So, again, a big part of this show is- how nasty can we make that main antagonist? The answer usually is: pretty damn nasty. But, when the show's really on fire, you may notice that everyone around them and maybe even the world they live in is just as fucked up as they are. "Mournin' Mess" is probably the greatest example of the latter. But an even deeper and more personal, throwing us right into the ultimate depths of human disgust and cruelty, is "Dead Right." An ironic(?) twist connected to the fortune teller's frequently repeated prediction is nothing surprising. What is surprising, downright shocking, is how completely fleshed out it is. It goes beyond wanting to see the character "buy the big one" (I think that's how the Crypt Keeper puts it) and just being roped in to see how the rest of the characters react. It's heartless on a truly compelling scale. First, how evil does this twist make Madam Vorna? Well, actually, the entire episode - in my opinion - makes judging the characters pointless. But it becomes increasingly apparent as the twist unfolds that she knows exactly what's going to happen to Demi Moore's Cathy. And that is cold. Ice
cold. As is Cathy's close friend, played by Texas Chainsaw Massacre III
's Kate Hodge. The episode's only real light moment comes when the two discuss possible death scenarios for Jeffrey Tambor's Charlie Marno. Which we see actually play out in front of us. Yes... in this episode, this moment is a breather.
The rest of the episode never once lets up on the nastiness. These characters (except for maybe Al the bar-keeper) are some of the most awful human beings I've ever seen in the genre. Yet, you can't exactly look away. The details are ruthless. Watching Cathy vomit after merely kissing Charlie being the first moment you realize just what you're in for. The fact that Cathy is for awhile the most despicable person in the episode is a good way to try drumming up some sympathy for Charlie. But, re-watches give us concrete proof that Charlie was a psycho from minute-1. Though watching her constantly insult his weight is an effective means to draw attention away from his dead-inside character, there are rock solid clues making a true-to-life argument that even guys like this can dangerously controlling or hard set in their ways. The twist is one of the show's darkest moments, bar none, and comes the closest to actually observing what almost feels like a real serial killer at work. Those eyes... so human and yet, so not. It becomes painfully obvious (in every sense of the word) that Charlie never really loved her either.
Cannibalism as a concept really isn't scary. But, when it's handled properly, it sure becomes a sharp metaphor for depraved ambition. To make this point, "Cookin'" plays with character types set-up early on and subverts them through the twist's revelation that the only guy we thought knew what was going on had absolutely no idea. When you realize the ultra-moral Fred (Christopher Reeve), ultra-kind Erma (Bess Armstrong), and ultra-friendly Phil (Art LaFleur) were playing him (Judd Nelson) all along, it's quite a shock. Yet, as the entire episode has been structured as a dive into the depths of how low people will sink for money, it clicks. Of course, it's also implied that money itself is a red herring for how it may be the taste of human meat that turns people into psychotic killers with no reverance for human life. It's spookier than you think. It's very much the flipside of "The Reluctant Vampire," where that episode's killer only took the lives of criminals and he was never corrupted into overturning his core values. Nothing could make him stop basically caring about people. In a way, the twist suggests that anyone is capable of murdering for success (definitely a mainstay of Crypt
). But there's something real interesting about it in relation to how the husband and wife enterpreneurs get started in the restaurant business... we don't really know whether Reeve's "vision" for becoming the Col. Sanders of seafood is based on its' uniqueness or because he really knows how to cook squid. Why would Fred and Erma open a restaurant if they don't know how to cook? This either suggests that... well, anyone
can cook "steak," or Fred and Erma were always more than what they appeared to be. After all, why else would they have attracted someone like Gaston in the first place? The episode definitely wants you to chew on this a little. And no matter what you come up with, it's enough to make you think twice about the person sitting next to you. This is also suggested by the abundance of casual shots of people eating the "steaks." This clientel are not just eating people, they're eating themselves. Eating: you.
"Two for the Show
So... this seems as good a time as any to deal with the fact that Crypt
is a show best liked by most fans when it's tapping into familiar horror territory. For example, 2 of my lowest ranking episodes are among the higher ranking with the majority- "The Ventriloquist's Dummy" and "Strung Along." Why? Because they're about killer puppets and don't skimp out on the blood, gore, or slasher elements. In general, the more "suspense" oriented plots (most of which, big stunner, originate from the Shock SuspenStories
department of E.C. Comics- which account for a huge percentage of the episodes HBO selected for the series) have far fewer fans. I get that. In fact, I was also just as excitedly looking forward to re-watching the nastier, gorier episodes myself. And found, overall, that what really makes the show go round is what how often it translated fairly well to the 80's and early 90's. What it was able to say about people and human nature. For this, heavy bloodletting and serious gross-outs were a nice bonus but hardly necessary. On paper, this "will or won't" the killer "be caught" by our dedicated cop hunting him down, trying to shake him up, might not get many viewers excited but I was beyond surprised to see how it turned out. First, there's Traci Lords. Sure, she'll never win any awards for her post-porn career but to say I find her a welcome addition to a cast when she's around is an understatement. I don't know how to describe her. Even before I fell in love with her debut album, 1,000 Fires
(its lead single, "Control," featured in the epic Liu Kang versus Reptile fight scene in the trashy but entertaining 1995 film adaptation of Mortal Kombat
), I thought she was just plain cool. She has style and is a great unconventional performer. I find it impossible to predict what she'll do next (though not because I think she's wild or put much thought into playing any of her roles against her infamous reputation).
The episode is sparse in its sets and its scenes are few and wide, so the small cast are kept at warm distances throughout which is of course perfect for its theme of intrusiveness. Which very effectively switches the roles of the protagonist and antagonist. The more the episode reveals the cop is onto the killer, the more intense the cop becomes until he's practically a jump scare, and the more vulnerable and desperate becomes until- you can't help but identify with him. Sure, I hated Andy at first, but then... I quickly grew to feel less bothered by what he'd done after he got on the train. It's impossible to not be made uncomfortable by how close the cop gets, he invades your space too. And Vincent Spano is so stabbingly right-there at all times. His eyes, his accusations, and his physical presence burn right through the screen and into you. You feel like he's violating you. Which makes the twist all the more effective. One you'll never be able to guess in a million years. For some reason this episode strikes me as one of the most creepy. Especially with the music score, which crosses the border right into bone-chilling. More than saying "now you're caught" to the character (which, of course, we were all waiting for given the cop-chasing-criminal framework) or signifying that's gotten what he deserves, it almost feels like the tortured screams of the episode's real victims. One of which we're now being introduced to- the cop's dead wife, whom he savagely murdered with premeditated intent to blame it on David Paymer.
"For Cryin' Out Loud
You may remember in my summary for season 4's torturously awful "On a Deadman's Chest," I mentioned that there was no awesome in that episode. This is, of course, because you don't hire Tia Carrere after Wayne's World
to be in a rock band episode and not be awesome. Mainly. As you can imagine, after seeing that episode (before I even ever got wind that this existed), I was not looking forward to sitting through another one. Damn
, am I glad I had second thoughts! This is one of the most fun episodes of the whole show! And, I'm pleased to report, it has more than enough awesome to make up for that previous disappointment. Lee Arenberg (you might just remember him as this guy
... well, I did) delivers a pitch-perfect performance as the two-timing rock club owner who just can't catch a break. In an episode like this, it can't hurt a thing if you feel bad for him. Or if, despite the running commentary of the manic Jiminy Cricket hanging out in his inner ear, he just whacks his banker without any real interruption from his overbearing conscience except to inform him that "she's dead!" Like: "she's dead, you idiot, stop hitting her with that guitar!
" Katey Sagal, as also previously mentioned in "Deadman"s summary, is an amazing comedic gift. From wildcat groupie to nerdy banker babe to probably the only thing resembling a creepy or dark element in the episode (short of some squirting blood in the final "it's in your ear
" twist). No, this is not a horror episode. But it's nonetheless a credit to the show's amusing adult humor with blood, death, and fresh turns throughout. We also get so close to Arenberg that we might as well call it humping his face. Great music. Great, quirky dialogue. Great supporting performances; including deadpan Mark Lowenthal - returning from "The Man Who Was Death" - as a quirky ear doctor and Airplane!
jive-talking passenger Al White as a very square cop. On Donny Osmond: "now, him
, I like." Move over, Carlton Banks.
"Three's a Crowd
This simmering little internal-horror piece is probably one of the greatest surprises of the series. Of the show's many similar episode-to-episode jumping plots, nothing is more common than the discovery or suspicion of infidelity. Among them, there is no question that this one is the most sympathetic toward the suspecting spouse. Not merely because it's all his story but also because for him to be driven to do something as horrifying as he does in the finale, he needs to have an extremely heavy motivation. What the episode comes up with is a combination of his greatest fear - losing his wife, which he mentions in the first scene - and a feeling of betrayal which builds in a way that would seem irrational were she not unwittingly doing everything possible to prove his suspicions are correct. It's basically the only real tragedy among the heap of infidelity plots. Which is what should hook you to be intrigued for the finale. But then, nothing could prepare you for the episode's finale. Sincerely acted, stylishly directed, beautifully calculated to the last mili-second, and with a score that ranges from foreboding to subtly devious, this thing hits hard. The quiet intensity of the first 18 or so minutes is very suddenly cranked up to full-blast in the final 6 and in an eyeblink, we are thrust into the darkest reaches of human evil. Startling to the point of being heart-stopping and unrelenting to the point of cruelty, this all-class outing of devastating brutality and jolting terror does not disappoint!
"People Who Live in Brass Hearses
I was all-set to write this one off when I first watched it; I really don't like Bill Paxton. And I think after One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
, Brad Dourif did his best work offscreen (though I enjoyed him in the Nightwatch
remake). Yet, somehow, despite the two of them (or maybe, to their credit)- this episode is chock full of surprises. At first, it just goes on and on about insignificant details and you get bored. You imagine there's probably a twist coming at the end (there usually is, this is the Crypt
after all) but you could care less about what it is because the episode is so damn boring. Then the twist comes... and... Well, before I go any further, I have to tell you about the first time I watched this episode. I hated it. I wasn't impressed beforehand and then the twist seemed so cheap and stupid and out of nowhere and gross-gag-reliant, I was convinced it was the worst of the entire series. This was when I'd rented the disc from Netflix (before I tossed their mail-in service for Instant Watch-only). A year later, I owned the set and decided to rewatch it. Of course, thinking I was in for another torture session... Then I realized all those details before which seemed irrelevant and therefore I'd ignored were actually clues to the twist. And damn good ones at that. I had to watch it twice to get what was going on. On second viewing- it finally hit me. This is genius! The twist is multi-faceted and actually has terrific resonance when you watch it a second time. For example, am I crazy or was Byrd actually a hypocrite? When Billy and Virgil hit his house, they find a jackpot of cash all stuffed in what appear to be ice cream boxes, stacked in his freezer. Would anyone have even thought to look there? The whole time he was criticizing Paxton for skimming his profits, he was doing the same thing. No, I don't care for our somewhat appropriately cast knuckle-head brothers. I'm more inclined to give the episode win to Michael Lerner (For Richer or Poorer
, the Clueless
tv series) and Lainie Kazan (who actually plays a different ethnic stereotype in nearly every thing she's cast in: Jewish- The Nanny
, Greek- My Big Fat Greek Wedding
, Spanish- Bratz
the movie). My favorite moment upon reflection: when Paxton is waiting for Byrd to get out of the truck and he drives away!! Watch it twice and I think you'll get a kick out of it too. A pure shocker. And another deeply nasty little coda (1/2 price ice cream).
"And All Through the House
I don't know if this is supposed to be so obvious (the tire-swing / window sequence), over-the-top (Mary Ellen - most famous movie mother of the 80's - Trainor's entire performance), or silly (her boyfriend's answering machine message)- but this is the pure definition of fun. It's just cliche after cliche done speedy, tense, mean, and funny. A beautiful tracking shot paired with a Nat King Cole classic unbroken as a fire poker (one of my favorite and underused movie-murder instruments) murder is commited. And then, the always entertaining Larry Drake (Dr. Giggles
, of course) as a loony-eyed, black-toothed, ax-toting, grease-faced killer santa looking like he just escaped from prison. This is what happens when you try to explain pure horror fun; at this point, everything that can be said about it's been said. And you've seen it, you know how good it is. It doesn't get better than this. Though, Trainor's face- I don't know what shocked her more: the killer climbing up the ladder to her daughter's open window or getting hit over the head by a clump of snow fallen from her roof.
"Judy, You're Not Yourself Today
However, an episode which hasn't been talked about enough and even currently holds a 6.0 on IMDb while the far lesser likes of "Only Skin Deep" rates a 7.7. Now I think you know what I mean about the crowd going for the gnarlier episode just because there's blood and rote imagery. Meanwhile, though "Judy" is sure low on death, dismemberment, and blood- it is actually one of the most powerful pieces of 30-minute television I've ever witnessed. The ending (calling it a twist might be a bit insulting, given its' shocking dramatic weight) literally drains all the feeling out of my body save for at least one tear. That's right, this ending makes me cry. Every time. Without fail. I've never watched another show that left me as heavy and numb by the end (I can't move for at least the last minute straight, before the Crypt Keeper's outro). Despite Brian Kerwin's deranged performance (and whatever made the character this way, which is never explained) and the jabbing obviousness of its' anti-gun message- director Randa Haines (who also directed a series entitled Tucker's Witch
) actually manages to imbue this episode with some real sense of loss. Which most viewers likely weren't expecting after his little "Blam! Blam! I blew that bitch away!
" spiel. Technically, this episode completely lacks any fear and tension (save for the opening credits sequence, which is very arresting). But, before it gets serious, this weird-comedy with sparse horror imagery is knee-slappingly funny. Masterful, rapid-fire farce the whole way through. Kerwin and Carol Kane are nothing short of a perfect pair in their portrayal of a stressed-out suburban couple whose life of unease hits the roof. He's especially fun ("Don't smoke cigarettes! Don't point guns at my head!
"), to the point where he even experiences a multiple-identity orgasm when killing someone with his gun. Bitter ending aside, I laugh and grin my face off the whole time. Imo, one of life's rare perfect treasures.
With Jon Lovitz cast as the episode's protagonist, a likable enough funnyman but also a guy whose sardonic shtick definitely has its' limitations...was anyone expecting this to deliver like it does, or would I have been alone in thinking it was destined to just be an amusing little side-order at best? This struggling actor (or actor versus actor) piece is stark, colder than a corpse, genuinely shocking and scary, and surprisingly intense at times. It's not (necessarily) because Lovitz is that good. He just happens to be a good fit for this part (so much so that I could never imagine anyone else playing it). The whole cast (which is mighty impressive) are directed in the most ultra-professional mode of probably the entire series. I wasn't able to read whether the writing came up with an answer or not on Lovitz' character's take on advancing in the industry as artform versus the big-toothed, perpetually smiling prettyboy's as commerce. But you expect Barry to fail if he takes himself this seriously. It's his character- which you do buy as a person so serious about what he does, so fed up with rejection and tough breaks that he just can't take one more loss. It's still comedy but soberingly everyday and realistic in a way that is horrifying as a concept. Then, with the right stylistic features, tight editing, and an amazingly creepy cast of supporting characters including John Astin as a hammy madman director, Louise Fletcher as the frostiest agent I've ever seen, and the eccentrically deadpan Paul Benedict as the gay wardrobe man - who delivers one of the show's scariest lines ("just slip into this hood
"), and a final moment as terrifying as...well, the final moment at the end of #1 below, this episode is a real cut above the rest.
The amazing Sandra Bernhard also puts in a great little cameo as a casting woman. Andy Dick later parodied her on The Ben Stiller Show
in a hilarious bit where she was the one auditioning for Janeane Garofalo- playing a casting woman (which I bring up also because they later parodied the Crypt
as well - 11:02
The best war-related piece of filmmaking I've ever seen (of course, I say this with an extreme distaste for all films about war- I never saw one that truly surprised me). It's tight, succinct, and absolutely spine-chilling. Front to back. This is the kind of thing that hopefully sympathizes with the tortured soldier, forced to risk his life against his will, while sort of shoving the words of both sides down their throats. For example, I always clapped whenever Michael Moore would accuse the politicians who supported the Iraq war of purposefully not sending their own kids into the military. But when you watch this, you have to agree- Martin's no better than any of the other soldiers getting torn to pieces. What makes his life any more important? And, when Dan Akroyd's character suggests his father's being hasty by condeming Martin to the firing squad- wouldn't he consider the same action taken by any other lieutenant a form of cowardice? My money's on yes. This episode has a formidable ugly streak that forces us to accept, in a situation that can't be changed, the consequences for everyone's actions- even if we would have done the same.
Then... we have the whole issue of father versus son. Kirk Douglas is such a bastard to his son (naturally). The son gave his whole life to make his father happy and his father never gave him anything real in return. This pattern obviously set a precidence in their relationship where the father always takes and expects the son to always give. The one thing Martin fights him on is not wanting to go to war and wanting a discharge. He also lies and manipulates Martin into behaving the way he wants too. As though always complying with his demands wasn't good enough. This episode perfectly illustrates the expectations of complete-sacrifice on the part of pro-war zealots (that are at least secretly present in them). Most importantly though, this relationship is so typical to parental manipulation. Martin just wasn't smart enough to see through his father's lies. Why would he be? He grew up to be the man his father wanted him to be- submissive to the point of not being his own man, able to make his own decisions. This is a tragic piece of television and a deeply horrifying episode of this horror anthology. Even if it wasn't originally devised for the series. (This shocked me- considering how much gore is in this episode, how much the ending actually registers as a twist, and how truly hard it hits when Kirk betrays Martin.)