TALES FROM THE CRYPT: THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON NEW DVD
Tales From The Crypt had it all – a fantastic roster of directorial talent, great writers, some amazing casting choices, and of course, a wise cracking undead puppet host voiced by John Kassir to open and close each episode. Steeped in the rich tradition of William M. Gaines' horror and suspense comics from the fifties - Tales From The Crypt, The Vault Of Horror and Shock Suspense Stories respectively – the series, which lasted seven seasons on HBO, has remained a fan favorite from the time its first episode aired on June 10, 1989 until it went off the air on July 19, 1996. Thankfully, the undead host and his friends have found new life on DVD and thanks to Warner Brothers the complete seasons of the show are now being made available completely uncut and with some interesting features as well. A whole lot of you boys a ghouls will be happy about that, as season three continues the standard of excellence set forth by the first two seasons of the show.
Just like the notorious comic books that they were based on, the episodes often blended a twisted sense of black humor with the gore and shock scenes that they became known for. Critics would often blast the comics for being too intense or too depraved for the younger audiences that they were aimed at, despite the fact that there was very often an obvious moral to the story and that usually the stories were quite tongue in cheek, but with the TV show they didn't have to worry about that so much. Since it aired on HBO and not on a regular network, the shows was free from the standard censorship issues inflicted on regular broadcast television and as such, the series was aimed primarily at adult viewers – just like it should have been.
The thirteen episodes that comprise the third season, all of which come with the full opening scene in which the camera pulls us into the crypt with Elfman's music playing overtop, are spread across the three discs in this set play out as follows:Disc One:
The Trap: Michael J. Fox directs (and has a cameo appearance) in the first episode of the season which tells the tale of a man named Lou (Bruce McGill of Collateral) who, along with his wife (Teri Garr), is pretty down on his luck. He decides that, with the help of his brother, a local coroner (Bruno Kirby of When Harry Met Sally) he'll fake his own death and then he and his wife will run off to Brazil. Unfortunately his wife and his brother have different plans in store for him and while the fake death goes off without a hitch, there are things that Lou didn't count on that will come back to haunt him.
Euro-horror scream queen Carroll Baker (of Umberto Lenzi's Ice Of Knife) also shows up in this one that makes excellent use of its recognizable cast members and that pulls a nice twist ending out at the end – even if you see it coming, it's a fun ride getting there.
Loved To Death: Andrew McCarthy plays a smalltime screenwriter hoping for his shot at the big time. One day he meets his neighbor, a sexy but cold and self serving actress (Mariel Hemmingway) and, like it or not, he falls for her. She doesn't really want anything to do with him, as he's not rich and he's not famous, so he goes to his landlord, a strange older man (David Hemmings of Deep Red) and gets a love potion. The results at first seem to be exactly what he wanted – she's ready to hop into bed with him at the drop of a hat, but when the effects don't seem to be wearing off, he starts to think that maybe he should have just left her well enough alone…
You can see where this episode is going from a mile away but the ending more than makes up for the predictability of the storyline. McCarthy makes for a sympathetic lead even if his intentions are completely misguided and it's fun to see Hemming in a bit part.
Carrion Death: Written and directed by Steven De Souza (the man who brought you the Van Damme masterpiece that was Streetfighter!), this one stars Kyle MacLachlan (of Twin Peaks fame) as criminal on the run trying to make it to Mexico before the cops catch up with him. Well, luck isn't exactly on his side and a lone officer finally tracks him down, but he's not going to go down without a fight and he kills the officer, but not before that dastardly cop handcuffs himself to the crook and swallows the key, leaving them stuck together under the hot desert sun and surrounded by ominous vultures.
An excellent episode through and through, this one is grisly and nasty but also well acted and done with a nice dark sense of humor. The ending is ironic in the best possible way and the desert locations give the story a really dry, arid, dusty feeling that completely works in its favor.
Abra Cadaver: In medical school, Carl (Tony Goldwyn) played a prank on his brother Marty (Beau Bridges) on his birthday that resulted in him having a heart attack which resulted in the loss of the use of one of his hands. This hurt his career as a surgeon, and years later, with Carl a successful businessman throwing money at his brother to continue his research, Marty decides that the time is right for revenge – using his new potion that keeps the brain alive after death, he plans to play the ultimate joke on his younger brother!
One of the gorier episodes in the set, this one again works really well thanks to its black humor and its twist ending. Bridges is really good as the meeker of the two doctors and Goldwyn is likewise very solid as the cocky younger brother. Some nice effects and a fun twist with a saw make this one a lot of fun. Stephen Hopkins, who has recently proven his stuff on 24, directs.
Top Billing: Barry Blye (Jon Lovitz of Saturday Night Live fame) has been trying to land that big roll forever know but despite the fact that he is a very good actor, his odd looks always seem to keep him from getting the part and his constant competition with the handsome Winton (Bruce Boxleitner) always ends in loss. When Winton beats him and wins the part of Hamlet, to be performed at a strange off-off Broadway theater, he kills him in cold blood, enraged after his girlfriend left him and his agent fired him. What Barry doesn't realize is that the director (John Astin of The Addams Family might not be who he thinks he is and the part he's assured himself of getting won't necessarily be to his liking.
This one benefits from a really good cast – Astin, Boxleitner and Lovitz all ham it up quite a bit and the end results are a lot of fun. Sandra Benhardt has a small part in this as well and Todd Holland (who did a few later era Twin Peaks episodes) does a fine job keeping the pacing and tone just right from behind the camera.
Dead Wait: Directed by Tobe "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" Hooper, this one tells the story of a crook named Red (James Remar of The Warriors) who kills his partner and then works his way to a wealthy man named Duval's (John Rhys-Davies of Shogun) plantation where he takes a job as his assistant and moonlights by having an affair with his girlfriend (former Prince pal, Vanity). Red and the girlfriend plan to rob the amazing black pearl that Duval owns, but he can't be bothered to heed the warnings of Peligre (Whoopi Goldberg of Jumping Jack Flash), the local voodoo priestess until she seems to be his only hope of getting out of there alive once the local rebels attack.
Again benefiting from another interesting cast, this time around the twist is a bit more surprising and you really don't see the ending coming. Plenty gory, the effects might look a little dated by today's standards but the end result is still fairly strong and more than a little disturbing. Dead Wait is another very strong episode.Disc Two:
The Reluctant Vampire: Mr. Longtooth (Malcolm McDowell of A Clockwork Orange) works the nightshift at the local blood bank run by Mr. Crosswhite (George Wendt of Cheers fame) while making eyes at the secretary (Sandra Dickinson). It's the perfect job for Longtooth, as he's actually a vampire. When Mr. Van Helsing (Michael Berryman of The Hills Have Eyes) shows up in town and helps the cops solve a rash of late night killings in which the victims have all been drained of their blood, it doesn't take long for the finger to point in Longtooth's direction – but as it the norm, pun intended, with Tales From The Crypt there's a catch and Mr. Crosswhite has his eyes on Longtooth and his greedy ambitions cannot be easily dismissed.
The emphasis this time isn't on horror but on comedy and while there was always a streak of black humor running through the series, this time out it's obviously playing for laughs and not for scares or for shocks. McDowell is great as Longtooth and the sexual chemistry between he and Dickinson is a lot of fun but the highlight of the show is Berryman's bug eyed Van Helsing – a stranger looking character you'd be hard pressed to find and he's perfect in the part.
Easel Kill Ya: John Harrison (who did the Dune mini-series for Sci-Fi) directs Tim Roth (of Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs) as a recovering alcoholic artist named Jack Craig. Since giving up the sauce, Jack seems to have lost his inspiration, he can't even be bothered to paint the pretty girl from his support group who seems to be throwing herself at him. All of that changes one night when Jack inadvertently knocks his neighbor off of his fire escape to his death on the streets below – here Jack finds the inspiration he needs and he's able to sell the painting of the body to a collector of morbid art for quite a tidy sum. Jack likes the money but doesn't want to go there again, however he might find it hard to turn back once he's headed down that dark path…
A few nasty murder set pieces make this one a cut above average and Tim Roth is quite good as the tortured artist who just can't seem to find his place in the world. The twist ending isn't all that surprising but the execution is handled nicely and this one holds up well over time.
Undertaking Parlor: Josh (Jonathon Quan who, like it or not, will forever be remembered as Shortround from Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom) and two of his friends get involved with a strange undertaking parlor that winds up taking the life of Josh's father. They use their penchant for amateur video-making to trap the culprits and catch them in the act, but the undertaker has more up his sleeve than they first realize…
Hardly a classic, this is by far one of the weaker episodes in this set. The performances are fine but the pay off at the end isn't as strong as what had come before it (and what would come after) and something just feels missing in this episode, possibly because a lot of it was shot on camcorders to give it a specific look that just feels out of place with the material.
Mournin' Mess: Written and directed by Manny Coto, the same Manny Coto who was responsible for Dr. Giggles, this story revolves around a homeless man named Robert (the late Vincent Schiavelli) who finds himself suspected of murder. Robert knows more than a lot of people think, however, and he's able to uncover a charity group that has ties to the real killer and in turn he alerts an investigative reporter named Dale Sweeny (Steven Weber) who tries to blow the lid off the group but winds up in over his head but he won't let that stop him, even if it means losing his job or worse!
Another clever story and an interesting cast makes this one a strong effort from start to finish. While the involvement of the group is obvious from the moment we're introduced to them (calling themselves G.H.O.U.L. is far from subtle) there is a nice twist at the end and Schiavelli is very good in his role here.
Split Second: This one was written by Richard Matheson, the man behind I Am Legend and numerous other horror stories. Brion James (of The Fifth Element plays a lumberjack named Dixon who appeals to a pretty young bartender named Liz (Michelle Johnson of Dr. Giggles… wow… two Dr. Giggles references in one review… who knew that was possible?) with his sweet demeanor and convinces her to marry him. She agrees but finds herself trapped in an abusive relationship when another man makes eyes at her and sends Dixon into a rage. The more jealous Dixon gets the further apart they grow until Liz starts to think about finding true love in the arms of Ted (Billy Wirth), the hunky new lumberjack on the scene…
Russell Mulcahy, who helmed Highlander, directs this soap opera gone wrong and for the most part, it works well thanks to James' performance. He's over the top for all the right reasons in this one and if he hams it up a bit, so be it, it completely fits the tone of the series and this episode in particular. A couple of surprisingly violent moments make this one tense and a fun watch overall.Disc Three:
Deadline: Walter Hill of The Warriors and The Driver wrote and directed this one (he was also an executive producer on the series) in which Richard Jordan (of The Hunt For Red October) plays a reporter with a drinking problem named Charlie McKenzie. His drinking has cost him a lot, he's lost his job and is more or less alone in the world and he decides to do something about it when he falls head over heels for a girl he meets at the local watering hole (played by Marg Helenberger). Charlie pulls himself up out of his hole and goes to talk to his boss who agrees to hire him back if he can bring in a really big story, something that would sell a lot of papers – something like, say, a murder…
With more of an emphasis on psychological suspense and guessing game mystery thrills and less on shocks or gore, this episode is a shining example of Hill's no-nonsense directorial style. It's blunt and to the point with just enough flash to make it interesting without going into overkill. Not the best of the episodes in the set, but a solid one none the less with a nice lead performance from the underrated Jordan (who unfortunately passed on only two years after this episode was made).
Spoiled: A woman named Janet (Faye Grant who is best known as June from V!) spends her days watching and adoring television soap operas and hoping that her husband, a doctor named Leon (Alan Rachins) will find the time to give her the affection she wants, needs, and craves. Sadly for Janet, this never happens and so she decides they should get cable so that she can watch even more soap operas. When the installer, Abel (Anthony LaPaglia of Empire Records), shows up to do the deed she falls madly in love with him When Janet's husband clues in to her extra-marital wheelings and dealings, he decides to use his latest discovery to get his revenge.
One of the worst episodes of the season, this one takes its time building and once it does, it fails to pay off with enough interest to make it worthwhile. The performances are all right but the story and the plotting are dull and predictable – the best part about this one is the Crypt Keeper's introduction.
Yellow: Season three ends with a bang as Robert Zemeckis (of Cast Away and Back To The Future directs one of the biggest casts in the history of the show. Set in the second world war, General Kalthrob (Oscar winner Kirk Douglas of Spartacus) becomes the laughing stock of the army when his son, Lieutenant Kalthrob (the late Eric Douglas of Delta Force III) turns out to be the coward that everyone has been saying he was all along. To save face and prevent further issues, he offers his son one last mission that, if he completes it, will completely redeem him in the eyes of his unit and get him honorably discharged so as not to have to worry about any of this again.
With supporting performances from Dan Akroyd (of The Blues Brothers) and Lance Henrikson (of Aliens Vs. Predator and Millennium) you really can't go wrong in this one. Zemeckis does a fine job with the pacing and the script works really, really well. This episode ends the season on a really high note with a great twist, plenty of dark humor, and a few decent scares as well.