Tales From the Elliptical: Bob Gale Makes Wil Wheaton Eat Poop, Martin Sheen vs. Billy Zane, and More

Posted by Peter Hall - April 4th 2012 @ 12:15 am

It takes me just shy of 30 minutes to run 3 miles. It takes just shy of 30 minutes to watch an episode ofTales From The Crypt. Combine the two and you have Tales From the Elliptical, a recurring column at HND where I supplement my love for anthology horror television with my love of not dying of a heart attack.


“Two for the Show”
Season 5, Episode 6 (October 20, 1993)
Directed by: Kevin Hooks
Written by: Gilbert AdlerA L Katz
Cast:  David PaymerVincent SpanoTraci Lords

Here we’ve got another episode that plays great precisely because of how it plays with already well-trodden Tales territory. It starts out with the great David Paymer playing a totally oblivious Wall Street twat who can’t see that all the fancy, ’90s living he can buy (his apartment looks like the Julia Louis Dreyfus’ living room in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation) isn’t doing a single damn thing for his beautiful wife. So when she tells him one night that she’s done with him, that she wants to live and have spontaneous sex on the beach with the person she’s having an affair with, all he can think to do is offer to increase her allowance. And then, when that surprisingly doesn’t pull her back from the edge of divorce, he decides to murder her so no one can have her.

Unfortunately for Paymer, the cop (Vincent Spano) who shows up to investigate seems to be a little too familiar with the victim’s situation. And it just so happens that Spano decides to take a train ride to Chicago the same night Paymer does, and while on the ride he does his best to coax a confession out of the latter. And then just when you think it’s going to end up exactly like you’ve spent the entire episode thinking it will, series producers Gilbert Adler and A L Katz throw in a blindside that’s a cherry on top of an already satisfying ep– the interplay between Spano and Paymer on the train would make it all worth it, even if the ending had been telegraphed. Considering how obvious the conclusion of most Tales episodes are (they’ve gotta adhere to their own twisted moral code), “Two for the Show” is one of the rare ones with a legitimately surprise ending.


“House of Horror”
Season 5, Episode 7 (October 27, 1993)
Directed by: Bob Gale
Written by: Bob Gale
Cast:  Wil WheatonKevin DillonJason LondonKeith CooganMichael DeLuiseMeredith Salenger

I wish I liked Bob Gale’s Tales debut more than I do. Surely one of the main creative forces behind Back to the Future can bring something truly special to the table, right? Well, kind of. Gale’s “House of Horror” has one of the most amusing casts so far this season. It skews younger than most, which brings in the cream of the early ’90s cool kids: Wil Wheaton, Kevin Dillon and Jason London. It’s about a bunch of pledges (led by Wheaton) enduring the hell that is pledge initiation. Head frat douche Dillon takes Wheaton and his fellow dweebs to an isolated, abandoned mansion out in the middle of nowhere. They’ve rigged it with props and recordings that will go bump in the night, and the pledges are in so long as they can make it to the top of the house without shitting themselves and running out. Of course, the scary story Dillon tells the pledges ends up being more reality-based than he thought…

It’s a decent premise that would have made an enjoyable ’80s slasher feature, but unfortunately there’s not much spark here beyond the cast. When you want things to go dark, it just stays lighthearted, and by the time the typical Tales twist comes, all the potential dweebs vs frat boys angst that’s been building up is deflated. It’s hardly one of the worst of the series, and it’s worth it for the novelty of watching Wil Wheaton in a pair of tighty whities lick dog crap off of Kevin Dillon’s shoe, but it falls short.


“Well Cooked Hams”
Season 5, Episode 8 (November 3, 1993)
Directed by: Elliot Silverstein
Written by: Andrew Kevin Walker
Cast:  Martin SheenBilly ZaneMaryam d’Abo

“Well Cooked Hams,” on the other hand, is one of the dullest of the series, which is damned shame considering it’s the first produced piece of writing from Se7en screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker. I always appreciate a period piece on Tales, but this yarn about competing magicians (Martin Sheen and Billy Zane) is just played to the rafters in the hands of director Elliot Silverstein. Everything is done big and, well, hammy, but it doesn’t reach some kind of unnerving, delightful glee. It’s just plain ‘ole…ham, and in the case of Tales From the Crypt, that’s just not good enough.


“Creep Course”
Season 5, Episode 9 (November 10, 1993)
Directed by: Jeffrey Boam
Written by: Jeffrey Boam
Cast:  Anthony Michael HallJeffrey JonesNina Siemaszko

Thankfully, Jeffrey Jones is here to chase away the dull taste of “Well Cooked Hams” with a fun, lively yarn about an Egyptian studies teacher (Jeffrey Jones) who just so happens to have a full mummy tomb in his basement and is intent on awakening the badge-wrapped ancient within. His plan to do so is complimented by his class’ teacher’s pet (Nina Siemaszko) who is convinced by the jock she’s into (Anthony Michael Hall) to go to his home and steal the answers to the next test.

There are a few good surprises in store, but more importantly, this is a Tales ep with an actual, classic monster in it. Writer-director Jeffrey Boam finds ways to sexy things up, and there’s more blood spilled than in any classic Universal mummy movie, which is perfectly fitting with the series’ late night proclivities. Also noteworthy, there’s not much of a moral compass here. Everyone ends up doing bad things, and no one is innocent by the time the Crypt Keeper comes back to send off the episode.


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