Fangs cruelly for dropping in for more tales of Tales from the Crypt, kiddies! If you tuned in last time, you saw that we started off strong with a terrifying trilogy of terror. For the back half of season one, things lightened up a bit when the show decided to serve us up some choice slivers of its funny bone. Let’s crawl back in to see what horror the crew and cast brought—or didn’t bring—to each episode.
Director and writer horror pedigree: We finally have our first director who’s completely divorced from genre filmmaking! Deutch is probably best known for his John Hughes-penned films: Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful, and The Great Outdoors. He did some big-name sequels with between numerous TV directing credits, but the closest he’s come to horror work beyond “Tales” is a stint directing on True Blood and various episodes of American Horror Story.
Horror luminary and The Predator co-scribe Fred Dekker returns from episode 2’s “And All Through the House.”
Other notables: Lea Thompson (Deutch’s wife) is beloved for starring in a very popular trilogy, sure, but she’s vastly underrated as a scream queen. In a single movie she both made love to a humanoid duck and faced off with a terrifying Jeffrey Jones, yet somehow she’s never mentioned among the great horror actresses. Anyway, here she chews the scenery as hard as she chews her character’s ever-present gum, and it looks like she’s having a blast.
Does It Deliver?: Listen: This episode has a makeover montage. And no, it’s not a scary one where an excited serial killer tries on different organs. we have a sparkling pop soundtrack backing our main gal trying on outfits and even funny hats. Lea Thompson plays a lady of the night who decides to risk her moneymaker (no, not that one) for $10,000; all she has to do is let a strange pawn broker take an impression of her “beauty.” All goes well with seducing her way into riches, until it doesn’t, and soon our scheming beauty is wishing she took the time to read the fine print.
The landing is soft and a bit melancholy, and the horror mostly comes from a gun death and “uglying up Lea Thompson” makeup. Makeup that, frankly, just makes her look like an elderly lady, and there’s some unintentional humor in how that’s sold as being REALLY horrifying. While “Sin Deep” doesn’t deliver the scares even a little bit, it has a plucky charm about it.
Best Cryptkeeper line: “Just goes to show ya… if you want to sell yourself, look in the mirror first! (checks himself out in the mirror) Eggh.”
Director and writer horror pedigree: This is the kind of thing that really gets horror geeks excited: Tom Holland himself directing a story straight from the gruesome EC Comics archive. From directing Fright Night to Child’s Play to penning Psycho II and so much more, Holland is so true-blue horror that he gives Howard Deutch some street cred just by having his episode aired next to his.
Writer Michael McDowell was a fascinating man. A widely respected writer’s writer of paperback horror in the 1980s, along with being an accomplished screenwriter, McDowell was tragically struck down by AIDS before he could see his 50th birthday. He made an incredibly memorable impact, though, and gave us the script for Beetlejuice and worked on many episodes and the movie of Tales from the Darkside before later teaming back up with Holland for Stephen King’s Thinner.
Other notables: Amanda Plummer is always incredible even without a wealth of genre films in her CV, and I don’t think she gets nearly enough credit for being one of the best scream-yellers in Hollywood. Location-wise, the honeymoon house was filmed at the Chateau Bradbury Estate, which among many other productions was Sarah’s house in The Craft.
Music is provided by Oscar-winning rock ‘n’ roll legend Joe Renzetti, who works regularly with Holland as well as Frank Henenlotter, and that’s not even including gems like The Executioner or Dead & Buried!
Does It Deliver?: McDowell turned in what’s the first of an enduring trend among “Tales” episodes: the excessively cruel motivation angle. We join a newlywed couple where the groom is almost comedically open about his sole intention for marriage is that he’s after his new wife’s fortune. Once they get to a spooktacular abandoned mansion for their honeymoon, though, things take a turn for the ghastly and ghostly.
Even with its more supernatural plot, the blood and violent deaths pay off in spades—or axes. With the aforementioned overt douchiness of the groom making sure we’re really hoping he gets it in the end, “Lover” has that unique, uneven tone that still satisfies: It was a feeling that “Tales” cultivated into a unique signature. Still, despite the classically spooky locations and some horror silhouettes that would have felt at home in a Val Lewton film, this one falls a bit flat for me. I think the balance of the aggressive acting styles paired with a classic ghost story format didn’t completely gel in tone for me here, but it’s still a fun ride.
Best Cryptkeeper line: “Beware of skeletons… unless they’re yours truly!” (cue laughter)
Director and writer horror pedigree: We have our first female filmmaker involved in the show! Best known to horror hounds as the director of Pet Sematary (released the same year as this episode), Lambert also has extensive experience in music videos, which is obvious with the manically kinetic feel of this episode.
While this is Battle Davis’ sole writing credit, he’s an accomplished editor who worked on The Ninth Configuration and Elvira: Mistress of the Dark and beyond. A. Whitney Brown will be known to Saturday Night Live diehards, and neither he nor Randolph Davis have any kind of horror background. Once you see the episode, that will become clear.
Cinematographer Peter Stein also worked on a few genre gems you may have heard of: Friday the 13th Part 2, C.H.U.D., Graveyard Shift, and Pet Sematary with Lambert. Editor Tom Finan came over from the cemetery o’ pet himself, as well as its sequel.
Does It Deliver?: Watcher beware, you’re in for a… well, maybe a chortle. For season one’s swan song, they somewhat controversially went full comedy. M. Emmet Walsh— the still-busy acting legend who I can’t even begin to pull out notable credits for without filling this page—is forced into early retirement. Now he has ample time to spend his days with his lovely but slightly detached pet-obsessed wife, played by sitcom favorite Audra Lindley. While she’s delighted at first to have time with him, he neglected her so much during his working years that he’s completely baffled by her, and she assumes she needs to hide his medication in his food like he was a dog. His new hobby should bring them closer together in a sick way… but will he appreciate her own take on it?
“Collection Completed” is the first of a sprinkling of “Tales” episodes that are technically horror only because of its goofy, gruesome twist. Until then, it plays pretty much like a sitcom; we even have Martin Garner as a goofy neighbor. While it may fall under “black humor,” that ignores how sunny and light the majority of the episode is. This one is for hardcore fans who enjoy it when “Tales” goes off the rails. It’s a bit of a strange closer to a short, strong first season, but it does let the audience know that it’s not afraid to be absurd or even downright daffy. The SNL writer on the script is felt a lot more than Lambert is here.
Best Cryptkeeper Line: “So until next time, I want you to sit… stay… and play dead. Good boy! (cue laughter)
The first season of Tales from the Crypt was an effective little sampler of what was to come. The balance of horror royalty with established “mainstream” talent and a sprinkling of newer writers among veterans gave the show two important things: legitimacy as an appointment-worthy TV show and a feeling of freshness. In 1989, the show found a way to dive into decades-old comic books and make them hip for an entirely new generation while still seducing those who read the comics as kids back into the crypt.
You also got a solid taste of the future superstar that is The Cryptkeeper, voiced by John Kassir and designed and built by the legendary Kevin Yagher. Yagher, who’s had a hand in and on some other memorable characters like Chucky, Freddy Krueger and so many more, also directed the Cryptkeeper’s wraparound intro and outro sequences. While the quality of the episodes absolutely had to deliver, it was the keeper of the crypt that truly catapulted the show into mainstream pop culture conversations and brand recognition. He was a legitimate superstar, and the importance of his clever-corny jokes, the absolute demented joy he got from the tales he shared and his big-budget ghoul look cannot be understated when it comes to the show’s success.
The first six episodes all aired within June of 1989, and viewers had to wait almost a year for the show’s second season. Luckily, reruns, word-of-mouth, and the strong originality and content of the episodes kept it alive until then. Until the last season, the first three episodes of each season would all premiere on the same night, giving its marquee value even more strength.
I hope you’ll join us again in a few weeks when we’ll start dissecting season two: It’s filled with stars, sex, and severed limbs. Be there or be scare, kiddies!