Exhuming TALES FROM THE CRYPT: Operation Revenge
Season six is doing me in a little already, kiddies. Sure, part of the fun of Tales from the Crypt is never knowing what weird stuff will be in every slimy handful, but these threw me through a noose a bit. What do I mean? Well, read on… AFTER you watch the promo below because it’s great.
Season 6, Episode 4: “Operation Friendship” based on Tales From The Crypt #41
Directed by: Roland Mesa
Written by: Rob Ross
Originally aired: November 9, 1994
Director and writer pedigree: While he didn’t dive too deep into narrative directing, Roland Mesa has been successful in more celebrity-centric promo, documentary and commercial work. If you’ve been in a movie theater in the past decade and saw a Will Rogers Institute ad before the movie, then you’ve seen a glimpse of Mesa’s more recent output. When it comes to the bloody, scary stuff, his only credit in the genre (some may say “torture porn,” but we aren’t that vulgar here) is Revenge of the Nerds III: The Next Generation.
No, not the painter: Screenwriter Rob Ross isn’t really a screenwriter so much as he’s a working Canadian stand-up comedian. He doesn’t even brag about this credit on his official website, which I think is a travesty bordering on insult, so I hope this enriches his SEO because, really, isn’t that what this column is all about? No horror here, though, and if you check out the episode, that’s not exactly a surprise.
Other notables: I literally think the Dread Central domain will reject this episode like a virus because of the lack of horror in this episode. Star Tate Donovan was the voice of Disney’s Hercules—though he did appear in Tales’ alum John Frankenheimer’s Dead Bang, to be fair. Michelle Burke was the super cute older sister in Dazed and Confused. John Caponera is also a stand-up comedian. These actors are so adorable that it’s terrifying. Hey, the music department! We have Peter Bernstein, who worked on things like Ghostbusters, Puppet Master vs Demonic Toys, and two episodes of Masters of Horror. There we go! Just ignore the Blues Brothers 2000 credit and we’re fine.
Does It Deliver?: Nelson (Donovan) is a meek pushover, both used and ignored at work. Once he’s home, he has a microwaved dinner and early 90’s internet bulletin board for socializing to look forward to. Well… almost. See, Nelson has hung onto his imaginary friend, the brash, hyperkinetic and barely restrained, Jack (Caponera.) Jack hates Nelson’s hermit lifestyle, and when a beautiful new neighbor, Jane (Burke), introduces herself and asks “them” to dinner, Jack encourages it until he realizes she’s a psychologist and is more than eager to help Nelson out with any mental issues that he feels may be restraining him. What follows is a bit of Drop Dead Fred-lite hijinks, and there’s only enough headspace for one of them.
This is another “in name only” episode when it comes to referencing the original comic it’s supposedly based on. While that’s nothing new for this show, the comic book story involves a surgeon cutting out the majority of his friend’s brain to keep in a jar to talk to. He leaves the remaining bit in his body and lets his friend’s wife live with that, and she never notices the difference. Now THAT sounds like an episode!
This one has some great moments, especially a classic gathering of haunting childhood bullies that includes a “Sister Mary What’s Her Name” and a young Ethan Suplee. The performances are a nice balance of wacky and empathetic, but this obviously wasn’t meant to be an especially scary episode, and it just isn’t off-the-wall enough to make up for that. This episode would be rated PG if it wasn’t for some ladies in sensible lingerie. Thanks to that, it’s a very safe PG-13.
Best Cryptkeeper line: “I just LOVE eyes fishing!” (The underwater theme this week was rough, kiddies.)
Season 6, Episode 5: “Revenge is the Nuts” based on Vault of Horror #20
Directed by: Jonas McCord
Written by: Shel Willens
Originally aired: November 16, 1994
Director and writer pedigree: I think the fact that this episode is pretty much a remake of part of a popular British production is the only reason why director Jonas McCord did an episode: He’s very fancy. While he has executive produced on some genre television with Earth: Final Conflict, award-winning history and war stories tend to capture his attention more than anything in the horror realm. Since this is considered a huge classic in the Tales from the Crypt realm, whether you love the films, comics, shows or all of them like us true blues, it’s interesting they didn’t go with someone who’s had a proven track record in scares.
Post-Police Story, Shel Willens has written exactly one episode for each show before moving on to do only one for the next. He has done this for three decades.
He is not for us to know.
Other notables: Anthony Zerbe is a familiar face from everything from The Omega Man to the Matrix sequels to American Hustle. Teri Polo became known for the Meet the Parents franchise, but we remember her around here in The Arrival. While John Savage’s most iconic role was in The Deer Hunter, he’s made a great living the past decade by appearing in endless B action and thriller movies.
Does It Deliver?: MISTER Grunwald is a sadist running a home for the blind. Not only does he keep the place cold and filthy, but he also bricks up bathrooms, cuts rations and releases marbles down a hallway where blind people are walking. When Sheila (Polo) arrives, he quickly sexually harasses her and offers extra “favors” if she’ll sleep with him before just taking away basics and telling her no one will get them back until she does. (Oh boy, is THIS guy is ripe for his ending.) Everyone is miserable and resigned until an altercation gives them the perfect opportunity for a little eye for an eye…
Of course, this bears a strong resemblance to the story adapted by Freddie Francis in the terrific Tales from the Crypt feature film from Amicus Productions in 1972. You know, STRONG. Still, they’re not based on the same comic book stories! Or… wait for it… it’s another in name only. Vault of Horror’s “Revenge is the Nuts” was set in as “insane asylum.” The patients were tortured with neglect in that story as well, but the revenge was basically letting an especially aggressive patient named Olaf get aggressive on the bad guy, and their issues were mental rather than physical. This episode takes not only the home for the blind plot from Tales from the Crypt #46’s “Blind Alleys,” but 98% of the revenge ending as well. Why this isn’t on books as just being based on that story is beyond me, but it basically grabs the title of one and the plot of another and bingo bango.
All that said, of course, I can’t help but look at them both. Comparing an early-1970’s British production’s take versus an early-90’s one from America is pretty fascinating. The most instant take is that I would be completely shocked if McCord wasn’t heavily influenced by the general aesthetic and attitude of Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs in the making of this. Also changed is, while ‘72’s plot centered around the blind citizens as a group and neither comic book story ever had this as a subplot, the sexual harassment of Sheila takes center stage while the abusive and rotting conditions of the “home” are much more the setting and background players here. While a very strong, moody episode, the ending is so abrupt that it almost seems like a mistake in editing.
Also, Isaac Hayes delivers the line “You’ve just been shafted!” so this is one for the ages no matter what else may have gone on.
Best Cryptkeeper line: “Hey! You want a side of ghoulslaw with that?”
(The opening scene has The Cryptkeeper as a mime. The closing, he’s a hot dog vendor. I’m telling you, this episode has me all mixed up.)
Season 6, Episode 6: “The Bribe” based on Shock SuspenStories #7
Directed by: Ramón Menéndez
Written by: Scott Nimerfro
Originally aired: November 23, 1994
Director and writer pedigree: Ramón Menéndez is the first Cuban director to work on the show. His hit Stand and Deliver kickstarted his career while writing Tortilla Soup reignited it. While Ramón is definitely not a genre guy in his work, he did return later to direct one episode of the spin-off Perversions of Science.
Other notables: Lots of them this time around! I have to mention Kimberly Williams-Paisley since I grew up on the Father of the Bride movies, but we also have Benicio Del Toro one year before the release of The Usual Suspects. Our star, of course, is The Stepfather himself, Terry O’Quinn.
Does It Deliver?: Fire Inspector Martin Zeller (O’Quinn) has a thorn in his side for a strip club named The Naked Experience (!!!) that has compromising pictures of his daughter, Hiley (Williams-Paisley.) She’s trying to make a new life as a college student, and now that he’s promoted, Zeller has and will use his power to shut the club down. Owner Puck (Esai Morales) isn’t going to take that lying down, though, and we’ll see just how far a father will go to help his daughter while eschewing basic communication the entire time.
In case you were wondering: This is the episode that bucks the trend and is pretty on-point with its comic book. I was sincerely surprised when I saw that Menéndez wasn’t deep in the theater world after watching this one. The apartment set in this is completely staged like a play, including the classic “see-through wall with lighting” bit. Nothing else in this episode is filmed that way, and it’s really just a perfect encapsulation of how I feel about this episode: It’s weird. Nimerfro’s sparkling and naturalistic writing didn’t seem to kick in here, and the whole thing feels like it’s trying to be eight genres in less than a half hour. The emotional tone verges from soap opera to a soap opera trying to do a police episode. None of the character relationships here make a lick of sense either, “Who am I here?” indeed.
I can really get into heightened reality and merging stagecraft into television or film, but I’d much rather watch Crimes of Passion again to see it down right.
Best Cryptkeeper line: “You may ask, ‘Aren’t there a few skeletons in your closet?’ Sure there are! And a vampire or two and a werewolf. What of it?”
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.