Tales From The Crypt is undoubtedly one of the most iconic horror anthology series around. Some would even say that it is the best.
Using the EC Comic Tales From The Crypt as its base, we watch the villain meeting their karmic justice but in the most spine-chilling and odd ways. All held together by the wise-cracking Crypt Keeper, everyone’s favourite Ghoul, who is a tiny, decaying man with scraggly hair and a mocking sense of humour.
However, as is sometimes the case with anthologies, the episodes themselves can be a bit hit and miss. As for the film spin-offs, I’ll get to those in my “So Bad, They’re Good” reviews.
But in the meantime here is my pick of the top five episodes.
5. The Switch (Season 2, Episode 2)
A rich old man, the wispy-voiced, hunched Carlton Webster, (William Hickey) falls for the stunning Linda (Kelly Preston), but she rejects him due to his age.
Hickey is perfect as a tiny man with a twinkle in his eye and a focused determination to try and win Linda’s affections. Carlton uses his fortune to obtain the body of a young, athletic man called Hans (Rick Rossovich).
However, Carlton soon realised that the love of Linda might be to high a price to pay. Writers Richard Tuggle and Michael Taav balance this ludicrous narrative with its humour to still appeal to horror fans.
The Switch is far-fetched, even for a Tales From The Crypt episode, but it is still very entertaining. The highlight would be a cameo from Arnold Schwarzenegger, who directed the episode, and his tongue-in-cheek delivery.
4. What’s Cookin’? (Season 4, Episode 6)
Gilbert Adler directs this episode, which stars Christopher Reeves and Bess Armstrong as Fred and Erma — a married couple whose restaurant is starting to fail. Seemingly no matter what they do, they can’t attract any customers. That is, however, until a stranger enters their life.
Gaston (Judd Nelson) brings a steak recipe with a secret ingredient that draws the customers back. The acting in this episode is of high quality, and we have familiar cameos including the now ironically named Meat Loaf.
For me, the downside to the episode is the way Gaston is portrayed. He has no charm, but his oozing artfulness and menace means that you can’t see him as anything other than a psychopath.
Highlights of the episode include all of the “villains” quite literally getting their just desserts… What’s Cookin’ puts an exciting twist on what can sometimes be a tired horror trope.
3. Death Of Some Salesman (Season 5, Episode 1)
All I need to say is this episode has Tim Curry in it. Done. On to the next one! He plays three different but equally insane roles. And the episode is better than Ritual!
This episode walks the fine line between camp horror and downright absurdity. We are following the shrewd but morally bent salesman Judd Campbell (Ed Begley Jr.), who thinks that he might have found an effortless mark with the Brackett family.
He plans to con this trio of ‘dumb hillbillies’ out of their savings. However, it soon becomes apparent that he has picked the wrong family, as he discovers what the Brackett’s do to an uninvited salesperson.
Again, this episode has excellent support with a cameo from Yvonne DeCarlo, and the twist gives us the tongue-in-cheek justice to Judd Campbell that we’re craving. However, the senseless ending makes a mockery of the smart and unique premise of the episode.
So why is this episode in at No.3? Well, ultimately this solely existed to show us how great Tim Curry is, and I have absolutely no issue with that.
2. Split Personality (Season 4, Episode 11)
Conman Jack (Joe Pesci) has cheated a gambler (Burt Young) out of a fortune, and attracts the attention of billionaire twins April and June Blair (Jacqueline Alexandra and Kristen Amber). Jack assumes the role of a fake twin to be with both sisters.
This episode carefully balances humour with ample amounts of gore, now synonymous with Tales From The Crypt episodes. Fred Dekker’s narrative about two stunning heiresses and their attraction to this immoral man and his improper non-existent twin is amusing.
The character of Jack appears to have been written specifically for Joe Pesci. That counterpoint of the charming gentleman when he is preying on victims, interchanging with his usual persona which is crass, littered with f-bombs and tough-guy bravado.
The only downside is perhaps the conclusion, which is a little predictable and mean, and doesn’t have the usual sense of justice. However, the moral lesson about the pitfalls of deception makes up for the unnecessarily cruel plot twist.
Pesci and Tales From The Crypt fans will love this episode. For me, the best part is Pesci trying to play the over the top “brother” with perfect comedic timing.
1. Forever Ambergris (Season 5, Episode 3)
Jealousy is the motivation of this episode with Dalton (Roger Daltrey), a has-been photographer who cons Issac “Ike” Forte (Steve Buscemi) into a virus-ridden town where he contracts the pathogen.
Forte has recently married beautiful Bobbi (Lysette Anthony), which is the cause of the jealousy. Dalton soon discovers, upon his return to the States, that Ike had sent Bobbi a “gift” before dying.
This episode is one of the more gruesome, which should appeal to gorehounds, especially those that are fans of body horror like Cronenberg’s The Fly. There is a bit of a plot hole about the contractibility of the virus being inconsistent, but I will go no further with that as it will give away massive spoilers.
On the surface this episode seems nothing more than an excuse to show copious amounts of stomach-turning violence. But Forever Ambergris does have a more profound message about allowing the green-eyed monster to ruin long-term friendships and romantic relationships.
With the combination of gruesome deaths and a satisfying twist, this for me is the best Tales From The Crypt episode. Although there is some inconsistency that might annoy anyone that looks a little deeper into the episode, but the acting chops of Daltrey and Buscemi more than make up for it.
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