It’s time once again to revisit one of my most popular series of reviews: Tales from the Crypt! And we have now come to Season 5. I think I said in my review for Season 4, that by now, the series was lucky to have one good episode per year. Upon another look, I was too harsh by a few episodes. But, I still feel the series had definitely saw its best years at this point. I think they probably felt that too, since they had branched The Crypt Keeper off into his own Saturday morning cartoon series this very year; Tales From the Crypt Keeper.
Very minimal extras for this set; merely a virtual comic book which has John Kassir in full Crypt Keeper mode, narrating the original EC Comics story of Death of Some Salesman. Given the importance of the comics and how they relate to the show, it’s somewhat interesting; however it’s still disappointing that they didn’t put more effort into the supplements.
But, we do get the episodes, and that’s what we’re mainly here to talk about.
“Death of Some Salesman” - And we open with the very episode which received the virtual comic, in which a shady cemetery plot salesman winds up in the home of a strange family who doesn’t take kindly to hucksters.
A good start to the season. The premise isn’t one to yield many surprises, but there’s enough here for me to recommend this one. One of those things is Ed Begley Jr., who does a good job giving our salesman, Judd, a smarmy quality. He also had a great look for this part. He doesn’t overdo it however, and adds just enough cowardly aspects to the character that humanize him in the face of things to come.
The biggest nod goes to Tim Curry, who plays three different roles in this episode (Ma, Pa, and Winona). He was convincing in giving each one their own personality and making them left of center. It’s pretty obvious that the women are Curry, based on the facial features, but the makeup on Pa was particularly good. There are a few uncomfortable moments and some effective gross out humor. It falters toward the end, due to a twist that has lame written all over it and is this episode’s sore thumb.
“As Ye Sow” - Leo (Hector Elizondo) thinks his wife, Bridget (Patsy Kensit), is cheating on him. After private investigators fail him, he does the rational thing, and hires a hitman to kill the Priest (John Shea) that he suspects is making her speak in tongues.
Adam West has a cameo, so you know it’s quality. Very, very generic Tales episode here; and there will be quite a few more in this review to bear that cross. Elizondo is the kind of guy that has such a distinct character naturally, that he always strikes me as the same guy in almost everything I see him in. But, he’s not bad in this, and has some humorous line delivery. Kensit was nailed by Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon 2, which is about all I know about her. Here, she’s the weak link.
John Shea did the best job I thought, because he plays it straight and you can’t really tell, from his performance anyway, if he’s actually guilty of anything. The traditional, ironic Tales twist caps this one off. The episode was directed by Kyle MacLachlan, who starred in Season 3’s Carrion Death.
“Forever Ambergris” - Two wartime photographers, Ike (Steve Buscemi) and Dalton (Roger Daltry), want to get it on with the same woman, Bobbi (Lysette Anthony). Toss in a nasty virus, and you know this isn’t going to end well for someone.
All in all, this one is okay. I felt what kept it afloat was the cast. Daltry played particularly well off both Buscemi and Anthony. I liked the clueless aspect of Buscemi’s character. In an odd way, it took the sting off some of the obvious aspects of the story.
Marshall Bell appears, but rest assured, his posterior does not. A Nightmare On Elm Street fans will get that reference. Unless, he’s bared it more than once. The twist of this episode isn’t as in your face as some of the others, and has some thought behind it. For that reason, it’s probably the best of the season.
“Food For Thought” - Life in a two-bit carnival finds a young mind reader, Connie (Joan Chen), in a relationship with The Great Zambini (Ernie Hudson), an oppressive food addict who wants to learn her gift. But, Connie has eyes for another man, Johnny (John Laughlin).
This one has the setting and freaks of Lower Berth, so there are no doubt similarities to that episode. It’s not as dark, however. Ernie Hudson is the second and last Ghostbuster to appear in a Tales episode. Like in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, we see a more aggressive side of him, and he casts a strong presence as Zambini. Chen does a good job of playing the innocent; while I felt Laughlin was too underdeveloped to really become invested in.
Phil Fondacaro is present, playing a role that might make some Horror fans recall Ghoulies II, whether they wish to or not. This one was pretty much passable, until the ending, which just may be the dumbest of the season. It really hurt this episode for me, and took it down below the average mark. Cool final shot, however.
“People Who Live in Brass Hearses” - Brothers, Billy (Bill Paxton) and Virgil (Brad Dourif), plan to get some payback on the ice cream vendor (Michael Lerner) who sent Billy to prison.
Bill Paxton and Brad Dourif are no doubt an interesting combo. Paxton is the loose canon here, while Dourif is the simpleton. Against type from perhaps their best known pair of Horror outings at the time. I hope that was intentional, because I liked it. I also liked the mock Predator vs. Jesse James comic book that Virgil reads. Obviously, a nod to Joel Silver, who worked on the Predator films as well as Tales From the Crypt.
Beyond that, this one is paint by numbers. They toss in some decent violent moments, but they can’t save the episode as a whole. I wasn’t high on Michael Lerner or Lainie Kazan, who played the annoying Mrs. Grafungar. It really is a two-man cast, despite the other characters they try and introduce. Here was one that needed a good twist in a bad way, but it just didn’t happen. The ending is pretty much recycled from a Season 2 episode, and isn’t effective.
“Two For the Show” - Andy (David Paymer) kills his wife (Tracy Lords) and goes to great lengths to hide her body. He soon finds himself repeatedly running into a pushy cop (Vincent Spano), whom he can’t seem to shake.
Another fairly generic episode. It’s similar to As Ye Sow, due to dealing with infidelity and a murder plot. However, it doesn’t have some of the moments of dry humor that episode had. This one tries to be more psychological, not to a great degree of success. It mostly relies on when or if someone is going to find the body, and tries to build suspense around that; with lukewarm results.
Paymer did a pretty good job I felt. You know he’s a guilty bastard, and he plays the nervous little weasel part to the hilt. Spano wasn’t bad, but he seemed to try and make Officer Fine too eccentric for his own good, which I didn’t care for. Another tacked on Season 5 twist takes this one further down into mediocrity.
“House of Horror” - Three fraternity pledges, Arling (Wil Wheaton), Waters (Keith Coogan), and Henderson (Jason London), are challenged to enter an old mansion that is allegedly haunted by the ghost of an axe murderer.
Finally a break from the monotony of many of the previous episodes. This one, for me, is the best of the season. What I like most about it, is that it reminded me of what could have been a Season 3 episode. It has that kind of energy. Adding to the fun, is that several of the actors have a Horror background; including Brian Krause, Wheaton, and Courtney Gaines.
Wheaton was passable, and while Gaines and Krause didn’t have big roles, there wasn’t anything bad going on there. Mona (Meredith Salenger) was also supporting, but she did have a certain presence. The star of this one is pledge master Les Wilton (Kevin Dillon), a very obnoxious and effective asshole character. The twist is a little Season 2-ish, again showing they were running out of ideas, perhaps. But, it’s still pretty satisfying.
“Well Cooked Hams” - Hack magician, Miles Federman (Billy Zane), sees his ticket to fame in the form of fellow illusionist, Kraygen (Martin Sheen) and his act, known as The Box of Death. Federman soon decides he wants the act all for himself.
Take a step forward, and now take a step back. After House of Horror, I was rejuvenated again, but this one is another of Season 5’s lackluster episodes. It’s fitting that it has the word hams in the title, because hammy acting seems to be the theme. Both Zane and Sheen are pretty over the top, both in performance and appearance.
This approach didn’t make the episode fun for me; only silly. And that diluted the just desserts ending, which if you had been paying attention even a little, didn’t come as much of a surprise anyway.
“Creep Course” - Reggie (Anthony Michael Hall), convinces a nerdy girl named Stella (Nina Siemaszko) to sneak into his professor’s (Jeffrey Jones) home, in order for him to get a copy of an upcoming mid-term exam. Besides test questions, what else is waiting for them in that house?
This one is another episode that has the spirit of earlier seasons. Hall does a good job playing his slimy, slacker character. If I hadn’t saw the credits up front, I might not have known it was him. He looked to have put on some weight around this time, and wasn’t as easily recognizable; to me anyway. If you can get through this one without laughing at his hair, then you have more self-control than I.
Jeffrey Jones’ role seems a little creepy, but now that may be for all the wrong reasons. Siemaszko also did a nice job as the mousy Stella. She was pretty easy to invest in. Despite this episode’s fairly light tone, it does have a mean streak, which I enjoyed. Overall, this one isn’t a standout, but it’s enjoyable.
“Came the Dawn” - A rich man, Roger (Perry King) decides to give a stranded damsel, “Norma” (Brooke Shields), a ride back to his cottage. I think this story will have a happy ending, don’t you?
Despite an opening too good for this episode, the rest of it goes nowhere. Michael J. Pollard’s cameo is the only shot of life from the cast. Stiff Perry King and a detached Brooke Shields had almost no chemistry I thought. And 80% of the episode is them talking to one another. Did they actually expect us to buy that these two may fall for one another?
The twist is one of those ideas that I’m sure the writer thought was great, but anyone who watches it, likely will not. The extra bit of effort to make it formulaic frustrated me. It simply goes round and round, and ends up back in one of the obvious places that you thought it might be headed in the first place.
“Oil’s Well That Ends Well” - Two con artists, Jerry (Lou Diamond Phillips) and Gina (Priscilla Presley), attempt to run a scam on some wealthy oil tycoons; including Motel Hell’s Rory Calhoun.
Another quite generic episode, which is filled with some unusually bad dialog. This one is probably noted for being the episode to feature John Kassir, voice of the Crypt Keeper, in an acting role. You didn’t need me to tell you he did the voice, because even if you didn’t know already, they go out of their way to let you know. Twice.
Phillips is passable here, while Presley is a little too cold and uninteresting. Many of the old tycoons tend to blend together and cancel one another out; though there were a couple of effective old man jokes. Carty (Alan Ruck), was the only one to stand out from the pack, since he was younger and played the goofball. The twist is really overblown and hard to swallow.
“Half-Way Horrible” - A businessman, Roger (Clancy Brown), is on the verge of great success, when suddenly someone or something from his past comes calling.
Another voodoo episode? I think the only thing they mined more times than that subject, were vampires. We all know that Clancy Brown can play a good scoundrel; hell, he was the only good thing about Pet Sematary Two. He’s the best thing about this one too. John Tenney was passable as Alex, Roger’s hapless friend.
The twist in this one is unique in a couple of ways. One, it’s revealed before the end of the episode; and two, it’s not so much a literal twist in the story as it is a symbolic one. I didn’t like this one much at first. It does have a bit of a sluggish flow at times. However, upon repeat viewings, I’d say it’s passable.
“Till Death Do We Part” - After a waitress, Lucy (Kate Vernon), becomes attracted to one of her customers, Johnny (John Stamos); she ends up kidnapped by his older girlfriend, Ruth (Eileen Brennan), and her mafia crew.
Of the generic episodes in this season, this one is my least favorite. It has zero re-watch value for me. I think this was the first time I’ve seen it again since I got this set in 2006. The cast is a mixed bag. Vernon was hit and miss, and it was really hard for me to take John Stamos seriously when he was holding a firearm.
On the other hand, Brennan made the most of her part and Robert Picardo was passable as Frank. Another Frank, Frank Stallone, stuck out here I felt. One moment he’s comedy relief, then they try to make him a tough guy. I think the thing I disliked most about the episode was its disjointed plot structure. Sometimes I think things like that work, but unfortunately not in this case. The twist of this one bothered me. It made a portion of the episode utterly pointless, and if you’re like me and felt the episode was kind of pointless in the first place, then there’s a good chance you won’t like it.
And that is all for this time. I think if there is a common theme to the Season 5 episodes, it has to be disappointing, lame twist endings. In most of the previous seasons, I’d often get a sly smile across my face when the twist came; sometimes even a chill of excitement. But, I can’t say that about Season 5.
To recap my two cents, there are two good episodes and three that fall mid-way. If you’re not an avid collector of the box sets, you might want to stop with Season 4 and try to catch the select bright spots of the latter seasons elsewhere. I know Season 6’s road is about as rough and Season 7’s isn’t even paved. It could be a little while before I get to those. Hope you enjoyed the recap of the complete fifth season.
Directed by: Gilbert Adler, Kyle MacLachlan, Gary Fleder, Rodman Flender, Russell Mulcahy, Kevin Hooks, Bob Gale, Elliot Silverstein, Jeffrey Boam, Uli Edel, Paul Abascal, Gregory Widen, W. Peter Iliff
Released by: Warner Bros.
- “Death of Some Salesman” Virtual Comic Book