYPT: Sowing Death... Forever

Does It Deliver?: Leo Burns (Elizondo) is married to Bridget, a charming and stunning woman much younger than he is (Patsy Kensit, from Crypt-crew-heavy Lethal Weapon 2.) Their physical relationship has cooled, and Leo is running through private investigators to find out if she’s cheating and whom she’s cheating with. The evidence points to the church she’s devoted to, and P.I. G.G. Devoe (Sam Waterstone) lets it be known that he can hook the suspicious husband up with a permanent solution to his problem. In this case, though, Leo’s lack of faith may be the real bad guy.

“As Ye SLOW” is more like it! Eh? Eh? Alright, well, despite a great cast mostly playing against type, this one is a gentle slog. Zero humor, zero sexiness, and zero horror: Filler episode, thy name be, well, you know. While there’s nothing that’s out and out bad about it, I almost wish there was just so it would make this episode memorable. The most enjoyable parts involve Waterstone (Law & Order) as a stereotypical Chinese-food-chomping sleazy private eye, but that’s nowhere near enough to sustain an entire episode. For Kyle MacLachlan completists only, and even then you can move it pretty far down the list.

Best Cryptkeeper line: “That’s love for you: Eerie today, gaunt tomorrow!” (Yes, this one did win the “best” title for how far they stretched the skin of that pun.)

Season 5, Episode 3: “Forever Ambergris” based on Tales from the Crypt #44
Directed by: Gary Fleder
Written by: Scott Rosenberg
Originally aired: October 2, 1993

ambergris1 300x229 - Exhuming TALES FROM THE CRYPT: Sowing Death... Forever

Director and writer pedigree: Gary Fleder returns to direct one final episode of the show following the terrific “Seance” from last season. He’s currently directing something called The Bayou, and the plot sounds like the high-concept early 90’s action movies I love, so let’s look forward to it.

Scott Rosenberg both enters and immediately leaves the gate strong in his sole “Tales” episode. He scripted Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead (directed by Fleder), Disturbing Behavior, Con Air, Gone in Sixty Seconds, High Fidelity, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and its upcoming sequel, Venom… you know, he works!

Other notables: Steve Buscemi! I’ll never get tired of seeing one of my favorite actors show up in an episode, and this popped up right at the start of one of the hottest times of his career. His unforgettable Mr. Pink appeared in Reservoir Dogs just the year prior, and the very next year following this episode his filmography would start gearing up into its permanent untouchability with another from Tarantino and the comedy hit (well, with me anyway) Airheads. The Coen brothers would soon come knocking, and that’s all she wrote.

Marshall Bell has one of the best but most thankless roles in the Elm Street saga with his famous S&M gym shower scene death in A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, along with roles in genre gems like Starship Troopers and Total Recall. He’s kind of an undersung genre good luck charm, and he proves it here yet again.

ambergris2 300x227 - Exhuming TALES FROM THE CRYPT: Sowing Death... Forever

Does It Deliver?: Dalton (played by the pinball wizard himself, Roger Daltrey, lead singer of The Who) is a famed but fading combat photographer. His work just ain’t cutting it anymore, and that’s even more glaringly obvious when compared to his younger protégé Ike’s (Buscemi) raw, sincere work. Ike thinks the sun rises and sets with Dalton, but all Dalton can think of is getting with Ike’s beautiful, devoted wife Bobbi (Lysette Anthony, from Krull and tangoing with unusual vampires in Dracula: Dead and Loving It and the Dark Shadows 90’s reboot) and then getting him out of his career’s way. He gets his chance when they’re assigned to a South American village ravaged by a flesh-eating virus. Dalton wastes no time in making moves to become the most despicable character in Tales from the Crypt history, but as we know, karma has a special laser focus when it comes to this show.

This episode is one of, if not the absolute, sickest, most graphic episodes of the series. The gore is unflinching, but the worst of it happens to a likable character, and the camera refuses to pull away. The emotions and betrayal involved make it that much more disturbing, but, oh god, the eyeball scene. There’s not a lick of fun in this episode: This is where you should go for the true horror. With all that said, it’s also wonderfully shot with terrific performances, and it packs a wallop that’s as strong emotionally as it is viscerally. This isn’t an episode to throw into a fun marathon, but if you’re craving some truly perturbing horror but only half a half hour to spare, this is hard to top.

I need to address the title. The original comic book story was centered around a sea captain and actually revolved around ambergris, which is a (gross) substance harvested from whales to be used primarily in perfumes. I love how they took threads of the comic book plot—flesh-eating disease, vengeful spouses—but keeping the title? The title worked for the comic book story as a clever parody of the wildly popular novel and film Forever Amber, a VERY flowery historical romance story that was published about 10 years before the EC Comic story, but here it just makes no damn sense. I’d like to propose an alternate title for the episode: “Won’t Get GHOULED Again!” No, no wait, “Babadook O-Riley!”

Best Cryptkeeper line: “You’ll like to know that things turned out pretty well for Bobbi. She got herself a job and started modeling for VicGOREia’s Secret!”

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.

Sign up for The Harbinger a Dread Central Newsletter