I am by no stretch a health nut. I drink way too much and eat too many things that once had faces for that to be the case. I have, however, spent the last few weeks running 3 miles every day on an elliptical. I’m no speed freak, so it takes me about 30 minutes to hit that mark. You know what else takes about 30 minutes? An episode of Tales From the Crypt. Guess what series I own every season of but haven’t actually watched every episode of? I think you see where I’m going with this. So welcome to Tales From the Elliptical, a new recurring column at HND where I supplement my love for anthology horror television with my love of not dying of a heart attack.
This column is in a bit of an odd predicament, though. I actually started this episode-per-run project months ago, but back then I was lazy and not running every day (or, after a while, every week). I’ve been doing it daily for close to a month now, though, and I’ve reached the point where I actually enjoy exercising, so I’m finally committed to starting this column. The rub is between last year’s half-hearted attempt and the past few weeks’ earnest attempt, I’m now up to Season 5 of the series. So, this first entry is going to be a general overview/highlights of the prior seasons. Then, starting next week, we’ll be able to focus more on individual episodes (probably one post per disc, which is usually 6 episodes).
And yes, I realize I’ll be running out of Tales From the Crypt episodes before too long. But hey, I haven’t seen any of Tales From the Darkside, so that’ll be next.
Season 1 (1989)
Firstly, how Godsdamned great is that lineup of directors? Just incredible. And in addition to that, Zemeckis and Deutch’s episodes were both written by a one Fred Dekker! The times, they have a changed.
As for the actual episodes, Season 1 is the tamest of the franchise. No surprise there, the show’s producers were no doubt playing it relatively safe with both HBO and the audiences until they got a feel for what kind of macabre debauchery both would be up for. Still, Hill’s “The Man Who Was Death,” starring the great Bill Sadler as an electric chair operator who finds himself out of a job and with no marketable skill beyond electrocuting people, is the highlight of the season. It’s playful in the way it breaks the fourth wall (one of the few episodes where a character in the actual Tale addresses the viewer), Sadler kills it, and it’s just an all-around cool way to kick off the series.
Plot-wise, though, the best of S1 has to be the Donner-directed, Terry Black-scripted “Dig That Cat…He’s Real Gone,” starring Joe Pantoliano as a drifter who gains 9 lives after a black market scientist gives him the glands of a cat. It’s particularly enjoyable because too many episodes (particularly in the latter seasons) feature backstabbing and infidelity, so it’s always nice when one with a supernatural twist comes along. Plus, it’s even more a kick if you think of it as a weird sequel to Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige.
Directors: Howard Deutch, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Walter Hill, Chris Walas, David Burton Morris, Fred Dekker, Richard Greenberg, Jeffrey Price, Tom Holland, Richard Donner, Randa Haines, Jack Sholder, Rowdy Herrington, Kevin Yagher, Jim Simpson, Charlie Picerni, Peter S. Seaman, J. Michael Riva
Without hesitation the best ep of the season is Walter Hill’s “Cutting Cards,” which finds Lance Henriksen and Kevin Tighe as two gamblers living on the edge who refuse to concede an inch to the other person. Henriksen and Tighe are diabolical in it, and the ending is just flawless. I could watch those two yell at each other to no end.
After that, highlights include Schwarzenegger’s ep “The Switch” for the pure novelty of it, though the body-swap plot would be fun in anyone’s hands thanks to William Hickey, who plays bitter old men so well I have a hard time believing he was ever actually young. “Dead Right” is hard to forget because it involves Jeffrey Tambor in a fat suit sleazing all up on Demi Moore.
Directors: Michael J. Fox, Tom Mankiewicz, Steven E. de Souza, Stephen Hopkins, Todd Holland, Tobe Hooper, Elliot Silverstein, John Harrison, Michael Thau, Manny Coto, Russell Mulcahy, Walter Hill, Andy Wolk, Robert Zemeckis
One of the most obvious standouts is the season finale, Robert Zemeckis’ “Yellow.” Not only is it a period piece set on a WWI battlefield, but it stars Kirk Douglas, Eric Douglas, Dan Aykroyd and Lance Henriksen. But, even with the great cast and the great talent behind the camera, it’s still not my favorite of the season. That’s a toss-up between Steven E. de Souza’s “Carrion Death” and Michael Thau’s “Undertaking Palor.”
I particularly like “Carrion Death” because it only has two people in it and is set in one location (always a bonus), but I really wish Kyle MacLachlan didn’t play everything so hammy. Sure, the entire show is created on the premise that over-indulgence is a decadent vice, but it’s like he’s auditioning to take over Toontown now that The Judge is dead. Still, a cool script and a helluva an ending.
As for “Undertaking Palor,” that’s an episode that was ahead of its time. It flirts with being a found footage movie, though ultimately it takes a more voyeuristic approach to everything. It’s also one of the few episodes with kids as its protagonists, which is something the series needs more of. Its story about a gang of friends who are going to use a video camera to expose an undertaker’s exploitative ways is solid and tense and could be remade as a pretty damned good found footage movie today.
I like the scope of Tobe Hooper’s “Dead Wait,” the commentary on starving artists and pretentious art dealers that is John Harris’ “Easel Kill Ya” (with Tim Roth giving one of the series’ best performances), Manny Coto’s journalist investigates missing homeless people tale “Mournin’ Mess” (even if it is a total rip off of Clive Barker’s Midnight Meat Train), and Stephen Hopkins’ “Abra Cadaver,” which may be my favorite prank-gone-wrong Tale.
Directors: Tom Hanks, Robert Longo, William Friedkin, Gary Fleder, Stephen Hopkins, Gilbert Adler, Peter Medak, Richard Donner, Tom Holland, John Frankenheimer, Joel Silver, Kevin Yagher, Steve Perry, Elliot Silverstein
Season 4 may just be by my favorite season so far. Hell, it opens with “None But the Lonely Heart,” an episode directed by Tom Hanks, starring Treat Williams as a womanizing conman, and features Sugar Ray Leonard as a prophetic gravedigger. The sixth episode, “What’s Cookin'” directed by series co-creator Gilbert Adler, stars Christopher Reeve as a diner owner who willingly starts serving human meat so he can get his landlord, played by Meat Loaf, off his back. AND a few eps later gives us “Showdown,” a supernatural Western written by Frank Darabont and directed by Richard Donner!
Those would be stand outs in any other season, but as good as each of those episodes are, they still don’t top two that are some of the best the entire franchise has to offer: “On a Deadman’s Chest,” a freaky tale about voodoo tattoos starring Tia Carrere, Heavy D, Yul Vazquez, and directed by William Friedkin; and “The New Arrival,” directed by Peter Medak, which finds David Warner playing a radio host who is investigating a reclusive mother’s (Zelda Rubinstein) supremely unhealthy relationship with her daughter, who may or may not actually exist.
However, the most fun may be had with Steve Perry’s “Werewolf Concerto,” which combines werewolf-hunting, Timothy Dalton, Dennis Farina, Charles Fleischer, Reginald VelJohnson, a sultry Beverly D’Angelo, and…Wolfgang Puck. Fuck, I miss the ’90s.
Tags: Tales From the Crypt