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Exhuming TALES FROM THE CRYPT: Closing the Crypt

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How does one say goodbye to a friend? A cultural juggernaut? A constant companion? A… secret lover?

Well, while it’s a goodbye to the show, one month after the finale, Bordello of Blood premiered to a modest but successful box office showing and mixed-but-mostly-middling reviews. Mark Caro from the Chicago Tribute wrote at the time “‘Bordello’ is based on an early story from “Back to the Future” collaborators Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis. They have gone back to adolescence here, with an assist from “Crypt” veterans and screenwriters A.L. Katz and director/producer Gilbert Adler. The movie is filled with foul language, boys-camp sexual humor, and leering T&A shots.” That sums up the vast majority of reviews and my general view of the film as well. I’m sorry! I’m a Demon Knight kid… but Angie Everhart will always be able to get it.

My childhood sneakily watching syndicated episodes of this on FOX as a kid was where my love and fascination for Tales from the Crypt was born, but my adulthood curiosity and nosiness about who actually worked on the show gave me the idea for this whole thing. I knew a lot of famous horror names wrote and directed on the series, but who? And when? And how did those compare to the ones made by first-timers or people known for their work outside the genre? That premise wouldn’t leave me, and I really lucked out in having Dread Central as a home to explore that. Diving into that also helped me discover some hidden gems from my favorites as I dug into their back catalogs, and I’ve seen quite a few films and television episodes for the first time thanks to people I “discovered” here.

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As I’m writing this, we’re in a particularly terrible time when it comes to horror in real life around the world and a particularly great one for fictional horror in both television and film. That pairing is rarely a coincidence. One of the great things about being a horror fan is we can enjoy so much new horror that addresses burning issues by using otherworldly elements to deliver them in, ironically, a less blunt-force way. We also have the gift of endless escapist entertainment when we need it. Watching every single episode and writing about them has been fun and deeply interesting to me, absolutely, but it’s also been a consistent place to visit little touchstones of goofiness or outlandish scares that distracted me at times when I very much needed to get my brain out of the mental ditch it was in. Whether you’ve followed “Exhuming” along, checked in occasionally, or you find this column years later when you decide to check the show out: Thank you so much, and I hope it helps you have some fun and maybe win a trivia contest.

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Season 7, Episode 11: “Confession” based on Shock SuspenStories #4
Directed by: Peter Hewitt
Written by: Scott Nimerfro
Originally aired: July 5, 1996

Director and writer pedigree: You wanna talk mixing horror and comedy? You wanna talk doing that while utilizing one of Tales from the Crypt’s leading Hall of Famers? Then you’re talking Pete Hewitt, who directed Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, a film (a SEQUEL, no less) with such a ridiculously absurd high concept plot that it had no right working at all, but boy did it. (That Hall of Famer is, of course, William Sadler, playing Death, the role he was paradoxically born to play.) Beyond that, Hewitt stayed in the realm of kid-friendly/family films, but he threw them a bone with what I assume is a spooktacular, skull-splintering terror ride with R.L. Stine’s Mostly Ghostly: Have You Met My Ghoulfriend?

I’ve been glossing over Scott Nimerfro past his first episode simply because he did so very much in the latter half of the show’s run. From writing and supervising numerous scripts to producing on the show and on Demon Knight and Bordello of Blood, Nimerfro was one of the guiding voices in the crypt. His career continued to soar in genre television thanks to Hannibal and Once Upon A Time, the latter of which he was working on when cancer took him in 2016 at the age of 54.

Whether you knew him from Bryan Fuller’s shows, Tales, or are one of his (surprisingly and touchingly) devoted fans from Once Upon A Time, Nimerfro made a lasting impact with clever scripts that were as comfortable playing in the dark as they were cracking jokes within genre tropes. By all accounts, he was also a warm, supportive person who loved what he did and enjoyed collaborating with other creatives immensely. While he was taken far too young, he achieved the only kind of real immortality a human being can by living a full, interesting life creating art people will enjoy long after his passing.

As a parting gift, here’s 1989’s Creeptales, which has a segment that Nimerfro served as a producer on. Is it the best thing he’s done? No. Oh gosh no. But it’s a fun, goofy anthology that Crypt fans of should check out. I believe that the little things you do in your life always matter, no matter how much you end up accomplishing. They’re the bricks in the foundation of all your future creations, and remembering their role in building you into your future is essential to both your strength of character and making sure you appreciate anything wonderful that may come your way.

Now enjoy some monsters eating pizza.

Other notables: This is a great looking episode—spare as the locations may be—and that’s largely thanks to British cinematographer Robin Vidgeon, whose credits include Hellbound: Hellraiser II, Parents, Nightbreed, Highway to Hell, and (as an assistant cameraman) Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Does It Deliver?: “Tell me something I don’t know.” “I wish I could.”

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We open in a noir-tinged world as we follow some bobbies as they bust into the Shady Lady club, where a woman has been decapitated with “No Class” written in blood above… well, where the head used to be. The investigation is headed by Jack Lynch (Ciarán Hinds), a grizzled detective who’s been passed over for a recent promotion but is completely worshipped by all the cops on the beat and his fellow detectives because he gets results, dammit. We leave the noir and go straight into a grimy, dank world of muddled morals and barely upheld law and order as horror screenwriter Evans (the legendary Eddie Izzard) is brought in for being in the wrong place at the wrong time and having his own horror pedigree held against him.

What follows is less a cat and mouse game than a mean dog vs. a surly raccoon dynamic, which has been far too overlooked in the crime genre if you ask me. Evans looks suspicious in many ways, except he has a reasonable explanation for everything, especially if you happen to be a horror-loving viewer. Jack ain’t convinced though, and before you can yell “WHAT’S IN THE BAG?!” he’ll make sure he has his trophy head mounted and displayed.

This is another meta episode. Here, we have a former writer from “… a television program called Tales from the Crypt.”

“Ancient history; it was years ago. I was a kid. They rewrote everything I did. It’s been canceled now, serves them bloody right.”

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Aw, c’mon, Eddie Izzard! There’s also a shout-out to internet pioneer Internet Movie Database, so this thing is really speaking to me as I wrap this column up. There’s also a great nod to this show’s all-stars Adler and Katz—and not to jump the gun, but this probably should have aired right before the final episode rather than what they did decide on. “Confession” is a love letter to dedicated fans, and while the twist isn’t the most unpredictable thing you’ll ever see, the props associated are beautifully gruesome monuments to what would get a close-up gory reveal panel in the comic books. This is easily one of my favorites of the season, and the whole thing reminded me of the horrifying “Lust” sequence in Se7en.

Best Cryptkeeper line: “Your eyes are in terrible shape! Probably from watching too much Tales from the Crypt! To fix it will require corHACKtive lenses, maybe even radioSCAREatotomy!”

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Season 7, Episode 12: “Ear Today… Gone Tomorrow” based on Tales from the Crypt #24
Directed by: Christopher Hart
Written by: Ed Tapia
Originally aired: July 12, 1996

Director and writer pedigree: Christopher Hart has one other directing credit to his name. It’s a film. The film is called Eat and Run. Eat and Run is a comedic cannibalism movie where there’s an alien who only eats Italian people. You can view it online, and while I can see why you’d try the guy out to direct an episode, as the movie definitely plays with gore and straight out goofiness, he is an unusual choice for the last episode of the entire series that involves actors and a “traditional” plot.

We have another vaunted Crypt tradition here with a screenwriter who only has this episode as a writing credit. That said, Ed Tapia has had a pretty storied career, including working as an associate producer for this season (as well as an assistant for season six and Bordello of Blood), the spin-off Perversions of Science, the almost-pretty-much-a-Tales-from-the-Crypt-movie House on Haunted Hill, and he was a production supervisor on Rob Zombie’s Halloween movies. He’s recently worked as a producer on Stan Against Evil, Hap and Leonard, and American Crime.

One of my favorite discoveries from writing about this show is finding out that, while a fair amount of creatives may not become wildly famous as a writer or director after doing an episode here, a number of them were still very successful in other areas of the entertainment business. You get a sense that Tales from the Crypt was a receptacle for some people’s mild curiosity in something that wasn’t their main gig, and that’s a big reason why this show was both so original and uneven. Either way, I’m a fan. There should always be a Wild West for people to go to in Hollywood.

Other notables: Maybe you don’t notice set decorators, maybe you do, but either way, this has been the kind of place where you’ll occasionally learn about a set decorator. My issues with this episode aside, every single room was so distinct in either its strangeness, dirty sexuality and barely restrained displays of greed. That’s thanks to Simon Wakefield, who worked his magic throughout this season and also worked on Batman Begins, Casino Royale, Lifeforce, and many, many other impressively difficult movies to have look both grounded but lend themselves to outsized action. This season was stuffed full of great mansions, manors, and houses, and we go out on a strong one with bonus points for a pool table used to torture people.

Does It Deliver?: Glynn (Robert Lindsay) really oughta be an inspirational story to the criminal underworld: He’s a safecracker with a hearing condition. He’s currently working for the suave and sadistic crime boss Malcolm Lawson (Richard Johnson, The Haunting) and his just as sadistic but much sexier wife, Kate (Gretchen Palmer, who I know from Joe Schmo 2, which might be the most random pop culture thing I’ve deeply invested in. Oh, and Wishmaster! She’s also there.) The hearing damage happened in prison, and as you can imagine, it put a bit of a dent in his day job and, thus, his ability to get out of debt with Malcolm. The boss man ain’t without a heart, though, and “offers” Glynn an experimental surgery with his creepy off-the-books doctor to get his hearing back better than it ever was. Instead of using, say, a monkey, they’re using avian hearing parts for his ears! Because birds hear really good! Next thing you know, Glynn has superhero-tier hearing, and Kate wants to use this newfound power to break into her husband’s safe. You know what they say about experimental animal surgery and women married to the mob, though: Don’t.

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There’s no other way to chop it, folks: This is the penultimate poultrygeist passage within the pages of the putrid procession of, uh… poxes? Anyway, why was this chosen as the last live-action episode? This is a weird note to go out on, to the point that, if this was a random season five filler episode, I’d have enjoyed it much more. Here, it just lays an egg by being put in such an important spot in the run of the show, and while that might not be fair, dumb alliteration aside, it really does baffle me and feels like a bit of a rip-off. Is the reveal both hilarious and weirdly gross with some wonderful yet wacky FX makeup? Sure, and I appreciated that! Does it have the sex the show always delivered on? Yep, we sure do have some top-shelf flesh on display here. Does it have double-crossing, weird experimentation and the legendary muddled morality of the show? Ok sure, typing it out it does seem weirdly appropriate, and I’ve just convinced myself that this is kind of a perfect last “traditional” episode. Huh.

No matter how much you love it, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a Tales from the Crypt fan who will argue that it’s not an uneven show that made some strange choices over the years. Personally, I think that’s an enormous part of its charm, but it’s traditionally a pretty dicey roll for a television show⁠—especially an incredibly popular one that ruled the cultural zeitgeist with a rotted fist for a time. That said, anthology collections⁠—be they television, film, or books⁠—will most likely always have to contend with inconsistency as a part of their genetic makeup. Horror fans especially have lived the life of having to watch a whole lot of garbage (some of it fun garbage, absolutely, but so, so much painful trash as well) to get to those gems that sink their hooks into our hearts and drag us back for more. Combine those, and Tales from the Crypt is a monstrous miracle for lasting as long as it did with as quality it doled out. So, while this certainly isn’t a favorite of mine… hell, I can’t claim it’s not right at home.

Best Cryptkeeper line: “I hope his BOO Cross policy’s in force. Sounds to me like he got in his screamium just in time! “

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Season 7, Episode 13: “The Third Pig”
Directed and character design by Bill Kopp and Patrick A. Ventura
Written by: Bill Kopp
Originally aired: July 19, 1996

Director and writer pedigree: Animator Bill Kopp is probably best known for co-creating and voicing the lead to one of my favorite childhood cartoons, EEK! The Cat. He’s also responsible for directing the animated segments in Better Off Dead and One Crazy Summer. He also worked on the story for the Roger Rabbit cartoon Tummy Trouble, putting him right in Crypt Daddy Robert Zemeckis’ world. Spooky-wise, though, he co-created Toonsylvania, a kid-friendly horror cartoon show that ran in the late 1990s. I never saw it, but with segments containing names like “Dead Dog Day Afternoon,” “Earth Vs. Everything,” and “Love Potion Number Nein,” I have to assume it was pretty great.

Patrick A. Ventura also has quite the impressive career in animation, including also working on Tummy Trouble and another Roger Rabbit cartoon, Trail Mix-Up, along with writing the story for Disney’s animated Aladdin and working with cartoon giants like Yogi Bear, The Smurfs, Muppet Babies… and Mister T!

Other notables: Tales from the Crypt all-star Bobcat Goldthwait returns to voice The Big Bad Wolf, everybody loves Brad Garrett as the voice of Drinky the Pig, and the rest of the cast contains talented voice actors with approximately 8,000 credits each. John Kassir pulls double duty here as a (mostly) rhyming narrating Cryptkeeper throughout the episode to adorable results.

Does It Deliver?: Poor Dudley the pig. He does everything by the book, including building a sensible house out of brick, but he’s saddled with two terrible brothers as neighbors: Smokey, with a house made of giant cigarettes, and Drinky, who lives in a house shaped like a huge barrel of alcohol. Both are slaves to their addictions, libidos, and mean, tiny brains, and The Big Bad Wolf is able to easily destroy their homes. After moving in and completely taking advantage of Dudley, the Wolf is eventually able to work his way in and completely slaughter and eat the two evil brothers. With a wolf-based police force, though, Dudley is accused of the crime, and he’ll have to rely on ghosts, zombies, and a Frankenstein’s monster to help him out of this one.

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The last episode of Tales from the Crypt boasts two firsts in the series: Not only is it the only animated episode, but while many episodes played fast and loose with using a title or plot from one of the EC Comics, this is also the only episode that’s not remotely based on anything connected to the original comic book series. Rather, that honor goes to the classic fable The Three Little Pigs.

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This is a weird one to write about. On one hand, this is the animation style I grew up watching fondly on Fox Kids, and the cartoon gore and classic horror imagery are so gleefully excessive that there’s kind of a giddy fun you can let yourself surrender to. There are so legitimately funny sight gags, and the voice acting is great. Still, it really doesn’t feel like a traditional Tales from the Crypt episode, because it isn’t, but I don’t think that’s anything terrible. I admire the gumption it took to end the series on a goofy conceit like this, and it’s not like it’s the first or last television show to throw a wrench in things for their finale. It’s not perfect, but if you kind of accept it for the odd pig it is, it’s an entertaining acknowledgment of how mainstream and popular the show became. The kid cartoon version Tales from the Cryptkeeper had already been airing for a few years by the time this episode came along, and Secrets of the Cryptkeeper’s Haunted House, the kid’s game show, would premiere in September of this year. “The Third Pig” serves as both an island and a bridge in the franchise, and when it comes to the Crypt… hell, let chaos reign.

The Last Best Cryptkeeper line: “You’ll be happy to know, creeps, that that opening I told you about has been filled! Once we hammer out a few creative STIFFrences, that is!”

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.