I'm back; having gone through a large, creaking gate; made my way up and into a scary, run down mansion; slipped behind a bookshelf, down a long winding set of stairs and into the dungeon itself to bring you a review of Tales From The Crypt Season 4's 14 episodes.
This is where Warner Bros. began to skimp on its treatment of the series on DVD. First went the fancy packaging, and now the Cryptkeeper menus and featurettes are MIA. This leaves us with little in the way of quality supplements; and it would sadly get even more sparse from here. But, I can't simply complain about the set's specs for multiple paragraphs, so we might as well go ahead and get to the episodes:
"None But The Lonely Heart" - Howard Prince (Treat Williams) is a younger man who loves older women... actually, he loves to marry them and knock them off for their money; in this episode directed by Tom Hanks.
A much stronger opener than last Season's Loved To Death. Until the finale, this one is mostly carried by the acting. Treat Williams plays a great antagonist here. In the way he portrays Howard, you get not only the sense of faux sincerity when he's dealing with these poor old ladies, but also a subtle mockery that they aren't able to pick up on. It makes him really unlikable in a good way, and sells the smarmy and uncaring side of his character. Frances Sternhagen plays Effie, his latest target, and nails the role of the lonely, sweet old lady.
The only problem I had with the story really, was that Effie falls for Howard a little too quickly for my tastes. But, I understand it's a half hour show. Like Michael J. Fox before him, Tom Hanks does insert himself into the episode. I can't fault him too much, since I thought he did a good job directing this. It's also not quite the same as with Fox, which was nothing more than a "Hey! It's Michael J. Fox!" moment. Though speaking of those type of moments, Sugar Ray Leonard appears in just such a role. It was important to the story, but he had such little screen time, that it seemed like a simple celebrity cameo. A few of my nitpicks aside; a pretty solid opening.
"This'll Kill Ya" - George (Dylan McDermott) is a slickster working with a pair of doctors, Sophie (Sonia Braga) and Pack (Cleavon Little), to develop an experimental drug called H-Cell 24 to treat patients suffering from disease. Got a feeling something will go horribly wrong? I do.
Not to be confused with last Season's much better Easel Kill Ya, this one was a big step down from the previous episode in my view. It's cookie cutter material, from its story to its characters. George thinks he's a hotshot and has an on again, off again relationship with Sophie; who acts spiteful but still can't resist him. Pack strongly insists the drug hasn't been fully tested yet. Zzzzzzzzzz.... I just wasn't interested in this at all; and consider it to be among the thinnest of Crypt episodes. The acting isn't that great either; especially from Sonia Braga.
The only thing that could help this one would have been some kind of clever twist, but the bad news keeps coming. The full twist is not only underwhelming and a cop out, but it's one of those overblown things that gives you the impression that the writers felt this was something truly amazing; and you just feel bad for them which is never a good thing to end on.
"On A Dead Man's Chest" - A rock band begins having problems when lead singer Danny Darwin (Yul Vazquez) thinks Scarlett (Tia Carrere) is trying to break up the band, by causing a rift between he and his bassist Nick Bosch (Paul Hipp). Things only get worse, when he gets a tattoo from Farouche (Heavy D) who is known for bringing what's under your skin to the surface.
A couple years ago, I probably would have told you this episode was hit and miss; but recently I've come to really like it a lot. This one was directed by William Friedkin (hence the reason for the band being named The Exorcists, lawlz). He also uses the casting of Sherri Rose as a groupie named Vendetta, to provide Tales with perhaps its most obligatory scene of sex and nudity. It works though in this rock and roll type environment.
Friedkin makes you wait, then provides some grisly moments. The ending is particularly memorable I thought. It's a unique episode with a strange and interesting concept, reinforced by good performances. I especially liked Vazquez and Hipp; and I think you believe they're really these 80's rockers in the midst of a time when the music scene was about to change. In a strange way, you could see the whole episode in hindsight as a statement along those lines. Also, the idea of a tattoo being the antagonist of the episode in many ways, ranks high on my list of concepts from the series.
"Seance" - A pair of swindlers, Alison and Benny (Cathy Moriarty and Ben Cross), set their sights on ripping off Mr. Chalmers (John Verger), and soon after, his wife (Ellen Crawford).
"Jesus Christ in a cardigan sweater", this one is fairly straight forward, isn't it? It's pretty much your standard con-artist episode with a supernatural twist; and is the second episode this Season to utilize the old 'Start at the end and work your way back' approach. The whole episode has this kind of half-hearted noir feel to it. I don't know if the intent was to hold back a bit on that, or they didn't quite pull off what they set out to do.
I found the performances to all be pretty stiff, with the exception of Ellen Crawford. John Vernon could get away with the cold tone, but not so much the others in my view. The only thing this one has going for it is a pretty brutal finale in terms of gore. But, it lacks in terms of a strong twist; because I think you will be able to see it coming fairly easily. I find this one to be pretty forgettable.
"Beauty Rest" - Helen (Mimi Rogers) is an aging and struggling actress at a breaking point because, she can't land the roles she wants. When she sees a chance to enter a beauty pageant, she makes that happen... not even knowing what the winner gets.
This one has grown on me a bit too; with it slotting into the "okay" column. It has a similar feel to Season 3's Top Billing to me in several ways; but the difference here is that Mimi Rogers is actually able to sell the despair of her character. Her interactions with her bubbly and possibly slutty (we never know for sure if the things Helen says about her are true) roommate Joyce (Kathy Ireland), are entertaining early on. Later on, the hypocritical aspect of Helen's character is explored through the character of Druscilla (Jennifer Rubin), and George (Buck Henry) camps it up a bit in his role.
I think this episode is one of those that on a first run through might not have much going for it, but once you see the twist, it does add a tongue-in-cheek eeriness to the whole thing upon repeat viewings. Though the twist does run the risk of ruining the episode for some I'm sure, because it is kind of silly. But, it very much felt like something right out of EC Comics, so I was accepting of it.
"What's Cookin' " - Fred (Christopher Reeve) and Erma (Bess Armstrong) own a failing squid restaurant, but help comes in the form of a drifter named Gaston (Judd Nelson) and his rather unorthodox recipe for steak.
I like this one. I think it has a nice balance of reality, gross out, and humor that make it both well made and entertaining. While the initial twist in the episode probably won't be hard to figure out, it does contain a couple more that keep the story flowing and from becoming stale. This one has another good cast, with strong performances from all the principles; even Judd Nelson, who I'm not usually a big fan of. He delivered a low key and humorous performance that fit in well with Reeve and Armstrong.
The one cool special feature Warner gave us was in regards to this episode; an audio commentary featuring John Kassir (in character the whole time), writer AL Katz, and Author Digby Diehl. It may be for only one episode, but it is a never boring, feel good kind of commentary I thought.
"The New Arrival" - In an effort to boost his ratings, Child Psychologist Alan Getz (David Warner) takes his radio show to the home of an elderly woman, Nora (the late Zelda Rubinstein) who is having problems with her Daughter, Felicity.
While the episode opens with a humorous scene, it soon shifts its focus to a creepier tone when Dr. Getz and his show's producer, Bonnie (Twiggy) and a rep from the radio station, Rona (Joan Severance) show up to visit Nora's home. Much like she did in Poltergeist, Zelda Rubinstein adds to that tone with her mere presence and voice. David Warner plays Getz somewhere between an asshole and an intellectual; and Twiggy, I hate typing that, comes across well as the more tempered Bonnie. They all work well together throughout. The only one I didn't like was Rona, who I thought felt out of place a bit.
The strength of the episode is that it has a mystery format where you aren't quite sure what's going on up in Felicity's room. The episode gives you a couple possibilities, but you don't know for sure. At first you only hear her, then think you see her (but perhaps not), and so forth. It keeps you second guessing until the finale, which was quite macabre. This is my favorite Season 4 episode.
"Showdown" - An outlaw on the run, Billy Quintaine (Neil Gray Giuntoli), begins seeing the ghosts of various men he's killed in gun fights over the years after drinking a tonic given to him by a salesman.
This is the first of two episodes brought over from Two-Fisted Tales in this Season. Giuntoli is a credible badass until he starts speaking a lot. His voice and specifically his laugh doesn't project that image very well. His emotional scenes also aren't that flattering. Other than our Texas Ranger Tommy (David Morse) who was okay, the other characters aren't developed enough for me to get a gauge on.
A twist is featured, but it's not in its customary place. The entire episode is a bit disjointed actually. I can't say this one is bad, but it seems like an episode that was driven by a single idea, which was perhaps played out a little too early. The best thing I can say for it, is that it's the one in the three random episodes, that actually feels more like a true episode of Crypt.
"King of the Road" - Joe Garrett (Ray Barry), a former street racer who was known as Iceman, is pursued by an unhinged young man, Billy (Brad Pitt) who will do anything it takes to get the legend to come out of retirement for one last race.
This is the final transplanted episode from Two-Fisted Tales, and the worst of them, at least in this context. Maybe this was a good story for that show, but it just doesn't cut it as an episode of Crypt in my view. I think Brad Pitt did well in this, while Ray Barry was mostly stiff; only aided by his slightly formidable presence. Joe's Daughter, Carey (Michelle Bronson) wasn't much to write home about either.
This is more or less a straight Drama with a few (mostly lame) thriller elements. King of the Road doesn't even have the twist-laden structure of this series, and ends exactly as a formulaic Drama should, making it one of the coldest and most generic endings of the series. I have to think the Tales From The Crypt crew were aware of this, because they edited bookend segments of The Cryptkeeper doing his best mock dramatic acting, onto this episode.
"Maniac At Large" - A jittery librarian, Margaret (Blythe Danner) is made to work late by her boss, and becomes convinced that the neighborhood's new serial killer is after her. Soon, everyone she comes into contact with becomes a suspect.
Going in, this one had a lot going for it; it's directed by John Frankenheimer and is at least a true Tales From The Crypt episode. But, I still found it to be a mixed bag. The whole thrust of the story is who the killer will turn out to be of course. Is it Pipkin (Adam Ant), the serial killer fanboy who likes to frequent the library, or is it Grady (Clarence Williams III), the somewhat unstable security guard? Is it someone else all together? The story's strong point is that it does a good job of making you suspect each person; though it does seem like they're laying it on a little too thick in certain places.
The performances aren't bad; the best probably coming from Blythe Danner. She does a good job of making Margaret seem paranoid, and keeps you believing it throughout. I think the twist was the big problem for me. I've read that a lot of people really liked it, but while I did find it somewhat amusing, I didn't really go for it. It made the whole thing seem a little goofy to me in retrospect. I might would place this in the "okay" column on a generous day.
"Split Personality" - Vic (Joe Pesci) is a con-man who's always had a thing for twins; and when he stumbles upon the chance to cheat two sisters named April and June (Jacqueline Alexandra Citron and Kristen Amber Citron) out of their inherited fortune, he thinks he's in Heaven. But, something's a little off about these two.
Well, we've had a con-artist episode with a supernatural twist already, so now let's have one with... twins! This one is no doubt the most cornball episode of the Season. It's mostly just Joe Pesci acting like Joe Pesci for twenty-plus minutes. Most of the humor falls flat, like when Pesci starts trying to act hip later on. The twins are actually better the few times we see them apart than when they're together.
Together, they speak in more mono-tone voices and often at the same time; sounding and acting like Stepford Wives. Yeah, it comes off as a little strange to begin with, which I'm sure was the intended effect; but gets old quite fast. Not even an EC-style ending (the only highlight to me) could save this one. It's essentially fluff, and unless you're a giant Joe Pesci fan; you might want to skip this one. It wields no surprises.
"Strung Along" - An aging puppeteer, Joseph Renfield (Donald O'Connell) hires a younger man, David (Zach Galligan) to help him prepare for a tribute show to the 1950's. David soon begins to clash with Charles's wife, Ellen (Patricia Charbonneau).
Co-written and directed by Cryptkeeper designer Kevin Yagher, this one is probably the first above average episode since The New Arrival. O'Connell and Galligan do well, though I wasn't a big fan of Patricia Charbonneau in this. Perhaps it's just coincidence given Yagher's history with Chucky, but this episode uses some of the same techniques of Child's Play (Puppet Master as well I suppose); as we see Joseph's seemingly innocent puppet Coco in many foreboding shots that imply he could come to life at any time. If he's actually alive or not, is one of the episode's big
questions. The answer might not be exactly what you're thinking.
It relies on a double twist, which worked I thought. The first, while not bad, I do feel they went a little overboard with the misdirection leading up to it. That perhaps brought some additional attention to what they were trying to hide, and caused it to surprise less people than it would have had they simply allowed it to play more straight. The second was better executed, and a little creepy, leading to a pretty good finale.
"Werewolf Concerto" - A werewolf is on the loose killing off residents at a resort. They're informed that a werewolf hunter has been employed to kill the creature; but who is this hunter? Better yet, who is the werewolf?
I see this one cited often as a memorable episode by a lot of Crypt fans. If nothing else, it would have been among the episodes with the most recognizable faces scattered about: Timothy Dalton, Beverley D'Angelo, Charles Fleischer, Dennis Farina, Reginald VelJohnson, Wolfgang Puck, and Walter Gotell. But overall, it was a pretty good episode.
D'Angelo is good in her brief role of pianist Janice Baird. Timothy Dalton is much more the star of the episode, and does well as the too cool for his own good, Mr. Lokai. Charles Fleischer plays Carl Rechek; who was somewhat underused I felt. He's often cast to play strange little men. He would come back in 1995 to play yet another in Demon Knight. The episode opens and closes strong; beginning with a grisly sequence and ending with a nicely layered bait and switch gag.
"Curiosity Killed" - Two elderly couples, Cynthia (Margot Kidder) and Jack (Kevin McCarthy); Lucille (Madge Sinclair) and Harry (J.A. Preston) go into the woods for a camping trip. Soon, Cynthia thinks Jack, who is she is constantly fighting with, is plotting with Harry to kill her.
This one is hit and miss for me. Some of the bickering between Jack and Cynthia is funny, but it doesn't sustain for a long period of time. The episode relies on the technique of applying old age makeup to its actors. I think they did a better job on the men than the women honestly. The makeup on Lucille looks more like burn scars in certain shots, and Cynthia's makeup is a little over the top. She resembles a witch, and that didn't quite work for me.
I think Margot Kidder went a little over the top in playing her too, but she did have a few moments. The little song Jack makes up and then proceeds to sing two more times, ranks just behind Halloween III's Silver Shamrock one on an annoying scale. The rest of the episode is typical average Tales From The Crypt fare, and we get some nasty moments near the end. The lesson to be learned? Erectile Dysfunction is no laughing matter.
That's it for Season 4. This is where the series really became hot and cold to me. With three winners on the first disc, one on the second, and one on the third; I think you can start to see the really good stuff getting fewer and farther between. From here on, I think they were lucky to have more than one memorable show per Season.
Directed by: Tom Hanks, Robert Longo, William Friedkin, Gary Fleder, Stephen Hopkins, Gilbert Adler, Peter Medak, Richard Donner, Tom Holland, John Frankenheimer, Joel Silver, Kevin Yagher, Steve Perry, Elliot Silverstein
Released by: Warner Bros.
- Audio Commentary by John Kassir, AL Katz, and Digby Diehl
- Stars of Season 4 Montage hosted by The Cryptkeeper