Monday, December 15, 2008

Tales from the Crypt Season One Review

I've never sat down and watched a whole TV series from beginning to end before so I decided if I was going to do something like that I would watch a show I loved as a kid but never got to watch a whole lot of. That way I would be partially ensconced in nostalgia but not drowning in it. I also thought it'd be cool to review each season on this blog as I watched them (netflix permitting). So I picked Tales From the Crypt, which I caught in edited form on Sci-fi from time to time but never in all it's uncensored glory on HBO.
Before I start going through season one I thought I'd give you the lowdown on the history behind the show.
It all started back in the 1950s. William Gaines comic book company, EC Comics, sales were in the toilet. He noticed that some other companies were doing quite well selling horror and mystery type stories so thats what he started selling, under titles like Tales From the Crypt, Vault of Horror, Shock Suspense Stories, etc. He also switched his companies name from Educational Comics to Entertaining Comics, as he ultimately abandoned the edutainment format that almost bankrupted his company. There were a lot of companies doing horror comics at the time, but what made EC so great and why it sold so well was the quality of both the writing and the memorably grisly art work. In fact it was so over the top (for the 1950s anyways) that the government accused Gaines of corrupting the nation's youth and attempted to shut him down by putting a code in place to make comics safe for young minds. (and super dull). Unfortunately it worked, no store would distribute any comic books with out the seal of the comics authority code on it's cover and Gaines again found him self on the verge of bankruptcy. Something good did come out of it though, Mad Magazine! Gaines found that if he printed his comics in the magazine format he could buck the censors and print whatever the Hell he wanted, which turned out to be the best satirical magazine ever made. It's still in print, but now it's in color and it sucks after being bought out by Time Warner. Boo on the man!
But anyway, EC's horror comics were around for only a short time but they had a huge influence on the world of horror, namely writers like Stephen King and directors like George Romero. King and Romero loved them so much that they did a tribute movie called Creepshow (and Creepshow II, but the less said about that one the better).
There were also a couple of movies made in the 1970s by Amicus studios in Britain, that used actual stories from Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror called (big shocker) Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror. They're pretty entertaining in their own right but I'm not reviewing them, I'm reviewing the first season of Tales from the Crypt, which premiered on HBO way back in 1989. It was almost immediately one of HBO's most poplar shows and ran for seven seasons. So EC was again free to warp the minds of young children who happened to catch the show when their parents weren't around.
So how is the first season? Well, to tell you the truth, not as great as I remembered it. It's still very entertaining but the first season of any show is a little creaky. I've read that the second season is a massive improvement, but we'll have to see. Also, there's only six episodes this time, which isn't a bad thing really, it leaves you wanting to watch more and you can watch all of them in one sitting. Later seasons would have at least 12 episodes or more, I'll review them disc by disc. (All episodes except for the very last one in season seven are based on stories from EC by the way, just thought you'd want to know).
On another side note, one thing thats weird about the DVD is that the intro for the show only plays when you first put in the disc and as an option on the main menu. I understand that some people won't want to watch the same thing over and over on every episode, but isn't that what the skip button on the remote is for? I love the intro because it sets up the show so well and it feels weird to just go right from one episode to another. They left the end credits on for Pete's sake!

Okay, enough, first episode:
The Man Who Was Death
An executioner is put out of work when the death penalty is abolished in his state. Since you can't put a good man down he decides to carry on his work by zapping people who he thinks the justice system let off too easily. Of course you can see the ending coming a mile away, but it's not bad for a first episode. The first thing I noticed though is that The Crypt Keeper host that opens and closes each show isn't as animated as I remembered him and he doesn't spout as many horrible puns. Again, apparently this is corrected by season two, we'll see. One thing that did really catch me off guard about this one was the female nudity. There's a scene where the executioner goes into a strip club to off a not so nice exotic dancer in a metal cage, and holy cow! Being aired on a pay channel like HBO has it's benefits I guess.

Episode 2:
And All Through the House
Now this is what I'm talking about! The most memorable episode of season one has a woman who murders her husband on Christmas Eve stalked by a psycho in a Santa suit, and she can't call the police because her dead husband is lying in the front yard with a hole in his head. Good twisted fun, especially the ending which I won't give away. This story was actually adapted first for the Amicus Tales movie in the 70s, but it's done much better here. Yes, thats right, EC Comics actually started the whole psycho Santa thing, how cool is that?

Episode 3:
Dig That Cat... He's Real Gone
I love this one. The dark, almost campy, humor that would endear the show to fans is in full force here. A bum is given a large sum of money by a scientist who's studying longevity in the human body. He injects some juice from a cat into the guy and then shoots him in the head. Surprise! The guy can't die, his body heals up and he's back to normal again. To fund further experiments the scientist puts him in a carnival side show were white trash gawkers pay large sums of money to watch him die and come back to life, and later get to kill him themselves. It all goes so well, even after he offs the professor in a car crash so he can have the money all to himself. But there's something about that cat that's just on the tip of his mind...
My favorite part is where people are paying large sums of money to shoot the guy with a cross bow and a father berates his fat son for missing. (But I don't wanna kill him dad!)

Episode 4:
Only Sin Deep
The first real clunker of the series, this episode stars Lea Thompson, best known for her Oscar winning role in Howard the Duck (Ha Ha). Lea is a hooker (a very good looking hooker, which don't exist in real life, don't screenwriters watch COPS?) This hooker wants to get into this rich guys life (and his pants) so she shoots a pimp, steals his jewelry and goes to hawk it at a pawn shop. Too bad the owner recognizes the merchandise as Hot (read: probably stolen) and won't touch it. But he does have something even more valuable to buy from her, namely her good looks which he needs to revive his long dead wife. He's into voodoo you see...Okay thats enough, you can see where this is going and there's not even a good twist at the end. Everything good about the episode is pretty much ruined by Lea way overacting her tough girl bit and her terribly fake Brooklyn accent. Pooah! (That was me spitting). Lets move on shall we?

Episode 5:
Lover Come Hack to Me
This one's a little better, but mostly because it stars Amanda Plummer. You may remember Amanda from the opening of Pulp Fiction ("any of you fucking pigs move"... and so on). She's quite good in a simple story about a girl who marries a mimbo who just wants her for her money and ends up with him on their honeymoon night trapped in a creepy old house. A little too much man-butt for my taste in this one but it's worth it to see Amanda wielding an ax,completely covered in blood. She just makes such a good psycho ya know?

Episode 6:
Collection Completed
The season ends on a high note with this episode. It's about a man who retires after like 40 years of work and finds that his wife, who he never paid much attention to, isn't all there up-stairs. But her large collection of animals and subsequent treatment of him as just another pet, start to drive him insane too. He eventually finds a hobby to keep him occupied. Too bad it's not something his wife is going to approve of especially after her furry best friends start disappearing....
I love seeing old people in horror movies. I just get tired of watching annoying young teens getting cut up sometimes, why aren't there more seniors running around with axes or kitchen knives anymore? Why should the young people have all the fun? The actors in this one are really good, and actually feel like the nice old couple down the street who bicker a lot. I especially love the nosy clueless neighbor who has nothing to do but give the guy model airplanes that he never builds. The look on his face at the end is priceless too. But anyway, it really leaves you wanting to watch more and it was no wonder that the show was such a massive hit almost right off the bat.

All in all, not a bad start for the show. A few clunkers and some slow moments, but if you're into horror anthologies, then you could do much worse than to pick this show up. I'd start off with Creepshow and the Amicus anthologies myself, but whatever. If you've read this far, thanks a bunch. I'll try to keep future reviews a bit shorter. Stay tuned for the first part of season two! Er, whenever Netflix feels like sending it over. Any time now...

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