Welcome back, kiddies! Is the chill of Merrie Olde England seeping into your bones yet?
This batch of British beasties gently takes us out of the more traditional episodes we’ve had so far by starting off in the second World War before thrusting us into the gritty, foggy, neon world of ’90s British crime stories! That’s right: We’re moving away from that classic Hammer feel into more of a cynical, Cool Britannia feel and aesthetic. It’s an interesting transition that I think is mostly successful as it brings back some of the elements that have prevalent throughout the pre-UK years and kind of marries them together with what we’ve had with season seven so far. Still, the only real way to know is to… well, watch the episodes, but the other best way is to read on…
Season 7, Episode 4: “Escape” based on Vault of Horror #16
Directed by: Peter MacDonald
Written by: Gilbert Adler and A.L. Katz
Originally aired: May 17, 1996
Director and writer pedigree: Peter MacDonald is your man if you need a part three in your franchise: Beyond his television directing work in The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones, MacDonald helmed The NeverEnding Story III and, most notably, Rambo III. For this World War II-set episode, however, his direction for the Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle Legionnaire will give you the best taste of what to expect here. He’s much more prolific as a second-unit director, though; his work there includes Guardians of the Galaxy, three Harry Potter films and Tim Burton’s Batman. He’s set to appear in the upcoming documentary In Search of the Last Action Heroes, and I can’t wait.
Other notables: Our traitorous lead is played by Martin Kemp, who memorably portrayed Baron Von Frankenstein in Waxwork II. Roy Dotrice portrays Major Nicholson, but forget those military titles when you can be a freakin’ member of the Elf monarchy playing King Balor in Hellboy 2: The Golden Army. He also appeared in another Ron Perlman property in the Beauty and the Beast television show and is surprisingly the first Game of Thrones cast member I’ve run into so far in this very British season.
Does It Deliver?: It’s towards the end of World War II, and Lieutenant Luger (Kemp), a German prisoner, is perfectly willing to betray his fellow prisoners in an escape attempt to get himself a few more creature comforts because “stupid people deserve to die.” He led them to Havenhurst P.O.W. camp to get gunned down, but it’s headed by someone who doesn’t respect his duplicitous dealings and refuses to honor the “arrangement.” Luger is respected by the prisoners, though, as they don’t know he’s a sellout, only that he made a semi-successful escape attempt. He’s instantly pulled into another escape attempt—this one he’s buying into fully—but when a survivor of his betrayal is brought to the camp and only needs some R&R before he starts talking, the worm starts squirming and takes a detour to silence his former comrade before making his grating escape. Can a friendless, cowardly killer make a clean escape, or, seriously, is this a Tales from the Crypt episode?
I love, love, love prison escape films. From Le Trou to The Shawshank Redemption, something about beleaguered prisoners reluctantly banding together to take a dangerous chance with an escape route that’s mired in terrible, delicious tension, all of them (or that lone, Rita Hayworth-loving wolf) yearning towards freedom… I just eat it up with a prison-issued spork. The concept is inherently cinematic, and I was excited to see it executed on Tales from the Crypt.
Please don’t think I’m automatically namechecking “Yellow” just because of the WWII setting, but I will bring it up because this is horror in a similar vein. No gore here: just the existential horror of war and the trustless folly of man. While I’m a simple ghoul with simple tastes in the macabre, I do appreciate and enjoy these occasional, more low-key episodes that feel more suited to, say, a “Two-Fisted Tales” spin-off. This is essentially a palate cleanser between the more traditional, otherworldly stories, and it’s nice to see the war from a British point of view on the show as well. There’s nothing exciting or too notable here—save for some scenes of some strange, over-the-top soap opera-style acting—but it’s a solid entry with an ending that, while a bit predictable, does deliver a firm gut punch.
Best Cryptkeeper line: “Now that’s what I call HACKtive service!”
Season 7, Episode 5: “Horror in the Night” based on Vault of Horror #12
Directed by: Russell Mulcahy
Written by: John Harrison
Originally aired: May 24, 1996
Director and writer pedigree: Russell “Highlander” Mulcahy is back! (If only you knew how much I want to put Razorback as his middle name instead.) It’s, sadly, his final outing in the crypt. He’d go on to direct two episodes of the spin-off Perversions of Science, but this is it for our Australian champion.
Geroge Romero’s right-hand man John Harrison returns for his second episode as writer. His first was one of my least favorites, “The Pit”, so I’m hoping this outing from the Tales from the Darkside champion will be the comeback story we all need. He’s directing an episode of the upcoming Shudder Creepshow series (he was a first assistant director on the original film,) so I’m taking that as a good omen.
Other notables: Composer J. Peter Robinson returns (Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, Vampire in Brooklyn, Kindred: The Embraced) and actor Peter Guinness from Alien 3 and Sleepy Hollow is perfectly at home at this
Does It Deliver?: Two men are hired to do an inside job for a jewelry heist, but an idea to double cross inspires the OTHER guy to double cross, and next thing you know it’s that old chestnut where everyone gets shot and a guy ends up at a creepy hotel. Not just any no-tell hotel, though: This one is occupied by the mysteriously seductive Laura (Elizabeth McGovern), who may or may not be connected to the violent and gory flashes haunting our baddie-on-the-lam. From laundered corpses to erupting genital episodes, this place definitely wouldn’t be liked on Yelp.
“Horror in the Night” isn’t content to let Stephen King monopolize the hotel horror corridor, and it’s not ready to let “Escape” carry the traitor protagonist/antagonist mantle for this batch either. This one takes us right back into gooey, gory territory, which is great, but I couldn’t help feeling that it was a bit too much of a chore. The ending was expected, the character “twist” was expected, and there wasn’t enough personality to the odd and grisly happenings to make them leave an impression any deeper than a haunted house would. Nothing about the characters or scenario engaged me or pulled me in, so it just felt like it was dragging the whole time.
Despite it falling flat for me overall, it does boast one of the most disturbing first-person sex scenes I’ve ever seen.
Best Cryptkeeper line: “My skeleton crew and I are about to blast off for a little space HACKploration. Care to join us? Good! I hope you’re made of the rot stuff. Cuz we’ll be heading fright years away from terror firma…”
Season 7, Episode 6: “Cold War” based on Tales From The Crypt #43
Directed by: Andrew Morahan
Written by: Scott Nimerfro
Originally aired: May 31, 1996
Director and writer pedigree: Andrew Morahan makes music documentaries. Andrew Morahan directs operas, musicals, and music videos. Much like our previous director, Andrew Morahan directed a Highlander film… er, Highlander: The Final Dimension. (Hey, that’s the third one! Peter MacDonald must be infuriated.) Nothing’s shocking if you’ve been keeping up with this column, though, as Tales from the Crypt tends to love bringing in directors with music video backgrounds along with those who seem to have a talent with doing a lot in a short period of time in video-based mediums. If you can get over his lack of horror pedigree, that makes Morahan absolutely perfect for the show.
Other notables: I won’t bury the lede: this is the Ewan McGregor one! This episode was just another piece of what made 1996 The Year of the Ewan. Two years after Danny Boyle’s Shallow Grave, which brought a burgeoning spotlight to the both of them, all of the roles that basically built the foundation of his stardom were released this one year: Trainspotting, Brassed Off, Emma, and The Pillow Book, plus he spent the rest of the 1990s as an indie-to-Hollywood-pond-crossing darling. This also stars Jane Harrocks, who starred in one of my favorite Ewan films, Little Voice.
Colin Salmon is no stranger to genre properties: His recent role as General Zod in the television show Krypton is just the latest in a career that includes turns in the Resident Evil, Punisher, Alien vs. Predator, and Arrow franchises.
Does It Deliver?: Ford (McGregor) and Cammy (Harrocks) are a young couple whose rocky but passionate relationship seems rooted in crime. When two botched robberies change the course of both their night and relationship, Cammy ends up in the arms of Jimmy Picket (Salmon), who seems to have some unsavory secrets of his own. Next thing you know we have a love triangle from hell, and we find out that bigotry can extend deep into the guts and into the afterlife as well.
This episode is a blast. It has vampires, zombies, star-crossed love, Ewan attempting an American accent whilst making fun of British slang, awkward seductive dancing, failed robberies, and cheeky latex gore pieces. This is the kind of episode that I consider quintessential Tales from the Crypt, and it’s also one that taps into the feeling of the American episodes when it comes to pacing and dialogue: It balances violence, sex, and humour with equal aplomb, has just a touch of offensive cringe material, but is overall pretty cool and charming. It’s very simple, but the charisma of the performers and punk rock attitude of every goofy, bloody event sells the whole thing.
Best Cryptkeeper line: “Looks like they’ll be heading to divorce corpse instead!”
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.