Welcome for the last time, kiddies! While we buried the column already, I’m just not the kind of ghoul who can spend seven seasons in a well-appointed crypt and not have a few tips, tricks, and treats for those who have as little regard for their well-being as I do when it comes to television programs. So, to celebrate, summate, and reward terrible behavior, may I present…
The first and only annual award show for a column covering a 30-year-old television show is here! I alone nominate, vote, and decide on the winners, but really, I do it for the people.
First up: The Essentials The category that I’ve deemed the “Essential Episodes” is basically the Hackademy Awards “Best Picture” of the lauded Crypties. If you want to introduce or reintroduce yourself to the series but don’t have the time or inclination to watch the whole thing, this list is my cream of the crop from each season. Some episodes are on the scarier side, some are the funny ones, but all of them are well-made and carry the fundamental Tales from the Crypt spirit. My favorite favorites are bolded.
(Season one is omitted because it’s only six episodes long, its quality is consistent, and even if you don’t plan on mainlining the whole series, you should just watch the first six because they’re fast, fun, do a crackerjack job at setting the series’ tone, and there are zero calories.)
The Essentials: Season 2
Episode 3: “Cutting Cards” – Lance Henriksen and Kevin Tighe contend with raising stakes and dwindling body parts in this classic Walter Hill and Mae Woods joint.
Episode 9: “Four-Sided Triangle” – One of the most notorious episodes from my childhood memories, so I’m a bit biased, but Patricia Arquette’s raw emotions paired with sun-bleached scarecrow horror that we just don’t get enough of these days makes this one I always recommend.
Episode 10: “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy” – Frank Darabont wrote this, easily one of the most recognizable episodes for most fans. This show loves twins, weird limbs, problematic dolls and dummies, mean humor, and this gives it all on one, heaping plate: This is basically the Thanksgiving dinner of Tales from the Crypt staples.
Episode 13: “Korman’s Kalamity” – The earliest meta-episode revolves around the comic book series, uncontrollable imaginations, and too much fun with cartoon-like monsters.
Episode 18: “The Secret” – I’m a sucker for episodes about monsters vs. monsters, and this adds to that nostalgic preference by including a suspicious kid into the mix. Both Grace Zabriskie and Larry Drake (as a butler!) appear, so it’s gold on gold.
The Essentials: Season 3
Episode 2: “Carrion Death” – An amazing “death in the desert” tale, Steven E. de Souza leads Kyle MacLachlan into pure existential and physical terror. If you want an episode that approximates the vibe of the original The Hitcher, this here is your dusty boy.
Episode 5: “Top Billing” – This goofer of an episode came to bury AND praise Shakespeare. Jon Lovitz and John Astin make sure to add extra relish to the scenery before they chew it in this fun-but-nervy look at what happens when the perfect part requires an actor to sacrifice one they’re already pretty attached to…
Episode 9: “Undertaking Palor” – Probably my favorite episode of the entire series, this is a gem for fans of The Goonies, Monster Squad, Eerie, Indiana, and other misbegotten-plucky-adolescents-getting-into-weird-jams. For everyone else, there are some real toe-curling deaths here, and John Glover brings his entire, legendary ham to the table.
Episode 10: “Mournin’ Mess” – What at first seems like it may be a bog-standard neo-noir-inspired episode turns into a deliriously fun ride of conspiracies, beautifully horrific subterranean monsters, and enough blood to satisfy anyone who’s actively craving some plasma. Forget it, Jake: It’s G.H.O.U.L.S. town.
Episode 14: “Yellow” – While this episode isn’t where you should go for thrills and chills, it is a wonderfully made look at the horror of war, crushing familial expectations, and how sometimes neither blood nor water can ever be thick enough. Also, please give the show credit for their restraint in not naming this episode “Paths of Gory.”
The Essentials: Season 4
Episode 5: “Beauty Rest” – Beautiful women, poisonous jealousy, backstabbing, murder, and Buck Henry: This chapter has one of the most striking examples of horrifically gorgeous makeup effects in its closing shot, and the journey there is an unmissable, catty party.
Episode 6: “What’s Cookin'” – One of the ones that really blew my mind as a Superman-worshipping kid, you’ll see a side of Christopher Reeve that wasn’t often presented to the general public, and a side of Meat Loaf that REALLY serves you a side of meatloaf! This one is plenty bloody and has a wonderful manic energy that’s mostly thanks to Judd Nelson’s shameless smooth criminal character.
Episode 7: “The New Arrival” – A wonderfully terrifying booby-trapped house headed by Saint Zelda Rubinstein is ground zero for this be-masked episode that revels in creepy kindertrauma touchstones.
Episode 8: “Showdown” – While the horror aspect is real, REAL subtle here, this Western-set tale has a great atmosphere and a build-up to an ending that would be just as comfortable in The Twilight Zone.
Episode 10: “Maniac at Large” – An old library is always a great setting for a spooky story, and this is a near-perfect example of building paranoia and tension during a dark, stormy night in under half an hour.
The Essentials: Season 5
Episode 1: “Death of Some Salesmen” – As most of us know, unleashed Tim Curry + prosthetic makeup= some kind of fucked-up heaven, and here you even get him in multiple roles! Motel Hell by way of Salesman with a dash of Paper Moon, this one is as daffy as it is a classic and complete horror show.
Episode 3: “Forever Ambergris” – An unrelentingly gruesome episode in both tone and horrific visuals, this is the episode to pull out when someone tries to say that the show was never actually scary. If you ever wondered why Steve Buscemi doesn’t work with makeup effects much in his career… check out this episode.
Episode 5: “People Who Live in Brass Hearses” – Bill Paxton and Brad Dourif are brothers who drive around in an ice cream truck and kill people. I feel like the convincing here would be getting you NOT to watch it, really.
Episode 7: “House of Horror” – Frat boys and sorority babes eschew the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama for a classic haunted house in a super fun episode that’s also a Who’s Who of attractive young character actors in the mid-90s.
Episode 8: “Well Cooked Hams” – Billy Zane shows his crypt chops pre-Demon Knight in this lush little magic-themed number. It’s also one of the episodes that do a great job at being a perfect period piece on a modest budget.
The Essentials: Season 6
Episode 2: “Only Skin Deep” – Don’t let anyone tell you dating was safer when people mainly met face-to-face.
Episode 8: “The Assassin” – Some great violence but not an actual horror tale, this one makes my list for its sheer audacity, goofball charm, high-concept death scenes, and groan-inducing ending. It’s hard not to love Shelley Hack vs. Corey Feldman, Chelsea Field, and Jonathan Banks in a no-holds-barred deathmatch.
Episode 9: “Staired in Horror” – While the story is undeniably slight, that’s part of its charm: This one is so simple and steeped in storybook-like magic that it feels like a dark fairytale, and the use of just a fraction of a house is ingeniously done.
Episode 12: “Doctor of Horror” – Who knew Travis Tritt and Hank Azaria would be the team-up on the 90s? Fine, the casting director did. Anyway, this is just as grisly and gory as it is funny, making it absolutely a top-tier junk food episode.
Episode 13: “Comes the Dawn” – If you just can’t get enough snow-based horror and you already ran through all the episodes of The Terror, AND read the book, AND you already rewatched The Thing and 30 Days of Night recently, check out this vampiric chiller. Plus, unlike the rest of those, this has Susan Tyrrell!
The Essentials: Season 7
Episode 2: “Last Respects” – It’d be downright disrespectful to not include Freddie Francis’ return to the Tales from the Crypt franchise, but lucky for viewers, it’s a solid episode besides with an Amicus-esque atmosphere and one of the best endings when it comes to channeling EC Comics onto the sliver scream.
Episode 6: “Cold War” – Best known for being “the Ewan McGregor episode,” this classic monster vs. classic monster comedic episode is also a fun-sized look at the mid-90s “Cool Britannia” filming style.
Episode 8: “Report from the Grave” – If you’re a William Malone fan like me, this contains pretty much everything great about him in under half an hour. If you’re not familiar or not even a fan, it’s still an episode that mixes some genuinely creepy moments with a haunting romanticism.
Episode 10: “About Face” – Anna Friel is let loose here, and Charlotte Brontë would be proud. Beautiful locations and plenty of practical makeup effects bolster one of the more traditional morality tales in the season.
Episode 11: “Confession” – Eddie Izzard as a beleaguered horror writer matching wits with a disgruntled detective is amazing to watch, and the Tales from the Crypt in-jokes only help sell this to the nerds AKA me.
The Hack-O-Lantern Hall O’ Fame: The Best Episodes for Halloween!
Whether you’re getting into the howliday spirit and don’t have time for lots of horror movies or you want a whole bunch of great stuff to play in the background of your Halloween party, when it comes to scares and aesthetics, these episodes are as valuable as full-size candy bars.
I avoided including the more depressing episodes because I’m trying to work on that whole “bringing everyone down at a party” reputation I’ve been unfairly saddled with.
“The Man Who Was Death”
“The Ventriloquist’s Dummy”
“The Reluctant Vampire”
“On a Deadman’s Chest”
“The New Arrival”
“Maniac at Large”
“Death of Some Salesmen”
“Food for Thought”
“People Who Live in Brass Hearses”
“House of Horror”
“Well Cooked Hams”
“Let the Punishment Fit the Crime”
“Only Skin Deep”
“Staired in Horror”
“Doctor of Horror”
“Comes the Dawn”
“A Slight Case of Murder”
“Report from the Grave”
The Hall of Legends: Also Known as the Horror Director/Writer Cheat Sheet!
It’s definitely worth seeing episodes not done by traditional horror directors and writers, but in case you just want to stay in the family, here’s everyone being inducted into the hall of fame!
Please note that this won’t include every single person who ever did a horror film; this is mainly the “marquee” names for genre junkies.
Tom Holland (Fright Night, Child’s Play) Season 1: “Lover Come Hack to Me”, season 2: “Four-Sided Triangle,” season 4 “King of the Road”
Mary Lambert (Pet Sematary) Season 1: “Collection Completed”
Chris Walas (makeup effects legend and director of The Fly II) Season 2: “‘Til Death”
Fred Dekker (Night of the Comet, Monster Squad) season 1: “Only Sin Deep”, season 2: “The Thing From the Grave” and “Lower Berth”, season 4: “Split Personality”
Jack Sholder (The Hidden, Alone in the Dark, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge) season 2: “Fitting Punishment”
Kevin Yagher (legendary effects artist who’s worked in nearly every huge franchise and puppeteer of The Cryptkeeper) season 2: “Lower Berth,” season 4: “Strung Along”
Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Poltergeist, The Funhouse) Season 3: “Dead Wait”
Stephen Hopkins (A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, Predator 2) season 3: “Abra Cadaver”, season 4: “Beauty Rest,” season 6: “Staired in Horror”
John Harrison (Tales from the Darkside) season 3: “Easel Kill Ya,” season 6: “The Pit, season 7: “Horror in the Night” and “The Kidnapper”
Russell Mulcahy (Highlander, Razorback) season 3: “Split Second,” season 5: “People Who Live in Brass Hearses,” season 6: “Let the Punishment Fit the Crime” and “Horror in the Night”
William Friedkin (The Exorcist, Bug, Killer Joe) season 4: “On a Deadman’s Chest”
Richard Donner (The Omen, Scrooged) season 1: “Dig That Cat… He’s Real Gone,” season 2: “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy,” season 4: “Showdown”
William Malone (House on Haunted Hill) season 6: “Only Skin Deep,” season 7: “Report from the Grave”
Mick Garris (Critters 2, Sleepwalkers, Nightmare Cinema) season 6: “Whirlpool”
Freddie Francis (Hammer and Amicus horror films, occasional David Lynch cinematographer) season 7: “Last Respects”
Best of the Rest: The Crypt and Pop Culture
From merchandising to promotional television appearances, The Cryptkeeper’s celebrity skin was stretched all over the place! Here are my personal favorites when it comes to Tales from the Commerce.
Best Stalking Stuffer: The 12-inch Talking Cryptkeeper Doll You can even choose between the dapper Cryptkeeper and a tropical vacation-themed one!
Runner-Up: Tales from the Crypt Trading Cards As the ad promised “scandalous scenes” and “gory details,” this was definitely a must-have for spooky 90s’ kids who already tested the limits of what pogs could show them.
Best Soundtrack of Hell: We have a tie! Both the video of “The Crypt Jam” and the cover of “Monsters of Metal” equally nourish my soul, so they both get seats at the winners’ table. Our runner-up goes out to all the many, many killer Santas out there: the Have Yourself a Scary Little Christmas album! Deck the halls with parts of Charlie, every one.
The Golden Severed Larnyx Award: The Best Narrating/Hosting/Promo Gig hackolades go to 1990’s Terror Trivia Challenge! For a scant $2 for the first minute then $1 additionally, you could get verbally racked over the coals with questions from The Cryptkeeper himself on a sexy 900 number (be sure to get your parent’s permission before calling!) to answer quiz questions to win spooktacular prizes. If I had a time machine… I’d kill Hitler, but I’d also win this contest!
Our runner-up hit my soft spot by mixing The Cryptkeeper with Halloween with what you KNOW are barely restrained quips about the cast of one of the hottest shows at the time: The Crypt Keeper presenting Beverly Hills 90210 for Fox’s 1995 Halloween Bash! He even wears one of their shirts—what a scream player.
Shanks for reading! Sadly, I guts to go. Remember to always butcher money where your mouth is, and the morgue, the merrier.
… but if you’re really blue about it, I will be back with a new column about another 90s’ horror TV show soon! While it’s a completely different beast, some talent from Tales also appears in this one. Things will get pretty hairy, so be sure to return to Dread Central next time there’s a full moon…
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.