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“Tales from the Crypt” is an easy show to write off. From its punny introductions by resident ghoul, the Crypt Keeper, to its lack of sensitivity to blood-and-guts gore, taking full advantage of its original place on pay TV. But there’s a subtle genius to most of the stories that appear on the anthology series. In fact, without a Hitchcock or Serling in our era, something has to fill the gap. HBO’s “Tales from the Crypt” could be seen as the modern day “Twilight Zone,” mixing social commentary or cautionary tales with just the right amount of blood splatter and ripped flesh. Or maybe it’s just about enjoyable stories leading to comically gruesome punchlines. Either way, the show is still a heck of a lot of fun.
Season Six of “Tales from the Crypt” leads off with a Russell Mulcahy directed episode teaching Catherine O’Hara’s slick city lawyer that she isn’t as slick as she thinks, and there’s always consequences for every action. It ends with Robert Zemeckis’s own famous episode utilizing his “Forest Gump” technology to put Humphrey Bogart in the starring role. In between, there’s a rain of television horror starring the likes of D.B. Sweeny, Isaac Hayes, Rita Rudner, Hank Azaria, and even Travis Tritt (back when he was still a pretty-boy). That right there shows you the range of talent and interest there was in “Tales from the Crypt”.
Some of my personal favorite episodes are in Season Six, which means this is probably when I finally managed to sneak over to some friend’s house who had HBO and see the show, or I hit a patch of syndicated episodes around this time. A rich, stuck up artist learns that soap doesn’t clean everything in “99 & 44/100% Pure Horror”. Bruce Payne and Michael Ironside hunt the ultimate prey in Alaska in “Comes the Dawn”. Miquel Ferrer takes the term “shock jock” to the next level as a dickhead radio DJ on “In the Groove”. All of these feature strong stories that lead into an excellent twist at the end of the episode – sometimes a completely unpredictable twist; the best kind.
Then there are episodes that are entertaining looking back in retrospect. Corey Feldman was already pretty much a washout by the time “The Assassin” aired, but watching him have one pulled over on him because of his own sex drive is hilarious. The same episode is a little dated by the charming appearance by William Sadler as The Grim Reaper (from Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey) in the bookend segments with the Crypt Keeper. Even more entertaining is “The Bribe,” which sees Terry O’Quinn have a con job pulled on him that fits right in with his “Lost” character. I guess some things never change for actors.
That’s not to say the season is all hits. “The Pit” is a dreadfully boring half hour. The story is supposed to be clever, pitting two prize winning fighters against each other; neither who really have no problem with the other one. It’s all about the wives though. Unfortunately Debbe Dunning and Marjean Holden are completely unbelievable in their roles as over the top bitches – clearly a flaw with the episode script and director John Harrison, because both actresses have gone on to decent roles in other projects.
Of course, the final episode, “You, Murderer” is probably one of the most talked about episodes in all of “Tales from the Crypt.” Directed by executive producer Robert Zemeckis, he utilized the technology he developed for Forest Gump to allow the Crypt Keeper to talk to Alfred Hitchcock and then to put Bogart in the leading role. It’s actually a slick tale, making use of first person camerawork (the camera is the main character). Although the camerawork gets a little inconsistent at times, the episode itself is fun, with John Lithgow and Isabella Rossellini joining forces in a very noir-ish story, complete with a Bogart sounding narrator. Sure it’s unlikely, but this is fluff horror – not something to be taken seriously.
Actually, that probably describes the series as a whole really well – fluff horror. It’s not afraid to show you the gruesome images of burned flesh (and acid burning flesh in one episode) or stripped down zombies (or stripped down women in several episodes), but it’s never serious, die-hard horror. It may not make you jump in your seat, and you’re more likely to end an episode chuckling than screaming, but it’s a frightfully good time nonetheless.
The DVD release for the sixth season of “Tales from the Crypt” is a pretty standard television set release. There’s nothing exceptional about it, which is a bit of a disappointment. Considering the variety of talents and size of some of the names that were involved, I would think there would be more interest in commentary tracks or “making-ofs”, particularly with Zemeckis’s famed “You, Murderer” episode. Alas, the set is all but barren from such things, featuring only a “virtual comic book” in the way of bonus material.
The fifteen episodes of the season are spread over three discs. The packaging is pretty standard fare. Two slim cases hold the three discs and fit inside a slipcase themed like the old “Tales from the Crypt” comic book cover. The nice thing is the cover is consistent with the previous five seasons, making for a nice look on the bookshelf.
I fully expected the menu to be a repetition of the “Tales from the Crypt” theme song which, while enjoyable, would drive me nuts to hear repeated if the menu screen was left up for too long. While the music is used there, it’s not the only sound playing (there’s the occasional explosion or screaming noise included). It also isn’t the theme music that starts right up. The menu greets you with the Crypt Keeper’s “Tales from the Crypt” sound, and then wails occur before the music starts. It’s a nice use of sound effects and menu music – something that can frequently get repetitious too easily.
The only bonus feature is a fourteen minute “virtual comic book” that I have to admit I didn’t care for very much. Titled “Whirlpool” (not to be confused with an episode by the same name in this same season), the story follows one of the classic comic book stories, as read by the Crypt Keeper. The opening montage to get to it is too full of obvious grabs from elsewhere in the series, and by the point I got to it I wasn’t interested in having the Crypt Keeper read me a story when there are fifteen other stories on these discs done better. It’s an appreciated effort, but didn’t work for me.
The only real complaint I have about the season set is that each disc has an option for “bonus material” but the comic is only located on disc three. That means the other two discs have an empty option that takes you to a screen that refers you to the third disc. Why not just leave out the option entirely if there’s only going to be bonus material on the third disc?
All in all, this is a decent release of a fun series. It’s not for everyone, but then again what is? If you like “Tales from the Crypt” and lighthearted horror, you’ll enjoy the episodes within this set.
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