The Primal Root’s Dirty Thoughts
Greetings, Creeps! It’s your ol’ pal The Primal Root here, getting into the groove of another Halloween season. Recently Ms. Bootsie Kidd and I sat down to enjoy a marathon of the entire series run of HBO’s original series “Tales from the Crypt” based on the old and incredibly popular 1940-1950’s horror comic book series of the same name. The comics featured gruesome morality plays where evil doers always ended up of the gory end of karma’s comeuppance. The comic book series, including such title as “Tales from the Crypt” “The Vault of Horror,” “The Haunt of Fear,” “Two Fisted Tales” and “Sock SuspenStories” were censored into oblivion by the Comic book Code, which blamed the aforementioned comics as the prime contributors to our nation’s juvenile delinquency problem, were all resurrected in the late 1980’s as an HBO series entitled “Tales from the Crypt”, which adapted stories from every horror/action/thriller comic at some point or another. The impact of these comic books left a huge impression on the the talents who came together to breath new life and pay tribute to these once thriving graphic novels. Filmmakers such as Robert Zemeckis, Richard Donner, Tom Holland, Mary Lambert, and countless others all were dying to take a stab at their favorite stories and turn them in twenty five minute long short films. The show didn’t always knock it out of the park, but when it did, it was glorious. and, Hell, even their weakest episodes proved to be interesting, at the very list.
What I did find myself doing, however, was constantly saying “Oh, this is a great!” or “This is one of my favorites!” just about every other episode. That’s when I decided I really needed to sit down, do some soul searching and make a list of my Top Five Favorite Tales from the Crypt. It was a tough process whittling it down to only five, but I must admit, I was chomping at the bit to see which ones would make the CUT! So, without any further a due, let’s see which Terror Tales made the final CUT! AAARRRGGHHHAHAHAHAHAHAhahahahaha…
5) “People Who Live in Brass Hearses” dir. Russell Mulcahy (Season 5, Episode 5)
Who knew the ice cream truck industry was this depraved? Bill Paxtion plays a scumbag ex-con Billy DeLuca, who enlists the help of his emotionally stunted younger brother Virgil (Brad Douriff) to pull of a heist that will even the score with ice cream truck driver and excellent puppeteer, Mr. Byrd (Michael Lerner) and Billy’s old boss Mrs. Grafungar (Lainie Kazan) after they sent Billy to prison for stealing from the till. When everything goes wrong and their heist ends up in a blood bath leaving the brother’s with nothing, they must turn to desperate measures in order to get the money Billy feels he so richly deserves. But, as per usual with the Tales from the Crypt formula, nothing is as it seems, and this sick puppy has a twist ending that comes somewhere out of left field and pegs you right in the gob. This is among the strangest episodes of Tales from the Crypt in my book and the fact that it features such an excellent all-star cast makes it every bit stranger. Once our players are established the tale hits an insane pace that feels almost like an action story, but then the meat hooks start being gouged into people’s skulls and folks begin having their skulls chunked all over the dining room from well placed shotgun blasts. Trust me, even with all these gory goodies, the episode still manages to whack you over the head with it’s sleazy, disgusting and inspired conclusion. You’ll laugh in disbelief as soon as you pick your jaw up off the floor.
4) “Four-Sided Triangle” dir. Tom Holland (Season 2, Episode 9)
I’ve always been an admirer of down home horrors and “Four-Sided Triangle” is one fine example of horrific wages of dysfunctional rednecks. This episode is a small, intimate one featuring three players on a isolated farm. Old married couple, the limping, strict, and stern Luisa (Susan Blommaert), her lecherous, scheming and alarmingly horny husband George (Chelcie Ross), and their young, voluptuous, sexy as Hell captive farm worker, Mary Jo, (Patricia Arquette). As you might expect, the story revolves around George trying to get his monkey tail down Mary Jo’s sweaty bloomers. In fact, the very first scene features George’s wide eyes peering into the chicken coup as Mary Jo bends over and writhes around as she sexily, yet innocently, collects eggs for her white trash captors all while displaying her ample bra-less bosom in a tiny tank top and her robust booty in a pair of well worn, skin tight pair of LEVI’S. After a failed rape attempt in which Mary Jo gets the living snot beat out of her by George, she stumbles into the corn field where she hallucinates that a scarecrow reaches down to help her. Her brain must be batter, because she becomes obsessed with the scarecrow and declares loudly and frequently how much she loves him while singing songs about how she doesn’t care about chicken pot pie. Anyhoo, Luisa is on to George’s lustful yearnings for Mary Jo, even going as far as to threaten him with performing the same procedure on him that they do when they want to change a bull into a steer. As we all know, these threats typically fall on deaf ears when it comes to horny rednecks and “Four-Sided Triangle” culminates in a conclusion that is both bloody and inescapable. We can see where the story is headed but the tale is so well directed, staged and acted, you feel every bit of suspense and horror and the doomed “Four-Sided Triangle of the title meet their doom. This was among the first Tales from the Crypt episodes I ever saw and it made a lasting impression on me. And introduced me to Patricia Arquette, for which I am eternally grateful.
3) “What’s Cookin’ ” dir. Gilbert Adler (Season 4, Episode 6)
One of the smartest, sickest, most wonderfully depraved episodes of Tales from the Crypt, “What’s Cookin” features a great comic turn from Superman himself, Christopher Reeve, as a struggling restaurant owner named Fred. See, his restaurant specializes in one thing and one thing only… Squid. Yes, squid. As you might expect, the restaurant he runs along with his wife Erma (Bess Armstrong, from My So-Called Life) is way overdue on their rent and hasn’t seen a customer in weeks, well, with the exception of officer Phil (Art LaFleur) who drops by for coffee from time to time. Their busboy, shady drifter, Gaston (Judd Nelson) keeps prodding Fred to try out his family’s classic barbecue recipe, but Fred won;t stand for it. The man’s got a dream and refuses to give up on it. That dream nearly ends when Chumley (played in a bit of truly inspired casting by Meatloaf), the landlord, shows up and evicts Ed for being over two months late on rent. The following morning, as Fred and Erma begin to shut down, Officer Phil comes in for coffee and eggs. To Erma’s astonishment, there are a half dozen fresh steaks in the fridge than Gaston brought in from his own, private supplier. Erma cooks this up for Phil, and just as he takes his first bit Gaston reveals to Fred just who is supplying the steaks. Yep, there in the meat freezer, to Fred’s dismay, hangs the corpse of Chumley. Soon, Fred and Erma’s Steakhouse is an overnight sensation with everyone in the city stopping by for a bite of their delicious, hand cut steaks. Only problem is, the police investigation into Chumley’s death is paving a pth right to Fred and Erma’s restaurant and as Fred’s feet get colder and colder Gaston begins plotting a double cross. “What’s Cookin'” is one very macabre and gruesome episode with a wicked streak of dark comedy. The performances are great and the final twist in the end, in typical Tales from the Crypt fashion, will leave you just as satisfied as one of Fred and Erma’s steaks. Is it wrong that this episode always makes me hungry?
2) Showdown dir. Richard Donner (Season 4 Episode 8)
Originally created as part of a three piece pilot for a rejected pitch to FOX for a “Two-Fisted Tales” spin off series, “Showdown” spins the tale of Billy Quintaine (Neil Giuntoli), a hardened, remorseless, legendary gunslinger who is cornered in a small desert town by an equally notable Texas Ranger Tom McMurdo (David Morse). After a facing off in a shoot out in which Billy murders Tom, he enters a nearby saloon for a drink, and after ingesting some snake oil from a traveling salesman, realizes he might not be as victories as it might seem. Showdown is one of the most poetic and beautiful episodes of Tales from the Crypt and manages to pack in a plethora of themes including the inevitable outcome and price of violence, the inevitability of death and our current irreverence for our own bloody past and re-marketing it as family friendly, tourist bullshit. Character actor Neil Giuntoli gives a hauntingly human performance as gunslinger Billy Quintaine, as he becomes slowly and painfully aware of his own fate we watch this cynical, callous, man breakdown before our very eyes reminding us that the most despicable character is, at the end of the day, also a human being. “Showdown” is frightening in it’s implications on a far deeper level than it’s Tales from the Crypt brethren and deals with life and death on a far more thought provoking and meaningful level than the typical epsiode. All that said, “Showdown” ends on a moving, up lifting note leaving us with the hope that when we shed this mortal coil, when all these pretenses are dropped, perhaps we can all finally ride off into the sunset as brothers.
1) “Death of Some Salesman” dir. Gilbert Asler (Season 5, Episode 1)
Good God, this episode is revolting. It’s a buffet of loathsomeness where, as a viewer, you ill wonder if you should laugh, cringe, or go for the barf bag. “Death of Some Salesman” is the story of Judd Campbell (Ed Begley Jr.), a charismatic, sleazeball con-man posing as a cemetery plot salesman. The man is a gifted liar, using his skills to con old widows out of their inheritance and even to convince nubile young waitresses to “drop their panties” by pitching love and escape. The man is a scum bag that you know will be paying for his trespass and the man get’s his rotten just desserts in the form of The Brackett family. By blind luck, Judd ends up knocking on the door of Ma and Pa Brackett (Both played by Tim Curry). Judd’s invited in and the sale seems to be going incredibly well as Pa and Ma Brackett head down to the basement to get Judd the money for two none existant cemetery plots. That is, until Judd discovers the decaying corpses of several dozen salesmen who previous had the misfortune of knocking on the Brackett’s door. Judd is captured with Pa Brackett intent on killing him, but Judd sees a way out if he can only convince Winona Brackett (also played by Tim Curry), Ma and Pa Brackett’s comically hideous daughter that he loves her. This is the pitch of Judd’s life as he must chock down the bile and try to convince the skeptical Winona that he does, in fact, love her. the lengths of which Judd must prove is unwavering devotion is extrodinarily and will have you groaning and laughing on your couch. Tim curry gives the performance for the ages as The Brackett family, managing to blend mirth and menace in equal amounts. And the always game Ed Begley Junior should have received the medal of valor for this things. “Death of Some Salesman” encompasses everything I love about the old E.C. Comics horror anthologies. Sick humor, nasty violence, a damn fine twist ending, and a fantastic morality tale. Curry and Begley Jr. who are performing what is basically a two man show, give such phenomenal performances it practically MAKES the episode. It’s a stomach churning, hysterical tale which taught me at a young age that deceivers and liars will invariably find themselves in a world of hurt.
Well, kiddies, there you have it! My Five Favorite Tales from the Crypt! A mixed bag, but a damn good time, if I do say so myself. Feel free to let us, here at The Trash Cinema Collective, know what your favorite episodes are! Have a Trashy Halloween!