The ultra-campy and delightfully ghoulish horror anthology series Tales from the Crypt, featuring the pun-slinging host Crypt Keeper and an impressive list of guest stars (Christopher Reeve, Brad Pitt, Tom Hanks, Kirk Douglas, Adam West, Brooke Shields and Demi Moore to name a few) is slated for an M. Night Shyamalan rebirth on TNT (premier date TBD). The reboot is sure to please fans of the original HBO series and perturb many who are already lamenting the fact that this iteration appearing on TNT means no more gratuitous nudity—as the original series bordered on soft-core porn territory more often than not—fewer curse words and toned-down violence. The original series frequently showcased blood-curdling plot twists, so it’s fitting that a twist-fiend like Shyamalan would be leading the charge to dig up the bones of the beloved franchise.
Rumors had been swirling that the reboot would not feature the iconic undead host (voiced by John Kassir), disgruntling fans of the show’s previous run. That’s when Shyamalan took to Twitter to address the rumors:
.@slashfilm I’d never make Tales without the CK! Will be a new take on him as the puppet is property of HBO. Promise he’ll be cool and dark!
— M. Night Shyamalan (@MNightShyamalan) January 9, 2016
Apparently the rights to the Crypt Keeper are still retained by HBO, creating a roadblock for featuring the fan-favorite character on TNT, but, as you can see via the Twitter link, Shyamalan promises a workaround, for better or worse. The show is currently scheduled for 10 episodes, which should be more than enough to get a feel for what type of Crypt reboot is in store, but more are sure to follow if the first episodes are received well (fingers crossed).
The original series, which stemmed from the Tales from the Crypt comic book series of the 1950s, is a longtime favorite of horror fans and a staple of late-80’s and 90’s pop culture. The zany scream-fest had its own blurry-lined lane of morality, often punishing self-absorbed and deceitful characters by enforcing a twisted brand of Crypt karma. Above all, the series was consistent in its identity and perfectly blended the strange relationship between horror and comedy.
To help get you in the Crypt spirit, and you brush up on your history, below you’ll find a list of five episodes essential to the franchise.
- The Man Who Was Death – Season 1, Episode 1
The first-ever episode of Tales from the Crypt happened to be one of the series’ best. The Man Who Was Death features new-to-the-trade State Executioner Niles Talbot (William Sadler) narrating his position on the death penalty, as well as the process of properly executing a prisoner. He explains to another character early on in the episode that if executions were broadcasted on public television, it would be the highest rated show of all time—a nice nod to the morbid infatuation which undoubtedly led a bulk of the show’s audience to tune in for the premiere episode. Shortly after his promotion to executioner, the death penalty is abolished and Niles decides to continue his new line of work off the books, doling out swift punishment by death to criminals who escape what would have been state-sanctioned capital punishment by his own hands. His tomfoolery catches up to him in the end, and a surprise change of heart regarding the death penalty delivers the type of poetic script-flipping the show relayed time and time again.
- Korman’s Kalamity – Season 2, Episode 13
Jim Korman (Harry Anderson), an artist for the Tales from the Crypt comic, is growing weary of his constantly nagging and perpetually disdainful wife Mildred (Colleen Camp). On top of being a serial verbal abuser, Mildred has been coercing Korman to take not-yet-FDA-approved fertility pills, despite his sincere reservations. Trapped in a loveless and one-sided marriage, Korman fantasizes at his desk of new romance and works long hours focusing on his art, in part to avoid his wife. Lo and behold, an unexplained magical combination of dicey medication and hyper-focus causes Korman’s monstrous creations to come alive and wreak havoc on the surrounding city. After local policewoman Lorelei (Cynthia Gibb) encounters one of the creatures at a laundromat, she happens upon an issue of the Tales from the Crypt comic and notices Jim’s artist credit. While working together to connect the dots regarding how the illustrations come to life, Jim fantasizes of a budding romance between him and Lorelei and reflects his fantasies on paper, hoping it too will find a life of its own. This meta-episode is full of cheese, over-the-top characters, and corny humor—all essential elements in the Crypt franchise. This isn’t a scary episode by any means, but it contains the dark jovial humor that worked so well in the show.
- Cutting Cards – Season 2, Episode 3
Some episodes skillfully spotlight the ugly characteristics of men without invoking supernatural elements to bring them up to the surface. This incredible episode, which happens to be one of the shortest of the series, might be the premier example of that. It features compulsive gamblers Reno (Lance Henriksen) and Sam (Kevin Tighe)—both absolutely perfect for their respective roles—rekindling an old rivalry as they continually up the ante in an epic contest of spiteful competition. When playing cards and rolling dice for money no longer satisfies their rapacious need to get the best of one another, they up the stakes by rolling for rights to stick around town, loser leaves for good. In an incredible twist of fate, they reach a stalemate and decide to ditch the table games for a round of Russian roulette and “chop poker,” putting their pride ahead of their lives. While the men gleefully taunt each other through the entire 20-minute episode, it becomes obvious that they are truly each other’s equal; the unequivocal counterpart of the other’s unquenchable craving for beating the odds. Even in the humorously fitting ending, their undying need for competition proves it knows no bounds. Cutting Cards is a fan-favorite episode for a reason. It’s immensely enjoyable from beginning to end, and features some of the most memorable characters and performances of the series.
- Forever Ambergris – Season 5, Episode 3
Washed-up but prideful war photographer Dalton Scott (Roger Daltrey) clings to his fading prestige while budding protégé Ike Forte (Steve Buscemi) threatens to take his place as the most illustrious and celebrated contemporary photographer. Maddened by jealousy, and unable to give up the spotlight, Dalton formulates a plan to take Ike out of the picture by tricking him into traveling to a dangerous and disease-ridden war zone in Central America for the assignment of a lifetime. On the night of his return from the grueling journey, Pulitzer-worthy photographs in hand, Ike breaks a violent fever. A medic belonging to the military group with whom the photographers are travelling hears Ike’s screams of agony and offers his assistance, but Dalton insists he can handle the ailment, all the while barbing Ike as his skin swells and blisters, one of his eyeballs falling out of his head. As Ike writhes and moans in pain, Dalton steals his photographs from the war zone and mentions that he will console and seduce Ike’s girlfriend Bobbi (Lysette Anthony) after he informs her of Ike’s fate. Following Ike’s grim demise, Dalton returns to the United States and receives high acclaim over the unparalleled quality of the stolen photos he has passed off as his own in effort to reclaim his former prestige. When he visits Bobbi to console and seduce her, she not only gives in to temptation, but surprises him with a gift he’s dying to receive. This episode is 90s to the bone and includes just about everything that made Tales from the Crypt such an amazing show: horrifying plot, twisted humor, violence, gratuitous nudity, revenge, quality acting, and top-notch characters.
- The Ventriloquist’s Dummy – Season 2, Episode 10
Amateur ventriloquist Billy Goldman (Bobcat Goldthwait) visits his idol, Mr. Ingles (Don Rickles), 15 years after the former star’s last show. Mr. Ingles, now a bitter and hostile old man, reluctantly agrees to attend Billy’s act at an open-mic night in order to give him a critique, which will ultimately help Billy decide whether he’ll continue to pursue his dream. Billy’s act proves to be a disaster and he’s booed off the stage as Mr. Ingles cringes at the back of the crowd. After the show, Mr. Ingles tells Billy to give up ventriloquism and pursue a different career. Discouraged and embarrassed by his lackluster performance, Billy flees the club and laments his recent failure, beating his dummy against a dumpster, when he hears a woman moaning in pain. He investigates the source of the sound and discovers a woman has been killed in her car. Suspecting Mr. Ingles has killed the woman, Billy rushes to confront him at his home, only to discover a dark secret Mr. Ingles has been hiding from the world. The two battle Mr. Ingles’ dreadful affliction together, but things don’t work out exactly as planned. The culmination of the story is comically absurd, making this one of the funnier, and unsettling, episodes of the series. This is perhaps the peak example of Crypt humor, with the two comedic greats conveying the aberrant and outrageous sides of the show with over-the-top performances.
Death of Some Salesman
Tim Curry’s incredible performances as Ma, Pa and Winona Brackett highlight one of the weirdest episodes of the series.
And All Through The House
Larry Drake appears as an escaped mental institution dressed in a Santa Claus outfit, cementing himself as one of the series’ most memorable villains in only its second episode.
Timothy Dalton and Beverly D’Angelo lead a cast of actors who deliver some of the best acting of the entire series.