Review Date: December 6, 2006
Released by: Warner Brothers
Release date: 10/31/2005
Region 1, NTSC
Full Screen 1.33:1
The last few seasons of Tales From the Crypt
are filled with footnotes, whether it be the show’s move overseas for season seven, or its spin-off into theatrical fare with Demon Knight
and Bordello of Blood
. While the A-list sort of tired with Tales From the Crypt
after season four, there are still several B-list delights to be found here in season five, including the likes of Tim Curry, Brad Dourif, Steve Buscemi, John Stamos and even Frank Stallone. Warner Brothers continues to diligently release this series onto DVD, and this season comes just a few short months after the fourth. Will the transfer issues from the previous films prevail, and more importantly, is this season the start of the decline or the last big rally for the franchise the crypt keeper built? Come, kiddies, let’s take a look on the big scream.
Death of Some Salesman
, the first of Tales From the Crypt
’s typical three part opener, also features a three part performance by Tim Curry. Starring as Ma, Pa, and their darling daughter Winona Brackett, he plays a hick family who becomes the target of scheming salesman Judd Campbell (Ed Begley Jr.
). A door-to-door salesman by appearance, Campbell is really none other than a con artist (as if the two terms weren’t already inseparably linked). He seeks out widows in the obituary column, and then tries to get them to pay for the plot of land on which their husband supposedly put a down payment. His luck runs out though, when he meets the Bracketts, who seem used to dealing with such salesman. Instead of declining though, they take their salesman captive. Either they marry their hideous daughter or they die an insufferable death, there isn’t much in the way of happy endings for these salesman. Campbell tries to work his charm, but he may just end up in the plot of land he was trying to sell in the first place.
Excellent by virtue of Curry’s family trinity performance alone, Death of Some Salesman
also benefits from all the staples that made Crypt such a venerable franchise. It begins with one of the most excessively nude sex scenes of the series, and ends with one of the most grotesque and disturbing. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Tim Curry have sex with a man. The effects work is commendable, with all three Curry characters looking substantially different (is it odd that he looks more like himself in the two female characters than he does in the father figure?) complete with liver spots, moles, wrinkles and other hideous aberrations. Begley plays the sleazy protagonist like nobody else, having made a career for himself doing just that, but ultimately this is the Curry show. Gilbert Adler’s direction is mostly void of any stylistic flourish (he’d go on to bring a similar aesthetic to his Bordello of Blood
), but with performances like these, he neededn’t have any in the first place. Like most of the big season openers, this is another that doesn’t disappoint, and has rightfully earned its place as one of the fan favorites.
Hector Elizondo plays a jealous husband out for religious revenge in this next episode, As Ye Sow
. Leo Burns (Elizondo
) married a trophy wife, Bridget (Patsy Kensit
), who is twenty five years her junior, and now that the sex has dried up, he suspects infidelity. The first investigator he goes to tells him she is perfectly clean, a “choir girl” even. He still has his doubts though, and seeks out the professional assistance of the sleazy G.G. Devoe (Sam Waterston
). Devoe waters Joe’s seedlings of jealousy by positing the theory that his wife is in fact boning her priest. Leo investigates, and the priest, Father John Sejac (John Shea
), seems all the more guilty when he tells Leo his lax stances on issues like contraception and adultery. Leo jumps the gun and has Devoe pop the priest…but his wife has a confession he should hear first.
Directed by David Lynch’s acting conscious, Kyle MacLachlan, As Ye Sow
similarly mixes arthouse with the dark, horrific underbelly of the middle-class. MacLachlan packs the short with style, getting inside the head of Leo at the start with some effective “Vertigo” shots and dollies, and then pulling away at the end when the dramatic resolve is at its height. He has a masterful hand behind the camera, and the story he has to tell reaps some madly effective rewards. Crypt episodes usually have that one big ironic hook, seen a mile away, that concludes the episode. But here, the irony comes through tenfold, and the stars all align for one of the best climaxes in all the series. It takes the standard detective noir, infuses it with nineties church reformation and a pinch of Lynch and comes out a real crowd pleaser. Elizondo relishes an asshole’s vulnerability, and Waterston has a field day licking his fingers of take-out food and ratty looks. Probably the most economical of all the Crypt episodes, without a second of extraneous plot development, it is also one of the best.
follows a couple of war photographers, one an over the hill photography icon, and the other his aspiring protégé. Dalton (Roger Daltrey
) was the envy of all his peers when he was making endless magazine covers with his war photography, but The Suck has made him tame, so claims his boss. There’s a new photographer in town, Ike (Steve Buscemi
), who shoots with the same grit and realism that characterized the once great Dalton. Ike also has a helluva wife too, the beautifully blonde and unerringly loyal Bobbi (Lysette Anthony
). When Dalton finds out he’s on the outs and Ike is in, he devises a scheme to get himself back on top. There is a vicious war site that was ravaged by a deadly virus, with victims so grotesque the world has never seen anything like it. If you snap them though, you’ll die too, the virus eating its way through your flesh. Dalton gets Ike out there, and Ike rots an oozing death shortly after giving Dalton his roll of 35mm. Dalton makes it home to Ike’s wife, but, of course, things don’t quite cum out alright.
The final in Tales From the Crypt
’s standard three-part season premiere, Forever Ambergris
, makes a fine closing to what is probably the best Tales trifecta. While the first was all about Curry, and the second all about MacLachlan’s direction, this last one owes its worth to the gruesome gore effects near the end. When Buscemi begins to rot it’s great; when he starts barfing out his insides it’s awesome; but when his eye oozes out and is dabbed with a burning cigarette, that’s the stuff of effects magic. The story has some pointed commentary on the paradox of observing life in the midst of death in the field of war photography, and Buscemi has that talent of making his fast-talking dweebs seem so infectious, but all is overshadowed by the oozy effects. Director Gary Fleder would go on to make a career out of popular and forgettable suspense yarn fluff like Runaway Jury
¸ Kiss the Girls
, and Don’t Say a Word
. Then again, those films didn’t have crazy gore effects.
Food For Thought
takes us into one of the favorite underbellies of fifties fiction – the carnival. It is here in this carnival that buxom Siamese twins, horny midgets, pent-up apes and telepathic freaks unite. There’s a motley crew of misfits here, but the most disturbed is no doubt Zambini (Ernie Hudson
), a gluttonous mind-reader. His assistant, Connie (Joan Chen
) is also his wife, and unlike all the other acts, her telepathy act with her husband is real. She can hear his thoughts, and he is close to hearing hers as well. He forces her into sexual favors with mental and physical abuse so much that she decides to run off with another carny. The only problem is, he can hear her every adulterous thought. He threatens her life, but she uses her brain for more than just telepathic compliance to issue a little payback.
After the focus and tact of the first three stories this season, Food For Thought
is comparatively a big mess. Where to begin? Director Rodman Flender (Idle Hands
) is unable to decide as to whether he wants the episode to be a Freaks
-esque ode to carnival life or a freak show flavored revenge story. Too many times the episode wanders into the lives of many superfluous characters, only to do nothing with them. The Siamese twins seem only to be around for their inevitable three breasted nude shot. “Little person” extraordinaire Phil Fondacaro seems only there to watch. It says something of the depth of the screenplay that the most significant character ends up being an ape. Ernie Hudson takes his mask as license to chew all the scenery (when his mouth isn’t inexplicably full with other bits of food). So many character traits are hinted at but never paid off, and while the last shot is a gory good bit, it can’t make up for the middle before it. Overall, pretty weak.
Two brothers have a chilling encounter with an ice cream vendor in People Who Live in Brass Hearses
. Billy (Bill Paxton
) and Virgil (Brad Dourif
) are two brothers who dream of heisting big money with big guns, just like they used to do in them old westerns. Billy is angered from already having done a few years in the slammer, and Virgil is angered from being unable to know whether Jesse James could beat the Predator in a fight. You see, Virgil is a little slow to the draw, but Billy loves him anyway. Billy takes Virgil along for a planned heist, where he’ll rob the ice cream vendor, Mr. Byrd (Michael Lerner
), for having put Billy in the slammer in the first place. Things get complicated with Virgil accidentally kills Byrd’s warehouse secretary instead. Billy doesn’t want to go back to prison empty handed, so they pay Byrd a little house visit. Less a Byrd house and more a birdcage, they find themselves trapped behind Byrd’s icy little secret.
A step back to acceptability after Food For Thought
, Hearses thrives on the strength of the performances. This is Bill Paxton when he’d piss himself on screen rather than piss on audiences from the director’s chair with his sentimental directorial mediocrity. And this is the same Brad Dourif we know and love, a chameleon to whatever disturbed role he chooses. Here he downplays his memorable voice, and makes a convincing naïve.
Paxton and Dourif’s brotherly dynamic is cleverly brought out right from the introduction of their names, Billy (the Kid) and Virgil (Earp, brother to Wyatt). Of course, Michael Lerner, another memorable Hollywood character actor on display here, has an interesting role with a satisfying little twist. There is no “vanilla twist” like the ice cream encounter in Assault on Precinct 13
, but seeing the two brothers mug it up in front of a do gooder ice cream man is still good fun.
Two for the Show
starts out with Andy Conway (David Paymer
) boring his wife, played by Traci Lords, to tears with stories about his work. Claiming she is not getting enough sex (imagine that!), she threatens to leave him. She’s been having an affair. Andy doesn’t take to well to that, and ends up strangling her in a fit of fury. Officer Fine (Vincent Spano
) is called in to investigate after a neighbour’s complaint, but finds nothing objectionable. Andy decides to dump the package on a train without an identification tag, but he again runs into Fine, who is boarding that same train. Out of worry Andy hesitantly boards, and the two end up discussing the prospect of murdering each other’s wives while the evidence sits chopped up in a trunk behind them.
Two for the Show
is like Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train
if put through The Fly
’s teleporter. Inside out and more graphic, this Kevin Hooks (Passenger 57
) directed episode has fun with the Hitchcockian premise. The two strangers meet after they’ve done the deed, and their whole exchange of double entendres has a much more sinister backing. Thanks to plenty of severed body parts there is a nice bit of gore here to give Hitchcock’s story a more visceral boost. Spano is a little obnoxious, but Paymer plays the schmuck he’d played his whole life as if he had been playing it, well, his whole life. The end has a fairly obvious outcome, but that’s before a few quick twists give it a modicum of female-empowerment originality. Hooks, himself an African American director, doesn’t hesitate to add this to his oeuvre of minority parables, where in this, Passenger 57
and Strictly Business
, the darker skinned characters persevere over the weaker whites.
Speaking of weak, House of Horror
follows Les Wilton (Kevin Dillon
) a pledge master who is all talk on the outside, but deep down a pussy. He’s been pledge master for six years (graduation is never a prospect for these archetypes) and he now spends his time razzing his three new pledges (Jason London
and Toy Soldiers
co-stars Wil Wheaton
and Keith Coogan
). The pledges have had to scrub his floors and kiss the dog shit on his shoes for months, and their last initiation involves reaching the top of the titular haunted house. Les has rigged the place with booby traps, including feeding the pledges a story of how the house is haunted by a coughing killer who hacked to death ten pledges before the house went in repose in 1933. The pledges go through the house one by one, but there are more than booby traps and old legends behind its doors.
This episode was no doubt given the go when long-time Zemeckis producer Bob Gale asked for his shot at a director credit, but the result is an entertaining ride through teenagerdom of the early nineties. I remember being embarrassed in season three when I saw a grown up Data crying in Undertaking Palor, but House of Horror
s is less an awkward trip back to adolescence than a blast from the past. Here we see Wil Wheaton, boy wonder of Stand by Me
, Star Trek: The Next Generation
as the sniveling nerd he was born to play (and now considerably pudgier, too), Jason London, heartthrob of Dazed and Confused
and The Man in the Moon
, Keith Coogan, the scene stealer in the awesome Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead
and Adventures in Babysitting
, and my pubescent conquest, and Meredith Salenger of Dream a Little Dream
and Carpenter’s Village of the Damned
as a sorority sister. Throw in The Blob
’s Kevin Dillon, The Return to the Blue Lagoon
’s Brian Krause and the dick from Encino Man
and that’s basically the biggest assortment of early-nineties teen stars in a production to not include the Coreys. Lifting a twist liberally from slasher favorite Terror Train
doesn’t hurt this fun nostalgia narrative, either. But…vampires?
Well Cooked Hams
features Billy Zane not (unfortunately) as a cook, but instead as a cooked magician. His acts are embarrassing, always stumbling over his stunts and pulling anything but a rabbit out of his hat of tricks. He is heir to the great Zorbin, but his disgrace to the profession has even his own assistant balking at his performance. Zane is invited to another magician’s one-time act, and sees a Box of Death trick that is, well, to die for. The magician, Kraygen (Martin Sheen
), tells him the secrets behind his crowd pleasing act, but Zane isn’t content with just merely knowing. He does a disappearing act with Kraygen (by stabbing him and throwing him in the trash), assuming Kraygen’s show in the process. Zane sets up for the big act, but when it comes time to get into the Box of Death, Zane begins to question whether Kraygen was straight with him when he told him how to survive.
Directed by The Car
director, Elliot Silverstein, this episode is probably more notable for being the first thing written by future Se7en
writer, Andrew Kevin Walker. This script isn’t nearly as smart, and the twist (a device Walker would essentially become synonymous with
) is pretty stale. Martin Sheen plays three pretty bizarre characters, with all sorts of accents and make-up, but even with all his showboating he doesn’t really elevate this average entry in the series. The Crypt keeper’s bookends though, where he plays standup for a “dead” audience, is one of the hosts’ finer moments.
Long before mummies were CGI fodder with wrestling star spin-offs they were taught in history class in Creep Course
. A pre-pedophile Jeffrey Jones stars as Professor Finley, an Egyptian historian with a sizable collection all his own. One of his students is Stella Bishop (Nina Siemaszko
), bookworm extraordinaire, complete with glasses and unflattering sweaters. Another is head jock Reggie (Anthony Michael Hall
), whose inattention in class will likely lead to a failing grade. Reggie seduces Stella into arranging a private meeting at Finley’s house so she can distract him with Egyptian cross-talk while he hijacks the midterm. Things get hairy though, when Stella gets thrown in a cellar with a resurrected mummy by the crazed Finley. Will Reggie come to the rescue or will Stella have to cry to mummy?
manages to be pretty enjoyable once you accept that Anthony Michael Hall is a dumb jock. From Breakfast Club
geek to macho football hotshot? Against type or not, it simply doesn’t work, especially when he is chubby, acne ridden and mannered with that eerily academic enunciation. Still, it is moderately of interest to see the John Hughes film sort of cross worlds with Bueller’s principal coming down on Brian Ralph Johnson. The ending is cheesy fun too, with Stella apparently versed in more than just Egyptian history as she lifts a Final Girl technique right out of Friday the 13th, Part II
. Jason was always a mummy’s boy though, I guess. The ending betrays Stella’s smarts, and writer/director Jeffrey Boam’s for letting it happen, considering he is responsible for penning Cronenberg’s The Dead Zone
and The Lost Boys
. Still, it’s decent fun.
Came the Dawn[/i] begins in first person, as a voluptuous gold digger talks directly to the man behind the camera during a dinner date. She promises him sex, but excuses herself to the bathroom. Shortly after she is excused from life, as an unseen slasher, clicking on in with glossy high heels, gives her the axe. Flash forward and Roger (Perry King
) is driving in his expensive sports car. His relationship with his ex is on the skids, and his luck seems to change when he finds a stranded Norma (Brooke Shields
) beside her stalled truck. He invites her over to his cabin for dinner, and stops off at the convenience store to pick up some food supplies for the night. While there the clerk (Michael J. Pollard
) informs Roger that in addition to the murder, a truck resembling Norma’s has been stolen. Roger suspects Norma but desperate for company, goes on with the night. By the end of the night, someone else will enter the picture and someone else will leave. And someone will die.
Directed by Uli Edel, the man behind Body of Evidence
, this picture promises sexual intrigue, but always stays above the covers. It delves into some complicated sexual politics, and even tries its hand at Dressed to Kill
, but in the end just doesn’t push the envelope further than it has been before. The plot turns are so explicit and obvious that it becomes tough to focus on narrative, as you instead start wondering which cliché the picture will take. Brooke is the killer, right? Oh wait, they keep cutting to her looking crazy and it isn’t halfway done yet. It must be someone else. So much emphasis is put on otherwise insignificant details (the killer’s high heels, Roger’s ex) that the big reveal is more just a big formula. Shields is horrible in this too, her performance borderline schizophrenic when her character is anything but. Even Roger’s character is more stable, and that says something. Once a Razzie winner, always one, I guess.
taught us anything, it’s that people would backstab even their own brother for that beloved black gold. In Oil’s Well That Ends Well, former Dallas
star Priscilla Presley stars as Gina, a confident business woman who’d do just about anything to keep adding to her mutual funds. First she kills her husband (the Crypt keeper himself, John Kassir
) with the help of Jerry (Lou Diamond Phillips
), and then she tries to swindle a group of wannabe oil tycoons. Jerry gets some inside information about a supposed oil repository under the graveyard where Gina’s husband lies, and the tycoons all agree to pay him to keep his mouth shut. That’s just where the backstabbing begins though, escalating to what the Crypt keeper would call an Hex
Directed by Paul Abscal, the hairstylist for macho men like Stallone, Willis and Gibson, this episode plays out as if every character is a flamboyant gay hairstylist archetype. Everyone is laughing and flailing their arms about as if they had ants in their pants, with each person trying to one up the other with more obnoxious dialogue. Nobody seems to take any word seriously, but the whole thing is way too unfocused to have any sort of satirical meaning. This is probably the most profanity-ridden episode too, with each character throwing in their own obscenity in another bide for attention. My favorite uncalled for quip belongs to Priscilla with “I don’t munch carpet and I don’t strap it on.” The brat pack continuity of this series continues with Cameron from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
playing one of the tycoons, but even his performance is grating on the nerves. Perhaps the only redeeming quality of the whole episode is that everyone is so damned annoying that the ending at least somewhat vindicates all our suffering for enduring this abrasive cast.
If The Stuff
¸ Dead Ringers
and Weekend at Bernies II
were mixed in a skillet, out would come Half-Way Horrible
. In it, Roger (Clancy Brown
of Pet Sematary II
fame) plays a brutish and backstabbing corporate higher up marketing a new preservative. More than just your average week long fruit spray, this one has the ability to elongate the life of food, clothes, wood and human flesh for, well, ever. Him and some friends discovered the substance several years ago in Brazil, where in the testing phase Roger killed even his own friend…or did he. Days before the substance goes on the market, Roger receives a voodoo doll half-dressed in a business suit, while the other half is naked and ridden with needles. Like voodoo magic, Roger starts to go half-crazy…but wait until you see his reaction when his long dead friend suddenly comes back for a visit!
is just that, with a spiteful turn by Clancy Brown and strong supporting performances by Charles Martin Smith (Starman
) and Cheech Martin, soiled by some illdefined and muddled writing. The episode doesn’t have as much fun as it should with the possibilities behind a chemical that offers eternal preservation, nor does it expand enough on the voodoo angle or the oft eluded to Brazilian trip. It seems like a longer skit paired down for syndication, although thankfully the bloodshed is in sterling quantities. When Smith gets his shiny crown smashed on the table, there is little left to the imagination. Directed by the guy behind such original series like Highlander
and The Prophecy
, Gregory Wilden, you’d sort of expect more of a polished script than this mess. Still, the performers inject the plot with enough preservatives that this will last as an overall enjoyable episode.
If you ever wanted to see Uncle Jesse as a male prostitute, then look no further than Till Death Do We Part
. This season closer has John Stamos manwhoring for mobster and bar owner, Ruthless Ruth (Eileen Brennan
). Johnny pretends like he loves her, but really he has the hots for the bar’s waitress, the innocent and ethereal Lucy (Kate Vernon
, daughter to John
). Him and Lucy slip off for America’s past-time of good ol’ fashioned film noir libido, but in walks Ruth and her cronies to off a shallow business partner. Lucy shrieks at the death, making both Johnny and her instant targets. Ruth takes them both out to the woods, and asks Johnny to kill off his lover, or pay the consequences. With a pistol to her temple, Johnny is faced with cinema’s most moral decision.
This season had been stumbling the last few episodes, but in the final inning it pulls a grand slam with Till Death Do We Part
. As America’s other favorite past-time, baseball, plays continuously on the radio as Lucy and the dead body are brought to the woods, the link between sex, scandal and debauchery are presented as unequivocally American. Like Al Capone proved, cheating the next guy is merely a means to an end. Stamos does a good job at bucking his Full House
stereotype for a nasty turn, Eileen Brennan chews his upper lip as much as she does scenery, and even Frank Stallone(!) gives an animated background performance. The real winner here though, is nihilism, as the episode touts one of the most pointed twists in the whole series. Cowardice takes center stage, and after all the bloodshed in-between, the ending is most powerful when nothing happens at all. Much less a horror and more a modern companion piece to The Godfather
, this is cowardice told in the bravest way possible. This is Peter Iliff’s only directorial credit, but he’s deconstructed modern Americana with ample skill in his scripts for the classic Point Break
, the taught Patriot Games
and the revisionist teen flick, Varsity Blues
. No doubt the biggest and best surprise of the season.
Season five started and ended better than any season this year, and everyone knows first and last impressions are all anyone ever remembers. There may have been a few forgettable episodes later on, but Forever Ambergris
, As Ye Sow
and Till Death Do We Part
reign supreme as some of the Crypt keeper’s finest offerings. Season two had the best episode ever with Television Terror, season three had the greatest consistency, but five has the most winners. Any good show is supposed to run out of steam by the third season, but the Crypt keeper is so embalmed that even this later season, without A-list stars or directors, can still pull out all the stops. Bring on season six six six.
What we get here is the same as the other seasons, a passable full frame interlace transfer with little cleanup. Most episodes look consistently average, with intermittent dirt and scratches and a fairly consistent quotient of grain. Food For Thought
looks like shit, as if it were seen through a wedding veil, but considering it is the worst of the season, no bother. The best of the series, Till Death Do We Part
, has some bad moments of softness and major grain in a few of the darkly lit scenes, but it isn’t too distracting. If you’ve gotten any of the previous seasons, you know what to expect.
At the risk of sounding pompous, I’ll quote myself here. “If you’ve gotten any of the previous seasons, you know what to expect.” Another Dolby 2.0 Surround track with some decent channel separation, as the sounds of axe splitting, guts churning and lighting striking come through with solid clarity. It won’t blow out any ear drums, but it sounds perfectly fine.
Extras in crypt land seem to be in the latter stages of decay, since all we get here is a short little virtual comic of the first episode, Death of Some Salesman
. This new extra to the series is actually very well produced, with narration by Crypt keeper Kassir and animated slides taken directly from the comic. It is interesting to note the differences between the comic and this season’s opener, especially in the way they make the salesman a considerably more sympathetic character in the comic. Times have changed I guess, and the conception of a salesman today is considerably more negative. The lone extra runs 14-minutes. A nice surprise, but without even the trademark Crypt keeper customized menus or any other cryptobelia, this feels much more hollow than the other releases.
Even though the big names had all left the series by this point, the opening trifecta and the final noir episode certainly rank up there with anything made by the big guns in Hollywood. The audio and video rank up there, or more accurately, down there, with the other seasons, too. The extras are thinner this time around, but the inclusion of one of the old comics in a fresh new presentation method is a welcome new innovation. With every new season I warm to the series more, and the surprising quality of season five makes me anxious for the crypt keeper’s next insthell
Movie - B+
Image Quality - C
Sound - B+
Supplements - C-
- Running time - 8 hours and 6 minutes
- Not Rated
- 3 Discs
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Surround 2.0
- English subtitles
- French subtitles
- Spanish subtitles
- Death of Some Salesman virtual comic book with John Kassir narration