Graphic Horror: Tales From the Crypt Season 3
Once more into the breach good friends as I continue my journey through the first four seasons of Tales From the Crypt this Halloween season. Something I noticed with season 3 is that for the most part, the twists were stronger, but the episodes didn’t always live up to them. There are still some great episodes here, many that I remembered quite well, and a couple I didn’t remember quite so well. The make up, special effects, and humor are still the high points of the season. It also has what seems like it could have been the show’s biggest star at the time, though there have been many actors who were or would become bigger stars than they were at the time of their episode. Overall it was another strong season, and unlike season 2 that ended with a fizzle, this season ended with a bang.
Loved to Death
Andrew McCarthy plays an aspiring screenwriter who happens to notice a working actress in his apartment building played by Mariel Hemingway who alternates being politely nice to him and not giving him the time of day. What really sells this episode is the mysterious apartment manager who only communicates with his tenants via an intercom and camera mounted above his door. When McCarthy eventually comes into his office, he finds an albino with a raspy voice and smoke always billowing from his mouth played by David Hemmings who gives him a love potion. Hemmings is what really sells this episode for me: the mysterious nature of his character, the monitors around him, the microphone, the cigarettes. It’s the right amount of creepy which is offset by the silliness of Hemingway’s obsessive love and constant need for sex and attention from McCarthy.
The Twist: Which leads him to ask for Hemmings’ help once again for an antidote. Instead he gets a vial of poison, but when he pours it into her glass, she switches glasses so she would have the dirty one. It ends with McCarthy in a cloudy version of heaven when he finds out that love knows no bounds and Hemingway jumped to her death to be with him in the afterlife, though she looks just like she did in death with a smushed face. The way the twist and the ending is handled, it feels more like the punchline to a joke than an actual interesting twist, but the episode is still fun overall.
Even though I haven’t seen Twin Peaks, Loved to Death gave me a bit of a David Lynch vibe with the apartment manager and this episode has the star of Twin Peaks Kyle MacLachlan as an escaped killer who robbed a bank and is making his way across the desert to Mexico. Unfortunately he is being chased by the Terminator. Ok, technically he has nothing to do with the Terminator other than being a motorcycle cop with a very slight resemblance to Robert Patrick. While MacLachlan manages to kill the cop, the cop has the last laugh as he manages to handcuff them together and with his last breath he swallows the key. This has a very western feel to it even though the characters are all modern. I thought the characters were great and it was very tense, if you don’t know how it’s going to end. And the buzzard following them around is practically a third character and is an excellent omen of death used throughout the episode.
The Twist: Exhausted from carrying this dead weight through the desert, MacLachlan finally gets the idea to use his badge to create a makeshift axe to cut the body off at the arm. But he misses and cuts his own hand at the wrist, the surprise knocks him off a ledge where his wounded hand gives way. He falls to the ground, breaking his neck; paralyzed. The buzzard that has been following him through the episode comes down and starts eating him alive, starting with his eyes in one of the most gruesome and well-shot death scenes in the show. It’s a great combination of a quick shot of a puppet followed by the real buzzard eating from a fake head. It’s such a fitting and well-done twist that it makes the whole episode better as a result.
In this season’s try at stunt directing, Michael J. Fox tries his hand at an episode like Schwarzenegger did last season. Here, Bruce McGill plays a Guido schlub who is drowning in debt, can’t hold down a job, and forces his wife played by Teri Garr into the typical housewife’s role. He gets the idea to commit insurance fraud by faking his death to collect his half a million dollar life insurance policy with the help of his coroner brother. It’s such a silly premise, but the comedy really helps sell the story, especially the brothers’ crazy mother. The scene where his brother is making out on McGill’s coffin with him still alive inside it is hilarious, especially when the mother comes back in hysterics.
The Twist: After laying low in Central America for several months, he is becoming increasingly suspicious as to why his wife never answers the phone until he flies back when the number has been disconnected. He finds his wife married to his brother and neither one of them act like they know who he is. He is then prosecuted and sent to jail as his own killer due to his blood being found on the scene, and his fingerprints being on the murder weapon. It’s also a bit of a wink wink moment as the prosecutor’s identity isn’t immediately shown until it’s revealed to be Michael J. Fox with a nice mug for the camera. And while it was no surprise that his wife married his brother, the way it was set up for him to be his own murderer was such a smart and unexpected twist that it once again elevated the quality of the episode that was previously a moderately fun episode.
This is an interesting somewhat experimental episode, it starts out as a flashback in black and white as we see Beau Bridges as doctor who is helping his younger brother played by Tony Goldwyn out in medical school. It turns out to be a big scare prank as the cadavers come to life as part of a surprise birthday party. But instead it gives him a heart attack, ending his medical career. Flash forward many years later and the younger brother is now a successful doctor and Bridges is doing research fully supported by Goldwyn as a sort of years long penance for the prank gone wrong. As his funding for his research on brain activity after death is about to be cut, he kills his brother who continues to experience what’s going on around him while dead via voice over. It’s a really interesting premise for an episode and Goldwyn really sells both the dead body aspect of his performance as well as the voice over. There’s also nice elements of the first person camera along with slightly distorted sound to help simulate the fact that we are supposed to be hearing through a dead man’s ears.
The Twist: It turns out this is part payback and part sales pitch as Bridges has created a drug that will preserve brain functions after death so that the person can have a longer chance to be revived. But the drug backfires and gives Goldwyn a heart attack, killing him for real this time. It ends with his continued narration as his brain does indeed continue to function and experiences all the pain of his autopsy. The prank aspect gone wrong is a fitting end to the episode that ties it in with the beginning quite well.
I really loved this episode, even though when you know what the twist is, it’s a bit more painful to watch. Jon Lovitz plays a schlubby struggling actor where it’s hard for him to find a part for the exact same reason why it’s so hard for many struggling actors to find parts. The casting director is often looking for something very specific, and if the actor doesn’t fit that image, they don’t take him. He gets dropped by his agent, his girlfriend leaves him, he gets evicted, and his only consolation is the possibility of a role in a back alley production of Hamlet. When he gets there, he also finds his old friend played by Bruce Boxleitner who is a working actor because he is a more attractive man than Lovitz, and because he’s willing to do commercials so he can make a living wage. The back alley production is great with Jon Astin playing an extremely eccentric director and is probably the best part of the episode who ends up hiring Boxleitner instead of Lovitz once again for the role.
The Twist: In a jealous rage, Lovitz strangles Boxleitner and hides the body so he will end up getting the part instead. But he finds out that the part is actually for Yoric and not Hamlet and the troupe intends to kill him to use his skull. As he tries to escape, he realizes that this theater is actually part of a home for the criminally insane and the troupe has killed all of the doctors and security guards. The best part of the twist is that when they show his skull, it has one eye removed, and one eye still in its socket, just like the poster for the 1972 Amicus Tales From the Crypt film.
One of the best casts for this season with recent Oscar-winner Whoopi Goldberg in a small role as a voodoo priestess. But the main role is played by James Remar with some odd looking red hair as a small-time crook looking for a big hit which is currently a large black pearl owned by John Rhys-Davies who owns a plantation in an African village in the middle of a revolution. He also happens to have a way-too-hot-for-him wife who obviously has eyes for Remar. I love everyone’s performance in this, and it also happens to be directed by Chainsaw Massacre’s Tobe Hooper. The direction is fantastic, with a lot of deep shadows and ceiling fans which is an odd thing to mention, but it totally looks great in this context.
The Twist: As the rebels get closer, Rhys-Davies sends Remar off with his wife to flee the country, but Remar still wants the pearl which is missing. He ends up killing Davies before realizing that he had swallowed the pearl to keep it safe and he has to cut it out of his worm infested stomach which is grotesque, if a bit unbelievable. His wife turns on Remar, but Goldberg saves him and takes him through the jungle to the airport, except she actually takes him to her village as red hair is a sign that he is full of life and she cuts off his head and tosses the black pearl aside. There’s also a fun bit at the end where Goldberg is interviewed by the Cryptkeeper who gets all her accolades wrong by turning them into horror puns.
The Reluctant Vampire
This is one of the goofiest episodes of this season and the only one as far as I can tell written by the original writer of the EC comics, William Gaines. It stars the great Malcolm McDowell as a vampire with the on-the-nose name of Longtooth who has eschewed hunting people for blood and has gotten a job as a night watchman at a blood bank where he steals their blood during his shift. The owner/manager played by Norm, err George Wendt threatens to lay off half the staff as their supply has dwindled way too low. Longtooth sees a purse snatcher later that night and decides to replace the stolen blood by killing a few criminals. Meanwhile, a descendant of Van Helsing has come to town and is working with the police force to find this vampire killer. It is an extremely silly episode full of jokes and no scares. McDowell plays awkward surprisingly well and I loved the moment where he hides his fangs from the secretary with the hots for him by holding his hand in front of his mouth with just the two fingers spread out to specifically cover his fangs. Ignoring the humor, the episode bothered me quite a bit. Even though I don’t know the logistics of running a blood bank, I imagined that much of it was volunteer work rather than paid positions. Even if that wasn’t the case, they should have better inventory techniques to know what was going on with their stored blood.
The Twist: After returning home, Longtooth discovers that Wendt is there and had already figured out he was a vampire. The layoff threat was a ploy to get him to increase their production. But the secretary is also hiding in his lair to help him. They overpower Wendt and hide him in his coffin when they hear police coming in upstairs led by the vampire hunter. When they open the coffin, the hunter kills Wendt mistaking him for the vampire. And in another rare instance of a happy ending, the secretary tells Longtooth that she always wanted to be a creature of the night. A nice twist capped off with a silly ending to a silly episode.
Easel Kill Ya
This is one of my favorite episodes of the season starring Tim Roth as an obsessive/recovering alcoholic painter who can’t sell any of his paintings. That is, until he accidentally causes his neighbor’s death and is inspired to paint the scene of the death. He ends up finding a collector of morbid paintings who gives him ten times his normal fee for that painting and promises ten times more for his next one. He is unable to resist the temptation and kills his landlady to paint a second, but decides that he is through because he wants to have a relationship with a woman from his recovery meetings.
The Twist: While he is selling his second painting, the woman finds the Polaroids of the deaths and becomes scared of Roth. As she runs to get away from him she gets hit by a car, she doesn’t have insurance and the neurosurgeon is expensive. Roth decides he needs to sell one more painting to help her so he kills a random guy in the parking lot. When he comes back with the money, he finds out that the man he killed was that neurosurgeon. It was a great O Henry style ironic twist that I really loved.
A group of kids decide to go check out the mortuary for the chance to see an actual dead body, and one of them played by a teenaged Data from the Goonies and another played by a younger Sean from Boy Meets World. There’s also the fat kid and the freckled kid to round things out. While there they overhear the mortician played by John Glover and the pharmacist talking about their plot to kill people and split the funeral money, and the fat kid hears that the next victim will be a rich doctor who can afford an expensive funeral. The next day, they find out that the victim was Data’s father and they make it their mission to expose the plot on their own. Like last season’s Television Terror, this has a found footage feel to it with several of the shots coming from the old home video cameras. It also has a bit of a Stand By Me mixed with the Goonies as to the kids interactions with each other, like all of their swearing for swearing sake, and how one of them steals a porn mag to get the pharmacist’s attention. I also loved John Glover’s creepy performance as the mortician as he talks with the dead woman while eating pizza and removing her guts.
The Twist: This is another rare episode that doesn’t really have a twist to it, the kids turn the two guys against each other by giving the pharmacist the real funeral invoices which were much higher than Glover said they were. When the two confront each other, the pharmacist pulls out a gun, but Glover gets the upper hand and kills him. Data comes out from hiding and reveals he has the whole thing on tape, and when Glover goes after him, the other kids also come out of hiding, each with their own cameras. In the end, one of the kids accidentally kills Glover with the same vacuum that he used earlier to suck out the blood and guts of the woman. The final shot shows that the dead woman now has a smile on her face, which doesn’t exactly feel like a twist.
Steven Weber plays a down on his luck reporter (a phrase that I will be repeating shortly) who ends up going on the trail of the homeless killer and how it connects to the Grateful Homeless Outcasts and Unwanteds Layaway Society which helps give the homeless a proper burial. Even though I was a fan of the show Wings, I honestly remember very little of it aside from the fact that Weber was one of the brothers on that show, did a few other things that I was aware of, and then hasn’t done anything else notable that I’m aware of. This episode also has Rita Wilson as the public relations of the society who ends up on the ladies man side of Weber’s character. There’s also a slight side plot of one of the homeless guys who gets framed as the homeless killer, but is also seeking help from Weber to find out who the real killer is. I wasn’t a big fan of this episode, it has a poor setup with the obvious acronym society, Weber plays a down on his luck guy but is so sleazy that you don’t really care about his plight and would rather see him get his well deserved comeuppance.
The Twist: The society with the acronym G.H.O.U.L.S. happens to be run by actual ghouls who look like a cross between Nosferatu and the Gentlemen from Buffy’s Hush episode. The people that run the society and even the competing reporter that took Weber’s job all take off their faces to reveal their true selves and usually eat the dead homeless, but since Weber found them out, they use the opportunity to have a fresh meal. In a season filled with strong twists, this felt like a really weak one that was way too obvious, especially when Rita Wilson claims that she doesn’t eat meat, but starts hilariously nibbling at Weber’s shoulder during sex.
This was another episode I remember quite enjoying, though watching it again here I had a hard time getting past the awkward narration throughout the episode. Michelle Johnson plays a waitress who gets hit on by every customer that comes in, and apparently has gone home with some of them in the past. This time she’s not having it but is saved by an older lumberjack who proposes to her after one night and they get married the next day. He runs a lumber camp and becomes violently jealous of his wife and doesn’t want any of his employees looking at her, and he doesn’t want her parading around in any skimpy outfits. She quickly becomes bored, but luckily a strapping young man comes by for work who I think looks like a buffer version of Ted from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Aside from the narration, I enjoyed the love triangle and the extremely overt seduction from Johnson. I also thought that Brion James plays the jealous husband well when he goes into his fits of rage.
The Twist: When James catches Johnson and Ted in bed together he beats the ever-living crap out of Ted, so much so that he is stricken blind. Where he was at a champion level with his axe chopping, the other guys help teach him how to use a chainsaw. Once he learns, they move him onto some bigger logs which happen to hold Brion James in one, and Michelle Johnson in the other. The only thing I didn’t much care for is when he doesn’t react when he starts getting sprayed with blood, something that a blind man would easily feel as being different than sawdust, even as a newly blind man. But it’s helped by a bit of dark comedy as the other guys are also getting sprayed with blood and are enjoying it like it’s a spectator sport.
Richard Jordan plays down on his luck reporter (a phrase I used earlier) and an alcoholic who is trying to get his life back together by getting his old job as a crime reporter back at the newspaper. He thinks things are looking up, especially as he has found a new younger woman to have a fling with and doesn’t want things getting serious. Unfortunately all his old leads are coming up empty and he’s on the verge of going back off the wagon. His regular bartender keeps him cut off and sends him to a local restaurant where he happens to overhear the owner/cook murder his wife which seems to be a great break for him as he goes right into reporter mode to get the scoop as it happened. It’s interesting how the narration felt so out of place and awkward in the previous episode, but Jordan is much more eloquent and helps sell the narration much better here. This was an episode that I actually didn’t remember very well until the very end, and it’s unfortunately because it is a somewhat forgettable episode, though I am fond of the twist. Speaking of…
The Twist: When he goes to check the body of the owner’s wife, he rolls her over to see that she was the same woman that he had been seeing. Not only that, but she wasn’t dead either. As she starts to come to, his own jealousy combined with the need for his story brings him to finish the job that the owner started and strangles her to death before calling in his story. And to top things off, we find that he has been narrating this story from within an asylum wearing a straight jacket. While I thought the first reveal was a great twist, I still don’t understand the relevance of having him be in a mental hospital at the very end. It didn’t add anything to the story, not really. It just seemed like an excuse for the narration.
A young woman played by Faye Grant obsessed with her favorite soap opera starts acting as if she were in that same soap opera. When the lines from the show aren’t able to garner the attention of her work-obsessed husband she turns to the cable guy played by Anthony LaPaglia to fulfill her womanly needs. The acting on this episode feels intentionally soap opera-y, but even if it was intentional it’s still left with the fact that most of the episode feels like a cheesy soap opera. There are some funny moments with the double entendres when Abel the cable guy comes to fix the cable.
The Twist: her husband has a basement lab with a red light that’s on when he’s working on something critical. He’s been working on a long-term anesthesia that he has been testing on a rabbit and has taken a leave of absence from work to focus on it full time. Meanwhile, Grant continues her affair with LaPaglia and even moves down to the living room so they can see when the light shuts off so he can hide in the garden. When his test is successful, he rushes upstairs to tell his wife and catches them together, but instead of confronting them, he uses his new anesthesia on them and switches their heads. It’s a very silly twist with a visual that is done quite well, though their heads look extra silly as they don’t quite fit on one another’s bodies.
Now this is how you end a season. Where last season’s “The Secret” was my least favorite of that season, “Yellow” ended up as my favorite of this season. It follows a general and his lieutenant son near the end of the first World War where the son is labelled a coward, or “yellow”. I believe that this was actually my first time watching this episode, as I don’t recall them ever showing an extra long or two part episode as I watched it in syndication on Fox. The father and son are played by Kirk and Eric Douglas, and there’s also supporting roles by Dan Ackroyd and the first returning actor Lance Henrickson as other soldiers. The fact that it is set during this trench warfare allows for several moments of gore special effects as a soldier loses his hand, or when Henrickson has a grenade wound. The drama is also very well written between the father and son dynamic where the son was essentially forced into joining the army to please his general father even though he never wanted to be a soldier and is afraid to die himself. The look of this episode is also just amazing, which makes sense as it was directed by Robert Zemeckis.
The Twist: The twist here is brilliant, after being court-martialed as a coward and deserter Eric Douglas is sentenced to death by firing squad at dawn just before the company’s retreat. In his holding area that night, Kirk comes down to visit him and tells him how he is the one who loads the rifles and while there is usually one blank in the cartridge, he will load them all with blanks. Eric will then play dead and the company will immediately retreat. But instead, he just told his son this story so that when he faced the firing squad, he would prove in death that he was not a coward. It’s just a great subtle moment just before the firing squad fires where Kirk looks away and Eric realizes what is about to happen and he screams as he is fatally shot, dying in the ditch with the other bodies with a confused and betrayed look on his face. Brilliant.
Even though I’m running behind, I hope I can make it through the next 15 episodes of season 5 so I can post my thoughts this Friday on Halloween. What was your favorite episode of season 3? Do you prefer the sillier episodes, or the more horror-oriented ones? Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.