A Look Back at the “Crypt”: Season 1
There is no other horror anthology I can think of that is self-aware while brooding as The Twilight Zone. Ok, so “Tales from the Crypt” wasn’t meant to be sophisticated but it was pure fun. Based off the EC Comics, each story dealt with some scandal or even dipped into the supernatural. Running themes included but not limited to broken marriages, living corpses, cheating thieves, villains getting their due and even Siamese twins. These sound silly when reading them but these tales aren’t meant to be taken seriously. Much like Grimm fairy tales, the stories are done in an over-exaggerated manner but it adds to the dark comedy and has morals that are simple while not beating over the head. So what makes this show still hold a ghoulish place in our hearts?
For starters, we can’t thank HBO enough for airing this series. One can only imagine what the restriction of network censorship could do as every drop of blood and sex is displayed but with flair. Instead of rolling in gore, the violent effects are pushed in a more comedic route and only feel dramatically executed when need to be. On top of that, its rare to have five big names in Hollywood (Richard Donner, Robert Zemeckis, David Giler, Walter Hill and Joel Silver) produce a series like this. They know the show is not about the horror but just the fun of intense cliches. One such example comes during And All Through the House when the main character is locked in a closet while a deranged psychopath tries to break in the house. It gets more funny when the lunatic is dressed in a Santa outfit and the protagonist’s young daughter sees this man and tries to help him. You just relish the tight editing and comic book nature of this scene from dialogue to the way its being shot.
Of course what is an anthology series without a host? Dug up from the original EC comics is the fiendish emcee himself, the Crypt Keeper brought to life by an amazing anamatronic puppet and iconic shriek pitch voice by John Kassir. Its funny seeing the original comics didn’t have the Crypt Keeper as the center host as other figures joined in to host terrifying tales like the Vault Keeper and the Old Witch. An element that would later be used in a season for an ABC Saturday Morning cartoon spin-off that played opposite to the mature nature of HBO’s infamous series. Like the comics, Crypt cracks bad puns but never to the point it gets irritating (at least not till later seasons.) Its funny as on the pages, he was more human compared to the corpse he appears on the show. It still bookends the series with comedic jabs that help the viewer not take the terror too seriously.
Where to begin but of course the first season. Like many series, Tales from the Crypt had a rough start with some hiccups. But with six episodes, the season overall holds up with some strong starters. In fact, the tone is far more darker compared to later episodes. The Crypt Keeper tells jokes with a menacing snear leaving viewers with an uncomfortable chuckle. This is a far different take from the more cartoony personality that would later grow out of the years. But even macabre acts ranging from self-electrocution to welding weapons for a joke would be carried through the years.
As said, this is the shortest season and arguable the best one. There is rarely a bad episode despite some feeling slightly flat. I have no idea what was the motive in picking these stories to adapt but choosing storylines from outside the Tales from the Crypt comics was a wise idea. It brings more EC in the mix as grimm tales from the Vault of Horror to Shock SuspenStories are used to a great advantage. This presents an open opportunity for variety and it doesn’t skip a heartbeat. Here is a brief break down of each one:
Dig That Cat…He’s Real Gone – Obviously the pilot from its rough Crypt Keeper segment, a carnival performer played by Joe Pantoliano gets buried alive in part of a daredevil act. While laying in the ground feet below, he recounts how he went from a homeless man to a carny success as a doctor performs an experiment with a cat giving him nine lives. As a result, he wastes his extra lives on stunts that clearly kill him but thankfully revive him. The way the story is told from first perspective narrative is a clever choice giving an almost noir feel to the episode. Director Richard Donner is tight on the editing and uses it to an artistic degree labeling the chaotic nature of the sideshow life and filmed with many wide angles to give an otherworldly feel. The matter of its filming almost like our character is in a strange deception of Hell and enjoys every minute of it. The moral is a good one too. Warning us to appreciate every minute of out lives and not waste a single life over it. Its subtle with a very eerie ending that wraps it nicely together.
And All Through the House – Robert Zemeckis directs this simple tale about a wife who murders her husband for insurance money but is trapped by a deranged psychopath dressed in a Santa outfit. It doesn’t get anymore simple than that. What works is the ethical situation the wife is placed in and how intense it gets. She wants to call the cops because of the killer but made the dumb decision to leave the body of her spouse out in the snow. And as much as she wants to hide the evidence, the unfortunate lady has to fend for not only her life but even her young daughter from the manic killer. Its rare I enjoy a horror story set at Christmas but seeing its more set during the holiday then set a horror story ON the holiday, it doesn’t disturb me as much. Its a well-paced entry that almost comes close to being the best of the series.
The Man Who Was Death – William Sadler plays an executioner that shows us a world he believes the best justice is better served with electricity to the brain of a criminal. Unfortunately, the death penalty gets abolished leaving him laid off. As a result, he goes around killing innocent criminals by his own bigoted hands. The strongest element is the way the story is told. Again, its all a first perspective narrative but you really find a delight with Sadler’s personality. His depiction of how sick and twisted the world is in his view is enjoyable enough. It digs into the psychology of what goes into the mind of killer for the justice peace.
Only Sin Deep – Lea Thompson plays a self centered prostitute who pawns her own beauty just to meet up with a rich, handsome bachelor. Yes, you heard me right. The catch is that the pawnbroker believes in the magic of voodoo as the gold digger pays the price in a way so tragic that I can’t spoil it. This is another solid episode that underlines how neglect one is of there life. Here we have a woman who had it all and looses it. Thompson is also great as the young girl who literally lives life in the fast line and suffers for it.
Lover Come Hack to Me – This is one that some fan give a tough rap on and I can see why. A newly wed couple come across an abandoned home and spend the night there. It sounds like something out of The Rocky Horror Picture Show but its hinted that the wife’s past it not all that’s cracked up to be. Despite some nice direction by Tom Holland with decent chemistry between Amande Plummer and Stephen Shellen, the story is very much the biggest problem. Its played out too safe and predictable. While I do admire the look of the aged mansion they spend the night in, this is a case where the supernatural is diluted and played to be more down to earth. That’s fine seeing some later episodes do that well but here it doesn’t with a slow paced tale. Not bad but probably skippable.
Collection Completed – M. Emmet Walsh is an uptight elder who gets retired and forced to relax the rest of his life. It also doesn’t help that his wife (Audra Lindley)is hording all sorts of animals from basic pets to even fish. Well, this crazy obsession of hers drives him so mad that he decides to use her pets for a hobby of his own. I won’t spoil too much but if you really love animals, you might have a hard time watching the last ten minutes. For me, I really didn’t care much for this one. We are giving a set of unlikable characters and some imagery near the end that really pushes the limits. While its not too gory, the idea alone of the man’s hobby will really leave viewers uncomfortable. I guess the idea is that the older you are, the crazier your brain gets. However, this doesn’t pay off well as the episode ends on an image so laughable its too silly for its own good. Some fans might dig this one but I just think its too over the top and mean for my taste.
The DVD – Something I should address for collectors that this DVD alone is worth getting for the episodes but there comes with some nitpicks. For some reason, the opening introduction of the series starts before the main menu and its the only time this great element is present. Every episode jumps into it without the opening which is a shame seeing an iconic and beautiful into is oddly cut. I have no idea why they made this choice but at least the special features make up for this.
You get an introduction from the Crypt Keeper but strangely kept under warps (literally.) John Kassir lends a voice and at least the humor is the same. There’s a short epilogue to this where you see his new face (kind of) but its placed on as an Easter Egg for some reason.
For a well-renowned show, you think it would get such great care and treatment. It does in a sense but the small offerings leave you wishing for more. Spread over two discs, you get all the episodes on one while the remaining bonus features are on the second disc. Bit disappointing to evenly spread such minor material over a two DVD set but at least the bulk of the material makes up for it.
The main reason to own this DVD is the one hour documentary “Tales from the Crypt: From Comic Books to Television.” This covers a lot of ground on the creation of EC Comics, its creator Wiliam Gaines, the controversy at the time and the legacy it still holds. Its a very engaging documentary that packs a lot of behind the scenes information and history that never leaves a dull moment. Even interviews with children writter R. L. Stein and famed director John Carpenter chine in with how much of an impact that comes made. Fans of the comic and tv show will want to give this one a watch.
There’s also a short featurette on the history of season one told by the Crypt Keeper but its mainly stock footage from the host segments dubbed over. Its meant for fun rather than a serious look into the show. Its a shame because a whole lot more is left to be desired like audio commentaries. But the bulk of what we get is enough to pick this one up.
Overall, this is a much different tone compared to what would later come in the seasons to come and is worth checking out. The episodes alone are well-written enough to at least give a good watch. While it was a start, the darkness would carry over into later episodes and seasons trying to manage the scares and the laughs. While its not perfect, Season One comes really close.
BEST – Dig That Cat…He’s Real Gone for its unique direction and solid script writing.
WORST – Collection Completed for unlikable characters and pushing the creep factor too much
Posted on July 24, 2015, in Rental Corner, Thoughts on Hollywood and Stuff and tagged Adaption, Crypt Keeper, EC Comics, HBO, Horror, horror anthology, John kassir, Richard Donner, Robert Zemeckis, Tales from the Crypt, Tom Holland, TV series. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.