Warner Bros. // 1989 // 168 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // July 27th, 2005
Ready for your deadtime story, boys and ghouls?
Every since they were introduced, comic books have been a big draw for readers of all ages. Though Superman and Batman are the most well known, some of the best and most gruesome stories came from William M. Gaines notorious EC Comics, which included the spine-tingling Tales from the Crypt starring the ever-cackling Crypt Keeper. In 1989 high-profile filmmakers like Robert Zemeckis, Joel Silver and Walter Hill created a new anthology series on HBO titled, appropriately, Tales from the Crypt. The complete first season of the long running TV show is now available on a two-disc set from Warner Home Entertainment.
Tales from the Crypt: The Complete First Season includes six gory tales filled with black humor and a hefty helping of entrails. I'll give each episode a letter grade, which means I've really got my work cut -- and hacked, and sliced -- out for me.
* "The Man Who Was Death"
"The Man Who Was Death" stars William Sadler (The Shawshank Redemption) as Niles Talbot, a smalltown electrician who comes to the big city and finds himself promoted to penitentiary executioner. When the death penalty is abolished Niles watches as clearly guilty criminals go free. Niles decides to take the law into his own hands, giving a "shock" to those he thinks deserves his judgment. But when Niles's plans go astray, he finds himself on the other end of the electrical outlet.
Episode Grade: B+
* "And All Through The House"
When a bitter wife (Mary Ellen Trainer, Back To The Future) decides to off her husband on Christmas Eve, she believes her devilish plan will go off without a hitch. Her daughter is safely in bed and her husband's body is about to be dumped down a well when a radio broadcast informs us that a demented mental patient (Larry Drake, Darkman) is on the loose. And he's got an axe to grind!
Episode Grade: A
* "Dig That Cat...He's Real Gone"
Ulric (Joe Pantoliano, The Matrix) is just a regular Joe until a mad scientist implants the gland of a cat inside his brain, giving him the power to live nine lives. Ulric joins the carnival and makes a deal with the local barker (Robert Wuhl, Batman) so he can make a killing by dying! But Ulric the Undying will soon discover that nine lives may not be enough to collect his amassed fortune.
Episode Grade: B-
* "Only Sin Deep"
The aptly named Sylvia Vane (Lea Thompson, the Back To The Future trilogy) is a hooker with a heart of stone. When a sleazy pawnshop owner (Britt Leach, Weird Science) offers her thousands of dollars to buy her "beauty," Sylvia thoughtlessly agrees to the bargain. But the plaster molding the pawnshop owner makes of Sylvia's face is more than just a keepsake of her beauty. It's a ticking time bomb that will drain Sylvia of her good looks within four months. When the time is up, Sylvia -- now living a decadent lifestyle with a rich business tycoon in a penthouse suite -- realizes that looks aren't everything. Until they've been taken away!
Episode Grade: C+
* "Lover Come Hack To Me"
Newlyweds Charlie (Stephen Shellen, A River Runs Through It) and Peggy (Amanda Plummer, Needful Things) have just tied the knot, which may ultimately be their undoing. When their car breaks down in the middle of nowhere in a thunderstorm, the two lovebirds head for an old abandoned house that has more than just skeletons in its closet. Charlie makes no effort to hide the fact that he's married the somewhat frumpy Peggy for her money. But Peggy's fortunes will be worthless to Charlie when he finds out what that old house has in store for him.
Episode Grade: C-
* "Collection Completed"
What should be one of the happiest day of Jonas's life (M. Emmett Walsh, Fletch Lives) -- retirement 47 years in the making -- turns out to be a disastrous nightmare when his batty wife, Anita (Audra Lindley, TV's Three's Company), and the annoying stray cats and dogs she takes in, get under foot. Jonas finally snaps and decides to take up a new hobby: taxidermy. This doesn't sit well with Anita, and when she finds out where all of her stray animals end up there'll be hell to pay!
Episode Grade: B-
Tales from the Crypt was a wonderful show about what might happen if everyone and everything turned into a pitch black horror comedy. I never read the EC comic books on which these stories are based, though I have a good idea what they were like. The episodes on the show -- especially this six episode set -- were dark morality tales about spurned lovers, angry family members, and people who took the law into their own hands...and lived to regret it.
These six episodes represent some of the best and worst of the series. The best two episodes include the witty "The Man Who Was Death" and the terrifyingly funny "And All Through The House." "The Man Who Was Death" -- the series opener, directed by creator Walter Hill (48 Hours) -- is given even more depth because of William Sadler's focused, funny protagonist/antagonist. The episode's theme and eventual twist makes for great television (and thank the good Lord it was HBO, where nothing is sanitized).
"And All Through The House" is arguably the best episode on this set, and one of the top five from the series. It's also the one that people most remember. Director Robert Zemeckis has a deft touch when it comes to mixing scares and laughs. The horror of this episode comes in the form of a demented, vile looking Santa who carries an axe and sports a disgustingly toothless grin. Though the episode is slightly marred by cheap-looking production values (the snow looks like white chocolate shavings), it's still a fight-inducing half hour of fun.
The rest of the episodes range from good to mediocre. "Dig That Cat...He's Real Gone" is enlivened by Joe Pantoliano's smug mug and a spine-chilling ending. "Collection Completed" is a weak entry, though it features two rather humorous performances by character actor M. Emmett Walsh and Audra Lindley as an old married couple who find themselves at their wits' end. Like most of the entries, the ending is effectively gross and disturbingly weird.
The worst of the lot is "Lover Come Hack To Me," a convoluted ghost story that isn't particularly funny nor scary. Winner of the "I Get Stranger With Each Movie I Make" award, Amanda Plummer gives another decent oddball performance (she's the strangest-looking actress working in Hollywood), but the script lacks any bite and the direction by Tom Holland (Fight Night) is surprisingly uninspired.
The Crypt Keeper hosts the series wraparound segments, a nasty looking corpse with the personality of a cackling Paul Lynde crossed with a bitchy Bette Davis. Voiced by actor John Kassir, The Crypt Keeper is now nearly a U.S. institution -- the blend of creepy visuals and goofy dialogue give him just the right flair for the series. He is the perfect complement to a series that, like Rodney Dangerfield, never got the respect it deserved, but was always damn good entertainment.
Each episode of Tales from the Crypt: The Complete First Season is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 full frame. I can't say that I was all that impressed by these transfers. The image often has a rough look with a lot of dirt and grain. Though overall the colors and black levels appear dark and solid, it's a shame a bit more time wasn't put into making these transfers crisper and cleaner. Oh well, maybe fans will witness better transfers as later seasons are released on DVD.
The soundtrack for each episode is presented in Dolby 2.0 Stereo Surround. Much like the video transfer, I can't say any of these sound mixes did much for my home sound system. The bulk of each mix is front heavy with little in the way of surround sounds. However, each mix is clearly heard and lacks any distortion or hiss. Also included on each disc are French, English, and Spanish subtitles.
There aren't tons of extra features on this set, though one stands head-and-shoulders (and spleens, and lungs) above the rest. There is a full retrospective (Tales from the Crypt: From Comic Books to Television) on Tales from the Crypt. This includes numerous interviews with genre filmmakers (George A. Romero, John Carpenter, among others) and those who actually worked on the original EC comic books. I was surprised to find this documentary to be exhaustive and entertaining. It covers everything from EC's inception (which also spawned the wildly popular Mad Magazine) and its founder, William Gaines, to the senate hearings against the comics, EC's horror comics' demise, and the eventual transition to the television screen. Those looking for more than just surface history on this series and the comics should check out this feature.
Also included on this set are a cute "The Crypt Keeper's History of Season One" featurette, and some nifty animated menus.
Tales from the Crypt will go down in history as one of the best horror anthologies ever to grace the boob tube. I enjoyed this set enough to pick up subsequent seasons. However, this show is not for the faint of or young at heart. It's definitely not kid-friendly, even though a Saturday morning cartoon show for kids followed soon after its parent show's debut. But if you're in the mood for tall tales and gallons of blood, Tales from the Crypt: The Complete First Season is a definite recommendation.
This first season of Tales from the Crypt is frighteningly good fun!
Review content copyright © 2005 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 168 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Tales from the Crypt From Comic Books to Television Documentary
* "The Crypt Keeper's History Of Season One" Featurette