HBO’s “Tales from the Crypt” Retrospective: Season 6

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Oh, dear. It seems it has come to this, folks. I’d heard that the final two seasons of Tales from the Crypt take a massive dip in quality, but I couldn’t have expected this. And that’s not to say there aren’t a few good eggs within this season’s fifteen episodes, though none of the episodes come close to touching “top ten” territory (maybe not even top twenty or thirty). But there are some enjoyable, interesting, and odd stories here among the many mediocre and some terrible ones.

The premiere episode of the season is actually one of the better attempts. It’s a weird one, for sure, but “Let the Punishment Fit the Crime” is an exciting tale of a hotshot lawyer who has found herself outside of her comfort zone and in court in a small town called Stueksville (pronounced Sticksville) due to a moving violation. Catherine O’Hara stars as the lawyer, a Ms. Geraldine Ferrett, and she expects to simply pay her fine and move on with her business as soon as possible. Stueksville isn’t any ordinary town, however. As Ms. Ferrett wanders around the courthouse, she comes across some pictures of how the law was handled in the past — hangings. One picture is subtitled, “Execution in 1910,” while another has the date scratched out, and shows a new model car in the background. It’s repeated throughout the episode that Stueksville is a very strict town, and it occurs to Ms. Ferrett that she may be paying more than just a simple fine. Charming, funny performances from both Catherine O’Hara and Peter MacNicol, who plays the public attorney appointed to Ms. Ferrett, make this episode a fun oddity. It’s nothing amazing, but it is definitely a fun tale with some twists to keep the audience engaged.

The following episode, “Only Skin Deep” is perhaps my favorite of the season, and also may be the strangest episode of the entire series. A real dirtbag named Carl (played by Peter Onorati) has just been dumped by his girlfriend because of his abusive nature. He goes to a costume party that she’s attending to try and get her back, but he instead meets a mysterious masked woman named Molly and they instantly click. Molly invites Carl to come back to her place and, of course, he accepts. As they talk, it becomes clear that Molly isn’t particularly stable either. As Carl is about to realize, she has an even darker, more violent past than he does. “Only Skin Deep” is a haunting episode that is truly creepy and goes to some dark places. It’s the only episode in season six to really make me feel uncomfortable, and I applaud it for that. This episode’s music, cinematography, and special effects almost make it seem like the show finally stepped out of the 80s and into the 90s (this season aired at the tail-end of 1994). While I’m not so sure that’s a good thing, this is the most effective and intriguing episode of the season.

After only two solid episodes, the season crashes harder than the stock market in ‘29. With a terrible plot, hammy acting, and an absolute joke of an ending, “Whirlpool” is by far the worst episode yet. Proceeding that is an alright episode called “Operation Friendship,” though this one doesn’t really feel like a Tales from the Crypt episode at all. Following that is “Revenge is the Nuts,” and it’s also just pretty bad. The sixth episode, “The Bribe,” is better than the previous few, and it stars Terry O’Quinn and Benecio Del Toro. But again, it just doesn’t have the particular charm that the really good episodes of Tales from the Crypt have. “The Pit” is the seventh episode of the season, and it’s the second-worst episode of the entire show after “Whirlpool.”

Finally, after a long stretch of episodes ranging from kinda okay to mediocre to absolutely awful, we are treated to the ridiculous episode “The Assassin,” which is a total blast. Shelley Hack stars as a loving housewife named Janet McKay, and she’s brilliant in her part. When her husband leaves for work, Janet is shocked to find a woman who claims to be a CIA agent (Chelsea Field) snooping in her home. Agent Bardou is accompanied by fellow agents William and Todd (Corey Feldman and Jonathan Banks) and they explain to Janet that they’ve been searching for her husband for years. They tell her he was a former assassin for the US Government who went rogue and changed his appearance, name, fingerprints, you name it. What the agents don’t know, though, is that Janet has something up her sleeve. Like I said before, this is an explosive and exciting episode that mostly plays for the lighter side of Tales from the Crypt, but still has some dark humor that works well. Oddly enough, for what reason I don’t know, the intro and outro with the Cryptkeeper for this episode includes the Grim Reaper character from Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey.

“Staired in Horror” is the next episode, and it’s just alright. There’s some clever stuff in there, but nothing amazing. After that is “In the Groove,” which is one I enjoyed more than the general populous (the rating on IMDb for this episode is 5.7/10, one of the lowest scores of the series). Still, it’s nothing really of note when compared to most other season’s episodes. The following story, “Surprise Party,” has some good scenes but ultimately falls flat. The final four episodes of the season contain the best stretch of somewhat quality episodes, but again, most of these would be lesser quality episodes if they were included in the previous seasons.

“Doctor Horror” and “Comes the Dawn” have some of the best gore effects of the entire season, and there’s actually some scary stuff in these episodes. Again, though, they’re just alright. The penultimate episode of the season, “99 and 44/100 Pure Horror,” is a tightly scripted, generally well-acted little ditty that excites and horrifies. Willa is a failing artist whose work includes the packaging for her husband’s soap company. After the design becomes old and they’re in need of a new one, Willa’s husband Luden has no other choice but to hire someone else in her place to design the new packaging. This doesn’t sit well with Willa and she decides to get revenge on her husband, but the end results aren’t necessarily in her favor. This is one of the shorter episodes of the season, and it goes by in the blink of an eye. It’s a tightly-paced episode with a fantastic ending as well.

The final episode of the season, “You, Murderer,” is directed by Tales from the Crypt executive producer Robert Zemeckis (who also directed the best episodes in seasons one and three). This is when he was straight off the heels of directing his Oscar-winning film Forrest Gump. The star of this episode is the most interesting part, with Humphrey Bogart playing Lou, although the interesting part is that Humphrey Bogart was a famous actor who died almost forty years prior to the episode’s air date. Zemeckis dabbled with digitally inserting actors into actual vintage newsreels and TV appearances with Forrest Gump, and he does the same here with Bogart. Another interesting thing about this episode is that it’s all seen through the first-person perspective of Lou’s character, so we don’t actually see all that much of Bogart. When we do get a good look at him, it’s done cleverly by showing his reflection in a mirror. The effect can be a little jarring, but it’s ultimately pretty convincing and seriously impressive, especially for the time.

This episode is about Lou, a former criminal who went to one of the best plastic surgeons in the country, Oscar Charles (John Lithgow). Oscar changes Lou’s appearance so that he looked exactly like Humphrey Bogart. This makes Lou invisible to the feds, and he actually makes a very good living after the operation. It doesn’t take long for Oscar to betray Lou, though, as he plans to murder Lou and run away with his wife. It’s made clear from the outset of the episode that Lou is dead, and we flash back through Lou’s first-person view to see what happens in order to get him there. A Bogart impersonator who isn’t credited for the work voices Lou and narrates the episode, filling in details of what happened to him. This is a fine crime-noir story that is a little too predictable, but I can totally appreciate the originality of the viewpoint choice and cutting-edge technology that Zemeckis utilized for the episode. Those elements make this one of the most memorable and important episodes of the series.

So there we have it, the worst season up to this point for the series. Very few good episodes, and even the “good” episodes wouldn’t match up to the very best in previous seasons. I’ll give this season a mediocre score of 2.5 out of 5. The next season is supposed to be even worse, and I’m sort of excited to see just how bad this show can get. At the same time, I’m dreading the fact that I have to watch all of the supposedly terrible episodes.

Well, see you next time when we look back on the last season of Tales from the Crypt.

— Michael Lane, Film Blogger

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

9 thoughts on “HBO’s “Tales from the Crypt” Retrospective: Season 6

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