A Look Back at the “Crypt”: Season 2
If season one was a test, then Season Two of “Tales from the Crypt” sealed the deal with what to expect. The original six episodes made up for a near perfect season with well-directed and well-adapted tales based from the original EC Comics. Now, it was time to expand that and here is where this batch of episodes come in. Clocking in at 18 episodes, it might as well be considered the best season out of all of them. The rank of good episodes are much higher here and the amount of celebrities they obtained go through the roof.
Highlights include an episode directed by Arnold Schwarzenegger who actually does a great job, some well-written gems by horror cult faves Fred Dekker and Tom Holland, some great Crypt Keeper moments and all within a very recurring theme-ish season. I’ll talk about that last part later but it seems they really tested how far they can balance the camp with the horror. This is evident in the opening and closing Crypt Keeper segments which veer towards dark comedy and less creepy. Midway, John Kassir’s voice on the character became more higher pitched resulting in a more enjoyable yet obviously comical performance. While cracking one-liners, this decaying host never loses a laugh but there is something missing about the dark menace from the first season.
Anyway, we got 18 episodes this season and it probably doesn’t get any better. The only nitpick I do have is how much it begins to repeat itself a little by the end. Most of the episodes surround on themes of broken marriages, villains getting their comeuppance, zombies and conjoint Siamese twins. Then again, a lot of the original comics used these elements so it was very common. I’m not saying this makes season two bad but it does get slightly fatigued. Here’s the break down:
Dead Right – Demi Moore plays a gold-digger who meets up with a fortune teller who says she will inherit a large sum of money from the next man who loves her. This “Mr. Right” happens to be a grease ball with a gluttonous appetite as she reluctantly marries him. Jeffrey Tambor plays the disgusting man and the make-up job is surprisingly good. You feel somewhat sympathetic despite his grotesque nature. He just wants to live a normal life even if it is unhealthy. Demi’s performance is good too as she eagerly wonders how her prediction will come true. But as we all know, there’s a fine print to everything as the fortune teller is never wrong.
The Switch – William Hickey is an elderly bachelor who wants to woo a young woman (Kelly Preston) but the problem is that she gets really picky. So he sees a mad doctor who plans to help him switch body parts with a younger man who is willing to go through the operation for money. Its a simple idea that has an ethical yet strong moral about beauty and looks. As the senior goes from switching an old chest to arms and eventually legs, it all builds to a great pay off that is well deserved. Surprisingly, Arnold Schwarzenegger directed this one and even gets a cameo in the opening segment. He does a really good job behind the camera and shows he is enjoyable as an actor and professional as a filmmaker. It makes me wonder why he never considered jumping behind the camera again…
Cutting Cards – This is a favorite among fans with a simple premise that builds and builds. Two gamblers (Lance Henriksen and Kevin Tighe) go against each other but are bent on seeing the other lose. What starts as a dice game escalates to Russian Roulette and eventually a poker game where they get to lob another’s fingers off. This episode works well with the gamblers because of how devoted they are to winning and seeing the other fail. They push the limits to every single ability in a delightfully dark yet funny episode.
Til Death – A wealthy land owner (D. W. Moffett) tries to woo a rich woman. He consults a voodoo priestess who gives him a potion with a deadly warning. The potion works but when he uses too many drops, the man finds himself in a dilemma worse than death. The only problem I have is how can this guy trust a witch doctor when he’s trying to capitalize on her land. There’s a hinting romance they previously had and it sort of pays off in the end. On the other hand, you you think this guy would know better when consulting with his enemies. The real highlight is the last eight minutes which make up for the episode’s faults and the use of red and blues in the cinematography giving its classic comic book tone.
Three’s a Crowd – Here’s a gem that nobody talks about that much. A couple is down on their luck as their marriage hits a rocky turn. They get invited to a vacation in a cabin by their former best man but the husband (Gavan O’Herlihy) suspects his wife is having an affair. Its a simple premise but the intense atmopshere and the ending really make this one memorable. As the spouse starts to loose his mind, we wonder just what his wife is hiding despite his crazed nature. Again, this episode is worth checking out just for the twist at the end. I won’t ruin it but it really hits you hard. In fact, its probably the darkest twist in the entire series to date.
The Thing from the Grave – Here’s another simple premise story that surprisingly works. Kyle Secor is a photographer that falls in love with a supermodel (Teri Hatcher) who has problems with her overprotected boyfriend. Once the boyfriend catches on, he murders the photographer and tries to punish his cheating lover. Without giving away the ending, he soon learns that even love can survive after death. This episode was written and directed by Fred Dekker (Night of the Creeps, Monster Squad) and is a slight departure from his normal cult horror work. He really taps into the campy nature of the comic while delivering an eerie yet light episode of undying love. Its well shot, tightly edited and truly delivers.
The Sacrifice – Sometimes a simple premise can’t be strong enough or not well executed. This is an example of that. An insurance agent plans to kill off an obnoxious client and make off with the cash with his wife. However, it gets difficult when someone shows up with evidence of the murder as the two come close to cracking on whether to fess up or keep their mouth shut. This is a pretty forgettable one with a decent twist but it doesn’t feel that interesting. I wish I could put my finger on why but the only thing I can suggest is that not every simple-minded story will be translatable to the small screen.
For Cryin’ Out Loud – Here’s another classic that gets often overlooked. Lee Arenberg plays a rock promoter that plans to make off with the ticket money. But things get complex when a small voice in his ear thinks otherwise of his evil deeds. The biggest highlight that saves this episode is Sam Kinison lending his screaming voice as the unseen conscious. While I’m not a big fan of Kinison’s work, I will admit his signature screaming personality works here as he forces the con man to tell the truth. This is signified further in one of my favorite moments near the end when the man constantly slams his head into a speaker while his conscious yells “Confess!” Also, keep an eye out for Iggy Pop’s cameo.
Four-Sided Triangle – A young farmhand (Patricia Arquette) deals with the abuse of her employers who are a middle aged couple. When the husband attempts to take advantage of her, she suffers a head injury and somehow she thinks the scarecrow is alive. More than that, she thinks the scarecrow is her lover. Its a weird one that is executed in an ok manner. There’s nothing really surprising or “must-see.” But at least its a decent watch. I guess the reveal of the scarecrow is interesting but the rest of the episode just feels standard to me.
The Ventriloquist’s Dummy – Now here is an all-time classic. Directed by Richard Donner but written by Frank Darabont (director of The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption), a young ventriloquist (played by the hilarious Bobcat Goldthwait) seeks out his childhood hero (Don Rickles) to improve his craft. Unfortunately, his idol has a dark secret. This is a minor spoiler but it must be addressed. Its revealed that the dummy the man’s hero used was really his tiny Siamese twin brother who is connected to the right hand. The whole episode along with the dialogue feels like one big stand-up act knowing when to bring in the comedy during the darkest moments. It doesn’t take itself seriously and plays it up for laughs. The design of the brother is good too looking like it came from make-up by Rob Bottin (The Howling, John Carpenter’s The Thing, Legend). Its another highlight that knows when to deliver with fun performances and cheesy yet enjoyable effects.
Judy, Your Not Yourself Today – An elderly cosmetic saleswomen (Frances Bay) visits the home of a wife (Carol Kane) who likes to live life at a safe distance. The saleswomen turns out to be a witch that switches bodies with her thanks to a magic necklace as the husband (Brian Kerwin) tries to intervene and get his wife back. But just when you think the story couldn’t go further, it goes in a very interesting direction that is predicable but handled well. Not a bad episode and there are some clever angles it takes. I just wish the first half was stronger as a final 15 minutes leading to a tragic but decent end.
Fitting Punishment – For those with weak stomachs, don’t watch this episode. I say this because the plot revolves around a funeral home director (Moses Gunn) who cuts corners so bad that its really revolting to watch. From cheap ways to process a dead corpse to even using regular tap water instead of embalming fluid, the entire tone is very unsettling and might disturb easy. He soon becomes the legal guardian of his teenage nephew and makes an apprentice out of him. It doesn’t help that this guy is so deep into his cheapness that he abuses his nephew due to the mean spirited nature of his mind. And that’s just scraping the surface. Even the Crypt Keeper gets really disgusted by his actions so much that he has to address it without a gag. Again if you get easily disturbed, this one I say you can skip. The only near saving grace is the “just deserts” punishment this guy gets but that’s really about it.
Korman’s Kalamity – I admit, the premise to this one is interesting but the execution gets way too silly and over the top. An artist working for Tales from the Crypt comics (at least give some credit for the meta nature seeing the show was based from EC Comics) has a hard time doing some cover art. But it changes when his nagging wife won’t stop complaining about their failed love life which somehow causes what ever he draws to come to life. First off, why keep something a twist when we already know what it is? They try to cover it up with another explanation to what makes the inspiration work but it feels tagged on. Also, the concept alone is way too self-aware and meta. Its not bad but it feels really weird when your show already is meant to be light and fun. Here, it gets way too goofy. And as fun as the concept sounds, its full of plot holes. When Korman makes the monsters and after they do their violent way, where do they go? After their big moment, they just disappear and never get heard from again. I guess they really wanted to make an all-out comedic episode but it gets way too silly. And thank goodness the last five episodes save the season…
Lower Berth – In a special “Tales from the Crib,” a traveling freakshow inquires a 4,000 year-old mummy to their act which draws in a huge crowd. This new element also catches the eye of a two-faced sideshow who falls in love with the Ancient queen. When I first saw this back in college, it was my all-time favorite. But upon re-watching it, there isn’t much charm. Fred Dekker returns to write this episode and as always, he knows when to channel the fun horror. He knows its a ridiculous premise but manages to make it enjoyable from the execution in the dialogue. It almost feels like I’m looking at an old-fashioned penny dreadful and it doesn’t take itself seriously. Another fun episode with a really surprisingly twist. If only the effects on the two-faced man where better and some of the story didn’t feel too Elephant Man.
Mute Witness to Murder – Here’s another one that’s worth checking out. A wife sees a murder across from her home and goes into deep shock. Her lose of speaking has her husband call upon a doctor who just happens to be the killer she saw. In hopes she will be quiet forever, the mad man has her sanctioned in his asylum while her husband tries to figure out why she went quiet. A simple idea done right. There’s so much riding on this episode from the wife fighting to speak again to the husband trying to put the pieces together. But the most interesting character is the doctor himself who really channels Hannibal Lector and taps into people’s minds. He’s probably one of the best and most dangerous antagonists in Tales from the Crypt history. The way he gets defeated is a little lame on paper but it works well to its advantage. Its an on-the-edge thriller that is worth seeing.
Television Terror – Here’s another weak on as a tabloid new host (Morton Downey, Jr.) does a live telecast inside a house haunted by the ghost of a woman who axed off seven husbands. At first its all for the ratings, but then things get serious when strange occurrences happen that make our emcee freak and ratings soar. This episode almost works in a pre-Blair Witch way but after so much slow build up, things get worn out. And when it finally starts to get good, it goes the cliched route instead of being creative and interesting as an army of ghouls go after our phony star and tagged on is a strange twist where an executive has a personal vendetta. Only one word describes this one; a mess.
My Brother’s Keeper – Two Siamese twins (Timothy Stack and Jonathan Stark) have a hard time trying to get along due to one small problem. Their are joint to the hip and find themselves stuck together. Where ever one twin goes, the other has to follow. But as it turns out, there is a possible operation that could finally set them apart but the good twin doesn’t want to be apart from his brother. So here are the problems. First, they never address if an organ is being shared so how can a simply operation like that be so risky? Also, why would the good twin want to have his bad brother around when he keeps making the goodie’s life a miserable wreck? Those are the only things problematic but everything else is solid. In fact, the feuding between the two is the really entertaining thing about this episode. Its an epic sibling rivalry that must be seen to be believed.
The Secret – Opening with a humorous segment with the Crypt Keeper lamenting the absence of a twist in Oliver Twist (“And I had such Great Expectations,” he jokingly says), we get an orphan who gets taken in by a new set of parents who are rich and treat him with the best. However, they harbor a dark secret. And if can’t see what the twist is, then you might enjoy the direction this one goes into. Its a decent finale that doesn’t end on a lame note with plenty of decent scenes with the kid interacting with his folks and even the butler (Larry Drake) is a good character too. Its a watchable entry that is sure to entertain.
The DVD: A step up from the Season One DVD but still falls short. I give props for more effort but with a lack of the usual bonuses (audio commentary), the only reason to get the DVD is for the episodes and a few goodies here and there. Not to say you are left empty handed, but you wish more care was placed in. All the menus (with the exception of the special features) are hosted by the Crypt Keeper which is a nice treat. Its a shame they used a cheap puppet instead of dusting off the old one. I guess the previous set was meant to be a continuation as they hint a “bo-tox injection.” On the other hand, its nice to hear John Kassir cracking ghoulish jokes and puns as you make a selection.
Included are two featurettes which are good but both have their pros and cons. The “Shockumentry” gives a behind the scenes look at season two and a little retrospective on the show as well. Its nice to see interviews with Joel Silver talking about the impact of the show and we even get a nice interview from John Kassier talking about how he earned the role. Drawback? The Crypt Keeper hosts it and tries to give a meta retrospect to it. It would be nice to get a decent “straight-forward” look at the making of the show without a jokey gimmick. But I can’t say I was disappointed. This 14 minute piece is still fun to check out.
The other featurette is a look at the short-lived radio drama for the Sci-Fi Channel’s Seeing Ear Theater which aired in 2000 for only eight episodes. Even stranger is how this DVD came out five years after its cancellation and has an entire behind the scenes video dedicated to it. On the other hand, its nice to see Tim Curry recording his performance and how the special effect guys do the live recording. But its a weird promo piece for something that is not being broadcast anymore. I also managed to listen to one of the episodes myself and honestly, I think the idea is there but the stories just didn’t retain the campy spirit. I guess they were going for horror more and it shows with disturbing themes like child abuse.
Speaking of disturbing, I am still wrapping my head around how the opening intros are cut from every episode. It makes no sense. Instead of using them as an opening to the menu, now they are completely gone. Unless this was a mastering error, this mystery really bothers me leaving all the episodes feeling incomplete.
But does it diminish the enjoyment of Season Two? No, there are some really good episodes here. It gets a little redundant mid-way and weak but manages to save itself by the tail end (literally.) With repeating themes of conjoint siblings and zombies, this season should have been called the “Ghoul and Siamese Season.” Even the weakest episodes had at least something to offer even when it didn’t work. Overall, I’d say this is up there with season one but perhaps a bit more lighter. If you were put off by the darker shade of the first season, I’m positive you will have a lot of fun with this one.
BEST: Tough call but I’m going to say it’s between Mute Witness to Murder and Three’s a Crowd for taking simple ideas and really making something great out of them. Also, Cutting Cards and The Ventriloquist’s Dummy are a lot of fun to watch.
WORST: While The Sacrifice and Television Terror had weak/messy execution, Korman’s Kalamity wins this one for a silly yet workable idea that just gets dumb as the minutes toll.
Posted on July 27, 2015, in Rental Corner, Thoughts on Hollywood and Stuff and tagged Anthology, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Crypt Keeper, Dark Comedy, EC Comics, episode guide, Fred Dekker, HBO, Horror, John Kassier, Robert Zemeckis, Tales from the Crypt, TV series. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.