My love and appreciation for “Tales from the Crypt” didn’t happen immediately. I missed the entire run of the series when it was on HBO, because at the time my family didn’t have cable. However, later when the series ran every Saturday at midnight on network television, my family and I would watch every weekend and enjoy the horrific delights that the cryptkeeper would serve up.
The series remained a favorite of mine for many years, and still manages to pack a punch as a successor to “Creepshow” as an anthology series with twists, turns, and a brutally dark sense of humor. It was a tough task, but we picked out our top ten episodes of the entire series run. What are some of your favorites from the classic horror series?
10. Carrion Death (Season 2)
While not graced with a surprise ending, “Carrion Death” is still a fine tale of karma, and a vicious killer getting what he deserves. Kyle MacLachlan plays vicious murderer Earl Raymond Diggs who escapes from death row, and robs a convenience store. On a mission to flee to Mexico, he’s pursued by a relentless police officer who chases him in to the desert, prepared to take him in for his crimes. To make things worse, Earl is hungry, thirsty, and is being pursued by a relentless vulture that watches everything he does from afar. During a scuffle between the officer and Earl, the officer handcuffs the two together, and Earl manages to kill him. The officer gets the last laugh as he swallows the key to the cuffs before dying, linking them together permanently. Determined, Earl heads for Mexico with the corpse in tow, and finds it tougher to get to freedom than he ever thought. The episode is part dark comedy, and part horror, as Earl finds no end of difficulty getting himself to freedom. The gruesome finale is just what we expect, but you have to love the way Earl eventually becomes his own worst enemy.
9. Mournin’ Mess (Season 3)
Star Steven Weber is fun as drunken reporter Dale Sweeney, who is investigating a rash of odd murders involving the homeless. While the investigation reaches a dead end, despite a local homeless man’s insistence on pursuing the case centered around a new graveyard named the Grateful Homeless Outcasts and Unwanted Layaways Society. When Sweeney initially ignores the pleas, he beds one of the foundations’ representatives, as played by Rita Wilson, and tries to pull information out of her. Failing to do so, Dale investigates the graveyard deeper, garnering the scoop of a life time when a lowering coffin leads in to a doorway that opens in to an underground tomb. Suffice it to say the ending is gruesome, slick, and hilariously far fetched. But I love it anyway. Seriously, no one at any point asked “Did you notice the acronym for Grateful Homeless Outcasts and Unwanted Layaways Society is…?”
8. Top Billing (Season 3)
Yet another darkly comic episode with a fun twist, Jon Lovitz plays Barry, an aspiring dramatic actor whose rival Winton has just landed a role in a production of Hamlet. When he kills Winton to claim the role for himself, Barry arrives at the seemingly nondescript location where the actors and director are a bit eccentric and very much extreme about their commitment to completing their play. But they’re just thespians, right? They take Shakespeare very seriously. Despite Barry being a little uneasy, he’s also anxious to commit to the role he’s stolen, and things don’t turn out exactly as he’d planned. Despite the comical tone, “Top Billing” has a very clever surprise ending, and Lovitz gives a fine turn.
7. Easel Kill Ya (Season 3)
Tim Roth plays struggling artist Jack Craig, who is looking for a big break. Despite failing to sell any of his work, he befriends and eventually falls for a fellow attendee for his Obsessives Anonymous Group named Sharon. As their relationship blossoms, Jack accidentally murders a local neighbor complaining about loud music, which prompts a flower pot to strike and kill him. Jack uses the scene as inspiration for his art, and begins selling his paintings of corpses to a collector of morbid art, as played by William Atherton. Finding quick cash in this customer, Jack soon begins murdering neighbors, staging them as accidents, all the while cashing in on his new client who keeps demanding more masterpieces. Soon enough Sharon discovers Jack’s new profession and in an attempt to flee, is hit by a car. Told surgery to repair her brain will cost a pretty penny, and Jack becomes desperate for another masterpiece. Suffice it to say while the build up is filled sick humor and great effects, the hard blow is the surprise revelation in the finale where Jack’s worst enemy turns out to be himself.
6. House of Horror (Season 5)
The Bob Gale directed episode watches like a short but sweet eighties movie. A small group of college students are pledging for a fraternity, and in order to get in they have to walk through a local haunted house said to be haunted by the ghost of a serial killer. Being accosted and egged on by gorgeous members of a local sorority, the guys begin taking their chances, as the fraternity rigs the house with pranks and fake body parts. But when things begin to take a turn for the odd, including when a body part turns up that wasn’t part of the act, or sounds of chainsaws that weren’t included, the guys get more than they bargained for. While the episode itself is downright fun, the surprise ending is twisted and fantastic. I can never get enough of his installment.
5. All Through the House (Season 1)
Robert Zemeckis and Fred Dekker team to deliver what is considered the best episode of the series by many fans. It’s one of the best, and also one of the more entertaining of the series, by far. It’s the classic comeuppance that the show is in no short supply of, that’s for sure. Mary Ellen Trainor plays a woman who murders her husband on Christmas Eve in hopes of getting his life insurance to share with her lover. While keeping her eight year old in bed during the initial murder and cover up, little does she know a maniac has escaped an asylum and is on the loose. Even worse, he’s dressed as Santa. After escaping an attack by the axe wielding maniac, she plays a game of cat and mouse evading the monster at every turn. Larry Drake is especially maniacal as the snaggletoothed Santa who gives Trainor’s character a horrific time trying to infiltrate her home stead. And with a very creepy final scene, it’s easy to understand why it’s so beloved.
4. Mute Witness to Murder (Season 2)
Taking a cue from “Rear Window,” this fantastic episode stars Patricia Clarkson as Suzy, a wealthy young woman who, during a night cap with her husband Paul on her balcony, witnesses a vicious murder take place involving neighbor Dr. Trask and his wife. Stunned and horrified, she falls in to a state of catatonic shock where she’s rendered mute. Anxious to help her, Paul calls on Dr. Trask, oblivious to his crime and the Doctor immediately connects the dots as to how she became catatonic. In a mission to cover up his murder, he begins to systematically ruin Suzy’s life, and stripping away everything, by taking advantage of her mute state, locking her away in an institution. Richard Thomas is great as the despicable Trask who will do anything to cover his crime, and events come full circle with a loony and very thrilling finale. I’ve seen this episode a million times, and it never ceases to excite me.
3. Television Terror (Season 2)
This episode scared the ever loving crap out of me as a child. It petrified me to the point that even the mention of the episode sent shivers down my spine. Morton Downey Jr. is one of the most infamous personalities of the 90’s, up there with Jerry Springer, and here he takes full advantage of his persona to take part in an episode that’s scary, even for “Tales from the Crypt.” Playing Horton Rivers, Downey is a classic stunt host for a tabloid show who wants to pull off a big ratings grab like Geraldo for his viewers. Intent on exploring a haunted house once run by a woman who’d murder her elderly borders for their social security checks, Horton and his crew investigate the still lingering crime scene from many years ago. What begins as a flat spectacle in to a creaky old house soon elevates in to a fight for survival against a truly damned domicile as Horton begins evading demonic ghosts of the house’s past, including a chainsaw wielding old woman. “Television Terror” is an excellent ghost story with frights, gruesome special effects, and a still relevant commentary on how fare some television shows will go to exploit for huge ratings.
2. What’s Cookin’? (Season 4)
Fred is a man who is oddly committed to running a restaurant that serves squid related dishes. And he’s wondering why he’s not getting any business. Despite the failure, he’s convinced squid is the next big thing since fried chicken. Though wife Erma, and janitor Gaston insist that he alters the menu drastically for mainstream food, Fred isn’t deterred. When local landlord Chumley, as played by Meatloaf, comes around to collect his rent and antagonize Fred, Fred stabs Chumley in anger, attacking him. Despite Chumley fleeing with his life, Gaston takes matters in to his own hands. The next day Gaston insists that Fred begin cooking brand new steaks that he garnered from “A supplier he knows,” and soon enough Fred’s restaurant becomes the talk of the town. Who doesn’t love Steak and Eggs? In a matter of time, the tale of deceit and cannibalism elevates the trio in to paranoia and mistrust, especially when Fred discovers the source of the mystery meat, prompting Gaston to blackmail him in to keeping quiet. “What’s Cookin’?” is a darkly comic and gory episode about your friendly neighborhood cannibals and the lengths they go through to survive. As Nelson proclaims “It’s a dog eat dog world. We’re all just a different flavor of ALPO.
1. Three’s a Crowd (Season 2)
This is probably one of the most crushing half hours of television I’ve ever seen. It’s griping, gut-wrenching, and features one of the most shocking surprise endings of all time. The first time I watched this episode many years ago, I was stunned to the point where even after the credits for the episode rolled, I was speechless. Gavan O’Herlihy stars as drunken failure Richard, who is dealing with a troubled marriage. Despite his incessant alcoholism and self pity about not being able to give his wife Della a baby, she sticks by him, and goes to a mountain lodge with him to celebrate their anniversary with successful best friend Alan. Soon as the vacation progresses, Richard feels some what undermined by Alan, and is infuriated with jealousy and envy. To make things worse, he suspects that wife Della is sleeping with Alan behind his back. The ironic ending might seem predictable to some, but I love the outright dark and disturbing nature of this episode. The dark comedy present in most episodes of the series is nowhere to be found, and the final scene is still a punch to the stomach.