June 10,1989 ushered in what could very well pinpoint my love of horror television. On this date, a new show premiered and it was so much more than The Addams Family, The Munsters or even Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which are all important facets of my personal horror history, but this was something different, something new. This was Tales From the Crypt.
Based on the 1950’s comic series of the same name, Tales From the Crypt was able to set itself apart because it had found it’s home on HBO, a premium cable network. Premium cable meant no censorship, which meant violence, gore, nudity, profanity and sex. Basically, everything that you expected in your horror films in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. To sweeten the deal, this anthology show nabbed a long list of notable guest stars and directors. Like any series that lasts seven seasons, not all 93 of the episodes were television gold, but we can’t be everything to everyone, now can we?
As one of the original TV Babies, I present to you, in no particular order, my six favorite Tales From the Crypt episodes.
1. And All Through the House:
For those in the know, this particular story was in the 1972 film Tales From the Crypt and starred the always glamorous Joan Collins. In the 1989 iteration, we are met with Mary Ellen Trainor (The Goonies) staring as the woman who realizes that an escaped, homicidal lunatic is trying to get into her home. If only she hadn’t committed a crime of her own, then she could call the police. To make things even more sticky, the lunatic is dressed as Santa and little Carrie Ann can’t wait to let him into the house. Directed by Robert Zemeckis,this episode is a wickedly fun Christmas gift.
2. Television Terror:
If you were watching television in the 80’s, then you probably saw at least one episode of Geraldo. This particular episode zeroes right in on the disgusting, shock value that talk shows of the time always went for. Geraldo is famous for getting his nose broken by a Nazi on his talk show and opening Al Capone’s vault on live television only to find a big, fat nothing. Starring Morton Downey Jr. as Horton Rivers, the soulless “news reporter” who wants nothing more than good ratings, he gets his wish when he enters a haunted house on live television. Choosing not to heed the warning from the token psychic who says he would never go in there, Rivers experiences all manner of paranormal activity upon entering the house and he pays the ultimate price.
3. What’s Cookin:
Remember when I spoke of guest stars? This episode stars Christopher Reeve (Superman), Judd Nelson (The Breakfast Club) and Meatloaf (Rocky Horror Picture Show). Nelson plays a drifter working in Reeve’s squid centric diner who has a super special ingredient for a successful restaurant. Let’s just say that when Meatloaf comes demanding rent money, he ends up on the menu. This is a wonderfully, darkly comedic episode and upon revisiting it, it was a real treat to see Mr. Reeve again.
4. Only Skin Deep:
This one definitely sticks in my mind because of the female protagonist’s face. She has the Uncanny Valley thing going on with what looks like a porcelain doll mask and she has quite the interesting life. She meets an abusive dude at a Halloween party, takes him home to her Lynchian apartment and things get interesting. This episode is a great example of how the show was able to explore new avenues without the confines of network censorship holding them back.
5. Split Personality:
Starring Joe Pesci (Goodfellas), I think my fondest memory of this episode is the mere fact that I watched it with my dad and I always found Joe Pesci as hilarious as my dad found my love of horror. A grifter who falls in love with twin sisters, Pesci devises a creepy plan to marry both of them in an effort to inherit their fortune after their “unfortunate” deaths. If only he hadn’t married two women who just don’t know how to share.
6. Easel Kill Ya:
This is the episode that really stuck with me all of these years. Tim Roth (Reservoir Dogs) is the token struggling artist who accidentally lands himself into a moment of artistic inspiration that catches the eye of a rich collector. His need for money helps escalate his actions in order to obtain more of it, but karma always gets you in the end. For me, the last piece this artist made was so gruesome, yet it’s so believable that some rich asshole would be ultra pleased to own it and show it off. This particular episode is a great representation of the surprising thoughtfulness that sometimes came out of this show.