Exhuming TALES FROM THE CRYPT: The Horror House of Well-Cooked Creeps
Be ghoul to your school, kiddies! Two out of the three episodes featured here are all about that college life, which got me thinking about how few episodes are based on characters under the age of, say, 28. While that makes sense since it’s a grown-up show on a grown-up network, it is a horror program with a pun-serving puppet, and teenagers are the most abundant expendable export in the horror genre!
So slap on your youth renewing creams, grab your backpack, and throw some ramen in the microwave cuz we’re going to school with only a brief detour to a magic show to interrupt us…
Season 5, Episode 7: “House of Horror” based on Tales From The Crypt #21
Directed and written by: Bob Gale
Originally aired: October 27, 1993
Director and writer pedigree: It’s no surprise that Bob Gale would appear on the show, only that it took so long. Long affiliated with Crypt Daddy Robert Zemeckis thanks to Used Cars and, of course, the Back to the Future trilogy, Gale also shares a story credit with Zemeckis on Tales from the Crypt: Bordello of Blood. Better late than never, and here he even did a rare directing job! Maybe there’s a timeline out there where Tales from the Cryptkeeper could have had a crossover with the Back to the Future cartoon…
Other notables: Boy, this is stuffed full of them, especially if you’re at all familiar with early-to-mid 90’s teen stars. We have Star Trek: Generation and Stand by Me’s Wil Wheaton, Keith “The dishes are done, man!” Coogan, Encino Man’s Michael DeLuise, Courtney Gains from Children of the Corn and The ‘Burbs, Dream A Little Dream’s Meredith Salenger, Brian Krause from Sleepwalkers and Charmed, Kevin “Drama” Dillon, and Carrie 2: The Rage and Dazed and Confused’s Jason London.
Does It Deliver?: It’s classic fraternity abuse as a group of pledges are gearing up for their “test of courage” to see if they can hang out with a bunch of assholes they don’t even like anyway. Beautiful sorority president Mona (Salenger) stops by, inviting some of the boys over for dinner to see if they’d like a sister sorority. Instead, they’re invited to witness the pledges enter a haunted house as a final test to whether they become brothers or not. Unfairly, the place is rigged with sound effects and gags by the fraternity to make sure the pledges get properly scared. Of course, this show is all about the twists, and everyone has to contend with a disgruntled ex-pledge from the past PLUS a group whose roots grow much deeper, longer, and darker than any fraternity could possibly imagine. These idiot college boys are way, way out of their depths.
Boy, the opening of this is kinky! Lots of submissive young men in tightie whities and tennis shoes in the opening scene sure sets a tone. This episode is kind of fantastic in that it really does tap into a lot of classic horror subgenres: college teens, haunted house, revenge, ghouls… heck, there’s even a chainsaw and a decapitation! This is about as pure popcorn as an episode can get, and if you’re in the mood for a kitchen sink approach to spooky tropes, this is the house party you want to attend. Anything that can make me think of Slaughter High, From Dusk Till Dawn (Ah, nearly a Tales from the Crypt movie, that…) and Hell Night in less than 30 minutes is, by law, a nugget of horror gold.
Best Cryptkeeper line: “I know they say that college costs an arm and a leg, but this is ridiculous!”
Season 5, Episode 8: “Well Cooked Hams” based on Tales from the Crypt #27
Directed by: Elliot Silverstein
Written by: Andrew Kevin Walker
Originally aired: November 3, 1993
Director and writer pedigree: Elliot Silverstein returns (previously helming “The Reluctant Vampire” and “Curiosity Killed”) for one of his last episodes.
This was the very first screen credit for Andrew Kevin Walker, who’d go on to write the delightful Brainscan the following year before hitting the jackpot in 1995 with his screenplay for Se7en. Walker is a true genre fan, as his scripts for 8MM, Sleepy Hollow and 2010’s The Wolfman would show.
Other notables: This was John R. Leonetti’s 11th and final episode as cinematographer, and I’ll personally miss the sense of fun his episodes always had in their lensing, their almost instinctual mess en scream for your fancy film school types. Here’s to him learning from directing Annabelle and Wish Upon that he, really, sincerely, please, deserves some great scripts to direct from now on.
While acting legend Martin Sheen is nothing to sneeze at, keepers of the Crypt know the true superstar here: Billy Zane in an episode two years before starring in Demon Knight! While the characters are pretty different, The Collector and the magician, he plays the heavy here too and brings the same energy and level of delicious fun to both roles. I just love Billy Zane.
Does It Deliver?: Miles Federman is a bad-to-middling magician who’s totally biffing the tricks he learned from his teacher, Zorbin the Magnificent, but he has the ambitions of a star. He has a beautiful, hard-working assistant in Maryam d’Abo (XTRO and she was a Bond girl too I suppose) but she’s had it both with his failure and her (apt) suspicion that Miles is the reason Zorbin has shuffled off this mortal coil. When an older magician named Kraygen invites Miles to his show afterward, the crummy younger illusionist is shocked at how flawlessly his “Box of Death” is pulled off. After aggressively demanding to know the secrets to pulling it all off, Miles kills Kraygen and steals the act.
Now playing to packed crowds, Miles reluctantly agrees to let a cameraman in the burgeoning medium of motion pictures record his performance for distribution: The temptation of more money and wider fame are just too irresistible to this dapper death-dealer. This will truly be a performance to remember, though not in a way Miles will appreciate. Karma may be a bitch, but she has flawless timing and always plays to the audience.
I was shocked to discover that I had never seen this episode before, and it’s become an instant favorite. I loved the very early 20th-century setting, and I’ve always been a sucker for elaborate magic acts that end up resembling more of a Grand-Guignol scenario. The actors knew how to play it up theatrically while not being, funnily enough, hammy. Zane is as charmingly smarmy as you’d want (and his mustache is just perfect), d’Abo has a small but strong part, and Sheen completely disappears in all three of his roles. Yes, three! It’s lush, darkly hilarious, and has a wonderful payoff.
Best Cryptkeeper line: “You know what they say: If at first you don’t succeed, die, die again!”
Season 5, Episode 9: “Creep Course” based on The Haunt of Fear #23
Directed and written by: Jeffrey Boam
Originally aired: November 10, 1993
Director and writer pedigree: Mr. Jeffrey Boam was born to write for Tales from the Crypt, and the fact that he did this episode specifically is pretty special. Boam had written in nearly every corner of genre filmmaking, though it was most likely his work on the first three Lethal Weapon movie scripts that brought him to the attention of the Crypt Daddies. Still, Boam scripted Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Innerspace, The Lost Boys, The Phantom (Hi again Billy Zane!) and, in a match made in the best kind of hell, David Cronenberg and Stephen King’s The Dead Zone. The fact that, years later, Anthony Michael Hall would star both here and in the underrated The Dead Zone television show is the kind of fun fact that most other people would “huh” at, but it’s literally the kind of stuff that gave me the idea and passion for doing this column, dammit!
This is Boam’s sole directing credit, and he did a great job juggling very disparate locations and lighting situations. That may sound like a softball compliment, but it really isn’t. There are some seasoned directors who didn’t do as well dealing with the smaller budget and short filming time, and the whole thing looks great.
Other notables: Ivan E. Roth, who played a zombie in one of our favorites in this column, Dead Heat, and was the truly creepy Willy in Night of the Comet, is the freaking mummy in this episode!
Does It Deliver?: Let’s go right back to college where jock Reggie Skulnick (Hall) is failing his Egyptology class taught by Professor Finley (Jeffrey Jones), endangering his football scholarship. He decides to entice bookish Stella Bishop (Nina Siemaszko channeling Hope Davis like crazy) to tutor him, but it quickly becomes apparent he’d rather use her in a scheme to steal the answers for their midterm. Somehow seduced by
Another one I’d never caught in reruns before! I wish I had because this episode is a total blast. There were a few extra twists in this one, and whether you saw them coming or not, they were all well-executed to be both fun and creepy in equal measure. There’s a fantastic mummy and a truly inelegant death where guts literally come out of both ends. It’s a weird trip, and I’d go out on a bandaged limb that it’s one of the most successful episodes is executing a very classic horror template in an interesting, fresh way.
Best Cryptkeeper line: “As for me, I’ve got to get back to my corpse catalog and decide on a major. I thought about going pre-dead, but I think I’d be better at SHRIEKenomics!”
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.