Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Top 25 Tales from the Crypt Episodes

I will admit that I was sort of a late bloomer to Tales from the Crypt. Not that I didn't watch it during it's initial run (and much more during it's run on the Sci-Fi Channel in syndication) because I certainly did. I liked it initially because it was scary and felt grown-up to my scandalous-loving minor self. It's only in the last couple years, however, that I've discovered just how brilliant and one-of-a-kind it actually is. The thing with Tales from the Crypt is that there will never be a show like it again. I fail to see any way that a modern show could get the kind of cast together that Tales came up with during it's run. During the course of this list you'll see some of the people that have appeared on the show, but you also have to realize that I'm leaving the majority of the episodes out in which even more huge names appeared. It was a mixture of a burgeoning medium (pay cable), a decent budget, creative freedom, and producers with a lot of famous friends. I don't want to short-change it by just talking about the cast though because some of the stories deserve just as much credit for how great this show is. I think my personal favorite attribute is how it incorporates comedy. The scope of the show can go from straight-up horror to comedy and even some thriller/drama sprinkled into it. The episodes I've chosen here cover the entire spectrum as far as I'm concerned.

As always, keep in mind that this is my personal opinion and if you have any episodes you feel I left out please mention them in the comments or the fancy shmancy new Facebook page. There are certainly a few that were very close to being included but barely missed the cut. I'll also try to not give away too many spoilers but sometimes they slip through. Sorry! So enjoy kiddies and slay tuned...ahahahahahahahoooooo...


25. Loved to Death (Season 3)

We'll start the list off with the first episode of the 3rd season (which happens to be my personal favorite season). This was obviously when Andrew McCarthy was still a draw (pre-Bernie's 2?) and he does a good enough job here as a wannabe writer in Los Angeles who thinks he is a little inspiration away from his big break. He finds that inspiration in Mariel Hemingway and completely obsesses over her, like, really fast. McCarthy is a pretty big creep in this episode so for him to eventually get out-creeped by Hemingway's character (yeah, I guess the love potion had a hand in it) is something to behold. Love potions have been ingrained in pop culture for so long that I think the only interesting way to go with it is what they have done here, which is take it way overboard until it becomes obsession. This may also be the only time in the entire series where we get a glimpse of the after-life. Also, bonus points for what appears to be a time-travelling Gene Ween from the future who gives McCarthy the elixer of love.

24. Horror in the Night (Season 7)

The last two seasons of Tales were pretty unremarkable. Ask any fan of the series and they will probably tell you that they are the worst two seasons. That's not to say that they didn't have their moments of earlier glory, as exhibited by this creepy episode. It is about a criminal that is trying to lay low after the crime he committed. The only viable option appears to be a hotel. Right away you can tell there is something off about this hotel and as the episode goes on things go more and more off the rails. I guess I'm a sucker for people losing their minds in hotels because I also love The Shining (but who doesn't besides Stephen King?) and I thought 1408 was a great little movie as well. This fits that theme perfectly and it has an entirely different vibe than the rest of the terrible seventh season.

23. Maniac at Large (Season 4)

Another great thing about Tales is it's lack of shame when it comes to twist endings. Almost every episode has at least some kind of twist and as with most movies or TV shows it really only works about half the time. The other half you can either see it coming or it's pretty lame. It might not ruin the episode but it sure doesn't do it any favors. I think this episode is great because I honestly didn't call the twist for this one, even though in hindsight it seems completely obvious. I think that's the best part of a twist ending, you know, when it's right in front of your face but you still don't see it coming. This episode is about a librarian, played by Blythe Danner, who is terrified of a serial killer on the loose in her town. That's about it. We also get perhaps the most red herrings in Tales history as well, as every single character in the episode seems like they are the killer at some point or another.

22. Carrion Death (Season 3)

This is a weird one. Kyle MacLachlan plays an escaped criminal trying to make his way to Mexico. He is pursued by a cop and a vulture who has some kind of weird personal vendetta against him. He eventually kills the police officer but not before getting cuffed to him in a strange turn of events. He ends up having to drag the trooper along with him while still being pursued by that pesky vulture. The gore in this one is top notch but it doesn't really show up until the final act. The pace is solid though and more than makes up for the lack of real action. McLachlan hams it up big time but in a good way.

21. The Ventriloquist's Dummy (Season 2)

Let's face it, ventriloquist dolls are freaky no matter how they are presented. You always feel like they are one puppet step away from biting the neck of their master and then coming straight for you. Well I'm happy to say that this episode confirmed all of those fears. This is one of those episodes that I saw as a kid that really freaked me out and stuck with me. Bobcat Goldthwait plays a struggling ventriloquist who hunts down master Don Rickles to help him with his act. I mean, these two guys starring in anything together (even with freaky ass dolls) means I'll watch it. This is no exception, no matter what crippling, debilitating fear of human-seeming puppets it meant for me and my future.

20. Two for the Show (Season 5)

This episode is the epitome of a slow burn. Not particularly scary or gory but you won't find a more intense episode anywhere in the series. The always-great David Paymer plays a frustrated, workaholic husband who kills his wife after finding out about an affair she was having. Vincent Spano co-stars as a police officer who seems to always be in Paymers's way as he tries to get rid of the body. This is excellently shot and the acting is also top-notch. The reason for the pretty low ranking is because it barely feels like a Tales from the Crypt episode and more like a very good network show.

19. Mournin' Mess (Season 3)

Steven Weber stars as a failing reporter looking for a big story. He stumbles upon a huge conspiracy in the city but can't seem to find a way to make it credible and get the authorities involved. He goes on a personal mission to find out what's going on but gets way more than he bargained for. I can't believe I'm saying this but Weber does an excellent job in this episode and his persona actually fits that of frustrated reporter guy. Rita Wilson and the incredible Vincent Schiavello co-star in a very gory and dark entry into the series.

18. Collection Completed (Season 1)

M. Emmett Walsh and Audra Lindley, two very excellent veteran actors have the only roles in this early episode. Walsh plays a recent retiree who discovers that his wife has gotten a little too into pets. He starts spending his days at home and gets bombarded by all of these animals that his wife loves so much. It eventually drives him a little bonkers. This one is pretty predictable but it doesn't change how fun the ride is. Walsh and Lindley are hilarious and they work off of each other very well. Despite the subject matter this is actually a very funny episode with a sadistic edge and not the other way around.

17. Television Terror (Season 2)

Anyone even slightly familiar with Morton Downey Jr. should want to see him running scared and/or murdered. He's up there with the most annoying people in history but he's so unashamed and aware of this fact that he plays it perfectly most of the time, including in this episode. It is shorter than most of the other episodes but still works, maybe even benefits from it. A lot of Tales episodes would probably have been better cut down a little bit but they had to fill that hour quota most of the time. Downey plays a shock journalist that has no shame about his desire to get ratings. He's even willing to go into an obviously haunted house with a live video feed and yeah, you probably know how this one ends already. It's got that handheld feel that is all the rage now but was pretty original for the time, in fact it feels like REC (but perhaps more Quarantine) took a few pointers directly out of this one.

16. For Crying Out Loud (Season 2)

Some of you might recognize Lee Arenberg from all sorts of small roles (though I will always remember him as the Human Flame from Freaked) and he shines here as a greedy band manager whose conscience starts to confront him about his shady deeds in the form of the voice of Sam Kinison. Arenberg plays spazzy lunatic very well and Katy Segal also makes an appearance as a fake groupie who attempts to blackmail him. This episode is pretty brilliant and by the end you can understand why he has lost his mind and actually feel bad for him even though he's horrible. Hearing Sam Kinison for the length of this episode might have done permanent damage to my psyche and I'm not even in the show. Extra super bonus points for the ridiculously stupid Iggy Pop concert that is playing, mostly in the background. Stupid in all the best ways, I mean.

15. Forever Ambergris (Season 5)

I'll never say that Roger Daltrey is a great actor (though he did make a strong impression in the opening scene of If Looks Could Kill) but with solid supporting actors like Steve Buscemi and Rebecca DeMornay he doesn't have to work that hard I guess. None of this matters though as the star of this episode is the gore. There are only two really gross scenes but they are worth it. Daltrey plays a formerly great photographer who is in a big slump. He heads out with an army platoon with rising photography star Buscemi to get some scenes of war. The real good and gross (i.e. marketable) photos are in an area that the army refuses to go to for killer gas reasons. I won't give away much more but don't have a big meal before watching this one.

14. House of Horror (Season 5)

Ok, this one is a total guilty pleasure. It's about a crew of aspiring frat dudes (Keith Coogan, Jason London, Wil Wheaton) that try to get into the cool frat house run by actual frat dudes (Kevin Dillon, Brian Krause, Courtney Gains) by passing their frat tests, culminating in a one night stay at the local haunted house. First of all, that cast is gloriously early 90's and Courtney Gains as a frat boy blows my mind. This episode never takes itself seriously and that's why I like it so much personally. It's just funny and sometimes that's all I need with a Tales episode. Jason London's Henderson, in particular, will always be a favorite character.

13. Dig That Cat, He's Real Gone (Season 1)

A big reason for the series being great is that it started off very strong. In fact, I could have easily put most of the episodes from the short first season onto this list. This is an episode that genuinely stands out though and I have to give most of the credit to Mr. Joey Pants himself, Joe Pantoliano. He plays a bum that is taken off the streets by a mad scientist and used as a guinea pig. The doctor switches his soul with a cat's (or something along those lines) and receives 9 lives as a result. Naturally his first instinct when faced with near-immortality is to kill himself over and over again in a magic show. Now granted, he does get quite a career out of it by the end but it still doesn't seem like a very good use of multiple lives. The ending, while kind of predictable, is still very fitting and well done.

12. Split Personality (Season 4)

Joe Pesci stars as an expert con man looking for a big score in this clever episode. He meets his dream girls by coincidence in the form of rich, identical twins who are completely sheltered from society. After romancing both of them he realizes that he can't get their fortune because he has to marry both of them somehow. To circumvent this little problem he reveals to them that he also has an identical twin brother that he somehow forgot to mention. He pulls off the scheme for a while but he gets a little too relaxed and overzealous and then...fireworks. This episode has an insane ending and the twins are really creepy for some reason, ya know, besides the fact that they are twins.

11. Three's a Crowd (Season 2)

This one is just depressing. Gary Busey-Jeffrey Dahmer lovechild Gavin O'Herlihy stars as a man who is failing at life and is pretty depressed. He is constantly reminded of his best friend's wealth because the guy has no shame in flaunting it all the time and pretty shamelessly flirting with O'Herlihy's wife. Best friend invites them both out to his beach house for the weekend and O'Herlihy (sorry, that's just a fun name to type), through a mixture of alcohol and spousal rage, suspects them of having an affair. The ending of this one is up there with my favorites and is, like I said, totally depressing. O'Herlihy (tee hee) is terrifying when he gets into rage mode and I hope I never pass him in a dark and deserted alleyway.

10. Death of Some Salesman (Season 5)

This was the first episode of season 5 and it was a doozy. Ed Begley Jr. plays the main role in this episode, and he is great, but all the accolades and attention go to Tim Curry (who received an Emmy nomination for this role) and with good reason. Curry plays three parts in the episode, a family of hillbilly-ish folks who kill any type of salesmen that tries to con them. Begley is a salesmen and a con man so I think you can see where this one is going. He attempts to sell the Curry family some very lucrative funeral plots and it doesn't quite work out for him. The make-up in this episode is top-notch and every character Curry inhabits is terrifying in their own right. Begley holds his own but you can only try to keep up when you are competing with three Tim Currys. You will never ever get the sex scene in this one out of your memory no matter how hard you try.

9. Top Billing (Season 3)

I'm not sure if I've made it apparent on here yet but I think Jon Lovitz is one of the funnist people ever. He was always under-appreciated on SNL and never got to make his mark afterwards in a featured capacity, even though he had a lot of memorable minor roles. This episode made me happy for him because A) he was the lead, and B) it was about theater which is where Lovitz had his roots. This must have been a pretty awesome experience for him. He plays a failing theater actor (a lot of failing people in this series, eh?) who seems to always get passed over because of his looks, or lack thereof. He meets his fellow actor and  good-looking douchebag Tron and they compete for a role in a local Shakespeare production of Hamlet. Lovitz doesn't get the role and kind of goes nuts but that is only the tip of the iceberg in this very entertaining episode. The supporting cast, especially John Astin as the theater director, is very good as well.

8. All Through the House (Season 1)

This might be the most well-known Tales episode and for good reason. It was very early in the series and has a plot that you could never forget. While there have been quite a few murdering Santa Clauses presented in movies and (maybe?) TV shows over the years, none seemed to be quite as scary or menacing as Larry Drake. Drake is just a genuinely creepy-looking guy normally and they crank it up quite a bit for his rendition of Psycho Claus. I definitely saw this one when I was young and it terrified me since that was pretty much a child's worst fear (besides sentient ventriloquist dolls). The vibe of the episode is very dark and even the woman being chased for the majority is not innocent. You knew you weren't cheering for Drake but you also weren't really cheering for her either, just kind of hoping the daughter could be spared somehow but never really being convinced. This is one of the more frightening episodes if it's not obvious already.

7. People Who Live in Brass Hearses (Season 5)

I've already talked quite a bit about this episode here, so I won't elaborate too much. This one is just so weird that I can't help but love it. Bill Paxton loves eating sticks of butter. Case closed.

6. The New Arrival (Season 4)

You may recognize that pretty little lady from Poltergeist. Her name is Zelda Rubenstein and in this episode she plays the mother of a troubled child. David Warner plays a radio child psychologist who attempts to boost his ratings by making a house call to Zelda's funhouse to help her. Yet another episode that stuck out from my youth and rightfully so, because it is legitimately creepy. I mean, Zelda Rubenstein in anything bumps up the creep factor a few notches and this is no exception. I also always have a soft spot for demented funhouses with deadly traps (which might be the only logical reason for my fondness for Ghoulies 2), unless of course, they star Dan Ackroyed post-1987 (yeah, I'm looking at you Nothing But Trouble you piece of shit). Also, Twiggy gets decapitated!

5. The Reluctant Vampire (Season 3)

The funniest episode of Tales in my opinion. This one sacrifices every bit of terror and gore for comedy and it works. Malcolm McDowell plays the title character and his name is...wait for it...Donald Longtooth. Incredible. He works at a blood bank as a security guard and during the night shift gets to feed his sweet longtooth with all of the delicious blood he can chug. All he has to do is fix the books and he's all set. He does this routine because he doesn't like to kill people. He is quite literally a reluctant vampire. He falls in love with one of the bank tellers but can't tell her about his affliction. This episode cracks me up because the acting is not very good but it fits with the silly vibe. George Wendt is the villain for christ's sake! I mean seriously, I can't think of a funnier image from this series than McDowell jumping up and down on a guy to drain his blood into a big water jug. It's absurd.

4. Let the Punishment Fit the Crime (Season 6)

As much as I badmouth the last two seasons of Tales, and I do quite a bit, at least they gave us this gem. Catherine O'Hara stars as a loudmouth lawyer who gets pulled over in a small town for a license plate violation. She soon realizes that the justice system in this town is very skewed and getting out of this won't be nearly as easy as she thought. Peter MacNicol co-stars as her appointed attorney who tries his best to get her out of trouble despite the fact that she keeps making it worse for herself. This episode is shot at weird angles and has a real sense of unease about it. Once you realize just how old-fashioned this legal system is you find yourself just as uncomfortable as O'Hara and it just makes me glad that I live in a big city where at least I can understand the corruption.

3. Cutting Cards (Season 2)

This episode, another of the shorter yet memorable episodes of the series, has almost no plot but who really cares? Two pro gamblers with a storied past confront each other and agree to take their chances until the other either quits or dies. That's pretty much it. They start with Russian Roullette, then onto finger mutilation, and finally the most depressing game of chess I've ever seen. Yet again the casting has takes center stage with Lance Henrikson and Kevin Tighe, two guys who can do crazy in a variety of ways, outdoing each other in sadism. An extremely dark and demented episode with just the right amount of comic tone. A perfect example of what Tales excels at.

2. What's Cookin'? (Season 4)

Watching this episode, despite how great it is, always makes me a little sad because it shows just how great Christopher Reeves was and how we lost such a great actor in his prime. Well maybe that's a little too much praise but this episode showed he could pull off a role that needed to go all over the place. He and his wife, played by Bess Armstrong, are in debt because of Reeves' misguided attempt at a squid-only restaurant. Their landlord, played with a sleazy zest by Meatloaf, threatens to kick them out unless they can come up with their back rent. Their recently hired employee, a grifter played by Judd Nelson, offers his special barbecue recipe to them as a way to get their business back. Little do they know that when they serve their meatloaf that it is actually Meatloaf. This episode is so entertaining and has a little bit of everything: great shots, great acting, a creepy vibe, genuinely funny moments, and a great ending. Everything you could ask for in a Tales episode.

1. Abra Cadaver (Season 3)

Well here it is. I can honestly say that I think this is among the scariest episodes of the series but the reason it takes the top spot is because of how creative it is. The episode starts in an apparent flashback that shows a cruel prank played on Beau Bridges' character, Martin Fairbanks, by his brother Carl, played by Tony Goldwyn. The prank has a traumatizing effect on Martin and he never realizes his dream of becoming a surgeon because of it. Carl, on the other hand, does become a successful surgeon and Martin has resented him for it ever since that prank. He decides to test out a new experimental serum on his brother, without his consent, for a little payback. This is a very well done episode and the times when you are seeing the POV from Carl as he's paralyzed is very memorable and unsettling. Goldwyn sometimes overplays it a little bit by stating some things outright that someone in that position would never say, but that is only a little distracting. Once the reality sets in you just feel awful for him. Yet again a very good twist ending that you think you have figured out but then takes another turn. This is a genuinely terrifying and exceptional episode and I can't think of another episode that still resonates as much as this one every time I watch it.

14 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. At the time this series was at it's peak I wasn't allowed to watch it. I do remember House of Horror and Television Terror. The later one scared the hell out of me. There's something about an old lady with a chainsaw!

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    1. Both those episodes are the scariest ib my opinion. I saw house of horror as a kid around midnight and it spooed the crap out of me.

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  3. The Secret ranks pretty high with me, as does Mute Witness to Murder. Beauty Rest, Half-Way Horrible, and Fatal Caper are great too.

    Have you ever read the comic books that the show is based on? It's very good and, at times, better than the show. :D

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  4. You do know that the name of number 12 is split second, not split personality right?

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    1. Nope. Split Second was the name of a different episode about a lumberjack boss (Brion James) and his wife. She's a seductress, and she woos a young lumberjack into dangerous sexual encounters. Typical morality tale ensues with a fun twist, a good Tales offering. But the Joe Pesci/twins episode is indeed called Split Personality.

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  5. I can't believe you forgot to put in the season 2 episode Dead Right with Demi Moore and Jeffery Tambor. Just saw it yesterday again and it was funny, horrible and a bit tragic. I really felt bad for both of them at the end, and Demi's death scene had me tear up a bad. You have to feel bad for the girl.

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  6. It's Lysette Anthony NOT Rebecca De Mornay in Forever Ambergris

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  7. Death of some salesman is a stone cold classic. Tim Curry's grotesque performance as Winona will stay with me forever.

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  8. I'm running over the complete series Marathon style. Although, I still have many episodes left to watch, Cutting Cards strikes me as a classic.

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  9. I will never forget... "The sense of touch... it isn't the first to go... it's the LAST!! AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!!!"

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  10. Dont forget "Only skin Deep"....

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  11. What about season 2 "Til Death", freaked me out as a kid.

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