After a fairly successful debut season of Tales from the Crypt, HBO was quick to order a follow-up season. This time they wanted triple the amount of episodes, though, making for an eighteen-episode second season. By just looking at the first episode of the season, it’s apparent that HBO put a little bit more money into the production of the series. The actors and directors slated for a good amount of episodes were and still are among the biggest names in Hollywood.
We have Demi Moore and Jeffrey Tambor starring together in the season opener, and Arnold Schwarzenegger at the height of his career directing the second episode of the season. Patricia Arquette, horror movie veteran Lance Henriksen, Iggy Pop, Don Rickles, and Bobcat Goldthwait also star in their own respective episodes. It’s from here that Tales from the Crypt would become a show that would score even bigger stars to act and/or direct episodes of the series.
So let’s talk about the actual material in the second season. From here on out in this blog series, I won’t be reviewing every last episode of each season because there are just too many episodes. Instead, I will try to at least talk about the absolute best and worst episodes, and any other ones that are significant, maybe because there’s a big-name actor or director attached. Anyways, onto the second season premiere, and one of the best episodes of the second season, “Dead Right.”
“Dead Right” stars Demi Moore as a woman named Cathy. Cathy is seeking a man — not for love, but for money. She goes to a fortune teller, who tells her that soon she will indeed find a man who will come into a large sum of money and then violently die soon afterwards. This man is Charlie Marno, a real sleazeball who’s played fabulously by Jeffrey Tambor in a fat suit. This episode lives and dies on the performance of Jeffrey Tambor, and thankfully he plays the character amazingly. Interactions between Cathy and Charlie are often hilarious and the episode ends in a suitably surprising way.
The third episode of the season, “Cutting Cards,” is an episode that perfectly suits the, “well, that escalated quickly” Anchorman meme. Two rival gamblers (Lance Henriksen and Kevin Tighe), both at the top of their respective games, duke it out. First in a simple game of dice, before moving onto far deadlier games including Russian Roulette. Yeah, seriously, if there was ever a time to use that Anchorman meme, now would be the time. This is an excellent episode consisting solely of two rivals taking jabs at each other to really get under the other’s skin, all while playing games that could lead to their deaths. The performances are amazing, the ending is hilarious, and the majority of the episode plays like a very humorous dark comedy.
After a fairly lackluster fourth episode in “Til Death,” the season rebounds with one of the best episodes of Tales from the Crypt that I’ve seen so far, “Three’s A Crowd.” Driven by the fantastic main performance by Gavan O’Herlihy as a man visiting an old friend with whom he believes his wife is having an affair, this episode ends in what is perhaps the saddest and darkest ending of any episode in the series. The protagonist, Richard, really starts to lose his mind as he imagines more about his wife and his friend having an affair together. Throughout the entire episode, you’re not so sure if Richard’s feelings are justified or not. The episode has a similar feel to that of The Shining, with the main character slowly losing his mind. Though the episode is a bit of a slow burn, it pays off 100% in the end.
Iggy Pop guest stars as himself in the eighth episode of the season, “For Cryin’ Out Loud.” In this especially fun and unique episode, a club owner’s conscience won’t let him get away with stealing money that he claimed was for charity. As Iggy Pop plays a sold out crowd, the club owner, Marty Slash, plans to run away from his boring life and start anew in a foreign country with money he’s stolen. However, his newly awakened conscience keeps pestering him, and even makes Marty think that others around him can hear his conscience, spilling the beans to the fact that Marty’s trying to steal the money. This is an excellent episode that’s got some really good performances, funny jokes and bits, and an interesting one-take shot that’ll have you rewinding as soon as it’s over. It’s episodes like this one that make you almost forget that Tales from the Crypt is supposed to be a horror show, and that’s what I love about it.
The last episode I want to tell you about actually happens to be my absolute favorite episode of the series, “Television Terror.” Sleazy television host Horton Rivers is the host of a failing talk show, but the live broadcast event for tonight is stepping through the doors of a house that once belonged to a deranged elderly woman who murdered seven men she’d let stay there. Even though a psychic warns Horton and his one-man camera crew about there being a strong paranormal force lying within, they nevertheless trek into the house. It’s not too long before they find that the psychic may have been dead right. This one is, ironically, pretty unique for a Tales from the Crypt episode in that it’s almost strictly horror and has very little humor. This is easily one of the scariest and creepiest episodes, and it’s a brilliant satire of reality TV shows and the people who make them.
So, those were my favorites of the season, and I cannot recommend watching them enough. But I have to mention a few other standouts. These include “Korman’s Kalamity,” in which the series really breaks the fourth wall. It’s about an artist whose work on the Tales from the Crypt comic series actually occurs in the real world. I also can’t forget “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy,” which was written by director Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption) and directed by Richard Donner. This one truly shines as a campy and enjoyable episode that revolves around an aging up-and-coming ventriloquist (played by comedian Bobcat Goldthwait) trying to reach out to his long retired hero (Don Rickles), who happens to have a dark past.
Even though it’s the longest season, thankfully season two doesn’t have a lot of fat to trim. I’d say that most of the episodes are at least good, if not some of the best of the entire series. Just like the first season, there are only a couple of episodes that are lackluster, but no episode here is without some merit. In giving a score, I would rate this season a solid 4.5 out of 5.
Hopefully Tales from the Crypt can keep up the hot streak in season three, but you’ll have to come back next week to find out.
— Michael Lane, Film Blogger
Handy links to my other retrospectives on HBO’s Tales from the Crypt: