Saturday, January 20, 2018

Tales from the Crypt

Horror comedy has been one of my favourite genre blends since I was corrupted at an early age by the likes of the Addams Family and Beetlejuice, so this gruesome adult anthology was naturally an irresponsible favourite growing up.

Or would have been if I'd managed to see an episode before I was 27. British terrestrial channels could be really unreliable when it came to imports sometimes. Here's what I thought of them, regrettably lacking the hindsight of childhood trauma.

Exhumed from the pages of:

Tales From the Crypt
The Vault of Horror
The Haunt of Fear
The Crypt of Terror
Shock SuspenStories
Crime SuspenStories
Other/original story

The Man Who Was Death (1x01) ****

First broadcast 25 years ago today (Edit: You know, at the time), I surprisingly didn't even know about this landmark series until recently. I'd heard of it, obviously, though I wasn't sure whether it was a TV series or some kind of vintage comic. Turns out it's both, and the dastardly tales that fill these 25-minute episodes bookended by throwaway intros and outros from a rotting, pun-obsessed puppet are all taken from those classic pulp horror comics that I definitely would have read religiously if I grew up in the fifties.

I'd been craving a good anthology series for a while, and this seriously hits the spot. If they maintain the same balance of grisly horror and pitch black humour of this opening episode, I'm in for an extremely fun ride.

In tonight's episode (I don't care what time you're reading this), Bill Sadler - Death from Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey among other, less notable roles - puts on a Southern drawl and speaks directly to camera about the satisfying job of controlling the volts as state executioner, until the death penalty is revoked and he resorts to administering his own brand of electric justice on the guilty. We're trapped with him right through to the inevitable 'twist' ending - I have a feeling this is going to be a trend - and it is a little disturbing.

What's not disturbing but certainly caught me by surprise is the freedom of profanity and liberal smattering of tits for a TV show made in 1989. The production values are excellent for TV of that era too, much more like a mini-movie, something that's aided by the presence of plenty of recognisable names and faces in front of and behind the camera. Keep your eye on this HBO channel, it's going to go far.
"Hang on to your hats, kiddies - this one's a real SHOCKER!" - The Crypt Keeper

And All Through the House (1x02) ***

A more claustrophobic, less captivating and decidedly camper affair than the pilot, they favour tongue-in-cheek corniness for this Christmas tale of mariticide featuring a criminally insane, axe-wielding Santa, and that spoils it a little. I know the series aims to mix in a healthy amount of comedy with the terror, but this comes at a cost to the realism - why doesn't the daughter wake up when her mother's breaking windows and screaming downstairs? Why do these characters do the crazy things they do?

The horror angle is still well done at least, with a grisly murder right at the beginning (however out-of-the-blue and played for laughs) and the obligatory 'twist' ending that's signposted all the way through. Mary Ellen Trainor is a good screamer too. But in general, I felt let down after the high quality of the first episode - maybe this will be more representative of the series as a whole?
"Be very careful what you AXE for, for Christmas!" - The Crypt Keeper

Dig That Cat... He's Real Gone (1x03) *****

In a welcome return to the high quality and perfect fright/fun ratio as the first episode, Joe Pantoliano plays the same slimy character he plays in everything ever, as he's taken from the streets and given the nine lives of a cat by a typically German mad scientist. Rebranding himself as Ulrich the Undying, he decides to put this near-immortality to profitable use by setting himself up as a circus act and inviting punters to temporarily put him out of his misery in a variety of ways. This week's twist is based on maths.

The whole thing is deranged, with science that's as preposterous as these characters' business sense, and the carnival music and disorienting angles saturate the whole thing in a weird atmosphere. If I'd seen this as a kid, it would have definitely given me nightmares. If I'd seen this as a kid, I'm pretty sure it would be one of my all-time favourite TV shows.
"He's DYING to put on a show for you!" - The Crypt Keeper

Only Sin Deep (1x04) ***

Those endearingly awful puns are making it into the titles now. While this HBO series generally feels ahead of its time in terms of cinematic production values, the calibre of guest stars and production staff and liberal use of the F-bomb, this episode is distinctly a product of the 80s, as Lea "Marty McFly's Incestuous Mom" Thompson's frizzy-haired street girl struts along to an electo bassline and gets saturated in music video fuzz, until her character starts to age at a rapid rate courtesy of a deal with a creepy antique seller.

With Sylvia Vane's fading beauty (see what they did?) being the main jeopardy here, the plot isn't as gripping as, say, a vigilante electrocutioner or murderous Santa on the prowl, but the classic twisty tale formula's still there - these are based on vintage horror comics after all, with I don't know how many liberties taken - so there's always that to look forward to.

If they bundled a few of these episodes together to make an anthology film like the original Tales from the Crypt, this would be the weakest link so far. But as these aren't much longer than an episode of The Simpsons, you can't really complain. I'm sure I'll find a way eventually.
"Who's the FEAREST of them all?" - The Crypt Keeper

Lover Come Hack to Me (1x05) **

I guess I can be critical after all, this is a pretty bad episode. They wisely shoved the stinkers to the back end of the season, as this one doesn't have the instant classic status of some of its predecessors. I know they're stretching short comic stories into 25-minute episodes, but there's a lot of padding here.

The story concerns mismatched newlyweds who head off to an unspecified destination on their honeymoon only to run into car trouble, and choose to spend the night at a spooky house that just happens to be nearby. After the guy from the Mills & Boon covers finally concedes to get down to business with the heiress he married for her money, his plan to top her in a different way is foiled when he undergoes a confusing dream sequence and it turns out he was the one being duped all along. Fancy that!

Everything feels below par for the high standards set by earlier episodes, from the acting to the production, but at least the spooky house looks pretty good. If this had been the first episode I'd seen, I probably wouldn't have come hack. Sorry, I meant back. If only there was some way to correct these typos they embarrassingly keep making in the titles.
"We're going to take a little ride to honeymoon hell!" - The Crypt Keeper

Collection Completed (1x06) **

Closing the first, short season with another disposable episode, the most positive thing I can say about this plodding tale is that once Jonas reveals his taxidermy hobby and you spot the gruesome ending hiding over the horizon, you're eager to see his wife's inevitable revenge for his revenge.

This isn't a series preoccupied with realism at the best of times, but everything about this feels fake, from the hammy acting of the oldies to the unconvincing outdoor sets. Why hasn't Jonas ever noticed that he's married to a lunatic before? He had Sundays off. How could a man who's spent 47 years selling tools become an expert taxidermist in just two weeks?

Even in such a short season, there have been a few running themes, intentional or not. Every single episode has featured an aggrieved husband or wife finishing off their partner (usually the wife, specifically the shot of her lifting a large murder weapon over her head with both hands) and this is the second after the pilot where a guy goes insane because he's forced into retirement. They never give them that gold watch.

It's still a fun series, even when it's borderline terrible. I'm looking forward to a lot more.
"I guess Jonas learned that a hobby can be very self-fulfilling... as long as you're not too STUFFY about it!" - The Crypt Keeper

Dead Right (2x01) ****

I can't tell at this point whether the series has raised its game considerably or they're just trying to impress with the season premiere, but this is the best episode since the pilot, and certainly has the strongest guest stars, pairing up Ghost-era Demi Moore with Jeffrey Tambor (Larry Sanders, Arrested Development), who plays a despicable loser the way only he can.

The archaic plot is another retread of gold diggers and fortune tellers with a typically unsurprising twist, but the acting, the surprising gore and Tambor's convincing fat suit raise it above average fare. They really pull out all the stops to make his character as repulsive as possible - has there actually been anyone in the series thus far who's not completely loathsome? Maybe that kid in the Santa episode.
"When Charlie got his just desserts, he requested seconds!" - The Crypt Keeper

The Switch (2x02) ***

I've unjustly criticised this series for its obvious plot twists you can see coming from miles away (in its defence, they are based on really old stories) but I can honestly say I did not expect Arnold Schwarzenegger to stroll over to the Crypt Keeper during the intro and harass the puppet. Those bookend sequences have the atmosphere of an inappropriate kid's show at the best of times, and this celebrity cameo made things even more confusing. Schwarzenegger directed this episode too, so I don't know whether he told the actors to deliver their lines in such strange ways or if that just represents an inevitable drop off in talent. It's really bad.

The story itself is the least scientifically plausible they've tackled so far, which is really saying something, as an old man seeks to restore his lost youth by transplanting face and body parts from a younger Adonis piece by piece, eventually ending up with both actors switching roles. Its tripartite structure and heavy-handed moral make it feel more like a Brothers Grimm fairy tale, especially as the protagonist's comeuppance doesn't even feature grisly death for a change, in what may turn out to be a one-off for the entire series.

It's saved from complete ridicule by taking a clearly tongue-in-cheek approach, including an unnecessary castle laboratory complete with Igor servant. You get away with it this time, but be warned: my ironic appreciation has its limits.
"You want to keep that 90 pound corpse for the rest of your death? Keep pumping!" - Arnold Schwarzenegger

Cutting Cards (2x03) ****

This is the most 'normal' episode so far, in that it doesn't include any supernatural elements, but it still gets bloody bizarre. In the most concise plot since Santa went mental with an axe, a pair of feuding gamblers or some other arbitrary backstory - one played by Lance Henriksen from Millennium and the other by Locke's father from Lost - play the ultimate high stakes game to prove which of them is more of a man. Then when that doesn't go as planned, they end up hacking off each other's limbs.

This is a seriously horrible episode, and if I'd seen it as a kid it would have screwed me up. More so. The Russian roulette scene is as tense as those sequences should be, especially in a series that's proven it isn't shy of extreme violence and gore, and when they start cutting each other's fingers off over poker there are no tasteful cuts away to their screaming faces. Your only options are to watch or turn away, but you're not going to do that.

This nasty episode was distinctly lacking in goofiness until that final scene, which might be necessary for helping you calm down and get on with your day after this experience. You're not telling me this thing goes out on pre-watershed syndication unedited. It's also worthy of note that after a comparatively tame intro, the Crypt Keeper's pun runs get more laboured than ever, which is delightful.
"A couple of sharpies who'll do anything for a STAB at the jackpot!" - The Crypt Keeper

'Til Death (2x04) ****

I was hating this one until about half-way through, when it became clear it was all building up to a rom-zom-com. The most offensive aspect is its portrayal of black characters as either servants, subjugated labourers or spooky Voodoo women, which might seem like a tediously PC point, but come on. Second most offensive was the re-use of the gold digger plot again again again (I've already lost count of how many times), but at least it's a man this time, so it's different? No, wait, they did that in the first season.

Things finally get going when it turns out our greedy, misogynistic hero (this show has no nice characters) didn't pay attention to the ambiguous description of the love potion he spikes a visiting heiress with, and her corpse tirelessly pursues him through increasingly horrifying states of decay until the romantic finale. From her perspective anyway, not so much his.

Good save, guys, but you've got some reparations to make.
"I'm sure you'll find it ap-PEELING!" - The Crypt Keeper

Three's a Crowd (2x05) **

Sometimes these episodes try deliberately to be bad and kitsch, but others, like this one, are just lousy. Nothing of interest happens until right near the end, when the depressed husband finally has enough of his wife and his friend sneaking around behind his back and decides to go homicidal. And then, as usual, the 'twist' ending you knew was going to happen - though they add in an extra touch to make it that little bit more tragic.

When I watched the adaptation of Stephen King's The Mist in the cinema with friends, we loved the fact that the father mercifully shot his son in the face at the end to spare him from a worse fate... only for the cavalry to promptly arrive and save them (Spoiler Alert, oh). It was so heart-breaking to think of this guy going through life (however much he could take before ending it all) knowing what he'd done. But that's not the case here, as I don't have any sympathy for the slain - YOU SHOULD HAVE TOLD HIM what was going on, before and during the time he was pointing a crossbow at your heart and trying to break down the door to garrotte you with your tights.

He was obviously going to get the wrong impression when you're running off together like that, his actions were completely justified. Alright, maybe he went a little far. The only thing in this episode I truly liked was the suggestion of necrophilia thrown in off the bat. This guy really slid from slightly downbeat to perverted, killcrazy lunatic, it's almost impressive.
"To love and to PERISH, for richer, for HORROR, in sickness and in STEALTH (?)" - The Crypt Keeper

The Thing From the Grave (2x06) ***

They really do seem to alternate weekly with the C-list and Y-list actors, and this is one of the more impressive weeks in that regard, even if the story is basically the same thing we saw two episodes ago with the lustful undead woman switched for a vengeful undead guy.

Pre-Superman Teri Hatcher isn't required to do much more than writhe on a bed and look stunning, but Miguel Ferrer easily steals the show with a more unbalanced and profane departure from his snotty detective in Twin Peaks. They don't waste any time getting to the initial execution, but this is spoiled when they then proceed to show us all the events that brought us to this point. All the while, you're just waiting for The Thing From the Grave you've been promised by the title.

I like how the guy manages to write really neatly in his own blood while being pulled into a grave.
"Some guys just DIE over a pretty girl!" - The Crypt Keeper. He's starting to get on my nerves now

The Sacrifice (2x07) **

Michael Ironside, what kept you? We've been calling your agent for twelve episodes now - is there anyone more definitively suited to these twisted tales than the ultimate 90s B-movie henchman? His sweaty Total Recall co-star Roy Brocksmith has already showed up at least three times in different roles.

Sadly, Ironside's familiar presence doesn't add much to this humdrum tale of extortion and mariticide (AGAIN). There's nothing paranormal about it either, apart from the supernatural stupidity of discussing your plans to do away with your husband/client in front of a parrot we've already been shown is an excellent mimic, and then expecting us to forget about this until the end. The guy who isn't Michael Ironside also implausibly goes from greedy murderer to noble human sacrifice in the space of about a day; they're not doing much to defend the horror genre against accusations of unrealistic characters here.

We're only a season and a half in, and already I feel there have been far too many stories set in the sleazy world of yuppies and tycoons. Give me a goddamn graveyard already.
"I hate to see a guy throw his life away without some dame getting a laugh out of it" - The Crypt Keeper

For Cryin' Out Loud (2x08) ***

This laughable episode shows that you don't need a decent script or subtle acting to make a memorable Tale from the Crypt, as long as it's fun. Though if you're an Iggy Pop fan, it'll probably be most memorable for his extended appearance as himself.

Iggy's playing at a benefit concert organised by all-round tree-hugging do-gooder Marty Slash (a suitably unbalanced Lee Arenberg), who turns out not to be such a saint after all when he reveals his plan to steal away with the one million bucks and kills his hot banker with a guitar.

Fortunately, for fans of justice or ridiculous gimmicks, Marty's conscience finally gets through to him, voiced by the late-yet-irritating Sam Kinison, and Marty goes to the chair laughing and longing to be free. That's not a spoiler, as they open on his execution - presumably operating under the delusion that doing so adds a sense of literary value to this goofy story.

It does the job for me, I'd take this over any of the corporate love triangle ones they churn out every few weeks.
"He probably wished he was deaf, but he got DEATH instead!" - The Crypt Keeper

Four-Sided Triangle (2x09) ****

Another somewhat screwed-up story, this one stars Patricia Arquette, who you'll know best from A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (if you had the same childhood as me), and Chelcie Ross, Ted's army instructor in Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey (see previous disclaimer). It's another simple synopsis that can be summarised in a single sentence: a creepy couple keeps a young woman as a slave on their middle-of-nowhere farm, she's assaulted by the husband and the ensuing brain damage makes her infatuated with a scarecrow.

It's a tight tale with an ending that manages to be funny and satisfying, and for once isn't signposted 75% of the way through, unless I was just being slow today. I didn't credit the mentally deficient farmer with hatching such an ingenious rape plot, but this time the bad guys get their comeuppance.
"That young lady certainly knew how to make a POINT!" - The Crypt Keeper

The Ventriloquist's Dummy (2x10) *****

That was probably my favourite episode yet, though I should have learned by know that trying to compile any kind of top ten in my head while working through these series is futile. It has everything I love about this series - it's funny, sick and potentially very disturbing to children, and there's the usual high quality acting from cross-generational stand-ups Don Rickles (not heard of him before, apparently he was big) and Bobcat Goldthwait (who I only know from The Larry Sanders Show). For the first 17 minutes, before it goes all-out insane.

The tale begins with the final performance of legendary ventriloquist Mr. Ingles (and Morty), after which a mysterious fire breaks out and he apparently loses his arm. The show had a big impact on a young boy who grows up determined to make it in the ventriloquist business himself, despite being completely lousy. Fifteen years later he meets up with his hero and exposes him to the perks of show business again, and it's revealed why Ingles was such an accomplished mimic - his ventriloquist dummy is really his "Siamese twin" (they use the term, what can I do?), which he has to keep sedated so it doesn't go around killing the hot women it hates because it can never have. Something to do with it being a terrifying, repulsive monster on the end of a guy's arm, I guess.

Realism goes out of the window hereafter, as Ingles finally cuts off his arm/brother in frustration, but this somehow doesn't kill the little scamp, who goes on a rampage. The customary twist ending follows, but it doesn't steal the show like usual - nothing could top the reveal of 'Morty' and the flailing, bloody antics of the sweary, high-voiced animatronic puppet. It's unusually well plotted too, the opening performance showing Ingles' clear contempt for his 'dummy' getting the biggest laughs and stealing the show, without being too obvious. That's several fun/decent episodes in a row, I hope we're not back to mundane inheritance murders next week.
"Oh no, not the meat grinder!" - Morty

Judy, You're Not Yourself Today (2x11) ***

We're back to husbands and/or wives killing each other again, though at least this time it's unintentional and not another predictable insurance/inheritance plot. This is a predictable body swap episode instead. We've had voodoo zombies and killer dummies, so it's about time they pulled that particular gimmick out of the bag.

This feels like one of their distinctly average episodes, maybe partly down to the lack of notable guest stars or the domestic situation, but these ridiculous characters are still pretty funny - husband Donald with his dogmatic NRA beliefs and his beaten down wife Judy, who gets hornier the angrier her husband gets.

Donald accepts it quite readily when the old woman in his house claims to be his wife zapped between bodies by some wyrd amulet, and this impulsiveness sees him through to the inevitable finale, when he's forced to choose between wives using his beloved rifle - because if something's worth doing, it's worth doing lethally.

Why is there a magic amulet that zaps people between bodies? Why don't any of these characters behave anything like human beings would when confronted with these situations? Don't think about it too much.
"I still think DIE-monds are a girl's best friend" - The Crypt Keeper

Fitting Punishment (2x12) ***

Not an especially bad episode, but one of the least memorable of the run so far. Despite the title bordering on a Crypt Keeper-level bad pun, I doubt I'll be able to remember which one this was in a few weeks.

This is a very run-of-the-mill revenge-from-the-grave story with a victim who couldn't be more innocent and vulnerable and his bad uncle who couldn't be more dislikeable. There's a sense of creeping death surrounding the unfortunate lad, and after he's crippled and subsequently dispatched you're just waiting for the bad man to get the fitting punishment promised, which he only does a little. Some more lingering shots of gruesome, painful dismemberment would have left me feeling like justice had been satisfied.

I try to imagine what I would have made of these episodes if I'd seen them at the time, when I was about six. The nitty gritty details of funeral parlours would have had a profound impact. That's about the best thing I can say about this one.
"He got a pretty nasty case of athlete's foot, didn't he?" - The Crypt Keeper

Korman's Kalamity (2x13) ****

This is the kind of daft episode I generally enjoy, which completely gets away with its childish premise and over-the-top creatures by self-referentially setting the tale in the (fictionalised... presumably) offices of the Tales from the Crypt comic itself. It's like that episode of The Storyteller that featured the Storyteller himself. Now I've remembered that series exists, it'll have to go on the waiting list.

Prolific but maritally uninspired illustrator Jim Korman discovers that the gruesome monsters he's drawing are coming to life and causing chaos in the city. This is blamed on experimental virility drugs he's been taking, which are making his imagination fertile. That's just about the best weak gimmick I've ever heard.

Jim is nagged by his increasingly unbalanced wife and finds unlikely love with a local cop, who cottons on to his Penny Crayon-esque powers when she witnesses a brutal decapitation by a washing machine beast. There are loads of fantastic creature costumes in this one that work as sufficient apology for the weaker episodes surrounding it, as well as excusing the ending for being so abrupt. What about consequences?
"Maybe if she'd been nicer to him she wouldn't have ended up as a MONSTER-piece!" - The Crypt Keeper

Lower Berth (2x14) ***

Maybe they blew the budget on the beasties last episode, but this self-contained sideshow set is suitably haunting and classy in its period details. The tale concerns the plight of Enoch the Two Faced Man, a deformed, love-lorn man who's spurred by society due to... well, it's in the name really. When a sideshow worker is sold a mummified Egyptian slave girl by a con artist, Enoch believes he may finally have found love, and we get a bloody weird ending.

There's a depressive atmosphere hanging throughout the episode as we're shown the patrons accepting Enoch's horrific incarceration and the schemes of the show's managers, and it's all a build-up to the inevitable vengeful pay-off. Then they throw in an apparent origin story for the Crypt Keeper, depending how seriously you take these things.
"I've got a real nursery CRIME for you this time!" - The Crypt Keeper

Mute Witness to Murder (2x15) ***

I could have done with something a bit more upbeat after the last instalment, but this tale of murder and malpractice manages to be even more unsettling without any of the show's trademark humour. It's the first time I've eagerly awaited the Crypt Keeper's pun-infested closing segment, just to make the world seem a little less bleak.

After celebrating her anniversary and foolishly declaring how happy she is, a woman witnesses a murder, Rear Window style, in the apartment opposite, and is rendered mute by the shock. When her adoring husband calls for the local doctor, it turns out to be the same man she just saw finishing off his wife, a fact she's unable to communicate to her husband because they don't keep pens in the house. (I should have kept a scoreboard of wife vs. husband killings, I think they're about equal so far).

The dodgy doc has no intention of letting his patient recover enough to blab about what she saw, and the rest of the episode is a series of increasingly disturbing events where he recklessly covers his tracks and tries to keep the voices in his head at bay by popping pills. If this was the first episode I'd seen - a morbidly sombre tale bookended by stupid scenes with a cackling puppet - it wouldn't make a whole lot of sense.
"There's a villain with a heart... ATTACK, that is!" - The Crypt Keeper

Television Terror (2x16) ***

As I was watching, I wrote this episode off as a shameless rehash of the BBC's brilliant Ghostwatch Halloween SPOOK-tacular (oh god, it's infectious) but IMDB reveals that this was broadcast two years earlier. So maybe the blatant theft was the other way around and Ghostwatch wasn't quite as groundbreaking as it's touted to be. Still, this doesn't have a possessed Michael Parkinson, so it still loses.

I really like the premise - an egomaniacal trash TV host exploring a supposedly haunted house with the help of a psychic medium - but I couldn't help feeling it should have been done differently. The scene occasionally cuts to the deliberately lo-fi hand-held video being recorded by the in-show cameraman, and these badly focused, static-spoiled images of boring walls and staircases are a lot more potentially chilling than seeing an undead horde advancing towards the host on crisp film.

If they'd filmed the whole show in that style it would look a lot shoddier and redundant today, but would have been groundbreaking in its own way at the time. Unless The Blair Witch Project is another over-rated re-hash of an obscure TV episode that already did the found footage thing.
"He's a real SWINGER! He HANGS out in all the right places, no wonder he's such a hit on live... or is it DEAD TV?" - The Crypt Keeper

My Brother's Keeper (2x17) *****

It feels like there have been more episodes dealing with conjoined twins than there actually have been. It's just that these episodes tend to be among the most memorable.

This is the clear stand-out episode of the latter part of the season, correcting the imbalance of some earlier tales that forgot to soften the trauma with twisted humour. Admittedly, a lot of this humour comes from the difficulties faced by the twins in their daily lives, but it avoids being really disablist because the situations are all precipitated by one of the brothers, Eddie, being an absolute dick to his sibling Frank.

Needing his twin's signature for the risky separation procedure that could finally give them their sought-after freedom, Eddie doesn't hold back in making Frank's life hell, especially after Frank uncharacteristically meets someone who doesn't find his situation repulsive. Eddie doesn't shower for a week before their double date, glugs down alcohol to get his blood-sharing brother drunk and hires an S&M prostitute to satisfy his perverse cravings while Frank and his beloved are trying to have a romantic talk on the other side of the bed.

The twist this time is so surprising for being a happy ending... well, the happiest ending possible after the horrible events that preceded it. But compared to the likes of 'Mute Witness to Murder' it feels like the jolly ceremonial finale to Star Wars.
"I think you'll find it a TWINNING combination!" - The Crypt Keeper

The Secret (2x18) ***

This flat and rather tedious episode really picked up at the end and impressed me in several ways. First, the creeping gothic/Hammer atmosphere culminates in a chase through foggy woodland, which would be enough on its own, then there's one of the few genuinely unexpected twists the series has offered so far. One that makes no real sense in the context of anything, but at least let poor orphaned Theodore get the upper hand at last.

Just in case anyone reads this with the intention of watching the episode at some point I won't spoil things, but it feels like the writers took a deliberate step back in time to pen some horror fiction in the classic mould. Sometimes it's 'classic' in unfortunate ways though, like the ridiculous Grandpa Munster outfit of one of the vampires. Oh, damn.
"As one cow said to the other as they headed off to slaughter, til next we MEAT!" - The Crypt Keeper (Reaching a new low, this pun has nothing to do with anything that happened in the episode)

Loved to Death (3x01) ***

The grisly humour's still there as the third season kicks off with one of the few romantic tales they've tackled that isn't terrible. Struggling screenwriter Edward falls hopelessly in love with an actress living across the hall, Miranda (she was apparently in Superman IV, this is the calibre of performers we're dealing with these days), and is offered a love potion by their needlessly creepy landlord.

What the landlord doesn't tell him is that the potion will make his sweetheart obsessively, compulsively devoted to him until he's forced to make the problem go away. That was the twist you can see coming through the whole thing, but a brief epilogue in heaven adds another one that brings the nasty laughs to a crescendo.

The characters are as repugnant as ever and the episode's typically hateful to women, but we shouldn't take these things too seriously. It balances out when they throw in a castration every few episodes.
"Talk about head over heels!" - The Crypt Keeper

Carrion Death (3x02) ****

They seem compelled to convince us of this show's edginess this season, with some nipple slips in the last episode and some extreme gore here to test the stomach of even hardened horror fans. I'm all for it.

This feels like an instant classic of the series (there have been a few), and like most tales it's very simple in nature. An escaped serial killer turned bank robber, played by the excellent Kyle MacLachlan, is dashing to the Mexico border to escape the authorities when his plans are scuppered by a determined cop. Their chase across the beautifully desolate desert landscape culminates when the con shoots his adversary... only he should have done it before they became handcuffed and the cop swallowed the key.

The remainder of the episode sees the man forced to drag the corpse along with him as he edges ever closer to salvation. Do you think he gets there? Do you think that vulture's patiently hanging around for nothing? If this guy's supposed to be such a bloodthirsty killer, why doesn't he think about cutting the stomach open?

MacLachlan is pretty over-the-top, which is necessary for me to accept him in a villain role after the loveable Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks. He throws himself into the part with gusto, jabbering to himself throughout or occasionally directing his jibes and sarcasm at his reluctant companion and winged stalker. If you're waiting for the twist, things get very bloody very fast and then just keep on going. If you didn't find the episode remotely funny, your forays into this twisted series should really end here.
"Talk about flipping someone the bird!" - The Crypt Keeper

The Trap (3x03) ***

Another bloody life insurance scam episode. That really is the default when the writers (or is it the original comic writers?) have run out of ideas.

This might be the most pure and simple of the lot, as a greedy, ill-fated, wife-slapping loud-mouth plots to fake his own death for the insurance payout, aided by his brother who conveniently works in a morgue and can pronounce him dead. The plot is hatched, everything seems to go perfectly and then the whole thing is unravelled in Lou Palloma's stupid face.

There are a lot of familiar faces (with accompanying familiar voices) in this one that I couldn't name, with the glaring exception of Michael J Fox in a wasted cameo as a prosecutor. The characters are as simplistic and one-dimensional as the plot demands and the audience is well ahead of all the twists, so the enjoyment mainly lies in seeing the tyrant defeated. It's sort of a happy ending for the good guys, except that they knowingly send an innocent man to his death. For real this time. He slapped his wife around, he deserved it... right?
"The benefits are great, but the SCREAM-iums'll kill ya!" - The Crypt Keeper

Abra Cadaver (3x04) *****

I might have a new favourite episode, and for once it doesn't even feature Siamese twins. This is as quintessential as these tales get, piling on the twists from its sick birthday surprise opener to the big reveal near the end. And because that would leave things on an uncharacteristically upbeat note, they throw in another one for good measure to redress the balance and leave us feeling sick.

Tony Goldwyn plays an excellent corpse, who never blinks or flinches as various exaggeratedly jagged medical devices work away at his conscious cadaver. It's better than I expected in an episode with some of the worst visible boom mic oversights I've ever seen.

Beau Bridges is also great as his aggrieved brother, extracting the maximum possible vengeance through this elaborate test of an experimental drug. As usual I have unhelpful constructive criticism for an episode made more than 20 years ago - I just think it could have been even more successfully horrifying and disorienting to film the whole episode from the corpse's perspective, Peep Show style, rather than frequently switching back to the more comforting third person. But even with that concession to weak stomachs, this is exactly what I hoped this series would be like, and it manages it some of the time.
"A corpse by any other name would smell as sweet" - The Crypt Keeper (he's really not trying any more)

Top Billing (3x05) ***

Some very old-school twists in this one, from the opening "it's okay, they're just acting" reveal to the conclusion that's like something from a dark version of Scooby Doo, there are more signs than usual that it was adapted from a vintage horror comic.

It would be below average if it wasn't saved by great casting, which is often the case. Jon Lovitz, who I've seen in loads of things but can't place, is very fitting as a self-proclaimed talented actor whose generic looks keep him from getting the star roles. We're on his side until he kills a guy, but if you think he's going to make it out of this alive I can only presume you haven't watched any of the previous 28 episodes. Is that all there's been? I'm not even half-way through yet, but I have a bad feeling most of the classics are already behind me.

There are even minor roles for Kimmy 'the ditzy one from Twin Peaks' Robertson and Louise 'Kai Winn' Fletcher, just to make sure literally everyone gets a cameo in this series at some point.
"The critics would have cut him to pieces!" - The Crypt Keeper

Dead Wait (3x06) ***

The producers were evidently pretty pleased with the casting coup of Whoopi Goldberg at the height of her fame, so she even gets a post-tale segment with the Crypt Keeper in which she exposes some of his terrible puns. Whoopi's role in the actual story is minor but pivotal, though I can't be the only one disappointed that they once again fell back on the cliche that black people are into voodoo. At least they don't make her put on an accent.

Speaking of phony accents, John Rhys-Davies also gets star billing for his turn as a 'French' plantation owner and priceless pearl possessor, while the actual lead, James Remar, is conspicuously bumped to the end credits. There's also some model who vainly goes by the singular Vanity and gets 'em out at one point, which will be of interest to the teen demographic.

Kids should also enjoy the gore, which is impressive and uncompromising even by this series' own standards. If it wasn't for the gore and the talent, this would be a seriously bad episode, so I guess those things make a big difference - take a look at the bipolar first season for confirmation.
"Looking for a little HELL-iday fun?" - The Crypt Keeper

The Reluctant Vampire (3x07) ****

A rare light-hearted episode with a surprisingly upbeat ending, this works as a welcome contrast to some of the nastier, bloodier episodes of the season. Not that it's lacking in blood, as our undead protagonist sates his hunger with a convenient job as night watchman at a blood bank, meaning he's spared that unpleasant killing business. Until his boss discovers someone's been tampering with the books and he's forced to start killing criminals to survive, casting himself as a vigilante hero in the process.

It's as goofy as it sounds, and they go overboard on vampire-related puns and gags throughout the episode that are actually good, before the Crypt Keeper comes along and reliably ruins this winning streak in the outro. Made before things like Buffy made vampires trendy and Twilight spoiled them for a generation or two, classic vampire tropes are played for laughs in ways I've only seen bettered in Count Duckula.

True, Malcolm McDowell coasts along on his voice alone, horror veteran Michael Berryman coasts along on his weird face alone and Norm from Cheers is the least threatening villain of the entire series, but if you're a fan of this series' lighter moments you should find plenty to enjoy. It's also refreshing to see 42-year-old Sandra 'Trillian' Dickinson being presented as an appropriately aged object of lust for vampires and humans alike in a series that's been heading in an increasingly titty direction this year.
"Now that's a relationship they can SINK THEIR TEETH into!" - The Crypt Keeper

Easel Kill Ya (3x08) ***

There isn't much humour to be scavenged from this depressing episode. Tim Roth is well-cast as a struggling artist, recovering alcoholic and spontaneous murderer who reluctantly concedes to a relationship with an over-optimistic woman who thinks she can change him.

After building a credible world for the first half, the story loses some of this believability when it introduces a rich collector of morbid art who essentially commissions the artist to record his fresh kills on canvas. Then the two plots converge and our anti-hero grows a heart because the drama requires it. Then there's a clearly signposted twist ending to remind you this is basically a moving comic.
"Another morbid masterpiece sure to paint you into a CORONER!" - The Crypt Keeper

Undertaking Palor (3x09) ***

Here's a glimpse of what a kid version of this show would be like, if it was still made for an adult audience. Alright, a predominantly teenage audience and a few immature, gore-obsessed, pun-loving adults.

After introducing our hapless, sweary teenage heroes with a frightening prank, the quartet decides to make use of the rich kid's camcorder by sneaking into the local funeral parlour and looking at the corpses. Because they're normal, well-rounded boys. In doing so, they covertly uncover a sinister scheme involving the mortician and the local pharmacist, and our foolishly fearless heroes take on the role of vigilantes against these insane and dangerous men who clearly wouldn't have a moral issue with murdering a minor.

I can't help feeling the disappointing non-ending was a result of pressure from above - even though this is HBO where supposedly anything goes, this show might have finally revealed its limits when it comes to on-screen child butchering. But apart from that, it's a very tense and enjoyable episode that I spent most of futilely shouting at the young idiots for not taking their evidence to the police.

It also makes nice use of extended lo-fi hand-held sequences, which I criticised the earlier episode 'Television Terror' for not doing enough. Maybe they can hear me after all...
"How would you like to shake hands with a dead man?" - Jess

Mournin' Mess (3x10) ***

I didn't predict such a daft ending for an episode that was taking itself pretty seriously until the guy discovered a trap-door in a grave leading to a sinister subterranean lair. Though the acronym of the Grateful Homeless Outcasts Unwanted Layaway Society should have been a clue.

The latest in a long line of unlikeable protagonists is a hard-drinking, woman-hating reporter who loses his job just as he sniffs out the case of his ex-career. There are no prizes for deducing that there are dark depths to the philanthropic Grateful Homeless spokeswoman, but the mystery of the homeless killer goes a little deeper than that. About six feet deeper.
"He's found himself a new career... as a GHOST-writer!" - The Crypt Keeper

Split Second (3x11) ****

Call me a tedious feminist, but it's always encouraging when women get more to do in these tales than just be screeching victims. Though actress Michelle Johnson still gets 'em out on demand, throwing herself into the role of a bargirl-turned-housewife who jumps on a handsome and helpfully naive new recruit at her husband's logging camp to alleviate her boredom. She might have gotten away with it too, if her husband wasn't a murderously jealous psychopath.

Try not to get prematurely excited by the opening credits in this one: no, the music wasn't by that Brian May, and it wasn't written by that Richard Matheson (it's his son). And despite looking like the type of generically handsome actor who'd go from these humble origins to super-stardom in the years ahead (Brad Pitt's coming up next season), it seems Billy Worth's biggest roles were already behind him at this point.

Still, Brion James is in it, and he's really the perfect fit for this show, making full use of those convincingly crazy eyes that served him well in Blade Runner and other dark science fiction of the 80s and 90s. His characters are so easy to despise that once our innocent victim is blinded and handed a chainsaw, the inevitable bloody conclusion can't come fast enough.
"He's always wanted final CUT, and that's exactly what he's getting!" - The Crypt Keeper

Deadline (3x12) **

Didn't we just do one about a struggling reporter with a drink problem? There are no human-hungry ghouls in this more straightforward tale of love, murder and desperation, but it's also lacking any stand-out touches.

I'm not normally someone who's impressed by celebrity cameos, but this series has got me so used to seeing familiar faces and early 90s B-listers that the episodes without them feel more like admissions of inadequacy. One of the least essential tales.
"Perhaps now they'll let him write for the paper's HORROR-scope column!" - The Crypt Keeper

Spoiled (3x13) **

It's a good thing they had their failed spin-off pilot to draw from next time, so this lacklustre tale didn't close the season on a low point. The first few minutes are excusably awful once the melodrama is revealed to be a show-within-the-show, but the main plot of a bored, TV-obsessed, horny-as-hell housewife being spurned by her preoccupied husband and seducing the cable guy isn't much better.

I'm afraid I've spoiled the big reveal ending with the screencap as the husband gets his revenge (never cheat on a mad scientist), but it's really the only saving grace in a story littered with visual and verbal innuendos that get really tiring after the first twenty. Sometimes the writers' sense of humour really hits the spot for me, other times it really falls short. It's late period X-Files all over again.
"Talk about being stuck on each other!" - The Crypt Keeper

Yellow (3x14) ****

If this doesn't feel anything like established Tales from the Crypt episodes, it's because it originally wasn't. The stand-out tale of the creators' failed spin-off pilot based on the Two-Fisted Tales comic book line, it's double the length of regular episodes and relentlessly serious in tone, aided by some star cast and crew that are impressive even by this series' standards. I wonder if I would have liked it more if I didn't know its origins and just thought they decided to try something really different for the season finale, rather than just recycling and repackaging an expensive failure. I like it enough regardless.

I doubt the series will ever again be as classy as it is here, with a leading role by Kirk Douglas as a hard-line army general opposite his cowardly son played by his real-life son. No, not Michael Douglas, the other one. What, you've never heard of Eric Douglas? He... was probably in some other things. Dan Aykroyd's in it too, being surprisingly non-goofy (but he still has that face), and Lance Henriksen makes a welcome return. The Back to the Future team of Robert Zemeckis directing and Alan Silvestri composing also helps this to feel authentically like a war film rather than an instalment in a horror anthology cable series. It looks fantastic.

Set in American trenches somewhere in France towards the end of the Great War, this is a far cry from Blackadder Goes Forth, but despite playing it straight there's still a twist of sorts as the yeller lieutenant realises where his father's true loyalties lie. This isn't an episode I'd revisit for a cheap thrill, but it's something to show people if you want to convince them there's more to this series than a cackling puppet, entrails and breasts. They'd be very confused if they moved on to any other episode ever, which are mainly about that.
"No guts, no GORY!" - The Crypt Keeper

None But the Lonely Heart (4x01) ***

This feels similar in tone to the previous season opener and we're unfortunately back to greedy tycoons marrying and murdering for profit who eventually get their comeuppance. This time the pay-off is worth waiting for at least, with a ghoulish parade of brides in increasing states of decay that's sure to terrify any children with parents irresponsible/cool enough to let them watch this nightmare fodder. If only my family had had cable.

I'm not sure other shows would have been so restrained as to shove the prestigious Tom Hanks to fourth place in the billing, even if his character does only get a few lines before ending up with his head in a TV.
"I had a feeling Effie would win Howard's heart... not to mention his spleen, his kidneys and his gall bladder!" - The Crypt Keeper

This'll Kill Ya (4x02) **

A framing device within the framing device makes us intrigued to see why this man believes he's dying, until we go to the flashback and deduce it immediately. This could have been a decent episode - alright, a distinctly average one - if the cast exerted any emotions at all. It's especially disappointing after the blood-curdling screaming finale to the last episode.

It's another reality-bound tale devoid of paranormal activity, which is no bad thing, but its tight focus on the careers and personal relationships of three scientists leaves me not caring very much about the outcome, especially as I've seen it already. There's still the obligatory twist in the tale, of course, but even that hinges on you giving a care about any of these characters.

It also doesn't help that the 'H cell' they're developing sounds uncomfortably like 'AIDS cell.'
"Now that's what I call well-HUNG!" - Even the Crypt Keeper's bookending stings have no relevance to the plots any more

On a Deadman's Chest (4x03) ***

A second episode featuring paranormal goings-on in the world of generic 90s hard rock, at least no genuine bands had to disgrace themselves this time, though apparently there are cameos from some guys who had something to do with the music scene back then. I'm into some pretty bad music, but I still didn't recognise them.

More noticeable is Tia Carrere, fresh from Wayne's World, as a Yoko Ono figure threatening to tear the band apart. Still, I don't think that really called for such a violent death. This is one of their nastier episodes with its abusive, violent and unhinged lead, and also pushes the soft porn angle further than ever with extended full frontal nudity and some pretty shocking (presumably simulated) violent humping. Now they've crossed the pubic hair and ball-bag line, is there any going back for this series?

There is a horror story lurking in the depths of this gratuitous episode as the band's desperate frontman gets a tattoo that bears his soul, or something like that. The precise science behind it isn't adequately explained. I'm not sure why the dragon comes alive and bursts out of his chest either. Worst of all, we're not even treated to a horrific death scene for one of the most despicable characters ever to grace these tales, which is really saying something.

Not an episode I could recommend in good conscience, but it's not one you'll forget either.
"Any day now, they'll be appearing on America's CHOP 40!" - The Crypt Keeper

Seance (4x04) **

Another episode about scammers that ends with a ghastly paranormal visitation (4x01), this one also makes use of the story-within-the-story-within-the-story gimmick (4x02) but there are no gratuitous tits and scrotum flashes (4x03).

Have they done fraudulent mediums before? It feels like the sort of thing they've probably done, but even this is shoved to the end in favour of a less captivating blackmail scheme. I might end up just skipping to the last two minutes of future episodes, that's where they keep the good bits.
"Two DEADS are better than one!" - The Crypt Keeper

Beauty Rest (4x05) **

Here's another conspicuous re-tread of an episode from the same point last season, but with the doomed, struggling male actor substituted with a doomed, struggling female actor and her fatal big break coming not in a play but a beauty pageant, because that's what women are for.

It really is exactly the same plot as 'Top Billing' as the jealous failure played by Mimi "The Unpopular Agent Fowley in The X-Files" Rogers murders her unjustly successful rival and schemes her way into the star role only for it to inevitably involve her necessary death. I would have found the ending funny if they hadn't done more or less the same joke several times by now, and since I've spoiled it for you, you don't need to watch it anyway.

Oh dear, am I on the downward slope already?
"Talk about an OPENING night!" - The Crypt Keeper

What's Cookin' (4x06) ***

Welcome back, sense of humour! You know what this episode's going to be about before it even begins, and the 'twists' are similarly non-surprising, but it's an entertaining journey featuring the likes of Meat Loaf and a distinctly not bothering Christopher Reeve who seems happy to take the money and get it over with (he'd already been through Superman IV by this point).

The execution of this old chestnut premise is about as realistic as the average Tale, in that the characters don't act anything like people actually would, but the lacklustre performances and jaunty soundtrack treat it with just the right level of disdain for it to be enjoyable in a campy way.

The plot concerns a couple's struggles to corner the market with their ill-advised squid-only restaurant and their salvation by Gaston the shady cleaner, who has access to a "special" meat source that the whole town gets a taste for. If you saw series two of The League of Gentlemen, this is the same but less scary.
"I guess that's what happens when you BUTCHER money where your mouth is!" - The Crypt Keeper

The New Arrival (4x07) ***

You could call this show many things, but 'scary' isn't usually one of them. There have been a few shock endings and unpredictable characters capable of spontaneous violence, but most of the time the tongue-in-cheek approach makes the macabre situations enjoyable in an Addams Family kind of way.

This is an exception, thanks to genuinely creepy sets that might even have given classic haunted house films like The Haunting a run for their money if they'd had a bigger budget and more time to fully explore the bubblegum-and-cobweb-strewn halls of Nora and Felicity's dysfunctional family home. There might also have been some residual childhood fear of spooky characters wearing THAT MASK, which I'll talk more about when I get round to watching Chiller again.

The actual plot is typically light, featuring David "What Kept You?" Warner as a child psychologist whose arrogance leads him to make a house call on his radio show's most unhinged regular caller. It's a shame we didn't see more of Robert "Doggett" Patrick as his mismatched station-mate, they had a nice Alan Partridge / Tony Clifton rivalry going on.
"The MORGUE the merrier!" - The Crypt Keeper

Showdown (4x08) ****

Another historical horror culled from the failed Two-Fisted Tales pilot, this fits in a lot better with the series' established style than 'Yellow' before it, thanks to a temporary ghost/time travel diversion. And while it doesn't have the same level of class as that earlier trench-based episode, this trip to the Old West still looks and sounds great.

Maybe I'm just easily impressed when writers have a crack at genres I'm not so familiar with, but I do generally enjoy Western episodes when they're played grim rather than goofy (Back to the Future Part III gets away with it). This begins as your straightforward cop vs. outlaw chase across desert wilderness and ghost towns, but soon turns into something much stranger as Billy's victims come back to haunt him and he experiences a strange vision of a future where the town has become a sterile tourist attraction and his own demise is used as a tale to frighten kids.

You wouldn't know this was originally made for a show designed to be consciously different from this one, the main difference being that more effort has clearly been put into it than most others this season. The same can't be said for the next offender...
"Talk about a SICK shooter!" - The Crypt Keeper

King of the Road (4x09) *

The final segment salvaged from Two-Fisted Tales and repackaged with a completely irrelevant Crypt Keeper intro and outro tagged on, I don't know how this was supposed to fit into this series or even in its original form, sandwiched between the dark historical outings 'Showdown' and 'Yellow.' Nothing about it is any good, certainly not soon-to-be-superstar Brad Pitt in an uninspiring early appearance.

Pitt plays a reckless young man with a passion for drag racing and penchant for random acts of insanity. That's as far as we get to know him. He tracks down the legendary Iceman, the king of the road in times past until he accidentally got another driver killed. Now a cop and family man following the right path, it takes the kidnapping of his daughter to convince the Iceman to come out of retirement for one more race...

I don't care. This is the worst episode they've done. I'd say it's the low point of the whole series, but I've only just crossed the half-way point and I'm not feeling optimistic.
"I just love the SLIME-light!" - The Crypt Keeper

Maniac at Large (4x10) ***

A return to humdrum form with this claustrophobic, presumably money-saving SuspenStory set in the dimly lit halls of a public library. It's one of their classier episodes, not relying on the guts and tits we've come to expect but building tension instead as a vulnerable librarian is left to mind the building after closing time, despite there being a serial killer on the prowl.

There's a creepy red herring in the form of Adam Ant's bookworm who displays an unnatural fascination with killers, as well as the naturally intimidating presence of two cast members who'd go on to play Dominion villains in Deep Space Nine, but the real identity of the murderer is the last person you'd expect. Unless you've ever watched an episode of this show before or any other horror series that prides itself on plot twists.

The dull library setting actually works to its advantage, though it's not as effective as the creepy bubblegum corridors a few episodes previously. I enjoyed their attempts to depict teen gangs too, as tykes who cause minor disturbances in libraries and carve their pathetically unimaginative gang name into desks. This was the year of the L.A. riots after all.
"There goes the neigh-BOO-hood!" - The Crypt Keeper

Split Personality (4x11) *****

You have to admire the clout these executive producers have with Hollywood - when they want a Joe Pesci type character actor to cuss and angst his way through the plot, they don't settle for anything less than the real thing. Pesci's performance is one of the most memorable in the whole series, turning what could have been a run-of-the-mill dark comedy episode into one of the all-time classics.

A disproportionate percentage of the best episodes deal with twins. This time it's not the conjoined variety, but these lonely heiresses to a billionaire fortune are still pretty creepy regardless. When Pesci's swindler runs into them by chance, he concocts a scheme to marry both of the sisters and worm his way into 100% of the fortune by inventing his own twin brother, who very conveniently visits only when he's out of town. Strange that, though the world-unwise twins never question it. However, it turns out gullibility is the least of their psychological issues.

This isn't the first time a quality actor has sold the story above and beyond its flimsy foundations, though there's a criminally insane logic to how the plot develops that I appreciate.
"DEADS I win, tails you OOZE!" - The Crypt Keeper

Strung Along (4x12) ***

We haven't had a creepy puppet episode for a while, and this one has all the cliches - at first it's not clear whether Coco the Clown is alive or if it's just in the old puppeteer's head, later there's a scheme involving animatronics to pretend it's alive, and finally our villains end up hanging lifeless from strings operated by a cackling mannequin.

They don't go all-out wacky with this, and you do end up caring for this old man, struggling to make ends meet in a world that no longer has use for his archaic art. The set decorators and prop team also make commendable effort to convince us that these old shows were a real part of TV history, with fading posters and 'archive' footage.

But I can't take any episode too seriously when the entire scheme of the villains relies on their victim being so shocked by an implausible sight that he has a heart attack and dies.
"Now that's what I call PAIN in full!" - The Crypt Keeper being irrelevant again

Werewolf Concerto (4x13) ***

Then-current Bond, Timothy Dalton, is this week's special guest star, and he throws himself into the role with more gusto than it arguably deserves. This episode is set in a remote mountain hotel and looks great, and there's a larger ensemble of diverse characters than is the norm for these tales, each one a potential suspect as the news is broken (and oddly accepted) that there's a werewolf on the prowl, picking off guests one by one.

It's a nice set-up, but the plot soon falls apart and doesn't really make any sense. I don't know what I'm supposed to make of the final twist, but even the red herring thrown to us earlier on concerning a Nazi war criminal comes out of nowhere and ends up having nothing to do with anything. I don't understand why these people aren't panicking, what any of their motivations are, what the deal is with the pianist or how a full moon lasts for four nights and counting.

One of the mistakes they seem to make in this one is cramming too many things in. Watching this series often feels claustrophobic and overly personal as you only see events happening to three or four people, but here there's a veritable Cluedo of suspects, even if most of us know the culprits all along. Though admittedly, we didn't expect there to also be a vampire for no reason.
"Now I agree that every bit of evidence leads to only one conclusion: a werewolf. But your panic is premature..." - Carl Rechek

Curiosity Killed (4x14) **

There are no cats in this, but there is one hungry dog that plays a more critical role than you'd assume from its minimal introduction. Still, in a self-contained 20-minute horror tale, you shouldn't ignore anything.

Take the unconvincing aged make-up of Margot "Lois Lane from the Good Old Days" Kidder and her companions on a senior camping trip, which yells out that this is going to be some sort of fountain of youth episode. As we got closer to the finale and Decrepit Margot hadn't de-aged yet, I thought it might have all been an elaborate joke - hire a recognisable Hollywood star only to disguise her in unflattering make-up for the entire episode, I could respect that. Instead, Regular Age Margot only gets a brief scene that makes you wonder if they really couldn't just have cast an old woman who looked sort of like her.

As a season finale, this is no 'Yellow.' It's one of those episodes I would have forgotten instantly if I didn't force myself to write these, and it's down there with the worst of the lot. They obviously couldn't even think of an ending, and I wasn't delighted to see the return of black people who are naturally into arcane voodoo mysticism either. I thought we'd be spared that for at least one season.
"Don't worry about me, it only HEARSE when I laugh!" - The Cryptkeeper. (I don't know what's going on with those bits any more, he's up to different things in both parts and he tries to pass off 'BORE' as a horror pun at one point. How many seasons to go?)

Death of Some Salesmen (5x01) ****

This is the best season opener they've had in a while. It's one of the few that would actually encourage me to bother tuning in again next time if I'd been watching back in 1993 and hadn't been eight years old at the time. Yeah, okay, I probably would have liked it even more back then.

From the onset, it's clear that this repulsive salesman has to die. He uses women and makes his living scamming the recently deceased into putting down payments on fictional burial plots, but his dastardly schemes come to an end when he calls at the run-down house of a family that looks like someone left Grant Wood's American Gothic in a mouldy loft for a few decades. The mother, father and amusingly repulsive daughter all look unnervingly similar, which they should as they're all played by Tim Curry, who typically throws himself into the roles.

Don't settle down assuming the reveal of the other titular dead salesmen will be held for the shocking conclusion, as they don't waste any time in demonstrating the morbid poetic justice granted to each disreputable seller who came knocking, intertwined as they are with various domestic appliances. These incestuous killers have a dark humorous streak, granted, but would you really keep a head in the microwave forever just so someone can chance across it and be terrified? As usual, it's best not to treat these characters like real people and just delight in the unpleasantness of it all.
"Just another satisfied GHOST-omer!" - The Crypt Keeper

As Ye Sow (5x02) ***

An unhinged performance from Hector Elizondo and stylish directing from Kyle MacLachlan (sadly my man crush doesn't feature) sell what would otherwise be a by-the-numbers tale of suspected marital infidelity and fatal mistaken identity. In less capable hands, this could easily have ended up on the pile with all those dull inheritance/insurance scam episodes, though stupid viewers might be confused by what's actually going on as the paranoid Leo hallucinates his worst fears around him.

Patsy Kensit's in it too, looking nice but not doing much else, and I was prematurely excited at the prospect of a starring role for Adam "Official Batman" West until he disappeared after the opening scene.
"Talk about a pain in the APSE!" - The Crypt Keeper. This church-specific gag might be his best pun ever, being the only one not chosen at random from The Bumper Book of Halloween Jokes

Forever Ambergris (5x03) ****

They really didn't hold back in this episode, which is always appreciated, featuring Steve Buscemi's already melty face melting off, eyeballs and all, and The Who's Roger Daltrey in a softcore sex scene you didn't really want to see. He wasn't quite as old back then, at least.

In a parallel to their respective acting abilities, Daltrey plays a once revered war photographer past his prime who can't really cut it opposite Buscemi. The old master deviously encourages his protogee to head deep into the jungle to photograph the gruesome remains left by the latest in chemical warfare, but fails to inform his aspiring rival that he'll become contaminated himself.

If you were to strip it down to its core elements, this is the same jealous murder cover-up and revenge plot they've told countless times already, but it's the way it's distastefully packaged that sells it. I love that the guy from The Who's in it, even if no one would contest that he wails better than he acts, the jungle combat setting is a welcome break from the city and there's all the gratuitous gore and tits regular viewers have come to depend on.
"She got herself a job and started modelling... for Vic-GORE-ia's Secrets!" The Crypt Keeper

Food for Thought (5x04) ***

Another pereseasonal carnival episode, this one will be remembered most vividly by a large proportion of the audience as the one where Siamese twins shower each other/themself, while most people's shorthand will be the one where Ernie Hudson goes completely mental. Time will tell which category I fall into.

I've only seen Hudson playing likeable everymen before, which made his psychotic, telepathic, culinarily obsessed clown even more disturbing as he victimises Joan Chen, who you might remember as the only non-Caucasian character in Twin Peaks. Once again this is all superficial gloss/grime over a pretty basic love story, but this show does surface almost as well as it handles innards.

I should mention the Crypt Keeper segments too, which have got noticeably better this season and started to involve more characters/victims. Naturally, the quality of his puns hasn't improved a bit. The episode's title ends up being much funnier than anything in his repertoire.
"They don't call me the tooth SCARY for nothing!" - The Crypt Keeper

People Who Live in Brass Hearses (5x05) ***

Stand-out performances from Bill Paxton and Brad Dourif as a vengeful ex-con and his dim-witted younger brother whose incompetence stunningly screws up the least ambitious corporate robbery in TV history when they rip off the ice cream factory they used to work for.

It might be the absurdly small scale that made this episode fly by much quicker than they normally do, but even if it's not the most gripping plot they've ever done, it's a contender for one of the all-time greatest plot twists. Not only will you not see it coming, you'll wonder why they even thought to include it. I also enjoyed Paxton's character's butter cravings - prison can mess you up, I guess.
"Two DEADS are better than one!" - The Crypt Keeper (he may have used this one already)

Two for the Show (5x06) ****

When this Tale started out with former jailbait porn star Traci Lords confessing infidelity to her husband and being violently murdered, I sighed at the prospect of another one of those types of episodes. But it quickly turns into one of the tensest bits of TV I've seen since Breaking Bad, as a cop responds to a neighbour's call about overheard screams and decides to keep a very, very close eye on the suspicious husband.

Even before the excellent twist ending that makes more sense of the detective's personal interest in the case, watching these two characters interact in close quarters - played by David Paymer and Vincent Spano, names that ordinarily mean nothing to me but they deserve the credit - is almost unbearable. I was too stressed out to know which one I should be rooting for.

I was prepared for a gradual decline in quality as these seasons dragged on, but it hasn't been this consistently good since the early days. There's hope for more classic SLICES yet!
"Take my LIFE, please!" - The Crypt Keeper. He's a stand-up comedian this week, it has nothing to do with the plot. Yes, he does make the "dying on stage" joke

House of Horror (5x07) ***

The supernatural creeps back in for an atmospheric haunted house story featuring suitably loathsome frat boys. One of them's played by Wil Wheaton, who you might know as the similarly loathsome teenager whose science projects saved Captain Picard's Enterprise every other week, and I'm very sorry to report that he doesn't die brutally. You can put your tissues away (they were for your tears, obviously).

It's basically a bloody episode of Scooby Doo, but it's inoffensive haunted house fun and if you don't like that I have no idea why you're watching a series that opens every episode with a tour of a Gothic mansion in arguably too much detail.
"I know they say that college costs an arm and a leg, but this is ridiculous!" - The Crypt Keeper

Well Cooked Hams (5x08) ***

Billy Zane shows up in a lot of early 90s TV (he was in Twin Peaks too), and here he plays a disreputable magician who makes up for lack of talent by stealing other people's acts. He makes sure to kill them first to avoid potential copyright issues.

As his latest pilfered trick involves miraculously escaping from a box stabbed by swords and splashed with corrosive acid, you don't get a biscuit for correctly guessing what the 'shock' ending will be. Nor the other 'shock' ending in which the characters that look like Martin Sheen in beards and old man make-up are revealed to all be the same man, as played by Martin Sheen in beards and old man make-up.
"If at first you don't succeed, DIE, DIE again!" - The Crypt Keeper

Creep Course (5x09) ****

Oh yeah, they haven't done mummies yet, have they?

In the inevitable Ancient Egyptian artefacts coming to life episode, Jeffrey Jones excels as a pointlessly evil Egyptology professor and owner of authentic living dead tomb. He recruits a jock student who's struggling with the course in his bloodthirsty scheme, with the promise of securing him a passing grade. What? It could happen. I've told you before, don't try to rationalise what these characters do by the standards of real people.

Their victim is the class nerd, who's undesirable in that TV nerd way that means she's completely beautiful. She eventually turns the tables on the professor thanks to her diligent studies and knowledge of Ancient Egyptian culture and it's all pretty stupid, but fun stupid. That last joke in particular is a KILLER! Sorry, it's contagious.
"NEFRA say NEFRA again!" - The Crypt Keeper experiments with topical material again

Came the Dawn (5x10) ****

It's a sure sign you've watched too many Tales from the Crypt episodes when you make a sarcastic wager on the least likely candidate turning out to be the shadowy murderer at the end and it turns out they went with your idea. Then when the script makes a point of lingering on a particular decorative weapon in the banquet hall, you'll have your complete Cluedo solution down pat by the second act.

Brooke Shields is tonight's femme fatale and is so obviously signposted as the murderer that there's no way that could possibly turn out to be the case, unless they were pulling a double bluff on viewers who'd watched too many crime shows.

I don't have many notes for this one beyond pointing out that Brooke Shields is supernaturally beautiful, which you were no doubt already aware of. Have patience with those of us who weren't pubic in the early 90s, we have a lot of catching up to do and this silly horror show is surprisingly good education.
"I've always wanted to join the Mile DIE Club!" - The Crypt Keeper

Oil's Well That Ends Well (5x11) **

The minor role for John "The Crypt Keeper" Kassir is the most interesting thing about this otherwise dreary episode, which harks back to some of the dull swindling plots of season two mixed with a little of season four's hatred of women.

This regular Bonnie and Clyde (Priscilla Presley and Lou Diamond Phillips) graduate from faking deaths for inheritance to faking an oil find, piquing the interest of some local gullible businessmen to gain their trust and capital. After that, there's a couple of twists and turns as people are revealed to be working with other people and not really dead after all, but as it ends with a big explosion and everyone dies I can't see how any of that really mattered.
"Talk about FLAME and fortune!" - The Crypt Keeper

Half-Way Horrible (5x12) **

Looks like they really shoved the stinkers to the end of the season. This one combines two of my least favourite types of Crypt stories - corporate slimeballs getting their comeuppance and brown people doing voodoo. This time it's a fictional Brazilian rainforest tribe that's tarred with the 'scary, supernatural foreigners' brush as an eerie substance native to their habitat is sought by a dark-hearted entrepreneur for its potential in the food industry.

A zombie shows up to exact revenge from beyond the grave (we've done this), but that's only a temporary distraction as the real story is about the despicable lead destroying his own Mr Hyde dark side, something he manages with passable make-up effects that nevertheless feel lacking in the wake of modern CGI-enhanced human cross sections in the likes of Breaking Bad. A voodoo doll shows up briefly for appearance's sake.
"Zombie or not zombie?" - The Crypt Keeper

Till Death Do We Part (5x13) ***

This isn't the first time a below par episode has been saved at literally the last minute by a twist ending that doesn't necessarily justify the drivel you've just sat through, but is at least a sort of apology. This one has the added advantage of being ambiguous as to whose thoughts we were seeing exactly - the femme fatale desperately daydreaming an 'Owl Creek Bridge' style happy ending or her executioner weighing up his options and coming down on the side of his adopted mob family?

There are treats for TV sci-fi fans at least, with a starring role for the enduringly beautiful Kate Vernon (Ellen Tigh in Battlestar Galactica) and a smaller part for Robert Picardo, best known for playing the only decent character in Star Trek: Voyager, as a sinisterly polite hitman. John Stamos is the male lead - he was apparently in ER and some other things that are too regular for me to know about.

Sadly, this is another Tale that combines some of the worst aspects of the series for me, with its love plot I couldn't care less about and degrading victimisation of women. If it wasn't for that final twist, this would feel like it belonged in an ill-fated Crime SuspenStories spin-off, and for once they even shy away from showing all the gore on screen. What a rip-off!
"Now that's meatloaf!" - Lucy Chadwick

Let the Punishment Fit the Crime (6x01) ***

Season openers have been a mixed bag so far, and this inoffensive but insubstantial episode keeps up the tradition. I like the atmosphere and the customary mix of horror and comedy, even if it's not particularly scary or funny, and to its credit it feels more authentic to the horror comic/short story tradition from whence it came. I've just come to prefer Crypt's more modern take on that.

The story involves a despicable injury lawyer type finding herself trapped in a provincial town where cruel and unusual punishments are dispensed for the most minor of infractions, depending on the whims of insane judges. Catherine O'Hara (the irresponsible mother from Home Alone) plays the angry lawyer in her typical raging way, with Peter MacNicol (Vigo's snivelling sidekick in Ghostbusters 2) as her inept attorney.

There's actually quite a lot to like about this one, from the claustrophobic setting making the prospect of escape even less likely to the curiosity of the judges looking identical and apparently being "brothers," which made at least this one viewer wonder whether it was just the same guy adding another layer of psychological screwing. Less impressive is the twist ending that just doesn't seem true to character and the appearance of ghouls for the sake of it, reminding us that lawyers can be cold-hearted sometimes, as if we didn't know.
"Talk about trial and TERROR!" - The Crypt Keeper

Only Skin Deep (6x02) ***

After a fairly traditional episode, we're back to dingy sets, disturbing characters and graphic violence and sex. Welcome back!

I can imagine this being one of the more difficult episodes for casual viewers to get through, especially if they've had experience of domestic violence or sexual abuse. The reveal of the masked woman's human face collection feels like light relief in comparison.

Sherrie Rose plays the masked woman, who would have scared the life out of me if I'd watched this as a child when I had a think about masked people, but I probably would have been a bit shocked by the nudity too. The actress previously appeared in very similar scenes in the earlier episode 'On a Deadman's Chest,' using her actual face that time, so I guess she's typecast already. Apparently she's in one of the films too, so I guess I have another aggressive sex scene to look forward to.
"I guess that's one way to WEAR a guy out!" - The Crypt Keeper

Whirlpool (6x03) *

Oh god, they did it. They finally really did it. God damn you all to hell!

This episode started out promisingly with the comedy talent of Richard Lewis and Rita Rudner behind it, but then it starts spinning down the toilet at an accelerating rate before we're hit with the final 'twist' that it was aaaaaaaall just a story. Well, then something else happens to suggest they're still in the story/dream/holodeck, it's basically been done before by everything ever.

Other things that have been done before include a character reliving the same day over and over (Groundhog Day is the most obvious example) and setting a story in the offices of the Tales from the Crypt comic itself, which I thought was a very nice touch when they first did it back in season two. The only reason this scrapes above other bottom of the barrel episodes like 'King of the Road' is for the self-deprecating stabs at previous plots from the series and an admission of the declining quality in general, which looks like it might be depressingly apt.

It's a shame, I was really enjoying this series. Still, they've bounced back before...
"Talk about character assassination!" - The Crypt Keeper

Operation Friendship (6x04) **

It's always disappointing when you start speculating on the twist ending and the one they end up going with is much less satisfying. Maybe it'll turn out Eddie isn't the imaginary friend after all, but the one doing the imagining? Maybe the attractive new neighbour who unrealistically happens to be a psychologist and interested in him will turn out to be part of the delusion? Maybe it'll be Fight Club before Fight Club and 'imaginary' Eddie has been seeing her behind his back? Nah, he'll just confusingly 'kill' the dominant personality and take over his life at the end.

Episodes with twins and doubles have had a habit of being unfairly good in the past, but this one shatters the tradition. The violence and gore is sacrificed in favour of comedy, which would be fine if it was actually funny. They could have gone further in making wacky imaginary Eddie wackier - this was the year The Mask came out, and he feels like a low rent imitation. They could have done many things.
"I just love EYES fishing!" - The Crypt Keeper. He's literally fishing for eyes, just so he can justify making that weak pun. It's probably the best part of the episode

Revenge is the Nuts (6x05) **

Another depressingly bland episode, this time victimising blind people for the most part as the needlessly cruel owner of a dilapidated home for the blind (Anthony Zerbe) plays wicked pranks and demands sexual favours from the inmates in return for basic necessities like heat and food.

The tables are inevitably turned at the end and we get something approaching a happy ending, but a frustrating black-out robs us of our victory. What the hell, guys? Did you run out of budget for blood and rubber entrails this week? Is that why this "home for the blind" consists of just two rooms and a corridor?

Things are getting desperate when I feel the need to praise the cinematography and music. I guess the dingy blue filters enhanced the depressive atmosphere, and the conventional horror score by Ulrich Sinn (never going to hear that name again) is fitting or something. If you're thinking of watching this series, I wouldn't bother past season five.
"One little problem and he goes right to pieces!" - The Crypt Keeper. I'm sure he's used that one before

The Bribe (6x06) ***

The excellent Terry O'Quinn adds another disillusioned tragic character to his filmography, though his fall from upstanding moral citizen to reluctant villain and depressed demise is much swifter here than it was in Lost or those various Chris Carter shows he regularly showed up in.

O'Quinn plays a fire marshal determined to close down the seedy strip club his daughter works at, but financial troubles mean he's forced into taking a bribe to help pay for her college and a decent future. Not content with this ethical transgression, he then arranges for a recovering arsonist (Max "Rom" Grodénchik as a warped human variant of his Ferengi role) to finish the place off, but wasn't banking on his daughter being the guest of honour at an impromptu party on the premises.

I've flagrantly spoiled most of it, but there are a couple of twists towards the end that make it more than a simple parable and earn it a place in the Crypt archives. It's probably not as good as an average story from the early seasons, but it stands out from some of the recent stinkers at least. Plus, it's got Locke in it.
"Tries to give his kid a SHOT, and it winds up going to his HEAD!" - The Crypt Keeper

The Pit (6x07) **

If you had hopes of a second Christmas-themed episode after that memorable tale back in season one, you're out of luck - the GHOUL-tide festivities are strictly reserved for the Crypt Keeper stings, presumably because someone noticed this episode's airdate would be the most approximate to December 25th and hastily cobbled those together. I really hope that isn't a genuine tie-in Christmas album they're promoting - the dismal prospect of it being real puts me off googling.

Instead, the episode concerns the bitter rivalry between the wives of two martial arts champs, who also happen to be their agents. With the two men seeming equally matched in the ring, this feud is taken to its logical end point with a fight to the death - but who will be doing the fighting? Thanks, transparent summary, you've all but stated that it's the bitchy wives who get it on.

It's a change to see strong women in this show, but even as feminist viewers are cheering the reversal of gender stereotypes, the men gloat over their plight and assert their dominance after all. There's no pleasing some people.
"You know what they say, the SCREAM always rises!" - The Crypt Keeper

The Assassin (6x08) ***

I had no idea William Sadler reprised his definitive interpretation of the Grim Reaper from Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey in a random episode of a horror TV show. Considering that was my favourite film as a kid (before I saw Monty Python and the Holy Grail anyway), this is the sort of information people should have told me. Sadly, it doesn't amount to anything and doesn't even segue into the intro and epilogue for this week's story, as the Crypt Keeper just breaks off from whatever hastily scripted activities he's doing to tell us the title. This is a very disappointing season.

The tale isn't a stand-out one either, though the compulsory twist is pretty funny and for a change it's actually foreshadowed with several lines of dialogue and preferred sexual positions earlier in the story. I did wonder why the character felt the need to make those apparently self-evident statements at the time, I just put it down to bad writing.

The plight of a housewife trapped in her own home and facing imminent execution is suitably tense, reminiscent of the later Funny Games but without the harrowing child murder, but as usual I'm more impressed by the filming gimmicks - this time POV - and wish they'd had the creativity to shoot the whole episode that way. If you were turned off by excessive violence against women in some previous Crypt episodes, you might want to avoid this one, unless the silly twist somehow convinces you that the comedy rape scene was justified.
"Take my advice, pal - quit while you're A HEAD!" - The Crypt Keeper

Staired in Horror (6x09) **

This is a pretty dull episode, but I still kinda liked it. The sickly yellow lighting, minimal sets and Jay Ferguson's quaint country score set the right somnambulant atmosphere for one of the more fantastical Tales, which is even more bizarrely co-written by Teller of Penn & Teller fame. I'll have to find out the story there.

If you haven't seen it and you've unwisely chosen these scatterbrained reviews to help you make your Netflix decisions, the story involves a criminal on the run from the law (personified by the eternally shouty R. Lee Ermey, who you'll know as the army guy in everything) who takes refuge in a house with a sole resident who ages when she goes downstairs and youths when she goes up. That means there's some unconvincing but still rather horrifying old person make-up and a funny ending I've already spoiled with that picture. My advice is to check out seasons one to five instead, especially if the synopsis mentions "twins."
"When I think of you my heart goes flopsy /
as I contemplate your sweet autopsy" - The Crypt Keeper

In the Groove (6x10) **

Miguel Ferrer (Twin Peaks, Robocop, This) is paired up with Linda Doucett (Darlene in Larry Sanders) to breathe new, sensual life into a sleazy sex-themed talk show on a tin pot radio station that considers topics like 'Bizarre Sex Act Thursday' to be credible for the airwaves. For British comedy fans, imagine 'Alan's Deep Bath' extended to an hour. Slash from Guns N Roses shows up too, for the most pointless cameo of the entire series.

This is one of their non-horror episodes and is more of a straight-up murder plot with the obligatory twist, also possibly one of the least impressive they've done in that regard. Depending on how closely they follow the source material (I've been meaning to investigate, but actually have things to do sometimes), I guess they used up all the classic comic stories long ago.

Surprisingly for an episode full of smutty sex talk there's no nudity, just some belly buttons and nipple shapes through T-shirts. If you're really desperate, Ms Doucett apparently did Playboy one time. But to be honest, if you're primarily watching Tales from the Crypt for masturbatory purposes, you're either a desperate adolescent in the pre-internet 90s or there's something wrong with you.
"Looks like he'll be the MOURNING man after all!" - The Crypt Keeper

Surprise Party (6x11) ***

These episodes are only 20-odd minutes long, so you wouldn't think they'd need to pad out the running time. But then you get episodes like this one, where most of the first half is consumed with tedious flashbacks of the protagonist killing his hospitalised father over a will that could have been dealt with in a single line of dialogue or just hinted at. The partying zombie horde doesn't show up until the end.

It's quite an enjoyable episode regardless, partly for being so predictable and packed with cliches, and the main character is another interchangeable angry guy who's driven to murder by the smallest irritants. For a show that used to frequently showcase extreme gore and generous bouts of nudity, these have felt quite conservative for a while - I wonder what's going on there?
"Talk about a pain in the ASH!" - The Crypt Keeper

Doctor of Horror (6x12) ****

This is one of the few sixth season episodes I've properly enjoyed, I think because they push the humour and grisly content a little more. The story is quite interesting too, featuring an admittedly mad doc searching for the physical soul in cadavers, and the characters actually have some character for a change.

Simpsons voice star Hank Azaria and country singer Travis Tritt play a pair of inept and easily bribed security guards, initially tasked with guarding a morgue from corpse snatchers before switching their allegiance to the corpse snatcher after minimal financial persuasion. Tritt's character gradually becomes uncomfortable with the implications of what they're doing, while Azaria's character gets increasingly effing deranged.

It's possible I'm grading on a curve and that this would only be average fare if it had come in a better season, but I think it stands up regardless. Here's hoping it isn't the final classic cut.
"It's enough to make you TERROR your hair out!" - The Crypt Keeper

Comes the Dawn (6x13) ***

After William Sadler, Michael Ironside has all the credentials of a definitive Tales from the Crypt guest star, so I'm glad they gave the ultimate B-movie henchman a second outing. Ironside and Bruce Payne play a pair of soldiers turned poachers trying their luck in frozen Alaska during the off season, and while they don't have the comic rapport of the grave-robbing security guards in the previous episode, they make a strong, unwaveringly loyal duo. Until they start getting attacked by vampires anyway, when it's every man for himself.

The promise of a vampire episode wouldn't normally appeal to me very much, thanks to their over-saturation in recent years, but this comes from (slightly) before all that happened, and there are some clever twists on vampire lore that take away their cocky victims' safety nets, comparable to when zombies started running and the Daleks learned how to fly. Not bad at all.
"It's gonna take a lot more than a lesbian vampire biker whore to ruin my day" - Colonel Parker

Demon Knight (1995) ***

The first feature length spin-off from the Crypt does feel more like an extended episode, complete with the TV intro, high-end B-movie quality stars and opening and closing segments hosted by the Crypt Keeper puppet, though they briefly experiment with stop motion animation before realising it doesn't look very good. Thank god this was a few years before CGI characters became commonplace.

Staying so true to the look and production of the show (admittedly more filmic than TV generally was at the time) is a treat for fans but is also its downfall as a feature film, as it feels more like something that belongs in a box set rather than something you should be expected to buy independently. One of the biggest differences between the show and the films is that these aren't based on the old EC Comics stories, though with a number of seasons under their belts by this point, they can mimic the style perfectly.

The plot itself isn't really much more 'epic' or ambitious than many of the standard Tales, the grander scope being mainly down to the larger cast. In your average 25-minute episode there's only room to focus on the plight of a pair or trio, but here we get a typical horror film ensemble of cliched, doomed characters who are mostly easy to loathe. I do like that the trademark 'twist' comes in the form of a character's noble ascension, it gives the film a little heart to go with all the other splattered organs.

I have to mention the gore, it's sensational. Probably the most over-the-top visual splatter-fest I've seen since the early Hellraisers, though decidedly less realistic and more green here. Still, I always appreciate the effort put in to making cackling demon and monster puppets rather than just using make-up, and the large, dingy sets are perfect too.

It's always great to see William Sadler on the screen (in his second or third Crypt appearance, depending whether this was before he reprised Death) and Billy Zane (who was also in an episode) is satisfyingly smooth, smarmy and scary as the titular Demon Knight, even if he's basically a low rent Freddy Krueger type villain who gets inside your mind. While it doubtless didn't make a very large splash in the horror genre, certainly not as much as its parent series, the writers do try their best to contribute to pop culture demon lore with the proviso of shooting hellspawn in the eyes to release their tortured souls. I'll have to remember that come the infernal apocalypse.

If this was an episode I'd rate it higher, and really I don't know how a Tales from the Crypt movie could have been better without seriously breaking the mould. Maybe by presenting a series of stories like the old Amicus horror anthologies and the original 1972 Tales from the Crypt adaptation (that I've yet to watch), but then you might as well just watch four episodes instead. This franchise conquered the worlds of comics and television but underperformed at the movies: two out of three isn't bad.
"I asked for final CUT, and I got it!" - The Crypt Keeper

99 & 44/100% Pure Horror (6x14) ****

Another memorable episode with a smart twist in the tale (I guess they saved the best ones for the arse end of the season?), today's inevitably doomed lead is a has-been shock artist played by the beautiful Cristi Conaway, who you won't know from anything else, but whose infidelity and subsequent murder of her executive husband means she can't be long for this Earth. Then again, the fates have a tendency to inflict brutal deaths on the innocent too, so I don't know what kind of messages to take away from this series.

There's lots of morbid funny stuff as our heroine struggles to get rid of the body (amateurs!), along with the extreme gore and shower scenes that generally enhance these episodes, I'm only human. And depraved. Even after watching so many of these episodes, I'm happy that they can still blatantly foreshadow character deaths without me picking up on it until later - whether it's down to intelligent writing or a dumb viewer, either way this is another late classic.
"That'll get her into OOZE Who!" - The Crypt Keeper

You, Murderer (6x15) ****

A very unexpected and technically impressive season finale, this feels a lot like 'Yellow' in reuniting the A-team of Robert Zemeckis and Alan Silvestri, but was probably more of a pet project experiment on Zemeckis' part for which the flexible medium of Tales from the Crypt seemed suitable (a show that can't have been at the forefront of his mind for most of its run, despite his executive producer credit).

Cynicism aside, I'm very glad they went the extra mile to create a unique episode, employing some of the editing trickery utilised in Zemeckis' recent Forrest Gump (a film lazily parodied in the Crypt Keeper's opening and closing segments) to insert ancient archive footage of Humphrey Bogart in his prime, through the bizarre but funny gimmick of the lead character having been surgically altered to hide his criminal past.

Because that CGI is probably expensive and difficult to get right, it's only used minimally through the additional gimmick of presenting the episode in first person POV, so we just get some oddly angled reflections of Bogart when the character looks into mirrors and shiny surfaces. I've been clamouring for a full episode to be presented in POV since they experimented with it briefly as far back as season two, so this was an added bonus.

The horrific notion of conscious death is borrowed from the earlier 'Abra Cadaver' (maybe my favourite episode of the whole series), so I'd like it a little more if I hadn't already seen that, but it gets extra points for giving Sherilyn Fenn a job after Twin Peaks, I'd missed her. And while I don't know much about Bogey or 1940s crime movies, I've seen enough parodies in my life to recognise an episode chock full of references.
"I guess he knows the PECKING order now!" - The Crypt Keeper

Fatal Caper (7x01) *

This is one of the worst episodes of the entire series (so far), and doesn't give me hope for what's in store in this oddly British but mercifully final season.

The Crypt Keeper has gone on holiday to an identical looking crypt in London, for some reason, to excuse the international shift in production that occurred due to whatever reasons. Maybe no one was watching any more, or they thought the British market might be more lucrative. They like horror, right? Apparently they all live in baronial manors, drive vintage cars and have familiar names from Victorian literature too, because it would be ridiculous to show people from England living in modern city apartments or suburban homes like the previous America-based seasons.

Even beyond these annoyingly lazy stereotypes, it's just an extremely dull and obvious inheritance scam plot that thinks it's clever by pulling a triple twist, all of which are predictable, especially if you have six seasons of this shlock behind you. At least it's normally fun shlock, this is just tedious.

Bob Hoskins is the most notable actor to feature, also on directing duties. At least the prospect of spotting has-been British actors in their prime might make this final stretch more bearable.
"I'm sure we'll have lots of souven-EARS!" - The Crypt Keeper

Last Respects (7x02) *

This might be even worse than the last one. A pointless sequel to W. W. Jacobs's well-known terror tale 'The Monkey's Paw' that at least doesn't add insult to injury by pretending to be original (the story is explicitly referenced several times), it's yet another story of greed turning siblings against each other and bringing out the murderous urge. We've done that.

These spoiled daddy's girls are even more annoying than the spoiled daddy's boys of the previous episode. Do the writers think this is what English people are like? We have more than our fair share of repellant dickheads, to be sure, but at least show some variety.

The quality bar for humour is set at a new low in this episode, which passes off an old lady passing wind as its funniest material and a scene poking fun at a 'slow' brother that serves no purpose but to laugh at the retard. This is terrible.
"She wanted so badly to be rich, but ended up just another PAW girl!" - The Crypt Keeper

A Slight Case of Murder (7x03) **

It's not much of an improvement, but I'll take this slow and intimate murder thriller over wacky antics with monkeys' paws and tantric sex. Francesca Annis is the first actor of the season to have any sort of commanding presence on screen, which is disappointing when you consider the high calibre of actors that graced many of the earlier episodes.

This is sort of like a more bloody edition of Murder She Wrote, though I say that without ever having watched that series. It's also an exercise in patience as the writers see just how many false alarms we're prepared to take before we just want it to be over.

The only thing close to an original observation I can make is the connections to adaptations of Frank Herbert's Dune - Annis played Lady Jessica in the poorly received 1984 film and Julie Cox from the previous episode played Irulan in the Sci-Fi Channel's bland mini-series. That's all I've got.
"You told me you were Sagittarius, but the truth is you're PIECES!" - The Crypt Keeper

Escape (7x04) *

Another dire episode that has nothing to do with anything this series is about, apart from still supposedly being based on the old EC comics in some form. Back in season three, the mini war movie 'Yellow' felt like an inspired break from the norm (even if it was really an excuse to re-use material from a failed spin-off series), but this ideological tale of treachery and comeuppance set in a World War II POW camp just feels like another nail in the coffin for this series' stagnant corpse. In case you've spent too much time around the Crypt Keeper, I should clarify that I'm using those terms in the negative sense.

It makes things even worse that they don't even hire German actors to play the Germans. Even an Austrian or Dutch actor would do, or anyone with heritage south-east of England to be honest. Instead, we get Martin "Whoever He Was in EastEnders" Kemp playing a cockney Nazi, which is more offensive to the war dead than anything Monty Python did.
"Talk about a BLEEDER among men!" - The Crypt Keeper

Horror in the Night (7x05) ****

Here's an isolated spark of hope that recaptures the essence of the series before it inevitably gets terrible again. If you found the previous episodes noticeably lacking in blood, that's more than made up for in this haemorrhaging hotel where our wounded anti-hero repeatedly wakes up from/in fever dreams and nothing is at it seems.

I really like this episode, at least once the shit diamond robbery stuff is got out of the way and we're trapped in this grotty horror hotel for the duration. The cast is up to a higher standard than it's been in many of the recent episodes too, and although I don't recognise most of them personally, you might if you watch Merlin and Downton Abbey which a few of them are apparently in. I was happy to see Edward Tudor-Pole as the sinister proprietor though, even if my only knowledge of him is that he replaced the superior Richard O'Brien on The Crystal Maze.
"Perhaps next time he bumps into the girl of his SCREAMS he'll ex-SPECTRE!" - The Crypt Keeper

Cold War (7x06) **

Little Voice's Ewan McGregor and Jane Horrocks are pre-united a few years before making that rather different film, though as far as I'm concerned he'll always be the radge from Trainspotting and she's Nirvanah Crane from that one episode of Red Dwarf. For some reason they both affect bad fake accents.

It's a silly episode steeped in the undead lore that Tales dips in and out of irregularly, where vampires and zombies/ghouls/undefined-walking-corpses don't really get along. At least no werewolves show up this time, to avoid retroactive Twilight comparisons (Ewan in his pale make-up does look a bit like that guy).

What's most impressive about this weak script is that it almost deals with issues of racism and sexism, but then someone will get shot to avoid things getting too serious. It's stupid, over-the-top and probably exactly what a newcomer would expect from this series, but honestly it used to do a lot better.
"How's your struggle with WIFE and death?" - The Crypt Keeper. His puns are going in the wrong direction now

The Kidnapper (7x07) **

Steve Coogan appearing in Tales from the Crypt is more of a shocker than any of their plot twists have been in a while, and even though this is another rather poor episode it's at least enjoyable to watch Coogan's mild mannered albeit extremely sinister character bumble through various situations. He's joined by another familiar face in the form of Julia Sawalha, who I'll unfortunately always know as the one who replaced Caroline Quentin in Jonathan Creek and wasn't nearly as good.

This is another one that doesn't feel like it belongs in the series at all, but it's more watchable than any of those in the early part of the season. The twist is pretty cut and dry, there are attempts at humour that mostly only succeed thanks to Coogan's sympathetic face and there's quite a disturbing attitude in general towards the vulnerable and innocent women and babies that keeps it from really being fun.
"At least in the end, he did the WRITHE thing!" - The Crypt Keeper apparently isn't even watching any more

Report from the Grave (7x08) **

This is an extremely varied season. The daft, camp humour that plagued the earlier episodes is entirely absent from this one, which is a welcome change, but it could have benefited from some of the old-style humour from back when the show was better to balance out the po-faced seriousness.

The Frankenstein-esque plot of resurrection through technology would have been more at home in the subsequent short-lived sci-fi spin-off Perversions of Science (fortunately I don't have as much of that to sit through), and the plot doesn't make a whole lot of sense. It's dark and nasty with no real pay-off, so if that appeals to you it may not be a bad episode.
"Thought his field was physics, turned out it was DIE-ology!" - The Crypt Keeper

Smoke Wrings (7x09) *

Today's surprising before-they-were-famous billing is for Daniel Craig, whose uninspired performance as the lackey of a jealous businessman worming his way into the workings of an advertising agency doesn't give any indication that this guy would later play James Bloody Bond.

The one wise decision they made in this episode was not to treat it entirely seriously, which was the downfall of a couple of others this season. It's one of those that wouldn't bear watching back with knowledge of the plot twists, as the characters' actions and behaviour are bound to make no sense with context. While I really enjoy the needlessly over-complicated machinations of villains in Sherlock Holmes and Jonathan Creek cases, episodes like this make you wish a few more people kept Occam's Razor in mind.
"It's good to see that he'd GROAN into the job!" - The Crypt Keeper

About Face (7x10) **

It's the Victorian times and a prostitute gives birth to a baby whose very appearance is enough to send the midwife into a screaming fit, though we aren't privy to the monstrosity just yet. When it flashes forward 16 years and twin sisters Angelica and Leah show up at the door of their illegitimate father, a sleazy priest who's still up to his old tricks, this horrifying disfigurement is disappointingly revealed to just be a case of veiny prosthetics and make-up... or is it?

This isn't the first dreary episode to be saved by an inspired twist ending, though with only a few instalments remaining it could be the last. It's not good enough to excuse the preceding 20-something dull and rather depressing minutes, but it was enough to encourage me to skip back to key scenes and check whether it all works in light of the twist. Without giving any specific spoilers, it works in principle but the thumbs are a giveaway.
"Now that's a SICK string guitar!" - The Crypt Keeper

Confession (7x11) ****

Bloody hell, that was better than an episode at this late juncture deserved to be. Another season seven tale featuring a comedian playing against type, Eddie Izzard is a screenwriter with a predilection for the macabre, which works against him when he's found near the scene of a brutal murder with what appears to be blood on his hands.

For the most part, this is a testosterone-fuelled two-hander as Izzard's defendant plays a battle of wits and knowledge against esteemed inspector and serial killer expert Jack Lynch. Jack also loves to bowl, a fact that's dwelled on so frequently you know that has to somehow be involved in the climax.

It's great writing that keeps the viewer guessing about the outcome - there are so many convenient details about Izzard's character that the twist is obviously going to be that his prosecutor is the real killer, or will they go for a double bluff or something out of left field?

Just in case it wasn't a certified classic already, they also throw in some self-deprecating remarks about Tales from the Crypt, which Izzard's character wrote for in his youth and the cancellation of which is a source of delight. It's the sort of fourth wall breaking detail that would destroy any other tense investigative drama, but this show can get away with anything. This is bound to be the last great one.
"Your eyes are perfectly fine - want me to put them back in your head for you?" - The Crypt Keeper

Ear Today... Gone Tomorrow (7x12) **

As the final live action episode (they have something special saved up for the finale), it's fair enough that this is one of the most cookie cutter episodes of the series, featuring the common tropes of gangland crime, infidelity and horrific mutations. Okay, that last one's a bit more special.

It must have been a memorable week for Robert Lindsay, who gets to experience a naked lap dance from Gretchen Palmer before enduring some uncomfortable looking prosthetics after his character receives the ears of an owl to improve his hearing and the DNA goes too far. So the usual scientifically sound Crypt story then, I'm sure they had André Bormanis on the line for every draft.
"Sounded to me like he got in his SCREAM-ium just in time!" - The Crypt Keeper

The Third Pig (7x13) **

This was probably better in 1996, when Ren & Stimpy still seemed somewhat ground-breaking and the internet hadn't robbed cartoon gore of much of its surprise appeal yet. Tales from the Crypt goes out in... style...? with a fully animated episode, save for the usual Crypt Keeper opening and closing. I respect them for trying something different - that's resulted in many of the best episodes, after all - but this isn't really up my street.

On a technical level, the script isn't particularly sophisticated (even the constant rhymes wouldn't take long to cobble together), and at times the animation is just bad. There were many things that made the likes of Ren & Stimpy, The Tick and other 90s 'young adult' type cartoons appealing, beyond exaggerated violence and references to beer and puke, and this imitation doesn't have much character of its own.

What it does have is a couple of notable voice actors in the form of the inexplicably popular Bobcat Goldthwait and experienced animal voicer Cam Clarke (Leonardo in Ninja Turtles, among many other roles). We also get to spend more time with our self-appointed pal the Crypt Keeper, who's always been implied to narrate these stories we're watching but here actually gets to do it via voice-over.

It wouldn't be his final GORY though, as he'd soon be HACK in the Tales from the Crypt BOO-vies. Jesus Christ that's annoying, how did I put up with it for 93 episodes?
"An hour from now he'll be hungry again and BACON for more!" - The Crypt Keeper

Bordello of Blood (1996) **

The second instalment in a non-thematic movie 'trilogy,' this one was pretty damn terrible, which is sadly to be expected from late Crypt. The familiar elements are there - over-the-top gore, corny dialogue and tits, lots and lots of tits, but it doesn't feel like an expanded television Tale as its predecessor did. It feels more like a bland 80s horror movie, which is especially disappointing as it was released in 1996.

Part of the reason it doesn't feel authentic is because the Crypt Keeper himself is barely in it. He probably gets the same amount of screen time as usual to open and close the tale with irrelevant antics, though in this case he's bumped from the beginning until later to make way for an Indiana Jones style prelude instead, and when he does show up they just repeat material fans have already seen from the episode 'The Assassin,' except William Sadler's playing a mummy rather than the Grim Reaper this time. I guess there was a Bill & Ted-based copyright issue. You seriously couldn't write something new for the movie? The limb hacking is also a painful reminder of how good episodes like 'Cutting Cards' used to be.

Another trope of the TV series that's notably absent is the high-profile film stars that frequently graced arbitrary episodes. So our male lead is a stand-up comedian (Dennis Miller) and the two prominent actresses (Erika Eleniak and Angie Everhart) are best known for appearing in Playboy. There's also a guy who was in Deep Space Nine one time and a five-second cameo by Whoopi Goldberg that's beyond pointless.

The story itself is more of a genre parody than a playful remake of an old non-scary terror tale like they used to do, and is about a vampire brothel. Some other stuff happens and there are awful characters in it, but that's basically it. The only good scene was the assault on the bordello with Super Soakers loaded with holy water, but otherwise this deserves to be buried with the worst episodes.
"I feel like I'm in a bad Tales from the Crypt episode" - Rafe Guttman

Ritual (2002) **

The final, low-key, direct-to-DVD outing of HBO's Tales from the Crypt (though the HBO brand seems eager to distance itself from this one) is about as different from Bordello of Blood as it's possible to get without removing the deaths entirely. But gone is the absurd gore, gratuitous nudity and - most painful of all - the humour.

While Bordello fell into the camp humour of the late TV seasons, this one feels like a deliberate reaction to that box office flop by playing things completely straight. They did this a couple of times in the series and it usually suffered, but an hour and forty minutes without a laugh in sight is insufferable.

Apparently they tried to pretend this wasn't a Tales from the Crypt instalment at all due to concerns over the poisonous franchise name, but I can't imagine anyone watching without brand loyalty compelling them. The Crypt Keeper shows up very briefly to get things rolling, and while his dialogue is at least new and tangentially relevant this time (he's on location in Jamaica making the film we're about to sit through), having his final outing in the bright sunshine is disappointing after seven years of crypts.

So, the Tale itself. It's another post-colonial plot one about voodoo zombies, just like every episode they made set in the Caribbean or African plantations (at least three of them come to mind) that presents an innocent, civilised American doctor as the norm against which the native culture is demonised. They do tackle the issue of racism directly at least, though by the end most racists' suspicions that natives are up to no good will be reassuringly confirmed. Even Bordello of Blood had the guts to turn the good Christian woman into a demon right at the end, but there's none of that heroine-defacing here.

I miss the over-the-top gore. I don't miss the stupid humour that characterised the previous film and many of the later episodes, but I don't like the sombre and serious tone either. Overall, partly due to the time gap and its disconnection to the main franchise, this feels more like a failed pilot for a rebooted series I hope they never make. They probably will, won't they? And it'll be more like this than the show I... quite enjoyed for the most part.

My only regret is coming to the series so late - if I'd watched it the first time around as an impressionable kid it would have blown my tiny mind.
"The BEAST is yet to come!" - The Crypt Keeper. Somehow I doubt it. Goodbye, old pal.

Top 10 tales from Tales from the Crypt

#1. Abra Cadaver (3x04)

Tale: A vengeful doctor doses his brother with an experimental drug that simulates death.

Why it's great: Consciousness after death is a much more terrifying prospect than winking out of existence, and is rubbed in with ruthlessly extended POV shots. There's plenty of dark humour throughout too, especially in the cold open.

#2. The Ventriloquist's Dummy (2x10)

Tale: The world's greatest ventriloquist has a secret trick at the end of his sleeve.

Why it's great: This is exactly what I expected and hoped Tales from the Crypt would be like, though relatively few episodes have insane puppet monsters outside of the Crypt Keeper intros.

#3. My Brother's Keeper (2x17)

Tale: Two conjoined twins struggle to decide over an operation that could result in freedom or death.

Why it's great: They take every joke and curiosity anyone's ever had about Siamese twins to the extreme, but the characters are so over-the-top it somehow avoids being disablist.

#4. Dig That Cat... He's Real Gone (1x03)

Tale: A sideshow performer is transplanted with the nine lives of a cat and murdered in a variety of ways for the delight of braying punters.

Why it's great: Very similar reasons to the above, actually. Another memorable guest spot from Joe Pantoliano and another logical twist, this time based on maths.

#5. Split Personality (4x11)

Tale: A con man fools a pair of wealthy heiress twins into marrying him and his invented twin brother.

Why it's great: Joe Pesci is just one of many high-calibre guest stars to grace the series, but his angry, sweary, sleazy portrayal is one of the best. I also admire the sick logic of the ending.

#6. Cutting Cards (2x03)

Tale: Two rival gamblers play a sequence of increasingly high stakes games.

Why it's great: This intimate, low-key two-hander shows no mercy. Their overpowering hatred is tangible.

#7. Carrion Death (3x02)

Tale: A criminal is chased by a cop across the Mexican border, until he kills his pursuer and is forced to drag the handcuffed corpse the rest of the way.

Why it's great: A simple tale that builds anticipation for an inevitable gruesome ending that delivers in spades. It's a lot of fun to watch Kyle MacLachlan over-acting against type.

#8. The Man Who Was Death (1x01)

Tale: An executioner who loses his job as the death sentence is revoked administers vigilante electric justice around town.

Why it's great: The entire thing is accompanied by commentary from William Sadler's character and almost makes you root for this quirky, well-meaning psychopath.

#9. Forever Ambergris (5x03)

Tale: A has-been war photographer jealous of his protege sees the perfect opportunity to reclaim his fame.

Why it's great: All the titillating gore and nudity that characterises the series with star roles for Steve Buscemi and The Who's Roger Daltrey. How can you resist watching that right now?

#10. You, Murderer (6x15)

Tale: An on-the-run criminal surgically altered to look like Humphrey Fucking Bogart is betrayed by those closest to him.

Why it's great: It's not the most original plot, but Robert Zemeckis' strange pet project wins me over with style over substance just slightly more than his earlier 'Yellow.'

Top 7 seasons

#1. Season 2: 3.39 stars average
#2. Season 3: 3.29
#3. Season 5: 3.23
#4. Season 1: 3.17
#5. Season 4: 2.79
#6. Season 6: 2.73
#7. Season 7: 2.00
Films: 2.33

Tales From the Crypt: From Comic Books to Television ***

This enlightening documentary is primarily a history, celebration and artistic and cultural defence of the legendary EC Comics that published Tales from the Crypt and various other ghoulish titles in the early 1950s before being castrated by the advent of the overprotective Comics Code Authority.

The TV and film adaptations are dealt with briefly at the end, so it's a bit of a misleading title, but worthwhile for any fan of the series who's interested to see where it started and to appreciate just how important these creepy comics were to a generation including the likes of John Carpenter, George A Romero and R L Stine.

William M Gaines is rightly celebrated for sticking to his beliefs and not caving under pressure from bigots, and excerpts from his speeches are the stand-out moments. On a more superficial level, it's fun to see the comparison between the original comics and their TV adaptations several decades down the line, which were evidently very faithful after all.
"What are we afraid of? Are we afraid of our own children? Do we forget that they are citizens, too, and entitled to select what to read or do? We think our children are so evil, simple minded, that it takes a story of murder to set them to murder, a story of robbery to set them to robbery?" - William M Gaines

Two-Fisted Tales (Pilot) **

The first attempt to spin-off the deservedly popular Tales from the Crypt format, this similarly faithful-but-updated adaptation of EC's old action comics wasn't picked up for a series, unlike the short-lived and deservedly unpopular Perversions of Science that I'll deal with when I have to. (How could they get it so wrong?)

The three stories included in this feature-length pilot were salvaged and repackaged as regular Tales in seasons three and four, and stood out from their neighbours to varying degrees. The opening Western ghost story 'Showdown' crosses over well with both formats, the closing World War I epic 'Yellow' made an odd and stylish season finale and the Brad Pitt starring bore 'King of the Road' doesn't make much sense in either context. I guess they were aiming to cover a broad spectrum, but with such varying themes and quality, there aren't many people who would be gripped the whole way through.

Since I've dealt with those individual stories before, the main attraction of watching this rare cut from the archive (is anything really 'rare' when it's uploaded to YouTube and available to everyone?) was seeing Crypt stalwart William Sadler's perpetually angry, abusive and foul-mouthed war veteran providing links and basically insulting the blameless audience. It's quite fun, and reminded me a lot of the Gatekeeper from the old Atmosfear video board games, down to their shared predilection for the term 'maggot.'

It's not clear who Mr Rush is or what happened to him - he gives conflicting and impossible origin stories for his condition even in this first episode - but as much as I like him here, and as much time as I have for the actor, I can imagine these routines getting pretty annoying by episode four or so. We'll never know.
"Yeah, you'd better run, you limp-wristed dick smoker" - Mr Rush

Tales from the Crypt (1972) ****

The main difference between this 1972 Amicus Films anthology of Tales from the Crypt stories and the later HBO series is the lack of humour, with these terror tales being presented straight and any resulting black humour being subject to the individual viewer's appetite.

The second big difference comes in the function and characterisation of our pal the Crypt Keeper who's barely recognisable, even accounting for the fact that he's played by a normal-looking man in a robe here rather than a rotting puppet. He's basically the gimmick that contrives a link between these five unconnected stories culled from the pages of EC Comics, three of which would later be adapted for the HBO series with varying degrees of loyalty to the source material and doubtless some influence from this well-known film that did it first.

I've always had a fondness for these anthologies from Amicus and others, from Dr. Terror's House of Horror to the deservedly lesser known The Uncanny in which Peter Cushing narrates a bunch of rubbish stories about cats. Cushing is in this, which I think was a compulsory stipulation of the format, putting in a very different performance as a kindly old widower who's victimised to the point of suicide in tale three.

The opening tale is the most notable, and also one of the best remembered from the TV series, featuring Joan Collins in a near-mute role of a housewife and mother terrorised by a homidical maniac dressed as Santa. You'd root for her more if she hadn't just killed her husband for the life insurance, but she's so beautiful you just want her to survive so you can look at her longer.

I have to give credit where it's due - there were a couple of scenes that properly made me jump in the first two tales, which is a compliment to a horror film bordering on vintage and I don't remember ever happening in the TV series. It's not fair or possible to compare a 90-minute film with a 93-episode series that had plenty of ups and downs, but compared to the film spin-offs of that later series this is the clear winner. The poster's still the best thing about it, but that isn't a criticism as it's probably one of the best posters in cinema history.
"Who's next? Perhaps... you?" - The Crypt Keeper

The Vault of Horror (1973) ***

The sequel to Amicus' Tales from the Crypt presents five more easily digested tales of vampires, murderous wives, foreign mysticism and insurance scams gone wrong. The cast, atmosphere and general quality aren't up to the previous film, with Tom Baker being the only face likely to be recognised by anyone who wasn't alive to enjoy these vintage anthologies the first time around.

Most disappointingly of all, there isn't even a Vault Keeper character to intimidate or condescend the doomed story-tellers as they each relate their recurring dreams, all of which inevitably end with their deaths (SPOILER ALERT!) Apparently, none of these stories were remade for the later TV series, though the plot of being buried alive to claim the insurance was used in 'The Trap.' And they used vampires and voodoo a fair few times too. Originality wasn't always their strong point.

In one of the most amusing examples of product placement ever, a character reads the novelisation to the previous film and we pull in for a close-up. Classy!
"That's how it is and how it always will be. Night after night we have to re-tell the evil things we did in our lives. Night after night for all eternity" - Sebastian

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