Tales from the Crypt (1989-1996)
From the span of 1989 thru 1996, Tales from the Crypt sent delightful chills down the spines of millions of viewers as they tuned in to HBO and whatever mad macabre story was about to be unleashed for the next twenty plus minutes. The Danny Elfman theme and horn blasts and the creaking gate ushering us into a decapitated mansion, lightening crashes, and still the camera and the song moves us past the foyer and into the lower regions. Cobwebs and dust cover everything. This place looks abandoned. Buts its not. Just as we reach the bottom, from an aged and rustic coffin, as if conjured by an ellipses of manic cowling, jumps the Crypt Keeper, nearly devoid of flesh, howling with his cankerous jittering laughter, “Welcome, to Tales from the Crypt.” And we watch, popcorn resting in our laps, feet dancing as the title screen comes on and the green ooze comes down in driblets.
If you’re like me than you no doubt have plenty of nostalgic memories of this show. Starting with “The Man Who Was Death,” staring the underrated William Sadler, and ending, seven seasons later, with “The Third Pig,” (the only animated episode) staring the cuddly Bobcat Goldthwait as the Big Bad Wolf. Not forgetting three movies, Demon Knight, Bordello of Blood, and Ritual (the made for TV movie with Tim Curry). Looking at the movies, my favorite has to be Demon Knight, not only was it the first, but it was also one of the best written and directed of the movies, staring again William Sadler and Billy Zane (back when Zane was actually still considered a good actor). Bordello was okay…my biggest qualm was Dennis Miller, the dude can do a hell-of-a monologue, but acting…ugh! Ritual was decent enough to spend an evening. I’m a big fan of voodoo horror and this had the dark arts in spades. Plus, Tim Curry…need I say more?
As for the regularly aired episodes, its hard to say which one was the best. Every season brought on a new collection of guest appearances from some of the most recognizable names during the 1990s. From Adam West to Amanda Plummer to Andrew McMarthy and Anna Friel and even Arnold Schwarzenegger, not forgetting the late great Bob Hoskins and Burt Yong, there was also Carol Kane and Brooke Shields and Ghostbuster alums Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson, Cheers alum George Wendt starred in The Reluctant Vampire, and everyone’s favorite Jedi Master Ewan McGregor guest stared in Cold War, and there was also Hector Elizondo and James Remar, even gangsta extraordinaire “you think I’m funny” Joe Pesci, and the lovable Indian Jones co-star John Rhys-Davies, Full House fellow John Stamos was on the show as well as Kathleen York, and our favorite FBI agent in the piney woods Kyle MacLachlan turned bad guy in one of the more twisted of episodes, “Carrion of Death.” Bill “game over man” Paxton and the always creepy Brad Dourif made an appearance in Season 5. And there were many more celebrities that found their way onto one or more Tales from the Crypt episodes, each one seemingly trying to out-do the last.
Now, deciding which one is “the best of the best,” well…lets see what other horror nerds have to say. Ranking in as their number one, Bloody Disgusting named “The New Arrival” as their personal favorite. Fangoria listed “Cutting Cards” staring both Kevin Tighe and Lance Henriksen as their number one pick. Cinema Slasher has Season 3’s “Undertaking Parlor” as their be-all episode, starring Jonathan Ke Quan, Jason Marsden, Aron Eisenberg, and Scott Fults, “a group of young, wannabe filmmakers that, while spying on an undertaker, discover some creepy and immoral actions being taken.” iHorror lists holiday special “All Through the House” as their numero uno and Den of Geek lists “Fitting Punishment,” among others, as one of the most terrifying episodes to air on TV.
Which episode is my favorite?
How about instead of one, I give you five?
Sounds fair, right?
Sorry. I cannot name just one with a show that spanned nearly a decade.
Not in any particular order, I’ll start my first top pick for Tales from the Crypt episodes with “The Man Who Was Death.” Okay. Sure. Given. This was the first episode of the show, and ought be honored as such, but least we not forget, the story was actually really scary, and socially pointed. My next pick will be, obviously, “Death of Some Salesman.” Of all the shows that’ve aired on Tales from the Crypt, this particular one nearly won the show an Emmy…and it was all because of Tim Curry. If you’re not a fan of infamous voice and stage actor and one of the best drag mad scientists ever to grace cinema, I challenge you to watch this episode and tell me he’s no good. My next favorite also comes out of Season 1 with “Collection Completed.” An elderly man is forced into retirement and soon begins to butt heads with his loony tunes wife. Driven insane by all the pets his wife brings into the house, Walsh decides to taxidermy all her furry companions. To say she is not happy would be an understatement, and the end will leave you chilled to the bone. “Carrion Death” is my next favorite, mostly due to Twin Peaks good guy turned bad guy in Tales from the Crypt, Kyle MacLachlan, but also because of the pacing of the episode, the slow build of terror, even though you can pretty much guess what’ll happen in the end, its still horrifying to watch! My last on this favorites list will have to be “Yellow,” from Season 3. Not only am I a pretentious nerd when it comes to period pieces, but the episode is also wonderfully filmed, almost ornate in feeling, and it boasts a 40 mins run time (the longest episode in TFTC history).
Despite being off the air for twenty years now (feeling old?), a majority of the episodes still carry quite a punch and are actually very relevant. Tales from the Crypt harnessed the best of what those 1950s EC Comics and Twilight Zone and other pillars of twisted anthologies had to offer, giving us some of the most wonderful forewarning of being careful what we wish for, treating others as we’d like to be treated, and other stories of campfire morality. Tales from the Crypt showcased the best of what horror can be and inspired (and still is) countless generations of future filmmakers and storytellers. If you’re a fan of the show, what were some of your favorite episodes or moments? Mention them in the comments below.
Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of several character driven stories of dark fiction. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter. He is published with The Sinister Horror Company’s horror anthology The Black Room Manuscripts. His debut novel, Reinheit, is published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein. His new series, The Subdue Series, both Dwelling and Emerging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a BA in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he does author interviews and reviews on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics.