A Look Back at HBO’s “Tales from the Crypt” Series: Season 4

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http://bit.ly/1IViIfp

Premiering in the summer of 1992, the fourth season of Tales from the Crypt allow for a few high points, but far too many low points. We do see some of the biggest stars the show ever got in this season, with Tom Hanks directing the season premiere and Brad Pitt and Joe Pesci starring in their own respective episodes. But even the big names cannot save this season from mediocrity.

The season premiere, directed by Tom Hanks, is called “None But the Lonely Heart.” One of the better episodes of the season, Hanks’ first foray into directing is a strong one, as he makes this one of the more goofy and fun episodes of the series. The episode centers on a con-man named Howard Prince. Mr. Prince is a particularly low breed of con-man, the kind that marries rich old women just to kill them off and rake in their inheritance. He’s done this routine many times before, but when he starts getting blackmailed regarding the devious acts he’s been committing, he begins to panic. Who could know, though? This episode left me with a smile on my face, even during its disturbing ending. Featuring cameo appearances by Hanks himself and former champion boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, this episode is just extremely goofy and entirely fun.

Though the season’s debut is a definite high point, it gives false hope of a great season. We have to fast forward five episodes before we hit our next great story with “What’s Cookin’.” Easily my favorite of this season, and one of the most popular episodes of the entire series, “What’s Cookin’” has everything that makes Tales from the Crypt so great. The late Christopher Reeve, of Superman fame, stars alongside Bess Armstrong. The two portray Fred and Erma, a couple barely scraping by ever since their diner — which only serves varieties of squid dishes — has been stuck in a rut. Judd Nelson, whom you may recognize from The Breakfast Club, co-stars as Gaston, the diner’s help. He seems to have a solution to the problem: serving up his old family’s steak recipe. The steak ends up being a total hit; the only problem is that the steak doesn’t come from a cow at all.

A fantastic cameo from rock legend Meat Loaf rounds out the amazing (albeit odd) cast for this episode. This is an even goofier episode than “None But the Lonely Heart,” relying more on laughs and oddities than on pure horror. There are a lot of funny moments, great characters, and, of course, a fun twist ending. Everything comes together to make this one of the most memorable episodes of not only this season, but the entire series.

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http://bit.ly/1FY8cSC

The next episode, “The New Arrival,” is another gem in this season. This one focuses on a radio personality — the child psychologist Dr. Alan Goetz. His radio show’s ratings are dwindling fast, so he decides to do something to bring in more listeners. His big stunt is to make a house call and check in on a woman who has been calling in a lot recently, regarding the wellness of her daughter. Hoping that there will be something of note in this case to bring back listeners, Dr. Goetz and his two coworkers will do anything to help the patient, no matter how weird or twisted or deranged. This episode’s roots lie more in horror than in comedy, and it makes for one of the more suspenseful and eerie episodes of the series.

Now we’ll fast forward through some not-so-bad-but-not-so-good episodes to “Split Personality,” the eleventh episode of the season, which stars Joe Pesci as a conman with a particular fetish for twins. Pesci plays Vic, a man who narrates the episode while lying in bed next to a different naked woman each time it cuts back, telling us about his various cons and even his fetish for twins. He tells of how “[he’s] always wanted to make it with twins.”

When car troubles cause him to break down near a huge mansion, Vic heads inside only to be confronted at gunpoint by two beautiful young twins — April and June Blair. Dream come true for Vic, right? Well, maybe if this were a daytime soap. Being the confident and charming crook he is, he lies to them and gains their trust, and soon enough their love. Also being greedy, however, he cannot stand only marrying one of them and getting only half of their estate. So Vic makes up a twin brother, Jack, so he can marry each twin with each of his personalities. But it isn’t long before the Blair twins catch on to his sleazy ways. Pesci is absolutely brilliant in his performance as Vic/Jack. I don’t think this episode could be nearly as good without him. He’s the perfect amount of sleazy, charming, funny, and creepy. There isn’t much of a twist ending in this one, but it’s satisfying nonetheless and plays on the “Split” article of the title. This episode is a definite favorite of mine.

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http://bit.ly/1f8wiFk

The twelfth episode of the season, “Strung Along,” is the last episode of the season that’s worth note. Donald O’Connor stars as Joseph Renfield, an aging puppeteer who has been out of the industry for many years and has actually been a hermit for quite some time. His young, attractive wife hopes for him to get out, but he just won’t listen to her. He does start to suspect his wife of having an affair, though, and when his old puppets start talking to him, he really starts to believe it. This is a fine episode with a fun plot, solid acting, and a gruesomely funny ending.

Ultimately, this fourth season is one that falters in comparison to previous seasons, making it my least favorite season so far. In its fourteen episodes, only five of those are really notable. The rest are okay at best, most are forgettable, and a good few are even downright awful. I’m giving this season a 3 out of 5, which is the same score I gave the first season. But I still feel that the first season was better realized than this one. Hopefully season five will pick up the slack and get back to the high quality of seasons two and three.

Join me next time as we figure out if the fifth season is worth the watch or not.

— Michael Lane, Film Blogger

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