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Halloween Special: The Top Ten 'Tales from the Crypt' Episodes

 

The Cryptkeeper

 

Hello boils and ghouls. We have now officially entered the one month that horror devotees, like myself, live for. That's right, October is here, and Halloween draws closer with each passing day. In honor of that momentous occasion, I have taken it upon myself to prepare five horror related features for your reading pleasure. A new one will be posted every Sunday in October. So whether you plan to go out trick or treating, attend a holiday-related shindig, spend the night watching your favorite scary movies, or even dress up like Miley Cyrus from the VMAs and attempt to twerk in public, anyone who loves this most unique of holidays should find something to enjoy on TVR this month.

With the intro out of the way, this week's subject is a franchise near and dear to the black hearts of horror lovers everywhere, 'Tales from the Crypt.' Hosted by the delightfully dry witted 'Cryptkeeper,' the series ran for seven seasons and 93 episodes, and was one of HBO's first major self-produced hits. Told in the classic anthology style of series like 'The Twilight Zone,' but with a gore and sex-filled twist, 'Crypt' brought audiences a new standalone tale of the macabre with every installment. The question I am here today to answer is simple: Which episodes are the ten best? Read on to find out.

Disclaimer: As with any top whatever list, the choices presented below are purely my opinion. I invite you fine folks to offer your own lists in the comments.

#10 - 'What's Cookin' - S04E06 - 7/22/92 - Writer: A.L. Katz - Director: Gilbert Adler

What's Cookin'

'What's Cookin' is a charming little story about two down on their luck restaurateurs (Bess Armstrong and the late Christopher Reeve) that find it incredibly difficult to get their eatery off the ground. That probably has something to do with the place only serving squid, but that's beside the point. Their luck changes when a mysterious drifter named Gaston (Judd Nelson) begins working at the establishment. Following a threatening conversation between the couple and their landlord, Gaston takes matters into his own hands. It isn't long before he introduces the owners to his special new steak recipe, one that the customers just love. Hint: it ain't made of cow.

While Nelson is great here as Gaston (as is Meat Loaf in a cameo as the landlord), the real stars here are Reeve and Armstrong. The two come off very believably as husband and wife, and seem just desperate enough to accept their new employee's hideous proposition. It's definitely bittersweet to see a Reeve performance from only a few short years before his accident though. He never ceased imbuing his characters with an affable charm and likability, and was always a pleasure to watch.

#9 - 'People Who Live in Brass Hearses' - S05E05 - 10/13/93
Writer: Scott Nimerfro - Director: Russell Mulcahy

People Who Live in Brass Hearses

'Brass Hearses' stars the always entertaining Bill Paxton as a small time crook out for revenge. You see, it was the testimony of a kindly ice cream man that sent Paxton's character to the slammer for an extended stay, and he's none too happy about the whole thing. His unwilling accomplice is his younger brother, played by the incomparable Brad Dourif. Together, the two brothers set out on a mission to make the unassuming small businessman pay, only to end up in way, way over their heads.

There was no way I could do this list, and not include this episode. For one, it's the only time that two of my all-time favorite actors (Paxton and Dourif) have worked together. For two, 'Hearses' does an excellent job at balancing the gallows humor the series is known for with a pronounced mean streak that makes itself evident on several occasions. Michael Lerner is also a treat as the seemingly ordinary ice cream man that just be might more dangerous than his ex-convict adversary.

#8 - 'Fitting Punishment' - S02E12 - 6/19/90
Writer: Jonathan David Kahn - Director: Jack Sholder

Fitting Punishment

'Fitting Punishment' is your classic tale of a rotten old bastard getting what he deserves. The episode begins with the man's now orphaned teenage nephew Bobby coming to live with him. Ezra sees Bobby as a burden, and could not possibly care less about the boy's well being. He puts him to work doing manual labor around the house. The problem being that the house in question is a funeral home, and Ezra is the huckster mortician that owns the place. When Bobby doesn't live up to his standards, Ezra beats him so bad that he ends up paralyzed. Now that the young man has no practical use, Ezra sees no reason to keep him around. And come to think of it, he does have that one extra coffin...

'Crypt's modus operandi was usually to spin a sort of twisted morality yarn, so it naturally featured many completely irredeemable characters. It really says something that Ezra might just be the most sadistic, despicable S.O.B. in the entire seven year run. He steals from dead bodies. He cheaps out on every possible funeral expense he can. He beats his nephew with a crow bar. He curses he own dead sister for giving birth to Bobby. He kills the kid. Then somehow manages to top even that. By the end, when its time for some ghostly revenge, you'll be cheering for Ezra to meet his maker.

#7 - 'Top Billing' - S03E05 - 6/26/91 - Writer: Myles Berkowitz - Director: Todd Holland

Top Billing

'Top Billing' is the most outright comedic entry on this list, and stars Jon Lovitz as a struggling actor trying to get by in New York City. He goes to audition after audition, seemingly does well, but is always told that he doesn't have "the look." One guy who does have the look is a handsome rival actor, played by Bruce Boxleitner. After Bruce's character goes out to his way to steal another of Lovitz's parts, the latter decides to remove his nemesis from the running, by any means necessary. Needless to say, Lovitz gets the part, but really, really ends up wishing he hadn't. Alas, poor Lovitz.

Unlike the twists in the previous three episodes, which all become pretty obvious fairly early on, I'm going out of my way not to reveal the ending here. There are clues to pick up on along the way, but I can honestly say that I had no idea where the plot was heading. One funny thing about this episode is that even when Lovitz's character is supposed to be acting well, he really isn't that good. To this day, I'm not sure if that was intentional, or if the man just can't act believably intimidating. I'm honestly leaning toward the latter. Well, at least we get John Astin hamming it up in a supporting role.

#6 - 'Death of Some Salesmen' - S05E01 - 10/2/93
Writer: A.L. Katz - Director: Gilbert Adler

Death of Some Salesmen

'Some Salesmen' features Ed Begley Jr. as one of the sleaziest salesman every committed to film. He lies, he cheats, he swindles old ladies, he treats women like toys, etc. Thankfully, Judd Campbell exists in a 'Tales from the Crypt' plot, and his luck is about to run out. When Judd attempts to pull his usual con game on another backwoods couple, he soon finds own his life on the auction block. The Bracketts don't take too kindly to salesmen (as evidenced by one's decapitated head), and give Judd a truly awful choice: die or marry their daughter. The problem is that their daughter is one of the most hideous women in the history of television. In fact, she almost looks like Tim Curry in drag...

While Begley does great here as the slimy salesman, the real stars of the show are the legendary Curry (playing a triple role as Ma, Pa, and Winona Brackett) and the terrific make-up FX that transform the actor into his three distinct characters. Winona Brackett especially is a work of morbid art, with the designers going out of their way to make her absolutely repulsive. When it came time for "her" sex scene with Judd, I could feel my lunch beginning to lurch upward. It truly is a fate worse than death.

 

Page: 1 2

Details
Show:
- Tales from the Crypt
Network:
- HBO

Written by: Michael Stevenson
Oct 5th, 2013, 11:53 pm

Images courtesy of HBO and Columbia Pictures

msd85
(Crazed Contributor)

Level 39 (49%)
Points: 17760.8
Since: 07/Jul/10
Message Posted On Oct 8th, 2013, 4:31 am

Guess we'll just have to agree to disagree Coburn. I do appreciate you taking the time to read the article and offer your opinions though. I knew my list wouldn't please everybody. I've yet to meet a 'Crypt' fan that didn't have a totally different top ten list of favorites. Personally, I like way more episodes than I don't. Season seven is the only really weak year in my view. The rest of the seasons all had a handful of gems.

coburn_c

Level 1 (48%)
Since: 16/Mar/10
Message Posted On Oct 7th, 2013, 10:09 pm

Michae: a lot of the later episodes do get a bit camp, but 'Cutting Cards' is pretty silly too, although quite memorable so a good choice. 'Fitting Punishment' is as well, but 'Top Billing' and '...Brass Hearses'?... those were terrible.

Jelly

Level 1 (41%)
Since: 23/Oct/07
Message Posted On Oct 7th, 2013, 11:15 am
Oh cool! Cheers Michael and also Gadfly! I didn't even realise that it was a different show.. Although now I know, it kind of makes sense cause they were completely different story styles. I'm going to hunt down this Night Vision series :D Hey if there hasn't been a twilight zone list done I would be interested to see what people's faves are for that? I first saw an episode of that when I was 7 (my sister was babysitting and I was not supposed to see it..) gave me nightmares for quite some time xD
msd85
(Crazed Contributor)

Level 39 (49%)
Points: 17760.8
Since: 07/Jul/10
Message Posted On Oct 7th, 2013, 3:57 am

I actually enjoy every episode you mentioned Coburn, just not more than the ones I chose. Richard Thomas is especially good as the villain in 'Mute Witness to Murder.' I like 'Let the Punishment Fit the Crime' for the most part, but I think it gets a little too silly for its own good near the end to be an all-time great episode. But thanks for your thoughts. I love hearing from other 'Crypt' fans.

coburn_c

Level 1 (48%)
Since: 16/Mar/10
Message Posted On Oct 7th, 2013, 3:29 am

oh man I almost forgot 'Let the Punishment Fit the Crime' that has to be #1

coburn_c

Level 1 (48%)
Since: 16/Mar/10
Message Posted On Oct 7th, 2013, 3:26 am

'Carrion Death'

'Half-Way Horrible'

'Curiosity Killed'

'Mute Witness to Murder'

etc

 

my god there are so many better episodes than the ones on your list

Gadfly
(Site Moderator)

Level 89 (91%)
Points: 134044
Mood: frustrated
Since: 13/Dec/05
Message Posted On Oct 7th, 2013, 12:52 am

I can't remember what the other one was called! uggh! Pretty much it was a group of friends, stopped at a rest room area, admired wares that were for sale by the locals, went missing one by one.. turned out that the locals were turning the people into instruments and stuff and had a little workroom going on D-:

 

That was from Night Visions, not Tales From the Crypt.

 

http://www.tvrage.com/shows/id-4672/episodes/126939

Morning_Star
(Crazed Contributor)

Level 41 (78%)
Points: 13560.1
Mood: Like I have a brand new god
Since: 20/Oct/06
Message Posted On Oct 6th, 2013, 7:26 pm

Fred Dekker wrote/directed one of my all-time favourite films: Night of the Creeps. Easily one of the best horror/comedies, it should have cemented his status  as an icon. Unfortunately, kowtowing to the studio's request to make RoboCop 3 more kid-friendly sank all the potential in his career. Damn shame.

msd85
(Crazed Contributor)

Level 39 (49%)
Points: 17760.8
Since: 07/Jul/10
Message Posted On Oct 6th, 2013, 3:26 pm

Thanks for the kind words Jelly. I also love 'Abra Cadaver,' and it most likely would have made a top 15 list. As for the second episode you mentioned, you're in luck, as I know exactly what you're talking about. Only, it wasn't an episode of 'Crypt,', it was an episode of the underrated 2001 anthology series 'Night Visions' called 'Rest Stop.' You can actually watch it right here if you'd like: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJeg9bqychg

Jelly

Level 1 (41%)
Since: 23/Oct/07
Message Posted On Oct 6th, 2013, 12:00 pm

Great list Michael! I loved this show! Discovered it when I was 15/16ish after getting home on a friday night. In fact I often used to come home early to ensure I got to watch it <nerd> :p

My fave episodes ever are 'Abra Cadaver'. Where the dude is injected with a paralyzing serum. I believe this episode is when I decided there was no way in hell I was ever going to get buried! Burn baby burn.. less stress!

And.. After taking a quick glimpse at the episodes lists, I can't remember what the other one was called! uggh! Pretty much it was a group of friends, stopped at a rest room area, admired wares that were for sale by the locals, went missing one by one.. turned out that the locals were turning the people into instruments and stuff and had a little workroom going on D-:

Those two have always stayed with me.. not sure why. Haven't put me off horror though :D Still my fave genre. When looking through the list of eps I was suprised to see how many major stars were actors and directors during the shows run! I'd love to see a new version :-) Only if its actually scary though.

It's a pity that we don't really celebrate halloween down here cause I'd appreciate a whole month of horror :D

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