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 creates character-driven stories of dark fiction ranging from Shakespearean gore feasts to paranormal thrillers. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, his debut novel, Reinheit, was published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His veteran focused paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served three tours in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston-Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews movies and books and hosts a gambit of guest writers who discuss a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can follow Thomas at a safe distance by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.
Revenge is a dish best served with BBQ!
Douglas Petrie, writer and co-executive producer of American Horror Story, recently announced the setting for the upcoming season 4. This time audiences will be transported in a 1950’s era carnival. And fans have been surging approval all week. As a fan of AHS myself, how can we not get excited about this new setting? 1950’s carnies? Yes, please! This reported setting ekes everything traditional where horror is concerned. Horror is rooted in the mystique of the carnival, from the days of Lon Chaney, Tod Browning, and Irving Thalberg. But even for non horror historians, folks will enjoy the twisted nature of the grandfather of theme-parks. This fall we’ll find “who will dare to face the challenge of the Funhouse? [And] who is mad enough to enter that world of darkness? How about you, sir…?” (The Funhouse, 1981).
The popularity of American Horror Story is interesting. Horror has always festered in the hearts of those depraved enough to look, but AHS has a wider base audience that doesn’t fit the typical horror fan scheme. The same was said regarding Frank Darabont’s take on The Walking Dead; however, rating and audience approval has been a roller coaster ride all its own, with downs in the opening of a new season, and ups midway through the second half, while AHS has enjoyed a rather steady climb, growing a wider fan base with each season. Why is that?
Perhaps using The Walking Dead as a comparison isn’t exactly fare. Getting zombies on a continuing television show is a transformative process, especially a Romero influenced zombie story. Truth be told, how many episodes can you really do before you know everything there is to know about the characters involved? How much longer can this story of this set of particular characters go on? On the other hand, audiences (despite disapproval) feel invested in these character stories and will sit down every Sunday night (or Monday afternoon, if you watch online) season after season just to see what happens next. OR…The Walking Dead could take a cue out of American Horror Story’s play book. Dedicate an entire season to just one cast of characters and their story. Producers could make the seasons a tad bit longer, but that’s it. One season, done.
You may or may not agree with the above formula. But hey, its working for American Horror Story. And why, you may be asking? Because its an old new take on how the cogs of horror operate. Long drawn out and reoccurring seasons on the same set of characters will kill a horror story quicker than the FCC. Consider Tales from the Crypt, a near decade run horror anthology (1989-96) that demanded absolutely zero audience dedication, because each show was a single story all its own, and yet people still tuned in to hear the Crypt Keeper’s hilarious chuckal and corny one liners. And before the Crypt, we had Tales from the Darkside, created by George Night of the Living Dead Romero himself, which ran from 1983 til 88′. And before Darkside, during the 70’s we had Rod Serling’s Night Gallery (1970-73) based on some of the early work being done by Stephen King. And before that was audiences enjoyed The Twilight Zone (1959-64), with its incredible cast of writers, which included alums of macabre Alfred Hitchcock and Ray Bradbury. Anthologies work! Its a proven 55 year old formula! The only difference now is that American Horror Story has taken said formula and turned it into a single season turn around, instead of a single episode turn around. And this gives us the best of both worlds. We can become invested in characters without feeling stuck with them until the show comes to its inevitable end.
And that’s the rub, right? I think most of us have a tendency of kidding ourselves by thinking our beloved shows will end. And there are those who still feel the sting of watching an amazing show never reach its desired conclusion (cough cough, Firefly, cough) before being canceled. Perhaps the future of television will focus on crafting seasons the way American Horror Story does. Sure, it might not work for most shows, especially shows soiled in drama who keep audiences coming back by drastically killing off major characters (no matter how beloved) each and every end of a season, and despite how much you hate the writers for it, you still come back dammit! But for horror and science fiction, the anthology platform works and can actually improve both the story and ratings. What are your thoughts on the old new? Leave them in the comments box below!