It takes me just shy of 30 minutes to run 3 miles. It takes just shy of 30 minutes to watch an episode of Tales 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.
If you need a one-two combo reminder of how singular of a series Tales From the Crypt is for both its content and the time period in which it was created, just watch the opening scene of the fifth season premiere. It opens with Ed Begley Jr. going down on a woman in a motel, then leaving her the next morning after blatantly telling her he lied when he said he loved her and she only bought it because he’s such a damned good salesmen. He then leaves town to go sell recently widowed old ladies funeral plots their husband’s supposedly put a partial down payment on. His grift works surprisingly well until he shows up at a particularly backwoods abode and runs afoul of a mother and father whose distrust of salesmen results in them kidnapping Begley Jr. out of the hope that maybe he’ll be a better suitor for their disgusting, attic-hidden daughter than the last couple traveling salesmen they murdered with their own warez (a vacuum salesmen with a vacuum tube shoved through his mouth, etc).
Did I mention that the backwoods mother, father and daughter are all played by Tim Curry? So that means not only do we see a nude Ed Begley Jr. go down on a chic in the opening scene, but we also get to see him try to pop a boner to have sex with Tim Curry wearing Nothing But Trouble levels of revolting, mongoloid make-up. It may be one of the weirdest episodes of the series, casting-wise. The ending hits as kind of a surprise, but it’s hard to be shocked one way or the other after you’ve watched Ed Begley Jr. compliment Tim Curry’s kegel skills.
Unfortunately after a so-weird-it-works first episode, we get a rather familiar and predictable Tale about an asshole husband who thinks his wife is screwing on the side. There’s just so many episodes at this point that are about infidelity and homicide that’s it’s just become dull, and the only major variant here being the introduction of a private detective and a hitman. The twists are seen coming a mile away, but some good performances by Hector Elizondo and the gorgeous Patsy Kensit make it a bit more interesting. I suppose there’s the novelty of it being directed by Kyle MacLachlan, who hammed it up a few seasons ago in the stellar episode “Carrion Death,” but beyond that it’s a mostly forgettable episode.
This is a gritty episode, even by the series’ standards. Even when it gets dark, there’s typically levity found within an ironic twist or a manic performance. Not true for “Forever Ambergris.” It’s just a fucked up story. Roger Daltry plays a war photographer who’s lost his mojo, while Steve Buscemi is a hot shit new photog getting all the good stuff. They both go to Central America to document some crimes against humanity, but of course Daltry turns on Buscemi both to take credit for his superior pictures and to also steal his out-of-his-league girlfriend, who is super into war photography, apparently.
Of course, since this is Tales, Daltry can’t simply take credit for Buscemi’s work, and what follows is some of the most purely mean-spirited material the series has run. Buscemi’s character does not deserve the level of impressive horror that befalls him, which is surprising because the series’ normally strict (albeit morbid) moral lines usually leaves the innocent party alive. Of course, this being a Tales From the Crypt episode, Daltry doesn’t get away with it, and the punishment is fairly fitting of the crime. Still, the temporary abandonment of morality and cause and effect is rather shocking given the series’ normal motives. But hey, that’s why it’s not only a solid ep for the series as a whole, but the best of season 5 thus far.
Tales has set a few stories around stage performers, but this is their first carnival-set episode, so if you’re wondering what it looks like when Tales From the Crypt does Todd Browning’s Freaks … let’s just say the ep opens with Ernie Hudson using telepathic powers to get a blowjob while he eats Valentine’s chocolates. And as shocking as that is (has Hudson ever done anything nearly that scummy before or since) that’s not even the most bizarre part of the episode.
Spoiler alert: It ends with a silverback gorilla raping/murdering/eating Hudson’s psychic after its been revealed that she’s a medium herself and has been listening in on various “conversations” around the circus. It’s a rather funny ending, for sure, though it really works because of the, “They’re not going to do that…er…uh…they’re totally doing that” factor.
If you recognize three of the names above, you’ll understand when I say this is the first major disappointment of Season 5. Here we have the director of Razorback calling the shots in a twisted crime/revenge story centered around Bill Paxton and Brad Dourif. That should be blissful, no? No. It isn’t.
“People Who Live in Brass Hearses” is unfortunately a dull episode– though I admit that’s not entirely its fault (more on that in a second): Paxton and Dourif play a pair of low level criminal punks who want to pull one over on someone from their past (Michael Lerner), but not only are they in over their heads, but Lerner is hiding a rather twisted secret of his own.
Had I seen this when it first came out, the twist might have had more punch, but this is one of those unfortunate anachronisms where I was more familiar with shows that (intentionally or not) shared its themes than I was the original material. If I wasn’t familiar with the X-Files episode “Humbug” or the ending of Total Recall, though, it would probably have played better. Sadly, I was left wishing this episode had more to offer. Even without the (anachronistcally) familiar twist, Paxton, Dourif and Lerner are all wasted. They give gleefully twisted performances, but you just don’t care about any of them.
The Completely Arbitrary and Potentially Spoilery Awards
Best of Disc 1: “Forever Ambergris”
Worst of Disc 1: “People Who Live in Brass Hearses,” though really this should be called “Least Best,” because it’s not that terrible.
Best Gore: Steve Buscemi’s eye melting off in “Forever Ambergris”
Best Twist: “Food for Thought,” because ape rape/murder is always a best
Most Awkward Sex Scene: A tough call. “Death of Some Salesmen” has Begley Jr. having sex with hideous Tim Curry, while “Food for Thought” has Ernie Hudson using psychic powers to get head. And yet both pale in comparison to “Forever Ambergris,” which ends with Roger Daltry having sex with a withering, parasite-infected woman in a steamy scene that would make both Cabin Fever and The Ruins turn their head.
Weirdest Character Trait: Bill Paxton tapping on a package of butter like it’s a pack of cigarettes until a stick slides out. And then eating it.
Line That Made Me Realize The Saying Wasn’t a Contemporary Invention: ”You’re deep in the hurt locker now.” – Roger Daltry, “Forever Ambergris.”
Creepiest Line: “Hahaha, I said I love you, and you dropped your little panties. It’s called salesmanship” – Ed Begley Jr. in “Death of Some Salesmen”
Tags: Tales From the Crypt