Summer of Puns: 10 Spine-Chilling Episodes of ‘Tales From the Crypt’ and ‘Creepshow’ [Watch]

Tales from the Crypt

Hello boils and ghouls! The anniversary of Tales From the Crypt has reared its ghastly puppet head once again, giving us the perfect excuse to revisit the classic series here at Dread Central. Premiering in June of 1989, there was a reason HBO decided to air the first, and arguably most iconic, episodes at the start of the summer. School was over for the year and rebellious kids were anxiously flipping through channels looking for any content their parents might find disturbing. Enter in a tongue-and-cheek horror anthology series with comic book sensibilities with a ghoulish host named the Crypt Keeper (voiced by John Kassir and designed by the legendary FX artist Kevin Yagher).

Also Read: Exhuming Tales From the Crypt A Deep Dive Into All 7 Seasons

In retrospect, parents should have embraced the morality tales presented within the Tales From the Crypt formula. Certainly, the Comics Code ban of the 1950’s made kids want to read EC Comics even more. The kids of the late eighties were living through an advisory ban of their own for the music they listened to, brought on by the PMRC and their insistence of an Explicit Lyrics sticker on so-called controversial albums. That awareness could have made the premiere of Tales From the Crypt seem that much more appealing.

To celebrate the legacy of the iconic series and its heinous offspring, Shudder’s Creepshow series, here are ten hair-raising episodes representing the best (and worst) of over thirty years of bad puns and great scares.

10. Easel Kill Ya (Season 3, Episode 8)

Part of what makes revisiting Tales so fun is seeing big stars in small roles early on in their careers. Embracing the starving artist trope, Tim Roth stars as a hard-drinking painter named Jack Craig whose desperate for a little inspiration. In his darkest hour of need, he meets an unbearably smarmy millionaire played by a perfectly cast William Atherton (Ghostbusters, Die Hard) who has a fascination with collecting morbid art. To serve his ego and greed, Jack must flirt with death and leave the essence of murder on his paintings in order to satisfy his newfound benefactor.

In a bizarre twist of fate, Jack’s love interest Sharon is horribly injured in a car wreck and Jack just killed the only doctor able to perform the miracle surgery needed to save her. Roth, in this episode, seems to discover the template for his role as Freddy a.k.a Mr. Orange in Reservoir Dogs.

9. For Cryin’ Out Loud (Season 2, Episode 8)

Maybe we would all be a little more inclined to do the right thing if our conscience could really speak to us, helping to steer us in the right direction. If that voice inside your head was Sam Kinison screaming non-stop until your eardrums bled, you’d probably end up just like Marty Slash (Lee Arenberg) does in this classic rock ‘n’ roll entry. Marty Slash is a scumbag, pure and simple, making him an instant fan favorite in Tales From the Crypt. He’s going to get his comeuppance and we are all here for it.

Likely inspired by real club owners on the Sunset Strip, Slash invents a fake charity with all the money secretly going into his retirement fund. This is the act that finally allows his conscience to penetrate his consciousness to try and make him do the right thing. Katey Segal also has a great turn here as a patron who seems to be onto Slash’s devious intentions. Throw in Iggy Pop on stage seemingly improvising insane dialogue and you’ve got yourself a classic in the making. What I remember most from this episode is the insanely long Q-tip way before Covid testing was a thing. The simple effect of seeing Slash cramming bloody cotton into his ear canal is still one of the most enduring moments of the series.

8. Gray Matter (Creepshow Season 1, Episode 1)

The first of two episodes from Greg Nicotero’s well-intentioned reboot is actually the very first episode of Creepshow that aired on Shudder in 2019. Interestingly, the stars of Creepshow are mostly legacy actors that have already made their name in horror. Instead of seeing these actors at the beginning of their careers, Creepshow highlights icons of the genre that are already fan favorites. The inclusion of The Creep as the host instead of the Crypt Keeper may be for legal reasons, but it’s also on-brand with the new vision of the show making a point to pay respect to the older generation.

This adaptation of Stephen King’s Gray Matter wonderfully illustrates the new, more adult direction of the show by offering up a monstrous tale of addiction. Here, alcoholism itself is anthropomorphized into a creature stalking its creator. Giancarlo Esposito and Tobin Bell star together with an appearance by Adrienne Barbeau, who famously played Wilma, the world’s most overbearing spouse in The Crate. Greg Nicotero directed this first installment and delivered one of the best episodes of the series right out of the gate.

7. Cold War (Season 7, Episode 5)

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Premiering in the summer of 1996, Ewan McGregor acts like he’s auditioning for a Tarantino film in “Cold War,” making it one of the more entertaining installments of the, admittedly, weaker final season. A London throuple in the midst of a crime spree discovers that one of them (or more) isn’t exactly what they seem. Jealousy takes over when McGregor’s character Ford shoots his partner Jimmy (Colin Salmon), revealing that he’s a member of the undead. Namely, a vampire. “Cold War” feels like an after-school special version of the opening scene of From Dusk Til Dawn (which was released earlier that year). It has the most Miramax-style energy and 90s pop gangster vibes of any entry in the entire series.

6. The Assassin (Season 6, Episode 8)

Two words: Corey. Feldman. “The Assassin” shows Feldman at his over-the-top best. His performances in the 90s are so end-eerie-ing (sorry) mainly because Feldman is a legend in his own mind. He’s an actor’s actor in the moment, delivering the goods and putting on a clinic. His overconfidence is perfect here as a hired killer in way over his head. Janet (Shelley Hack) appears to have the perfect life until two assailants break into her mansion looking for a rogue CIA agent that went missing five years previous. Feldman’s cocky character Todd is, basically, an idiot right from the start. In a hilarious kill, Janet lures Todd down to the home gym where she tricks him into strangling himself on a treadmill.

The real reason to watch is William Sadler’s cameo as Grim Reaper riffing along with the Crypt Keeper. Give me that show, now.

5. The Switch (Season 2, Episode 2)

Directed by Arnold Schwarzenegger, “The Switch: is the ultimate lesson teaching us that money can not, in fact, buy everything. William Hickey (Tales From the Darkside, Puppet Master) is perfectly cast here as a wealthy, elderly man trying to transplant his body with a young bohunk in order to win the affection of his opportunistic girlfriend (the late Kelly Preston). Rick Rossovich plays the hunk that keeps trading sections of his body to Hickey’s greedy industrialist. Never satisfied, he’s forced to completely transform into his new, younger self. But he still rasps and coughs with the creepy voice of William Hickey! Strangely, the story feels inspired by the marriage between Ana Nicole Smith and oil tycoon Howard Marshall, even though their wedding took place a few years later.

4. Cutting Cards (Season 2, Episode 3)

Lance Henrikson stars in “Cutting Cards” as a card dealing cowboy that could be described as the high-stakes poker version of pool shark Fast Eddie Felson. He’s so good he thinks he can’t be beaten. Instead of a a six-shooter, he’s got five cards that can ruin any man on the other side of the table. When two rival gamblers keep upping the odds, body parts start flying.

In one of the funnier endings, the episode culminates with both men, now armless, playing an intense game of checkers in a hospital room. Cutting Cards” is quite possibly the best episode of the entire series and a clear inspiration for the brutal battle Pat Healy and Ethan Embry endure in E.L. Katz’s Cheap Thrills.

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3. Public Television of the Dead (Creepshow Season 2, Episode 1)

For Evil Dead completists, this episode of Shudder’s Creepshow is must-see TV. This story could’ve gone the route of found footage and the immediacy of setting it in a public television studio makes it feel all the more real. That verisimilitude gives way to a fantastic appearance by Ted Rami as a deadite who turns a quiet local art program into a full-fledged bloodbath. Meditative painter Bob Ross is the obvious inspiration here and his quiet demeanor works brilliantly against the incoming insanity. It’s the definition of splatstick, the term coined by Sam Raimi to try and help explain the frenzied pace of the Evil Dead universe to the unsuspecting hoi polloi.

2. Dig That Cat…He’s Real Gone (Season 1, Episode 3)

Joe Pantoliano’s performance in “Dig That Cat…” is an all-timer. He nails the funhouse feel of this classic first season entry, showing the desperation and manipulation of a carnie who will do anything for fame. In theory, if you had nine lives, this would be a pretty good way to get rich quick. Nowadays, a man killing himself in a myriad of different methods would be primetime viewing on this summer’s America’s Got Talent.

The Richard Donner-directed episodes of Tales From the Crypt are usually some of the very best and “Dig That Cat…” is definitely a childhood favorite that always pops in my head the second someone mentions that incredible first season on HBO.

1. And All Through The House (Season 1, Episode 2)

In my opinion, there isn’t much debate about what the most memorable Tales From the Crypt episode is. Another Richard Donner instant classic, Larry Drake’s performance is the greatest crazy Santa ever put on film. Sure, there’s Robert Brian Wilson’s turn in Silent Night, Deadly Night and Brandon Maggart’s surprisingly affecting acting in Christmas Evil.

But Larry Drake became a horror icon as an escaped lunatic with an axe and stolen Santa Claus costume. It’s also the best ending of the series, mostly thanks to Elizabeth Kamen’s blood-curdling scream when she realizes her beloved daughter is now in the hands of a killer.

and all through the house main - Summer of Puns: 10 Spine-Chilling Episodes of 'Tales From the Crypt' and 'Creepshow' [Watch]

Pick up the Tales From the Crypt and Creepshow if you haven’t already. Let us know your favorites on Twitter!

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