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Tales from the Crypt Season Three Stands Out by Kristin Battestella
During Summer 1991, HBO’s Third Season of Tales from the Crypt delivered fourteen episodes adapted from the Tales from the Crypt, Shock SuspenStories, The Vault of Horror, and Haunt of Fear comic book canon – and nearly every half hour plot steps up the sarcasm, star power, and scares.
The ‘Honey, I’m home!’ opening of the “Loved to Death” premiere leads to something saucy in the kitchen but it’s just a bad script in progress by Andrew McCarthy (Weekend at Bernie’s) when he’s not fantasizing about his demanding actress neighbor Mariel Hemingway (Lipstick). Forget the old boombox and shoddy word processor – leather, lingerie, and boobs inspire his creativity and a watching big brother landlord speaking over the intercom braves him to knock on her door. Of course, she’s not interested until he’s successful, making for a bemusing mix of imagination and real world bitter from writer turned director Tom Mankiewicz (Live and Let Die). Unfortunately, subtle make up and costuming reflect the turnaround when a love potion makes the amorous too much to handle.
The Crypt Keeper, meanwhile is smoking in bed with a headless skeleton as the escaped Kyle MacLachlan (Twin Peaks) opens “Carrion Death” with dusty Arizona manhunts, motorcycle chases, and fiery accidents. The desert setting invokes a barren purgatory as a vulture waits amid the echoes, gunshots, race to the border, and loot blowing in the wind. The no water, talking to himself delirium may seem slow for some audiences, however the sardonic trek, gore, and just desserts escalate once the handcuffs are on and there’s no key.
Back to the Future star Michael J. Fox directs Terri Garr (Tootsie) in “The Trap,” for her nasty husband has a life insurance policy and a coroner brother-in-law who can help fake a death. Bemusing morgue saws, faux dead make up, and a bumbling cover story combine for over the top funeral wailing, cremation mishaps, and tropical hideouts. The askew trials, double crosses, and mistaken identity aren’t really horror, but the crime fits the screw here.
Likewise, the memorable “Abra Cadaver” opens with a black and white morgue, autopsies, pretty corpses, necrophilia quips, and dangerous practical jokes on Beau Bridges (Stargate SG-1) by Tony Goldwyn (Scandal). The color present has high tech lab equipment and research debts owed for these experiments on brain function after clinical death – studies done with ritual altars, folk medicine, and poisoned scotch. The distorted voiceover and overhead camera angles match this appearance of death as the acute senses remain to experience the meat locker, hooks, saws, embalming, and John Doe toe tags as the warped mix of science and revenge creates blood trickling down the screen twists.
The Crypt Keeper does a little Mashed to Pieces Theatre in “Top Billing” as desperate Jon Lovitz (Saturday Night Love) fails another audition. He won’t stoop to commercials like successful sellout Bruce Boxleitner (Scarecrow and Mrs. King), and this is an interesting commentary on the look being more important than the talent. Agent Louise Fletcher (One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest) says it’s commerce and product, not art, that sells tickets, winking to the viewer as oft comedian Lovitz is determined to play Hamlet with intense director John Astin (The Addams Family). Will he kill for the part? This little back alley theater at 895 ½ needs a real skull for its Yorick.
“The Reluctant Vampire” also begins with a traditional gothic atmosphere – before the alarm clock by the coffin and fang dentures on the night stand add modern humor as blood bank nightwatchman Mr. Longtooth Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange) dreads Mondays and The Keeper reads Vampirism Made Easy. Manager George Wendt’s (Cheers) donation numbers don’t add up, so our sensitive vamp – who doesn’t drink direct from humans so he can respect himself in the morning – attacks an old lady’s mugger to replace his martini makings in the vault. Certainly he asks if his victim has any blood born diseases before filling up the water cooler. He’s saving the blood bank and taking a bite out of crime amid newspaper spinning montages, Transylvania soil myths, lighting candles at the snap of the fingers, and dangerous squirt guns with holy water. Van Helsing descendants are on the local talk shows, and Tales from the Crypt manages to be gothic and cute at the same time. Of course, Little CK has a Betty Croaker cookbook while womanizing reporter Steven Weber (Wings) keeps a tape recorder under the bed to get what’s off the record when, as they say, pumping a source for information in “Mournin’ Mess.” Hard nose editor Ally Walker (Sons of Anarchy) wants the scoop not drunk excuses, but suave spokeswoman Rita Wilson (Now and Then) spins the rhetoric on cleaning up the streets as the homeless murders mount. Dead witnesses and some literal cemetery digging lead to tunnels, coffins, skeletons, and underground revelations on The Grateful Homeless Outcasts and Unwanted Layaway Society, ahem, GHOULS. Although this starts off run of the mill, Tales from the Crypt continues to push the envelope with its grotesque.
As a kid I loved director Russell Mulcahy’s (Highlander) “Split Second” and even had it on one of several made ’em myself Tales from the Crypt VHS mixes! Foreman Brion James (Blade Runner) seethes over his sassy waitress with a reputation turned hottie wife Michelle Johnson (Blame it on Rio) while her short shorts and tank top get skimpier for new lumberjack Billy Worth (The Lost Boys, you know, the “Death by stereo.”) Axes, chainsaws, and the inherent dangers on the job immediately hook the audience as the camera reflects the peril, speed, and saucy games people play – leading to new power tools, a violent comeuppance, and plenty of blood splatter.
“Deadline,” however, would see drunk newsman Richard Jordan (Logan’s Run) clean up his act for particular hooker Marg Helgenberger (CSI). Although the narrative bookends are unnecessary, the newsroom clickety clack adds nostalgic pressure, and his cranky editor wants a juicy murder headline or else. Fortunately – or unfortunately – Jon Polito (The Crow) gives him an exclusive, ironic scoop on a crime of passion gone awry.
Tales from the Crypt’s tongue in cheek is in full swing for “Spoiled” as bored housewife Faye Grant (V) loves the over the top scandals of her favorite soap There’s Always Tomorrow. Her married to his work husband’s basement experiments may make medical history, but they interrupt her fantasizing, too. Good thing ‘Abel with the cable’ repairman Anthony LaPaglia (Without a Trace) is there with all the connection in the bedroom innuendo, drafting a bemusing life imitating art mad science mix and self-aware commentary complete with Tales from the Crypt on the boob tube. Like the soaps, the saucy isn’t actually shown – letting the male input and female boxes speak for themselves once the lovers play out their part.
Series producer Robert Zemeckis directs the supersized “Yellow” finale with general Kirk Douglas (Spartacus), his lieutenant son Eric Douglas (The Golden Child), loyal captain Dan Aykroyd (Ghostbusters), and gritty sergeant Lance Henriksen (Near Dark) facing the no man’s land trenches, explosions, and limbs lost of 1918 France. Battle failures, breaks in the communication line, family expectations, and the titular cowardice risk the chain of command, for this solider son refuses to kill and doesn’t want to be killed, undermining his father’s position as the enemy nears. Panic on the mission results in more slaughter and church held court marshals layer the religious iconography. It’s okay for fathers and sons to be afraid to die, and one’s a fool or a liar if he claims he isn’t – especially when facing the firing squad. This is a serious parable about real fear and horrors, yet the episode is not out of place. Who says Tales from the Crypt has to be all cheeky all the time? Rather than the expected juicy or sensationalism, this unique choice sells itself with innate intensity and cruelty for one of the series’ finest.
Of course, there are several less than perfect entries sagging Tales from the Crypt mid-season, including the late Tobe Hopper’s (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) star studded “Dead Wait.” The thieves are arguing over small scale island plantations and pitiful pearl treasures, and should be tense chess conversations fall flat amid red hair superstitions, voodoo talk, and witch doctor suspicions. Jungle fever romance with red king takes black queen quips and sweaty sex with voodoo drums compromise the hanging ram heads and dead chickens in the bed – playing into the very exotical stereotypes that the dialogue warns one to respect. Each eighties era horror anthology series seems to have a problematic voodoo tale, but they are always about a white man looking for something sexy and dangerous with an obvious turnabout. The gore and creepy worms are fine – this isn’t a terrible episode, but it doesn’t zing as it should.
The late night spoof with Whoopi Goldberg (Ghost) as The Crypt Keeper’s guest is more fun. Painter Tim Roth (Rob Roy) doesn’t get the showing he was promised and fantasizes about killing his agent in “Easel Kill Ya,” but some accidental violence and nearby deaths inspire his art. He channels his darkness into some gruesome canvases and sells the paintings to a creepy buyer, but he can’t keep up with the killer demand for his art. Again the fatal twists and obsessive performances aren’t the worst, but this tortured artist cum murderer plot is nothing new.
“Undertaking Palor” also has obnoxious punks at the movies complaining about being one short in the Milk Duds box before they scare each other and capture it on camera. They break into the mortuary to raise the frights in their amateur film making and unfortunately discover twisted little practitioner John Glover (Smallville) using a Shop Vac for his latest embalming. The ironic classical music and Pepsi with pizza while the creepy mortician works makes for some delightful Tales from the Crypt grossness, but the juvenile found footage Nancy Drew mystery weakens what could have been wild had we seen the morgue conspiracy from the inside perspective. The Crypt Jam music video feature on the Tales from the Crypt Season Three DVD set is also a humorous little rap with babes, gore, and highlights from the year in a fittingly oh so nineties fashion both embarrassing and hysterical at the same time. The features also cheat slightly by listing two panel segments, for the first fifteen minute bonus recounting the history of EC Comics mid-century history and their ongoing relevance in horror is just pieced together from the second feature – which is the full half hour Comic Con discussion with voice of the Crypt Keeper John Kassir, producer Alan Katz, and additional crew telling more behind the scenes tales and answering audience questions. This DVD set also goes right to the menu without the “Kill Intro” theme playing only once per disc as in the previous video releases, and I like being able to see that spooky house opening per episode.
There are less fifties abstract and colorful comic designs for this season of Tales from the Crypt, but the seedy dark palette feels a little more nineties grown up to match the mayhem. Lots of familiar faces in supporting roles lend an extra sophistication with old televisions, rabbit ears, Polaroids, or T-n-A as icing on the cake per the humorous or grotesque plots as needed. That newfangled frivolous cable and HBO freedom allows Tales from the Crypt to exploit many women with then nudity, abuse, and victimizing. However, the series also has numerous working women in positions of power or ladies that give back all the ills deserved and never get naked to do so. Occasionally, the hammy over does it with stunt casting and humor falling flat, but bigger names, chilling stories, plenty of gore, quality production values, and heaps of ironic horror help Tales from the Crypt step up its winking formula for Season Three for a macabre and self referential but no less twisted good time.
Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz discusses what type of affordable, family friendly, or full on scary Frightening Flix to give this Holiday season included Bela Lugosi and Universal Horror, Tales from the Crypt versus Tales from the Darkside, and more!
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When you think of horror comics you think of Tales From The Crypt or Vault Of Horror. If you never read these comics from the past you know the type of stories in them and thinking about them puts a smile on your face. Now there’s a graphic novel that pays homage to those comics and adds a Latino flavor. Sueño Street is written by Patricia Santos Marcantonio with art by Mike Youngman.
In the introduction Patricia Santos Marcantonio talks about her love of comics and how she wanted to make her own using Latino characters. Sueño Street comes complete with its own horror host, a young street artist who draws scenes of nightmares and unseen places. He points out that every action has consequences and gives us six tales of horror.
One of my favorite stories here was the tale of La Llorona the weeping woman. This is a story that is part of Hispanic folklore centering on a ghost of a crying woman who drowned her kids and is now searching for her lost children along the river. In this story we hear about her orgin in 1920 from Mexico. What makes this one so great is that marionettes are used to tell the tale, sort of an art form in an art form. For a short story there is a lot of depth here as we hear about the emotions of La Llorona and learn why she did it. My favorite part was the end as we see the emotions of La Llorona’s mother and how the street artist reacts.
Another good one is about Cucuy the Hispanic boogeyman. It takes place in 1761, a woman named Lita takes on a job caring for a child who believes that no one likes him and others believe may be evil. He says he has a special friend and that friend may be responsible for other children in the town disappearing. Lita discovers that something may be wrong with the boy but is he truly cursed? I love how this story opens up with a man telling Lita she has come to Hell and Lita answering that she has already been there. This is a good bit of foreshadowing as we see that Lita can handle such things as a monster who lives under beds.
Sueño Street is a stunningly visual walk down memory lane. Patricia Santos Marcantonio adds a certain depth to each story that you don’t often see in comics and the art compliments her storytelling nicely. As I was reading it I was reminded of the horror comics I enjoyed as a kid along with all the anthology shows I use to watch like Tales From The Darkside. These stories don’t necessarily have a moral to them they are just meant to entertain and scare us and they do a great job of it. What makes this a must read is that it centers around Hispanic folklore which is something you don’t normally see in comics. Though the main reason you should get it is great art and great storytelling, what more can you ask for?
I haven’t read a lot of comics over the last few years but recently I found myself wondering what good horror comics are out there? It didn’t take to long to find an indie horror comic publisher that’s putting out quality horror comics and graphic novels. Scary Tales Publishing is run by Kevin M. Glover and produces comic anthologies that are a throwback to the black and white horror comics of yesteryear, such as Tales From The Crypt and The Vault Of Horror.
The comic I read from Scary Tales Publishing was Monster Smash-Ups Issue 1.This book contains 40 pages and 6 stories of monster mash-ups. Some of the things that you will see if you pick up this anthology is astronauts on a strange planet trying to escape a space monster, Dracula versus an Arthurian knight, a horde of mummies, a swamp monster fighting zombies and a diary written by Anne Frankenstein. If you love monsters then you can’t pass this up.
Every story in this book was good but the one story that really stood out for me was The Diary Of Anne Frankenstein. The year is 1887 and young Anne Frankenstein is hiding in an attic as the angry villagers are going through town killing all the creatures of the night and throwing them in a pit. Anne may be a child but she has skills and the villagers will be sorry they messed with her. This story is an obvious nod to The Diary Of Anne Frank and looks at intolerance in a fun way. I would love to see a series based on this story.
Monster smash-Ups is a lot of fun and a must have for horror fans. It takes me back to a time when I liked to sit in my room with my friends looking through horror comics and saying how cool the monsters in it were. I got a great sense of nostalgia while reading this book. You can tell that the artists and writers who put Monster Smash-Ups together have a true love of the genre. Great art, a sense of humor and fun story-lines. This is everything a horror comic should be.
Many explorers have died in the Amazon and their bodies were never found. The jungle has been called the Green Hell and its a vicious uncaring place full of predators of different shapes and sizes. But this fact doesn’t seem to stop thrill seekers and tourists from visiting the jungle. Ben and his friends are about to take the trip of their lifetime into the untamed jungle.
What starts off as a wondrous trip into a beautiful part of the world, quickly becomes a fight for survival. On their way to a campground their boat captain is murdered and the tourists are stuck in a remote location where no one can find them. Now they have to make their way back to lodge they came from while being stalked by something that wont let them leave the Amazon alive.
Pray For Darkness by James Michael Rice is a horror novel where the jungle itself is the main character. In the beginning its described as a beautiful place with exotic animals, luscious fruit and it has everything you would need to live off the land. Later in the book we see it as the ultimate killer that can end your life in a thousand different ways leaving your body where it will never be found.
The jungle is a living, breathing dangerous thing in Pray For Darkness and that’s what made this book great. One of my favorite scenes in this book didn’t include any people but instead focused on animals struggling to survive in the wild. The chapter starts with a family of capybaras being stalked by a jaguar. The author gets into the heads of the animals and you see how hard it is for them to thrive in this place. I found myself feeling emotion for the capybara trying to save its family and the starving jaguar just trying to survive. Then the scene gets more horrifying when a group of bigger predators arrive.
The predators in question could be considered zombies but in my opinion they are faster, smarter and more vicious than zombies. There is one scene when one of the characters is turned into a zombie like creatures that is downright chilling. This is when the book changes from being about the beauty of the amazon to a horror novel. I also loved how we see the character’s personalities change when they are confronted with danger. You could say this book is two books in one.
The thing I didn’t like about Pray For Darkness was that it took a long time to get into the action. The first half of the story focuses on the characters which I didn’t find interesting. The book picks up in the second half though when we find out about the wild humanoids that are stalking the campers. My favorite part of this book was the descriptions of the jungle and I would have liked this book even if it didn’t have any characters. This book brings to life an exotic location that I have never experienced and that was what made it worth reading.
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There are three books that I want to talk about in this post. The first one is a short story by a new author named Akela Cooper. Akela has written a few short stories that are available through Biting Dog Press and she has been a staff writer for ABC’s V, She was also a writer’s assistant on Dexter and worked on CBS’s Jericho. She is currently a staff writer for the NBC series, Grimm.
One of Akela’s short stories is called Mr. Peepers and centers around a cat that may be more then just a cat. A woman named Genny just found out that her brother died mysteriously in a farm house that he recently bought. She goes to the house to investigate and finds out that three other people had also died mysteriously in the house over the last year. When the bodies were found there was a cat named Mr. Peepers by the body and the look in his eyes is not the look of a normal cat. Could Mr. Peepers be the cause of the deaths? If so does Genny have what it takes to put an end to Mr. Peeper’s reign of terror?
When I read Mr. Peepers it kind of reminded me of a Tales From The Crypt episode. It has some humor to it and it has some violent moments that come across as funny and creepy at the same time. The story itself is well written and even though I thought the ending was predictable, it still worked. One of the best scenes in the story is where a woman has a run in with Mr. Peepers and things get a little heated. After that, lets just say that she doesn’t see to clearly anymore.
Another short story by Akela Cooper that I recently read is Tinderbox Blues. A confederate soldier returning from war one day comes to a house of an old slave woman. The woman offers him some treasure if he gets a tinder box out of a pit for her. The solider decides that if the box is more valuable to the woman then the treasure, he must have it for himself and steals the box. Little does he know the box is cursed and he now must suffer the consequences.
Tinder Box Blues has over the top violence with a story that’s a little confusing. It reads a lot like one of Grimm’s Fairy Tales or like a gothic ghost story of the 1800’s. I think the point of the story was to gross out and scare the reader and it does a good job of that. There is some great imagery to this story and it makes the story well worth reading, if you like scary old folk tales you will like this one.
The last book I want to talk about is a novel by Mark Allan Gunnels called The Quarry. The Quarry takes place at a picturesque college campus on the edge of a Quarry named Lake Limestone. The lake is 400 feet deep and the students are warned to stay away from it. It was formed in the 1950’s, when a work truck tapped into an underground spring, filling the quarry and leaving all the work vehicles at the bottom of the lake. At least thats the story that everyone thinks is the truth.
One student on campus named Dale decides to find out what really lies at the bottom of the lake. He scuba dives to the bottom and comes back forever changed and this is when the horror really starts. People start dying on campus and something evil is stiring. Dale’s friends go on a search for answers to what lies beneath, but what they find has been there since the dawn of time and may be unstoppable.
The Quarry is one part mystery and one part horror. You dont know for sure what is in The Quarry and what is truely responsible for the killings until the very end. The book leaves you subtle hints as to what is going on, but leaves you guessing. The Quarry is not an over the top bloody horror story, its much more reserved then that. While none of the death scenes are gruesome or very long, they are still scary because Mark Allan Gunnels makes you care about all of his characters and you don’t want to see them meet an untimely demise.
That is what maked The Quarry a great read, because you are invested in the characters. Even for the bad ones you get to know them, you feel for them and you see them change throughout the story. You see Dale change from a popular kid to a raging psychopath. You see his girlfriend go from self assured and confident to questioning everything she once believed and Dale’s freind Emilio goes from a timid coward, to finding out what kind of person he truely is. You also see the supporting cast go through changes, with each one being different from how they started out.
I had a couple of minor complaints about The Quarry. One was that I wanted a little more action, I think the maint point of the stories was to build strong characters and see how their lives change when faced with extreme circumstances. So I guess to much action would have taken away from the character development, but I thought there were parts where a little more action could have made the story more interesting. My other complaint was that I was a little disappointed with the end. The ending was satisfying but I wanted a happy ending for all of the characters because I liked them so much. I guess its not horror if you don’t kill off a couple of people and make your main characters suffer. The Quarry is a masterpiece and I look forward to reading more from Mark Allan Gunnells.
The first 1950’s book I wanted to mention was recommended from Facebook by Zachary Vaudo of the band Witness The Apotheosis. It is The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. Eleanor Vance is a shy loner who has spent the last 11 years taking care of her elderly mother. One day she receives an invitation from Dr. John Montague to stay in a haunted mansion with other people who have had supernatural experiences. The mansion has gargoyles on the outside and rooms within rooms on the inside. As soon as Eleanor enters the house she starts to hear strange voices and sees ghosts wandering the halls, but despite the supernatural activity, Eleanore feels right at home.
The Haunting of Hill House has been made into movies a couple of times. The best movie adaptation is The Haunting made in 1963 and directed by the late great Robert Wise. There was also a remake made in 1999.The Haunting of Hill House was the first horror novel I ever read and it still stands the test of time. Stephen King called The Haunting of Hill House one of the best horror novels of the 20th century.
Also written in the 1950s and made into three different movies(The Last Man on Earth in 1964, The Omega Man in 1971 and I Am Legend in 2007) is I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. It was written in 1954 but takes place in the futuristic world of 1976. A plague has wiped out most of the world’s population and those who have survived are now vampires. One man by the name of Robert Neville is immune to the plague but now in a world of vampires he is an outsider and must fight to stay alive.
If your going to mention horror in the 50’s you have to talk about EC comics. EC comics actually got its start in 1944 but the golden age of horror comics began when EC started publishing Tales From The Crypt, The Vault of Horror and The Haunt of Fear in 1950. Sadly all three books stopped publication in 1955 when the government started to censor comics and the comic companies created the comics code to keep from being shut down. Though there time was short, these three comics made quite an impact on the world. They have been made into 5 movies , a TV series and a cartoon. They also inspired many young horror writers to start writing such as Stephen King.
All three titles were very similar to each other. with Tales From The Crypt being hosted by the cryptkeeper, the Vault of Horror being hosted by the vault keeper and The Haunt of Fear being hosted by The Old Witch. The creators of the books were William Gaines and Al Feldstein but several writers and artists brought the books to life. These three comics were very popular but the government, parents and school teachers said that the comics were contributing to illiteracy and juvenile delinquency and they disappeared from newsstands before their time. If you want to know more about EC comic’s battle with the government over censorship check out The Horror, The Horror!: Comic Books the Government Didn’t Want You To Read by Jim Trombetta.
While on the subject of 50’s horror comics I wanted to mention a comic that I never heard of until I was looking up books to talk about for this blog post. The comic book is The Monster of Frankenstein by Dick Briefer, it ran from 1945 to 1954. When it started in 1945 it was meant for a very young audience but starting in 1952 it tried to follow in EC comics footsteps. It became a disturbing and violent horror comic until it was censored and came to an end in 1954. The comic actually ran monthly in a title called Prize comics. The story followed Frankenstein’s monster as he rampaged through 1930’s New York City and fought with Superheros: The Bulldog, The Black Owl, Green Lama and Dr. Frost.
Going back to novels, set in the 1950’s is Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door. The story follows Meg Loughlin and her crippled sister Sarah as they move in to a house with a woman named Ruth. Next door lives a boy named David who realizes that Meg is being tortured by Ruth and she is also letting other kids in the neighborhood torture Meg. Will David put an end to the torture or will he just watch and do nothing?