Tales from the Crypt Season Two Full of More Fun Horrors
by Kristin Battestella
The 1990 Second Season of HBO’s Tales from the Crypt is the series’ longest year with eighteen summer episodes full of the anthology’s particular brand of adult horror and warped humor. John Kassir’s Crypt Keeper is irreverent as ever with his macabre quips, infectious giggle, and deadpan puns – luring the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger behind the helm before a brief appearance with CK himself. More famous directors this season include Tales from the Crypt producers Richard Donner and Walter Hill alongside recurring series directors Fred Dekker (Night of the Creeps), Howard Deutch (Some Kind of Wonderful), and Tom Holland (Child’s Play). Once again, the series embraces its campy, colorful, twisted source material, with stories from classic magazines such as Shock SuspenStories, Vault of Horror, Crypt of Terror, Haunt of Fear, and of course, Tales from the Crypt.
The most beautiful but bitchy, money hungry waitress Demi Moore (Ghost) marries the gluttonous Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development) in the immediately memorable “Dead Right” premiere. In 1950, $20 for the fortune teller was sure cheap, but the promised death and foretold inheritance are enough to overcome the rude courtship, terrible remarks, and revolting appearances. There’s strip club saucy and off color charm, too – not to mention a morbid montage imagining all the hit and runs or fatal choking possibilities. The fat suit designs and cruel quips are also offensive, with intimate relations meant to be gross and uncomfortable. Fortunately, this being Tales from the Crypt, we know there will be a justified if ironic twist. Likewise, Emmy nominated William Hickey (Prizzi’s Honor) is desperate to marry the young Kelly Preston (Twins) despite her objection that he is old enough to be her grandfather in “The Switch.” A plastic surgery face swap with the handsome Rick Rossovich (Pacific Blue) comes with a million dollar price tag and mad science to match. Unfortunately, the pretty face with an old man body isn’t very alluring, and the price goes up as the Frankenstein style body parts lead to all the winks we expect. “Cutting Cards,” however, gets right to the western casino chase with gamblers Lance Henriksen (Near Dark) and Kevin Tighe (Emergency!) betting against each other in a purgatory style duel of dice, cards, and roulette. Calculating which chamber holds the bullet escalates to higher and higher stakes – like chop poker where the loser loses a finger. Despite the intense editing and cheating suspicions, this is a fun little two-hander – if you forgive the pun. Gunshots and tacky photo shoot montages with sunset backdrops and kissing silhouettes accent the Mayan amulets and non-linear editing in “The Thing From the Grave,” poking fun at the romance between model Teri Hatcher (Desperate Housewives) and photographer Kyle Secor (Homicide: Life on the Street) as its disrupted by her trigger happy boyfriend Miguel Ferrer (Crossing Jordan) and a little undead vengeance, as you do. All this while The Crypt Keeper is reading Playdead!
In “For Cryin’ Out Loud,” Iggy Pop’s crooked music manager Lee Arenberg (Pirates of the Caribbean) hears his conscious in the form of comic Sam Kinison. Unfortunately, he ignores the voice for seductive groupie with ulterior motives Katey Sagal (Sons of Anarchy), and some gross ear salves set off the murder, laughs, and warped irony. Cinderella farmhand Patricia Arquette (Medium) has a backwoods employer checking out her tiny white tank top in “Four-Sided Triangle.” Good thing there’s a sexy scarecrow to help her! The nasty mood comes across without showing much – after all, “you beat the help but don’t kill ’em.” This one’s certainly a unique tale, complete with threats of turning real flesh and blood men from bulls into steers and killer hoes for good measure. Bobcat Goldthwait (Oh my gosh, Hot to Trot, people) wants to be a ventriloquist like his idol Don Rickles in “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy,” but you can see his lips move and the dummy’s head falls off, whoopsie! The crappy amateur night and cruel crowd add camp, but just when you think you’ve see it all when it comes to ventriloquism in horror, Tales from the Crypt pulls out meat grinders and designs both laughable and bizarre. “Asshole casserole,” I’ve never heard that one before! Then again appearances are everything for eighties yuppie Carol Kane (Taxi) in “Judy, You’re Not Yourself Today.” Faux accents, French, tea times, and a gun toting husband aren’t enough until a cosmetics lady comes calling for our wrinkle worrying Mrs. Alas, our sales lady has an indestructible switcheroo necklace, making for some twisted violence and wit. Cruel mortician Moses Gunn (Roots) anchors “Fitting Punishment” alongside morose organ music, mistaken biblical quotes, and post mortem scams for one of the season’s finest. Embalming with water is cheaper than the real chemicals, and the dead’s gold teeth get pulled – God helps those who help themselves and waste not want not! Coffins made in Taiwan are inexpensive, too – but shorter. If there’s a spare box lying around, why not use it? Of course, this being Tales from the Crypt, cutting such bloody corners will come back to get you.
Illustrator Harry Anderson (Night Court) continues the quality with “Korman’s Kalamity” when his bossy wife’s experimental potency pills inadvertently bring his creative side to life. The Tales from the Crypt logos on the office door and Vault of Horror volumes on the shelf create a bemusing faux behind the scenes life imitating art, and the ridiculously phony comic book monsters match the colorful over the top designs. Tales from the Crypt admits this is a really weird idea, and that’s exactly why we’re watching. Distorted camera angles and smoky shadows also bring the grim turn of the century freak show to life in “Lower Berth.” There’s two-faced caged oddities, dying freaks, desperate managers, and charlatans bartering rare Egyptian slave girl mummies. The stolen sarcophagus and cursed jewels may seem straightforward, but castration consequences and undead romance provide the surprisingly wild topper we never knew we needed. By contrast, “Mute Witness to Murder” is an upfront thriller with no humor as Richard Thomas (The Waltons) and Patricia Clarkson (Six Feet Under) provide the titular shocks with straight jackets, padded cells, and I know that you know that I know deceptions. Blue camera visuals, audio check ins to be let out, and strapped down beds invoke a scary helplessness. Someone else is in control with needles and drugs – making for some true suspense, fourth wall voyeurism, and camera as confessor. “Television Terror,” however, pokes fun at its tale within a tale talk show desperate for Geraldo scandals as our host recounts gruesome murders while his film crew follows with a camera and spotlight. Creepy static, ghostly splices, and bloody bathtubs wink in the night, and the OMG what was that humor is bemusingly prophetic regarding today’s paranormal reality television craze. Tales from the Crypt finishes Year Two strong with the memorable penultimate “My Brother’s Keeper.” Siamese yet opposite twins have some laughable connections – but can their butt attachment be separated and is the fifty/fifty chance worth it? Great dual filming and mirrored, but not always matching images or paired actions lead to more awkwardness, and of course, a lady comes between them – pun intended – along with crimes, cleavers, and cruel twists.
The Crypt Keeper is upset that Oliver has no Twist for the season finale “The Secret,” but Dickensian puns accent this austere orphanage with misbehaving boys and what happened to his parents whispers. Eerie blue transitions and askew camerawork add to the childlike reluctance when rich but mysterious adoptive parents whisk a boy away to their museum-like home. Good thing there’s a room full of awesome toys and when asking for milk, the butler gives him milkshakes! Who cares if there are bars on all the windows? When not off painting the town red, our parents only come out at night – but they have a surprise in the works. The titular answer is probably obvious, but the innocence and charm have fun here, adding personality and the kind of unexpected finish that only Tales from the Crypt can do. While there aren’t many bad episodes, Tales from the Crypt has a slight sophomore lag mid season with the voodoo clichés of “Til Death.” Though not as bad other other Caribbean horror attempts – the gore and zombie elements are scary as well as humorous – the stereotypical story resorts to a scorned Janet Hubert (Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) getting back at nasty white men messing with the local magic. Weaker writing and less famous casting also hampers the winning Tales from the Crypt formula in “Three’s a Crowd” when a husband suspects his wife is up to no good with their wealthy friend after he lavishes them with gifts and an anniversary trip. The opportunity for suspicion feels there only because that conclusion has to happen for the yuppie mayhem to ensue, and the domestic violence is totally unnecessary. When Tales from the Crypt viewing was limited to weekly HBO waits or random late night repeats, audiences didn’t care about any repetitiveness. However, watching this longer than usual season all together reveals too many similarly themed love triangles, greed, for love or money twists, and seedy fillers. Kim Delaney (NYPD Blue) and Michael Ironside (V) deserve more than murder for money in “The Sacrifice,” for moody L.A. cityscapes and saucy rocking the boat affairs lead to dirty blackmail and long walks off the short balcony, naturally.
1990 is also still pretty eighties dated, making Tales from the Crypt both look cheaper than it was yet adding a neo-noir atmosphere to some of the downtrodden macabre. Several episodes are more eighties does forties or fifties rockabilly style to match the record players, old televisions, cool cars, and swanky tunes. Of course, there are also triangular blazers, shoulder pads, Blossom hats, and high-waisted jeans – fatalities of the then hip over-emphasizing fashions along with granny panties, large tassels, and lingerie that reveals nothing. Such barely there nudity, ten seconds of strippers in the background, and mostly clothed make-outs courtesy of the HBO premium cable saucy is totally tame compared to the all but naked singers today, however I must say, the cigarettes, onscreen smoke, and liquored up attitudes are now more noticeably risqué. Quality blood and gory squirts, spills, or stabs also remain well done alongside red spotlights, blue lighting, and strong shadow and light schemes regardless of the anthology’s setting. Creepy organ music accents the askew camera angles and colorful, intentionally faithful comic book design mirroring the Tales from the Crypt magazine sources. The supporting cast per episode is likewise always quality with numerous or occasionally re-appearing familiar faces in critical or twisted cameos. Unfortunately, it seems there is a lot of legalese tying up any blu-ray release and streaming rights, and until the brand new Tales from the Crypt box set, the Complete Series was only available by packaging the DVD collections together. The “kill intro” opening theme makes it easier to marathon the Season Two three disc set without repeating the credits, and Pimp CK does some new bemusements amid the menus and featurettes. His ghastly little supplies come from “Hacme,” and if you don’t get that pun then you are too young to be watching the show.
One can easily forget these ghoulish mini movies are only a half hour, for Tales from the Crypt moves fast but keeps your attention during and after a viewing thanks to the brand’s personality and self-referential ability to laugh at the gory with well written scripts and sardonic winks. It feels like there are more episodes of Tales from the Crypt than there actually are because the series ages well with many memorable times in this extended season. A creepy atmosphere and famous guest stars set the viewer up for the scary topper, and Tales from the Crypt Season Two remains perfect for a gruesome late night marathon.