Tales from the Crypt (TV SERIES)


Though Twilight Zone is the undeniable king of speculative fiction serials, Tales from the Crypt is my choice for queen (Outer Limits was one that I never could remove, probably unfairly, from the mental prejudice of being a TZ follow-up). It reveled not only in the moralistic message of the old EC comics, but it combined stylized directing, some genuine scares, and quite funny dialogue. It was also a strange "experiment" in that it tended to have some of the better known actors, directors, musical composers and produces from its day working on it (a foreshadowing of the more "true to horror" of another favorite series of mine: Masters of Horror.

TftC never struck me as honestly horror, though. A few episodes fit firmly (Season 2's "Television Terror" and "Four-sided Triangle" come to mind) but most relied more on suspense than horror (see Season 2's "Mute Witness to Murder" for a storyline that is classic in its own right). The vast majority of the stories were too moralizing to be horror. Evil people got their just deserts, time and time again. Most of the people die because they deserve it, and have actually set their death in motion. Fact is, something known by fans but maybe not by people who have only seen references to the show, many of the shows are crime/murder dramas with very little supernatural reference.

Another fact of the show is that it is actually a culmination of several EC (Entertaining Comics, look into the reprints, excellent comic work, seriously) titles, combining horror stories, crime stories, a few war stories (but no science-fiction stories, which was a huge part of the original comic run). Only something like 12 of the first 36 episodes appeared in either "Tales from the Crypt" or "Crypt of Terror" (the older name of the comic series). This has no impact on the story telling, mind you, just an interesting fact to note.

My experience with the series came out of the comics (reprints from 1990's that collected) and only migrated to the series in the DVDs began being released in 2005 or so. Even then, I watched the first season and just let it drop. Later, while reading through some horror and splatterpunk titles, I got the craving for old school televised horror (most horror movies released in the past 10 years are largely scary in what they are greenlighting nowadays) and started them back up. Now, I am watching through the series in a fairly constant pace (3-5 episodes a day) until I catch up and then get to wait to the last couple of discs to be released (assuming they haven't been already, depending on when you read this).

What follows is some of my basic impressions of the seasons and the episodes inside. Rated from Blech (I hated it) to Meh to Eh (meaning that I thought it was so-so) to Good to Great (I loved it). With some episodes, I have included some notes on what I thoguht.

Season One

The first six episodes, setting the format for the show to come. The Crypt Keeper, a puppet involving several puppeteers and a voice actor (John Kassir) would offer a basic introduction and ending to each show, usually with a few horrible puns (um, pun intended?) and some visual gags. It would flash to a faux cover of a non-existent "Tales from the Crypt" issue, and then show-specific credits would roll over a basic introductory number. A good number of the shows originated in "The Haunt of Fear" a "TftC" sister mag.

Episode Number Episode Name My Rating Notes (if any)
1 "The Man Who Was Death" Meh Not a bad start, per se, but not quite the standard that would be set by later episodes. Showed off some of what was to come, but later things were better.
2 "And All Through the House" Great One of those true horror episodes. I have loved this story since I originally read about it. Plays by a sort of "nightmare" logic that really appeals to me.
3 "Dig that Cat...He's Real Gone" Eh More of a Twilight Zone episode than anything, the ending is something of a shock, and it is well acted, but seems to be missing something.
4 "Only Sin Deep" Blech One that really didn't appeal to me, not even sure why.
5 "Love Come Hack to Me" Eh -
6 "Collection Completed" Good A little overly goofy in some aspects of its presentation (not to mention requiring a pet obsessed woman to not notice all of her pets missing for the time it takes to taxidermy them) but the second best episode of the season.

Season Two

At 18 episodes, it tripled the length of the first season and stands (if I recall correctly) as the long of all the seasons. It is also one of the most consistently funny/scary of the seasons. The crew still were willing to play around more, and the handling of some things was endearingly clumsy. This is also the first time that the repetition in the source materials becomes more apparent. Man kills girlfriend's husband...again. Woman does things for money...again. Overall, though, the stories shine through.

Episode Number Episode Name My Rating Notes (if any)
1 "Dead Right" Eh Updates the original story by making the husband even more disgusting, but still is a little predictable for its own good. Wins points back for some truly imaginative directing.
2 "The Switch" Meh I have nothing against Arnold's (Schwarzenegger) directing, just the story seems to be a tedious one to follow-up. Two stories in a row about how women are skanks looking for money was a bit much.
3 "Cutting Cards" Great The first classic of the second season, a furious update to Roald Dahls' "Man from the South", about taking gambling too far. Sort of a little preach, but well acted and staged.
4 "'Til Death" Good Though predictable, and inexplicable in the speed in which decay takes place, its a fun little "voodoo" romp.
5 "Three's a Crowd" Good The build up is a little heavy handed, but the ending is one of the creepiest in the entire season.
6 "The Thing from the Grave" Eh I imagine this is where the one segment from Creepshow originated, but it feels more like a copy of the copy than the original. Good direction in places, stays interesting.
7 "The Sacrifice" Eh Cross and double cross sort of stuff. Some creepy stalker stuff in the middle is its saving gace.
8 "For Cryin' Out Loud" Great Mostly a comedy in its staging and has cameos of Iggy Pop and the voice of Sam Kinison. Entertaining to watch in its own right, it it wasn't attached to Tales.
9 "Four-Sided Triangle" Great Creepy all around (clown masked scarecrows and psycho-sexual problems, to boot!) and playing out like a really good Stephen King short story, the staging and acting in this one is quite nice
10 "The Ventriloquist's Dummy" Good Anything with Bobcat and Don Rickles has to be entertaining, though the camp factor is turned up so much that it is as much creepy as funny. The handling of the "surprise" was a little chunkier than it could have been, but a nice one for a bag of popcorn.
11 "Judy, You're Just Not Yourself Today" Good What's up with the British accents and the odd house? I don't know. Just part of the camp/creep factor I suppose. The ending was a bit too loose, but so much of the set up is enjoyable I gave it a Good rating.
12 "Fitting Punishment" Good Acting (Moses Gunn makes this one) and the staging are enjoyable, though true to the last couple of episodes, it is handled a little too abruptly at the end, but some scenes before that of real world cost-cutting practices are where the scares are.
13 "Korman's Kalamity" Eh Something of a joking tribute to Ray Bradbury as much as anything, suffers from a sense of not finding out what time period it fits into or what mood it was going for. I liked the ending, though.
14 "Lower Berth" Meh One of the best styled ones, but overall just doesn't do anything for me.
15 "Mute Witness to Murder" Great Questionable in its handling of the subject (shock), it still manages to be one of the strongest stand alone stories of the entire series (and, along with "Four-sided Triangle", is one of my all time favorites). The acting is excellent, and the story could have carried you for three times as long.
16 "Television Terror" Meh Frankly, one of the scariest ones out there, and beautifully set up. The problem is that they wrap it up in about 5 minutes when it deserved 15 (the episode is only about 20 minutes long) and the abrupt ending robs a lot of the force of the tale. Would love to see this one expanded slightly.
17 "My Brother's Keeper" Good Not horror, and barely a crime story, this one almost fails to fit in with the series, but does so in its odd creepiness. The ending is one of the more upbeat ones, though it tries tacking on a twist that I think fails (and requires the Crypt Keeper to explain it to you).
18 "The Secret" Blech Weakest show of the season. Too many actors are over the top or too understated and the storyline, which makes one smile in how silly it comes out, feels like an odd cheat in the long run. Larry Drake is the only saving grace to the whole thing, and he can't pull it up as a stinker of a ender for the season.

Season Three

Either they got a bigger budget or they kept the episode count down to increase the power of the episodes they did have, this season marks an increase in overall production value while still keeping a fair amount of the cheesy charm of the first two seasons.

Episode Number Episode Name My Rating Notes (if any)
1 "Loved to Death" Meh Played mostly as a comedy (like some strange bizarro John Cusack movie), it rehashes the "love potion gone awry" story to a funnier to conclusion. Largely suffers from a back and forth attitude on how to take the characters (is he creepy? is he nice? is she a good person? should she be shot and left for dead?), though the irony of irony of a sex-starved writer trying to write a good clean movie while he can't keep sex out of his mind is a good one. The problem is this joke, which is the highlight of the episode beside maybe Mariel Hemmingway's breasts, comes about five minutes into it.
2 "Carrion Death" Great A different sort of cops and robber story (a chase on foot through the desert where they are stranded), the direction and acting is too good to not notice. Also neat is the trick that you end up sort of rooting for the murderer instead of the dutiful cop.
3 "The Trap" Great Even with its well walked script (man fakes death, man's brother likes his wife, things go awry) it is still acted and paced well enough to get top ranking from me. The ending is a quasi-twist (I was expecting a different twist) and it technically qualifies for a "happy" ranking, which are good to keep the audience guessing.
4 "Abra Cadaver" Eh Fair premise but failed to pull me along all that well. I guessed the "ending", or at least where it was going, fairly quickly. The real ending (which I did not quite guess) does not quite make sense to me. Oh well, maybe I was sleepy when I watched it or something.
5 "Top Billing" Eh Though the ending sparkles with something akin to horrific cuteness, too much of the episode feels too much like an escaped member of the Amazing Stories family.
6 "Dead Wait" Meh Probably the closest to true horror in the entire series so far, but plagued by notably wooden acting and a few red herrings that took up too much time. Props, though, for the "worms" and for Tobe Hooper's staging of the voodoo in the bedroom.
7 "The Reluctant Vampire" Good Cute, and great to see Malcolm McDowell (not to mention George Wendt) in such a role. Fun to watch, but not great by the series standards.
8 "Easel Kill You" Good Roth as a conflicted artist is some of the finest acting the series has, and the unspoken obsession in the main female is creepy but understated; but the ending is way too telegraphed. Also, considering that the art is meant to capture "the macabre of life" it just does not seem as special as the in-story descriptions describe it as. Except for the last piece. But the feeling that I was supposed to "imagine" how scary the paintings could be cheapened the effect.
9 "Undertaking Parlor" Great Sure, this episode is all about "child actors", but the children do a good job. What's more, it has a level of tension than many episodes miss. The ending sort of declined after the steady build up, but this is one of the tops for me.
10 "Mournin' Mess" Blech This one plays out like the waste of a good possible plot and a waste of good actors. What's worse than the fairly obvious ending is the fact that the plot is full of fluff that did not need to be there. Weber's character had no reason for the "homeless night" to make a point and the whole point of plot makes so little sense as to be painful.
11 "Split Second" Good The plot for this one could have been great in my opinion but the narration detracted too much from the mood.
12 "Deadline" Meh A two-bit drama that takes an expected if interesting turn at the end.
13 "Spoiled" Meh Though humorous and pleasantly campy, a little too well-trod.
14 "Yellow" Great Wonderful acting, plotting and directing. Not horror, as this tale was meant to be the pilot (I think) for a war-centric sister series that never made it. Honestly, I think it would have done well if this was the kind of output they were going to put out. Wonderful way to end the season.

Season Four

The way I understand it, there was only supposed to be three seasons. But, going strong it seems, the show came back (4 more times). Season Four exposes one unfortunate truth, many of the original EC stories followed only a handful of plots overall, most involving a conman getting his just deserts, a jealous husband misunderstanding something, or a person who told you she was a witch getting ignore. What these stories lack in overall originality, though, they somewhat make up for by being just a little more...over the top...than previous seasons. There is a certain bawdiness that got injected in the series (such as when the Crypt Keeper says "I love it when a girl gives head...and lets you keep it...after a corpses' head falls off.).

Episode Number Episode Name My Rating Notes (if any)
1 "None But the Lonely Heart" Good Classic EC storyline about someone doing something they shouldn't and getting justice served to them...by the undead! Good and solid opener for the season with a nice overall mix.
2 "This'll Kill Ya" Eh A morality tale that doesn't quite convey the full sense of morality that they were aiming for. Some neat effects, and some near misses as far as getting the staging right. Acting had a slight woodeness that dampened my love for this one.
3 "On a Dead Man's Chest" Eh Though the males (the band members and the tattoo artist) act well enough, there is no real good return (overall) from the female counterparts. Also, the effect right around the end comes off as a bit too hokey (though I did get the feeling they were going for hokey. Final shot is a winner.
4 "Seance" Great Drags a bit for the first third, but quickly finds its place. I quite enjoyed this one.
5 "Beauty Rest" Good I liked it. I nearly saw the end coming but was off by a tad. Classic EC morality tale structure with enough dangling threads to help add to the creep factor...even if it is kinda/sorta a repeat from last season's "Top Billing" (and by kinda/sorta I mean very much so...though this storyline might have came first).
6 "What's Cookin'" Great Christopher Reeves, Meatloaf and Judd Nelson in the same show, which is openly (as opposed to "Its a tweest!") about cannibalism and involves a cheery sort of horror! How can this not be great?
7 "The New Arrival" Good High creep factor all around, and especially from Zelda Rubinstein but surprisingly flat for the last 5 minutes (good times to be had for the first 20, however, and the "fade to end" scene was good).
8 "-" - -
9 "-" - -
10 "-" - -
11 "-" - -
12 "-" - -
13 "-" - -
14 "-" - -

Written by W Doug Bolden

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