One of my favorite horror-themed shows has always been HBO's "Tales from the Crypt." The show ran from June 1989, to July 1996 airing a total of 93 episodes. The title is based on the 1950s EC Comics series of the same name and most of the content originated in that comic or the six other EC Comics of the time ("The Crypt of Terror," "Haunt of Fear," "Vault of Horror," "Crime SuspenStories," "Shock SuspenStories" and "Two-Fisted Tales").
The show just nailed the unnerving atmosphere perfectly (as did Danny Elfman's superb theme song); it also had one of the greatest hosts (apologies to Rod Serling) in all of TV history in the vile and pun-tastic Crypt Keeper. I fondly recall my brothers and I gathering around the TV with lights off to watch many of the episodes...and that was something we rarely did, especially on Saturday night during the summer months, so you know this show had something special about it.
So, in keeping with the Halloween spirit I thought it would be fun to recall ten of my favorite episodes from the show's seven year run:
"House of Horror" (Season 5)
"House of Horror" focuses on a group of fraternity pledges that are forced to venture into a haunted house by the leaders of the frat. It stars Wil Wheaton and Keith Coogan (who had previously co-starred in "Toy Soldiers") as well as Kevin Dillon, Michael DeLuise, and Jason London. The cast is perfect and the scares come as often as the jokes. There are similarities to the film Hell Night, but "House of Horror" is quite original as well.
"The Reluctant Vampire" (Season 3)
"The Reluctant Vampire" is a fairly comedic episode starring Malcolm McDowell as "Donald Longtooth," an overly-friendly vampire that makes Edward Cullen look like Jerry Dandrige. His boss, "Mr. Crosswhite," (George Wendt) is convinced that Donald is a vampire, and it isn't long before a vampire hunter (Michael Berryman) appears, but not until "Sally," a "friend" of Donald's gets involved. It's a great episode that mixes comedy, romance, and horror together beautifully.
"Let the Punishment Fit the Crime" (Season 6)
Catherine O'Hara stars as a churlish 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. The acting is the star here, as everyone comes across as genuine. Catherine O'Hara is hilarious, and I could feel her unease throughout the whole episode. I can't help but think of this episode whenever I drive through a small town. Stay tuned 'til the end for the funny/ironic twist.
"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 was big on this episode because of the conspiracy side of the story and the underlying Illuminati-style tones. The biggest thing for me as a kid though was the gore and special effects toward the end. Absolutely beautiful and disgusting at the same time; a great episode and a nasty twist ending.
"Abra Cadaver" (Season 3)
Medical mishaps are a terrifying reality for a lot of people, and "Abra Cadaver," an episode about two surgeons that like playing practical jokes on each other isn't creepy in its tone, but certainly in its subject matter. I feel like describing the events of the episode will ruin it for those who have never seen it, so all I'll say is Beau Bridges and Tony Goldwyn are awesome...and the ending is brutal.
"Television Terror" (Season 2)
It's not hard to understand why "Television Terror" is considered one of the greatest and most popular episodes of "Tales from the Crypt." It is certainly a precursor to the found footage phenomenon of the 90s. A television show host ventures into a "haunted" house with his crew and things go completely haywire when they realize that they aren't the only ones in the home. It's an ultra-violent and all-around awesome episode that everyone should watch, especially the finale.
"The Ventriloquist's Dummy" (Season 2)
Bobcat Goldthwait plays a struggling ventriloquist who hunts down master ventriloquist Don Rickles to help with his act. Bobcat's character grew up idolizing Don's character until a mysterious fire ended his career. This episode freaked me out so bad when I was a kid. It's interesting throughout, but gets REALLY good when you find out the secret behind Don Rickles' talent. Creepy as hell and guaranteed to give you the chills.
"The New Arrival" (Season 4)
David Warner plays a radio child psychologist who attempts to boost his ratings by making a house call to help a troubled young girl. This episode features the awesome Zelda Rubinstein (weird, psychic lady in "Poltergeist") in full form as the young girl's mother. Once getting in the house, Warner's character realizes there is a little more to the story than he thought. He tries to escape but finds out that the house is a giant fun-house of traps. It's an absolute blast of an episode and the final minutes are unbelievably creepy...a nightmare captured on film.
"Undertaking Palor" (Season 3)
"Undertaking Palor" is easily one of my favorite episode of "Tales from the Crypt" and one of my favorite featurettes of all time. Starring Jonathan Ke Quan ("Data" from The Goonies and "Short Round" from The Temple of Doom), Jason Marsden (from "Boy Meets World" and "Eerie, Indiana"), Aron Eisenberg, and Scott Fults as a group of young, wannabe filmmakers that, while spying on an undertaker, discover some creepy and immoral actions being taken. Seeing it as their duty to uncover the truth, the gang arm themselves with video cameras and venture into the undertaker's funeral home. The episode is funny, creepy, disturbing, and just downright cool. Stop what you're doing and check it out now.
"And All Through the House" (Season 1)
"And All Through the House" is the tale of a psychotic Santa Claus (Larry Drake) who has just escaped from an insane asylum and comes knocking at the door of a woman (Mary Ellen Trainor), who's fresh from killing her husband for greedy reasons. The episode is a remake of one of the segments of the 1972 "Tales from the Crypt" feature. This is my favorite episode of "Tales from the Crypt." I still make an effort to watch this episode every holiday season. Larry Drake has a unique look already, but they really bump it up and make him look absolutely terrifying. Throughout the episode, you don't really know whether to root for the woman or the psychotic Santa. An absolute gem of an episode that almost all fans of "Tales from the Crypt" regard as one of the best.