Tales from the Crypt
Review Date: July 24, 2006
Released by: Warner Brothers
Release date: 3/21/2005
Region 1, NTSC
Full Screen 1.33:1
returns again for another season and it is again stock full of familiar faces both in-front and behind the camera. While not as buffo as the first two seasons, the list includes the likes of actors Kirk Douglas, David Hemmings, Mariel Hemmingway, Kyle McLachlan, Jon Lovitz, Whoopi Goldberg and Hellybilly’s favorite, Vanity. In the director’s chair are Walter Hill, Tobe Hooper, Michael J. Fox, Stephen Hopkins and Robert Zemeckis. With that kind of talent, it is no surprise this is commonly dubbed the best season of the series, but now after 13 years have past, how does this hold up? More importantly though, how do the transfers hold? Dead and rotting or resurrected and full of life, let’s take a look at this three-disc set.
This first episode is classic Crypt
. Andrew McCarthy stars as a hopeless writer who daydreams of shacking up with Mariel Hemmingway, an actress who lives on his apartment floor. The only problem is that she hates his guts. Luckily for McCarthy, the fiendish landlord (Blow-up’s David Hemmings
) has just the cure: a love potion that will make her his sex slave. He feeds it to her in her wine, and she becomes instantly attracted to him. Things start off great; he gets out of his writing slump and has the best sex of his life. But when Hemmingway won’t stop banging his keyboard, as it were, he tries to find a way out. As the episode proves though, there can be such a thing as “too much of a good thing”.
Directed by Tom Mankiewicz (best known for penning some middle of the road Bond flicks in the seventies) this segment isn’t really big on style. For Loved to Death
, we get a few pretty shots of smoke, but otherwise this sticks pretty plainly to the classical Hollywood mold. What makes it what it is are three vibrant performances from the leads. McCarthy has always elevated the pretty boy schlub role into an art form and does so again here, and Hemmingway, always an underrated comedic talent, takes her performance over the top and then some, having equal fun playing the bitch of the start and the siren of the finale. Hemmings is the icing on the cake, aged and with eyebrows that put the Cheshire cat to shame, he is a far way from the glib leading men he played in Blow-up and Deep Red. He makes a great villain, sinister, confident and with one of those crazy English accents. Of course, the entourage of topless shots of Hemmingway and a classic ironic finale certainly don’t take anything away from the finished product either. This is the sort of Tales from the Crypt
we know best.
centers around rapist and murderer Earl Raymond Digs (Kyle MacLachlan
). It begins with Digs holding up a bank near the Mexican border and his subsequent fleeing to Peso-ville. He has just orchestrated one of the most legendary prison escapes in history, just moments before his scheduled executions. The only thing that holds him up now is a police officer following briskly on his tail. Digs fights him off, and eventually leaves the officer for dead in the desert along with the vultures. The officer is alive however, and manages to cuff himself to Digs before dying and swallowing the key to the cuffs. With Digs on foot, and the border to Mexico 6 miles away, he must drag the officer across the sweltering desert. A vulture flies overhead…
Stephen E. de Souza, the unfortunately named writer of Van Damme-esque action vehicles of the late-80s/early-90s, directs here, and the result is a watchable but predictable episode. MacLachlan, usually so good in quirky, mostly-silent roles, grates on the nerves here as the convict. His gruff, bad guy shtick gets old quick, and is made worse by the poorly written script that has him talk to himself incessantly for the final half. He gets his just rewards though, and the end is punctuated with some nice bits of grotesque gore. The vulture is particularly well-trained, able to withstand having a gun thrown at it, and then able to eat eyeballs on cue for a lengthy final shot. High praise.
Life insurance, what would a noir plot be like without it? The Trap
deals with the age old plot device, but with a twist. Instead of the conspirators trying to kill the crummy husband to make off with his money, the husband wants to kill himself, or at least pretend to. Lou Paloma (Bruce McGill
) is a despicable man. He can’t hold down a job, and he beats his wife (Teri Garr
). After getting fired from yet another job and realizing he won’t be able to pay the rent, he gets his wife and his embalmer brother (Bruno Kirby
) to go along with the faking of his death. Everything goes without a hitch. It goes so well, in fact, that Garr and Kirby strike up a relationship themselves. They send Lou off to Mexico to get plastic surgery and hide out, but when Lou realizes he’s been duped he comes back to settle the score.
Marty McFly himself directed this little number, and while he certainly isn’t Kubrick, he produces an enjoyable little episode. He even has the good will enough to make an extended and unbilled cameo as the prosecutor at the end. It is character actor central in this episode, with McGill, Kirby and Carroll Baker all popping in with some meaty performances. McGill makes for the perfect slob, and his last one liner is one of true poetic goodness. While the signatory ironic twist is no doubt present, there are a few other little diversions that make getting there a little more eventful than is usual for Tales from the Crypt
. Not really memorable in any other way, this will at least provide for an enjoyable thirty minutes.
is like a crowd pleasing take on Dead Ringers
. It follows two brothers working at the same hospital as doctors. One of them, Carl (Tony Goldwyn
), is outgoing, attractive and arrogant. The other, Martin (Beau Bridges
), is chubby, gullable and kindhearted. It all begins when Carl pulls a prank on Martin on his birthday, where his friends pose as cadavers and spring to life with a “Happy Birthday!” loud enough to five Martin a mild heart attack. The story flashes forward, and Martin is alright and now under employment by the more successful Carl. He’s been researching voodoo, and how to keep the brain alive long after someone is pronounced dead. Martin’s never forgot what his brother did to him on his birthday, and he vows to use his voodoo knowledge to give his brother his just deserts.
Stephen Hopkins, known more for his workmanlike sequels than anything else, directs this as if it were another of his franchise products. That is to say, it certainly isn’t original, the dominant-dominated brother-brother scenario is old hat, but it is told with a watchable charm. Hopkins sticks with long two shots of the brothers to emphasize their connection and their differences within the frame, and the device works even if the boom does occasionally make its way into shot every so often. Beau Bridges injects into his role a stoic pathos that you can’t help but feel for his schlub doctor. The episode has about two twists more than the usual Crypt
episode, so it pays off right to the end. Not great by any means, but not a boring trip to the doctor’s either.
uncomfortably takes an inside look at the film industry, this time from the vantage point of a struggling actor. The actor’s name is Barry Blye (Jon Lovitz
) and despite his years of schooling and self-proclaimed brilliance, still lives in a ratty old apartment with his meager possessions and looming divorce. On the way out of a failed audition, he runs into successful actor and former friend Winton Robbins (Bruce Boxleitner
). Winton has had no problem making his money in commercials or other sell-out projects. Winton has “a face” for acting, while Barry, as he thinks, has the skill. Both end up auditioning for Hamlet, but when Winton gets the job, Barry starts to sharpen more than just his olde English. It is a part Barry would kill for, but does he have the right face for the job?
Directed by the less famous early-nineties Holland, Todd, this is one of the better, less appreciated Crypt
episodes out there. It effectively breaks apart the struggle between art and commerce in America’s most famous industry, always with a bite of humor. The funniest part may just be the casting of Jon Lovitz a professional theater actor. Always saying he can act any part, the irony is that Lovitz himself is probably the least versatile actor working in the industry. No matter role, Lovitz always plays with the same shrill voice and schlub demeanor, so it is funny seeing him constantly referring to himself here as an actor with range and literary breadth. Lovitz keeps things fun until Gomez Adams starts chewing the scenery as the Hamlet director, and the episode ends with a now classic comeuppance. Todd Holland, loved for his 1989 ode to the nerd, The Wizard
, is more a television director than anything, and his credits are quite accomplished. He’s responsible for some of the best episodes of Twin Peaks
and My So-Called Life
, and with his light, lifey and kinetic direction here, serves up one of the best Crypt
episodes as well.
Tales from the Crypt
gets a little mystical with its next episode, Dead Wait
, as a low-life criminal, Red Buckley (James Remar
) is given a weighty new position at a tropical island plantation rife with voodoo curses. The plantation owner, Duval (John Rhys-Davies
), is sheathed in vein-like scars from a life threatening worms disease, and is close to kicking it. His wife, the much younger and much more attractive Katherine (Vanity
), stands by his side waiting for the will. Things naturally get more complicated when Red hatches a noir plot to kill Duval and make off with his wife and his coveted black pearl. All the while the mystic maid, Peligre (Whoopi Goldberg
), watches over with a keen eye. Red follows through with his plan, but he may see more than Duval’s worms as his plan threatens to put him six feet under.
Commonly regarded as one of the best Crypt
episodes of the series’ run, Dead Wait certainly has the credentials with Tobe Hooper in the director’s chair. Upon further inspection though, it really is for the most part a lackluster recapitulation of The Postman Always Rings Twice
, complete with all the sweat and sex. Had it not been for Vanity’s silk-screened nude scene and an appropriately head-turning climax, the episode would surely rank a lot lower on most viewers’ lists. Whoopi is actually pretty bad, and the fact that she gabs on with the crypt keeper after the episode about The Color Purple and her Oscar win makes her performance all the worse by comparison. You’ve seen it all before, so just fast forward to the end for the twist and then move on to better Crypt
The Reluctant Vampire
follows a passive Dracula as he works in a modern day blood bank. Donald Longtooth (Malcolm McDowell
) is content at his job; with access to an unlimited supply of blood and the heart of a lonely secretary (Sandra Dickinson
) he no longer has to prowl the streets as he used to. Setbacks at work threaten his job however, so he is forced to prowl the streets, “taking a bite out of crime,” as it were. Van Helsing (Michael Berryman
) is hot on coattails though. If this vampire is reluctant to kill, Van Helsing is the opposite, obliterating anyone with even the utmost resemblance to the bloodsucker.
This is a relatively entertaining little riff on the old vampire tale, updating it cleverly for modern times. Before he bites into his victims, Longtooth is sure to ask if they have any blood diseases or dental problems – a vampire for the AIDS era. The direction is pretty routine, but the whole thing has a degree of originality thanks to probably the most bizarre casting choice in history. Michael Berryman as Van Helsing is a conceit too unfathomable to resist. You can’t get much further from Peter Cushing than that, but that’s all the fun of it.
Jack (Tim Roth
) is a struggling painter who would kill for success in Easel Kill Ya
. His paintings haven’t sold in years and he is ready to snap, but one day a chance encounter leaves an apartment resident dead. Jack inconspicuously takes some photos of the victim and works them into a painting. The artwork is a hit with a morbid art collector (William Atherton
), who pays him 20 grand up front asking for more paintings. Jack will deliver, only he needs to find more victims…err, subjects, for his work.
They say there is a thin line between art and insanity, and this little episode encapsulates that to a T. Although it bares fare resemblance to John Carpenter’s script for Eyes of Laura Mars, there is still enjoyment in seeing the buckets of blood transformed into artwork. There are a few literal “flashes” of style here by director John Harrison, and the ending pays off with all the right strokes. More could have been done with the material, to be sure, but what’s on the canvass is fun enough.
[sic] follows a few teenagers in their quest to make the ultimate horror movie. It starts as three of the teens sneak around an old building, only to get in the scopes of a Predator-like pursuer. We see from the Predator’s heat-seeking vision, and just before he makes his attack, it turns out to be Data from The Goonies (Jonathan Ke Quan
) experimenting with his video camera. The leader of the pack, a young Jason Marsden, decides to one up Data by daring his friends to record him touching a cadaver in the local morgue. The kids stumble onto more than they bargain for, though, when a psychotic undertaker (John Glover
), has other plans for the troupe.
Think of the episode as The Goonies
by way of Nekromantik
, this is a derivative and poorly structured yawner. The novelty of seeing a grown up Data cry wears off very quickly, and spotting all the clichés and story-lifts gets tiresome after awhile as well. Not even the ending delivers a suitable punch line. The whole episode borrows shamelessly from The Goonies, with Glover a modern day Fratelli, and the boys finding themselves stranded in a dark lair as the baddie does his deed. It also resembles The Goonies in that, while only at the standard 30-minutes, its length feels as long as the Spielberg nostalgia feature. A few “fucks” are thrown in to try to inject some edge into the amateur proceedings, but Feldman’s Mouth managed so much more with his PG quips in The Goonies. A low point for the season.
The Grateful Homeless Outcasts & Unwanteds Layaway Society, or, as it is known in Mournin’ Mess
, G.H.O.U.L.S. Nilbogian in its obviousness, this society, lead by spokeswoman Jess (Rita Wilson
), purports to help fund homeless burials, but really has more fiendish plans for its cadavers. Dale (Steven Weber
) is the frazzled reporter covering the company’s unveiling. When he is approached by a homeless man with a weird conspiracy about the recent slew of homeless murders, Dale starts digging deeper into the whole case. He beds Jess to get the information he wants, but the next time he lays down, he might be six feet under!
Mournin’ Mess initially starts off like one, with a kind of hazy and ill-defined opening, but quickly proves its worth with a tightly woven story, clever shot composition and good performances. Steven Weber is one of those actors you never really think about, but whenever you see him (basically, in any mini-series or television anthology) you’re happy he’s around. He’s enjoyable here, imbuing the usual low-life reporter with a bit of class and a likeable don’t care attitude. The direction shows plenty more care though, by future Dr. Giggles
helmer, Many Coto. This is one of the better looking Crypt
episodes, with some memorable shots and plenty of flashy lighting setups. I dig it.
Our next one takes us to a lumber yard, as a wealthy forester (Brion James
) goes a little nutty after one too many man ogle over his wife. See, he met Liz (Michelle Johnson
) at a bar one night and after fending her off from a creep, promptly asked for her hand in marriage. His sweet, mountain man charms quickly subside to the jealousy of seeing his workers crack jokes about his previously slutty wife. Things get worse when she gets bored and decides to target the new lumberjack hotshot, Ted (Billy Worth
). She plans to seduce him, but if her husband saw them together, he’d saw them apart.
starts off in that fashionable female film noir revival which was popular at the time, after flicks like After Dark, My Sweet and The Last Seduction. Michelle Johnson narrates, and it sounds as if the plot will fall into place like trees in a lumber yard. It does, at first, but the segment slowly loses focus until it veers into a completely absurd and open-ended dénouement. The end is all gory payoff without any respect for the narrative, and the meaning behind the whole thing becomes a real head-scratcher. If there is one thing that can be said about the episode, and this extends for most episodes of Tales from the Crypt
, it is that it gives the little known, but plenty seen, character actors their chance to shine in the spotlight. Previously this season it has been David Hemmings, William Atherton, and last episode’s Vincent Schiavelli, and here it is Brion James, who likely landed the gig because of his being in most of executive producer Walter Hill’s theatrical stuff of the previous ten years. His gruff acting style dwarfs even the trees in this episode, and while the episode is kind of a creative write-off (despite being penned by cult author Richard Matheson’s son), James at least makes it charming.
, an aging reporter, Charlie (Richard Jordan
), taking a cue from Mickey Rourke in Barfly, finds himself wasting his nights away in a drunken haze at the local bar. His best days as a reporter are behind him, and he seems poised to die with the bottle in hand. His luck changes for the better when he meets a sultry, nameless vixen played by Marge Helgenberger. They hit it off at the bar, and she ends up giving him more than just good sex. She inspires him to jump on the wagon and pick up on his flailing career. His boss decides to give him another shot, but only if he comes through with a breakthrough murder story. Charlie tries to go at it the professional way, calling his contacts and setting up interviews, but as he gets more and more desperate for a story, he may just have to fabricate his own death case.
Directed by series co-creator Walter Hill, Deadline
makes Hill three for three for his contributions to the Tales from the Crypt
series. His respective episodes the previous seasons were both season high points, this one here, while not quite as good as the others, still delivers with one of the classic finales in Crypt
lore. Hill directs with usual panache, making sure to paint the film with his usual neons. The story is similar to his others, in its old fashioned character study as it follows an unorthodox hero narrating his way to insanity. Add in an uncharacteristically vulnerable performance from the Coen brothers’ main man in the nineties, Joe Polito, and its quality all the way.
begins with a successful business woman who, when ignored by her husband, seduces one of the office workers. The camera quickly pans out to reveal it to be a television show, as Janet (Faye Grant
) and a friend watch on as they do laundry. Janet’s husband is a busy doctor on the brink of a revolutionary new surgical anesthetic that could potentially freeze clients for days. He is so wrapped up in his work though, housewife Janet is forced to live vicariously through television. When Abel the cable guy (Anthony LaPaglia
) comes to fix her cable, her love for TV becomes very real. She get the tune up by Abel recurrently while her husband works, but with the doctor only a room away, he is bound to discover more than just a new anesthetic.
With it’s five minute television show within a show opening, and the constant recapitulation of popular television tropes throughout, this episode plays a lot like another early-nineties HBO show, Dream On
. It cleverly meshes the happenings in Janet’s favorite show with her own actions, and even manages to nudge the viewer with its own references to Tales from the Crypt
and HBO. “When are you going to get cable?” Janet’s friend asks, “The picture is so much better and plus, you get HBO!” I don’t know what channels Janet’s rabbit ears initially pickup, but from the clips of her little soap opera that are shown, it seems like it is more fit for Hustler than daytime television. The seductresses breasts are nearly flopping out of her top throughout, and in another clip, where she is wearing even less, she is going down on an oiled man who is wearing only a tight ginch. Nice. LaPaglia is a riot as the entendre spewing cable guy, spouting more sexual innuendoes than a Radley Metzger film.
The final episode, Yellow
, is a wonderful twist on Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory
. The star from that film, Kirk Douglas, returns again as a general faced with a tough predicament. His infantry is getting slaughtered on the German lines, and like in Paths, the men are called back against the army’s wishes. The perpetrator of this cowardice? The general’s son, Leuitenant Martin Kalthrob (Kirk’s kid, Eric Douglas
). The general gives his son one more shot to redeem himself, but when his insides prove yellow again, Martin’s father has no choice but to sentence him to death. Will his son die with glory, or has the general other plans?
episodes don’t get much better than this season capper. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, and a with first rate cast, which in addition to the father-son pairing, includes Lance Henriksen and Dan Aykroyd, it’s near perfect. The accomplished and lengthy bunker tracking shots and darkly lit labrynth shots again evoke Paths
, but it is the Douglases that are most compelling. The story, which reworks Douglas’s most famous film, is laced with a gripping subtext spoken between the lines in Kirk and Eric’s exchanges. Eric Douglas was youngest, and least successful of the Douglas dynasty, and this Crypt
episode would prove to be one of his last films. Eric retired from the industry shortly after, and was found dead of a drug overdose in 2004. One could say his birthright forced him into the industry and into an unwanted amount of pressure. With that in mind, the exchange between father and son when Kirk says “You’re a disgrace to your uniform” and Eric prophetically responds “I never wanted to wear it.” Takes on an entirely different meaning. The script, gore, cinematography and pacing are all top notch, but it is the real life tension between father and son that elevate this episode to greatness. In this reviewer’s opinion, Crypt
was never better.
Season three is commonly dubbed the best season of the show, and it is a tough position to argue considering the quality of Yellow
, Loved to Death
, Top Billing
. While season four would offer up some big episodes by big names, it doesn’t match the overall consistency found in the series’ junior outing. After four it was downhill, but then again, the series was only supposed to be three seasons long anyway. If you take it like that, then it went out on a high point.
Oh boy. Warner has had some problems with releases of their older catalogue of television shows, and this season is no exception. Like their second The Hitchhiker set, this fullscreen transfer is plagued by a remarkable inconsistency and an overall high level of grain. Half the episodes look decent, but their other half look as if they were doing time in VHS purgatory. Deadline
looks worst, as if it were playing live from an old television set with broken antennae. Carrion Death
has some crazy shimmering and blown out whites, Undertaking Palor
and Mournin’ Mess
have incredibly weak blacks and some really muddy picture. Those, in addition to the rest, all lack detail and often look worse than anything in the previous two seasons. Given the rate Warner is firing off these last seasons of Tales from the Crypt
, and the fact that this transfer looks so bad, is a sure sign of rushed production and carelessness.
Truthfully, the video was so distracting that the audio passes merely for the fact that it was never noticeably bad. It is a Dolby Surround Stereo track, but there is little to no noticeable use of separate channels or surround effects. That said, it all sounds clear and thankfully has aged much better than these video masters apparently have.
It was third times a charm for Warner in terms of handling the intros on this set. In the first season, the intro played upon insertion of the disc, but was never accessible during the individual episodes. On the second season, the intro wasn’t even available at all. So with the third, the WB has finally included the intro with each episode, and they included a chapter stop to allow easy skipping for those who want to get right to the meat. This is the best way to go about it, regardless of the extra space it takes up, since there aren’t much extras to fill out the rest of the discs anyway. The menus again feature John Kassir doing some DVD exclusive punnery, but other than that the supplements are culled from some older footage.
Footage from a previous comic con is split into two featurettes, “A Tall Tales Panel” and “A Tales from the Crypt
Reunion”. If you’ve seen the featurettes on the previous releases, then the first feature, the 15-minute “A Tall Tales Panel” will be chock full of old news. It’s the same ol’, same ol’, on how the comics were banned, how Cryptkeeper John Kassir got his start and how great the show is, yadda yadda. It takes snippets from the comic con panel interview, and splices it with individual interviews with several members behind the scenes on the episodes, as well as a few historians, and ends up a whole lot of boring.
The second feature, the mostly uncut, 30-minute comic con interview, “A Tales from the Crypt
Reunion”, is better, although it has its setbacks as well. For one, it has so much overlap with the first one, it gets tiring hearing the same stories (which were already told on previous discs to boot
) yet again. Another problem is the fact that the motive behind the panel was commercial, trying to push the new historical Tales from the Crypt
book on all the attendees and thus the audience. It gets a little grating hearing the self-promotion, but after they get that out of the way, there are some good little tidbits of information on the show. Most of the good bits are, not surprisingly, brought on by fan questions, some of which include favorite episodes, future releases for the radio version of the show and other episode related questions.
The last extra is the almost indescribable “Crypt
Jam” music video. It has to be seen to be believed, with John Kassir rapping to what amounts to a montage of the third season. Most notable is seeing the Cryptkeeper jamming on the piano decked in chains and a White Sox hat. His resemblance to Dr. Dre is actually kind of frightening. Think of it as a sort of hybrid between Vanilla Ice’s “Ninja Rap” and the Fat Boys’ “Are You Ready For Freddy?” Collectors should note that the cover is no longer embossed like the previous ones were, and nor are the discs housed in a fold out package. Instead, the discs are stored in two slimpacks, which seem to be the only way Warner is releasing multi-disc sets these days.
I’ve never been a diehard fan of Tales from the Crypt
, my interest in it being only marginal. The third season, though, has some really great episodes and a higher overall level of quality throughout that I can’t help but thoroughly recommend it. That said, it is hard for me to recommend these discs, since the shoddy video transfer, repetitive extras and dumbed-down packaging are all big disappointments. Completists will get this regardless, but all others should be wary. If you are new to the Crypt
and want to see what the show has to offer, then just Netflix this season. It’s only three discs…you’ll be in for a scream!
Movie - B+
Image Quality - C-
Sound - B+
Supplements - C
- Running time - 8 hours and 6 minutes
- Not Rated
- 3 Discs
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Surround 2.0
- English subtitles
- French subtitles
- Spanish subtitles
- Animated menus with new crypt keeper quips
- "A Tall Tales Panel: Series Creators and Admirers Celebrate the Show in a Crypt Seminar" featurette
- "A Tales from the Crypt Reunion: A Panel Discussion" featurette
- "Crypt Jam" music video