Richard Donner, David Giler, Walter Hill, Joel Silver and Robert Zemeckis
William Sadler……….Niles Talbot
Mary Ellen Trainor……….Wife
Lea Thompson……….Sylvia Vane
M. Emmet Walsh……….Jonas
Warner Bros. Home Video presents Tales From the Crypt: The Complete First Season. Total running time: 168 minutes. Not Rated.
Boy, this show brings back memories. I was eight-years-old when the show premiered on HBO, and I still remember it fondly. This was back in HBO’s cable infancy where you could see some T & A and hear vulgarities. (I’m sure I’m not the only one who remembers Dream On or The Hitchhiker.) It was a special time. Now, it’s everywhere.
With each episode, we are treated to a different, ghoulish perversion. The Crypt Keeper, who resides in a grimy, spider-web-covered catacomb, is the host. This speaker of the dead has many tales of murder, deception and other malicious vices. The Keeper’s job is simple: to bookend each story and give us (un)deadpan humor.
The first season of Tales From the Crypt had a six-episode run. Perhaps the HBO executives were testing the market, seeing if there is an audience for morbid fantasies. I guess there was since the series ran for seven seasons.
Well, the creators had great source material to work from. Before the Crypt Keeper graced the boob tube he was a character in a comic book. William M. Gaines, publisher of Entertaining Comics, introduced the horror comic and offered juveniles simple tales of good and evil with ghostly types of comeuppance.
“The Man Who Was Death” – Original Airdate: June 10, 1989
The first episode in the series stars William Sadler as Niles Talbot, a penitentiary executioner who becomes obsolete when the death penalty is abolished. From the start you can tell this is either a fantasy or that the story’s setting is not in the state of Texas. Out of a job, and unable to get gainful employment, Niles decides to right the wrongs of an ill-fated justice system. Best known as a friend to Andy Dufrense and Red in Shawshank Prison, Sadler plays electrocutioner. Let’s just say the outcome is shocking.
“And All Through the House” – Original Airdate: June 10, 1989
Director Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump, Cast Away) delivers a tale about an axe-wielding maniac on Christmas Eve. As if the holiday shopping season wasn’t bad enough. Larry Drake plays the deranged individual who escaped a “cuckoo’s nest.” He is also sporting a Santa Claus outfit. That’s only half the story, though. A cheating wife who is sick and tired of her husband kills him with a fire poker. She decides to dispose of his body in a well by the front of the house. That way, she and her lover can collect on the life insurance. Hope she has a contingency plan.
“Dig That Cat…He’s Real Gone” – Original Airdate: June 10, 1989
Joe Pantoliano plays Ulric, a freak show attraction who is able to die only to be reborn. In a surgical procedure he is given the soul of cat. This translates to nine lives he has at his disposal. So for twenty minutes you see Joey Pants drown, shot, hanged, and electrocuted. When Barker (Robert Wuhl), Ulrich’s monetary partner in the attraction, asks for a big finish, he gets it. Literally. It’s times like these where elementary math comes in handy.
“Only Sin Deep” – Original Airdate: June 14, 1989
A story where Beauty and the Beast are one and the same. Lea Thompson is Sylvia, a call girl who’s head over heels for a rich playboy. In order to get him, though, she must sell her beauty to dress to impress. Unfortunately, she is not Julia Roberts, and this is not Pretty Woman. We are taught that beauty is only skin deep. But if we sell our beauty for a price, what’s left? Too bad Sylvia didn’t read her pawnshop receipt. If she did, she would know that there are no refunds.
“Lover Come Hack to Me” – Original Airdate: June 21, 1989
The plotline in a nutshell: a Honeymoon gone awry. Newlyweds Charles and Peggy retreat to a mansion so quaint you would think it was a mausoleum. As it turns out, Charles loves Peggy because of her stocks, bonds, and the house. No love for Peggy. When a night of passion makes him see the error of his ways – realizing that Peggy is a passionate woman in the bedroom – Charles has doubts about killing her. Since that was his plan all along. To make matters worse, Peggy has a family secret she has never told him. It’s to die for.
“Collection Completed” – Original Airdate: June 28, 1989
Jonas (M. Emmet Walsh) has been working for most of his life. But when he reaches retirement, he finds it hard to adjust to home life. See, while Jonas was away at work, his wife Anita took care of dogs, cats, birds, whatever. Since she never had any children, Anita tends to her pets as a mommy would to her children. Days pass at home and the pets start to unnerve Jonas. So much so that he retreats to his basement and develops a hobby. Taxidermy. It’s a pet project.
In a TV landscape, where lengthy serials can become stale over time, anthologies and single-serving episodes are a treat. Tales From the Crypt is a unique show because it combines dark humor and horror in each story. It also helps when the tales serve up a heaping dose of poetic justice. Like the Crypt Keeper would say, this DVD package is a scream!
VIDEO: How does it look?
All episodes appear in their full-frame television format. The video quality is left to be desired. Grain is present throughout each episode, but it’s to be expected considering that the show is sixteen-years-old. Still, some grain will never get in the way of ghoulish entertainment.
AUDIO: How does it sound?
The Complete first season of Tales From the Crypt comes in 2.0 Dolby Surround Sound. It would have been nice to hear Joey Pants get shot or electrocuted in 5.1 quality, or Larry Drake getting into the Christmas spirit with his blood-caked axe, but the audio is decent. I’m guessing when the episodes were aired Dolby Digital 2.0 was the best option at the time. If you like to read while you watch, the DVD comes with English, French, and Spanish subtitles. That way you can learn how to say “boils and ghouls” (the Crypt Keeper’s way of saying “boys and girls”) in three different languages.
SPECIAL FEATURES: A brand-spanking-new Introduction by the Crypt Keeper, a look back at Season One, and a documentary.
Considering there are only six episodes – and they’re only on the first disc – you have to wonder why Warner Bros. chose a two-disc format. The DVD producers could have had three episodes on one disc and three more on the other. That way they could have cleaned up the video (if they so desired) and included more supplemental material. Commentaries by each episode’s director or certain cast members would have been nice.
Instead, the only extra on disc one is a one-minute introduction by the Crypt Keeper. Here the purveyor of horror tales is in the morgue at St. Rosemary’s Hospital. Bad Botox treatment it seems. But he’s in rare form, telling the viewers to have a “ghoul”…ahem cool time.
Moving onto the special features disc, the first extra is a 50-minute documentary entitled Tales From the Crypt: From Comic Books to Television. Written, Produced, Edited, and Directed by Chris Selby, the documentary chronicles the Tales From the Crypt comics from their inception to the point where all horror comics were deemed controversial and outlawed. The featurette splices talking-head sound bites with comic book shots and footage from the Senate sub-committee about juvenile delinquency held in 1954. Publisher William M. Gaines never wanted to be in the comic book business, but he took over his father’s comic enterprise at the behest of his mother. (Father Max Gaines created the first comic in 1934 and started his own company called Educational Comics.)
Comic book historians and figures in the world of horror cinema (George A. Romero, John Carpenter) discuss the finer points of the horror comic. The topics include the artistry, springboards – combining story elements for a single story – and the different genres of horror.
The best aspect of this documentary is not the plot threads or artistic merit, it’s how a simple comic book could cause juvenile delinquency. Forty-five years later they would point the finger at R-rated feature films, rock music and Grand Theft Auto as the motivation for numerous school shootings.
Ultimately, documentary filmmaker Chris Selby does an exemplary job at showing how William M. Gaines and Entertaining Comics evolved through the years.
Besides this feature, there is the Crypt Keeper’s History of Season One. More like a rehashing of season one. The Crypt Keeper overviews all six episodes from the first year.