HBO’s “Tales from the Crypt” Retrospective: Season 5

After what was undoubtedly the worst season to date, the producers of Tales from the Crypt struck back in October of 1993 with what is undoubtedly the best season. Thirteen episodes make up season five, and for the most part, these episodes are solid. The cast this time around features the most recognizable names and faces yet, including John Stamos, Tim Curry, Steve Buscemi, Martin Sheen, Brooke Shields…and the list goes on and on. A good cast won’t necessarily make for a good show, so I’m glad to say that the episodes also feature interesting storylines and characters. This is best illustrated in the season premiere, “Death of Some Salesman.”

“Death of Some Salesman” doesn’t even attempt to have a misleading title. Ed Begley Jr. stars as a crooked salesman who is trying to get one over on unsuspecting families in a rural community by selling them fake cemetery plots. For a while, it’s actually going well for him. He’s quite the charming, convincing door-to-door salesman. He eventually happens upon the Bracketts family farm. The Bracketts are an old couple — a particularly odd old couple — and the salesman has some difficulty selling his scam to them. Just as it seems he’s about to close the deal, Ma and Pa Brackett stop to think things over as the salesman snoops around the house. He’s quickly taken aback as he finds a dismembered head in the microwave, and now he has to con his way out of being murdered himself by the Bracketts. Tim Curry is the real star of the episode, playing not only Ma and Pa Brackett, but also their daughter, Winona Brackett. He’s absolutely brilliant in each role, making for what may be my favorite performance in any episode of the series. This episode is the best one of the season. It’s a fun ride with some great twists that lead to a memorable end. 

The third episode of the season — “Forever Ambergris” — stars The Who’s frontman Roger Daltrey and one of my all-time favorite character actors, Steve Buscemi. Daltrey portrays Dalton, an aging war photographer who is unfortunately losing his eye for photography. His apprentice, Ike (Buscemi), is quickly becoming as good as Dalton once was. Dalton is already jealous of Ike and his photographic ability, but when he’s asked over for dinner one night with Ike and his girlfriend, Dalton falls in love with Ike’s girlfriend, Bobbi. The problem with this is that Bobbi worships Ike, and Dalton can’t let it go that Ike is a better photographer and has a beautiful girlfriend. This episode is actually one of the more serious episodes of the series, and these more dramatic episodes make for some of my favorites. This episode features some great scenes of body horror, with spectacular special effects that will actually make you squirm. A fitting ending makes this one of my favorites of the season.

Season five hits its first roadblock with the fourth episode, “Food for Thought,” but the following episode, “People Who Live in Brass Hearses,” all but makes up for it. This episode stars a particularly convincing Bill Paxton as Billy DeLuca, a former ice cream salesman recently released from prison after he was ratted out for stealing by a fellow ice cream truck driver, Mr. Byrd. Billy is out for revenge with the help of his brother, Virgil (Brad Dourif), who works at the ice cream distribution center that Mr. Byrd associates with. Their plan is to steal from both Virgil’s boss and Mr. Byrd in the same hit. Virgil isn’t too bright, however, and things quickly go sideways. This episode is a ton of fun. You’ve got great performances, a shocking ending, gross special effects, and most importantly, Bill Paxton eating a stick of butter. This one has it all.

The next five episodes are all genuinely good, making for the longest streak of quality episodes the show has had up to this point. The one that stands out the most from these five episodes is “House of Horror.” This one stars Wil Wheaton, Keith Coogan, and Jason London as a trio of pledges trying to get inducted into a college fraternity. Their final task before becoming members involves them making their way through an old, abandoned house on the edge of town that has apparently been haunted for years. Kevin Dillon also co-stars, giving a fantastic performance as the absolutely terrible pledge master who just rags on the pledges incessantly, making their lives a living hell. As the pledges make their way through the house, one by one, there are more odd things that occur that really make it seem like the place is, in fact, haunted. “House of Horror” takes a simple concept and truly makes it suspenseful and creepy, but keeping with the excessive camp that makes the series so fun. It’s a blast of an episode and has one of my favorite endings of the series.

The season again takes an unfortunate downward swing in its eleventh and twelfth episodes, but it picks back up in its awesome finale, “Till Death Do We Part.” Johnny Canaparo (John Stamos) is a young and attractive male counterpart to an aging mob-related woman named Ruth. Johnny falls for a waitress named Lucy, but when they’re caught together, Ruth calls for Lucy’s death — at the hands of a grieving Johnny. The main question of this episode is if Johnny will go through with killing Lucy, or if he’ll turn the gun on Ruth instead. This one is more action-based than horror-based, featuring scenes where the main characters duel-wield handguns and fly through the air shooting countless thugs. It’s pretty well done for the most part, and the end twist is one you won’t see coming. It’s an absolutely brilliant use of editing. This one is also cool just because it has John Stamos swearing, killing, and screwing — a particularly fun thing to see during a time in his career where families all over the country loved him as the lovable Uncle Jesse on the family-friendly sitcom, Full House. It’s just something you’d never think you’d see, but makes for something you wish you could see more of.

Season five starts with a show stopper — absolutely one of the best episodes in the show’s vast catalogue, and the season rarely lets up from that point on. It’s just one great episode after another, making this the best season of the entire series. Even with its few faults, I’m giving this season a perfect 5 out of 5, and I’m praying that the last two seasons are even a fraction as good as this one is. 

Come back next week when I take a look at season 6.

— Michael Lane, Film Blogger

Handy links to my other retrospectives on HBO’s Tales from the Crypt:


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