Have you ever noticed how the Wedding March Song sounds ominously creepy, as if it could turn into a horror tune in a half second, spooking those who march down the aisle? Or how about the fact that the Cryptkeeper is so gruesomely ugly because he represents all of humanity’s worst parts? It’s all in good fun. Nothing to worry oneself with…..yet!
As television shows strive to bring in audiences with every kind of device, such as murder all too foul-looking, “Tales from the Crypt”, based on the comics by William M. Gaines, didn’t exploit what it had, but used every kind of shock and horror device to its advantage, semi-diluting the flat-out horrors with the Cryptkeeper’s giddy appreciation of puns. The Cryptkeeper solved the problems encountered with puns over the years. Comedians that tend to use puns make a big show of it, leaving even the crickets heading towards the bar wanting a strong shot of whiskey. I don’t think anyone desires to remember that Rosie O’Donnell book of long ago, “Kids are Punny”. To the Cryptkeeper, it’s his kind of language, but not all of his language. After all, in his creepy manor where every kind of crawlie exists (and I’ll bet every depraved trait of humanity’s existence is somewhere in there), there were stories to introduce, tales to make the late night even blacker. Horrifying allegories seeped on to the screen, some even relating to the Seven Deadly Sins, if one wishes to look that far inward into the tales. In one episode, “And All Through the House”, Mary Ellen Trainor takes an ax to her husband (Marshall Bell) on Christmas Eve, and quickly calls her other lover, exclaiming that the money is now theirs. But while she’s dragging the body outside, she hears nothing of the radio news report announcing an insane killer on the loose, dressed in a Santa suit. Justice delivered to a greedy woman. In “Only Sin Deep”, Lea Thompson embraces vanity, deciding that one day, she’ll get out of the prostitution business and on the arm of a well-to-do, well dressed gentleman going into a well-furnished building across the street. However, after shooting a pimp to death and swiping his jewelry, she’s not yet aware of the price she’ll pay. A visit to a pawnshop reveals that the jewelry is stolen, but the pawnbroker doesn’t want to kick her out quite yet, wanting a mold of her beauty, with $10,000 to Thompson for it. Greed and vanity! The stakes just keep going up.
Through all that made “Tales from the Crypt” what it was in comic form, it takes talent to bring it to television with flawless dedication. Robert Zemeckis, Joel Silver, Walter Hill, Richard Donner and others were at the forefront of seeing that the show reached its absolutely top creepy potential, with performers who not only understood the basis for the show, but unconventional roles never readily found on network TV. For the passion and understanding from the actors, the solid proof is Robert Wuhl as the carnival barker in “Dig That Cat…He’s Real Gone” (with Joe Pantoliano as a homeless man injected with nine lives and sent out on the carnival circuit to die and live again) and M. Emmet Walsh in “Collection Completed”.
Everyone here is at full speed, right up to the last two episodes, which are the best of the season as well as two of the greatest of the entire series, if time and fandom allows it that luxury. The first, effectively directed by Tom Holland, is “Lover Come Hack to Me” in which a married couple, Peggy and Charles, end up at an abandoned mansion in the rain, far away from a warning by Peggy’s Aunt Edith to Charles to stay away from Peggy, because she’s insistent that he only married her for her money. And indeed, Amanda Plummer as one of the newlyweds (alongside Stephen Shellen who in this episode looks like donations from Mel Gibson and Charlie Sheen), seems introverted enough to want to marry him. But as it is with any unsettling horror story, there’s an ulterior motive afoot. And in the last few minutes, you’ll feel shocked and shaken, with mouth agape, an emotion not often felt in the horror films of today. If you miss that loving feeling, it’s right here. “Collection Completed” is tops in acting, which is crucial with M. Emmet Walsh retiring from a tool company after 47 years, thanked only with the gift of a brass hammer. He comes home, disheveled and a little angry at only the hammer being the only thing he can show for all that work. However, he’s not used to his wife’s routines, which involve all the pets around the house, which he never noticed due to being at work all the time, and his wife acknowledges this later when they talk, that the pets keep her company.
For Walsh, it’s not taken lightly and soon, competing hobbies are at hand, and his new joy in life poses a severe conflict of interest for his wife. Walsh’s descent into his newfound madness is a credit to him as well as director Mary Lambert and writers Battle Davis, Randolph Davis, and A. Whitney Brown, who gradually make the situation more and more unbearable until sanity snaps off in Walsh’s brain. Through all six episodes, “Tales from the Crypt” boosts itself as the best horror anthology to prey on human nature. Because after all, what’s more scary than being human?
If the shows don’t automatically make you a fan of all the perverse, twisted fun (If not, try knocking your nuts and bolts into place), then the 50-minute documentary on the history of E.C. Comics, all their comic books, and the television birth of “Tales from the Crypt” should do most of the job, even prompting you to seek out these comic books, as it did to me. There is such detail on the tumultuous relationship between William M. Gaines and his father when he was growing up, how he ended up taking the reins of his father’s comic book business and even the wacky controversy in the ‘50s over comic books causing children to become juvenile delinquents. While the documentary is at times sedate due to going back and forth between narration and interviews, comic book pages are creatively put together, one character at a time, and the legacy of Gaines is much more appreciated. Lastly is the Cryptkeeper’s History of Season 1 in which he makes known his participation in pitching the TV series, making jokes about it all the way, while production photos of the first season are shown. This is a set to not only bring back memories of watching the series on HBO, all those years ago, but to burn new ones into the mind too. Whether watching it for The Cryptkeeper or the horror that is us in these stories, it’s grueling, ghoulish, gruesome fun!