Tales From the Crypt: The Man Who Was Death/And All Through the House/Dig That Cat...He's Real Gone
Listening to Patrick Bromley and Adam Riske talk about Demon Knight and Bordello of Blood on this week's F This Movie! made me want to revisit the show from which those movies sprang. Sure, it's not technically a movie, but these first three episodes of Tales From the Crypt aired in a 90-minute block on HBO so it totally counts as far as I'm concerned. These three episodes are all examples of Crypt at its best, and it was really fun to revisit them. A series rewatch may be in order soon.
The first episode, The Man Who Was Death, is my favorite of the three and it introduced me to the greatness of Bill Sadler. Here he's Niles Talbot, a state executioner who's so dedicated to his job that he keeps on doing it after the death penalty is repealed in his state. Sadler is the whole show, talking to the camera and narrating his own story as we see it unfold. It was a great choice to air first because not only is Sadler so charming and inviting that we can't help but like him, but it's also structured in a way that lets the audience know what to expect from these Tales. Virtually every episode hinges on an ironic twist, and this is no exception to that, making it an ideal example of the show's mission statement.
The second (and arguably most famous) episode is And All Through the House, featuring Mary Ellen Trainor (RIP) as a woman who just killed her husband and finds herself being menaced by a murderous Santa (Larry Drake) on Christmas Eve. It's reasonably tense, funny, a little gory, and very well put together. The story was filmed once before in 1972 with Joan Collins in the lead, but this is a very entertaining update that stands nicely on its own.
The final episode, Dig That Cat...He's Real Gone (I love that they didn't change the title of any of the episodes from their 50's comic book source material) concerns a sideshow attraction who dies on stage and is resurrected every time due to having the gland of a cat implanted in his brain, giving him the cat's nine lives. Joe Pantoliano is great in the lead, equal parts sleazy and fun, and bonus points to Robert Wuhl as the carnival barker, only because I've always liked that guy and he never gets enough love. The story has easily my favorite twist of the three, culminating with a strangely logical bit of insanity that I can't help but love.
The show ended up running for seven seasons of varying quality and it's one I always enjoy. Even the bad episodes (and there are certainly a few clunkers) typically offer something worth watching, and that's more than can be said for most of what's on TV. The combination of often over-the-top gore and a warped sense of humor (and morality) really helps it stand out from the other horror anthology series out there, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't get a kick out of the Crypt Keeper, the skeletal host voiced by comedian John Kassir. Good stuff, full of fun Scary Movie Month spirit.