Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Tales From the Crypt: Season Three, Part Two

Easel Kill Ya: Tim Roth plays a struggling artist who accidentally causes the death of his neighbor and is inspired to recreate the incident on his canvas. Egged on by a rich, creepy art collector (William Atherton), he begins to look for more…inspiration. The lead character is underdeveloped even by Tales from the Crypt standards, but this episode has a nice moody feel and an interesting theme of our human fascination with death and darkness. B

Undertaking Palor: At the time, this probably seemed like an average episode, but now it looks tremendously influential if you have followed the horror genre in recent years. A group of teenage horror fans sneaks into a morgue only to discover that the immensely creepy mortician (John Glover, the voice of The Riddler in Batman: The Animated Series) is involved in a twisted plot to increase business. An early scene of the man going about his work in surprising detail while opera plays in the background may have inspired the notoriously revolting short film Aftermath. Like “Television Terror” in Season 2, this episode also was an early and even more ambitious innovator of the found footage style, shifting between multiple cameras during the final scene. The characterization of the kids themselves places this episode squarely in the early 90s, dating the show in a way most other episodes don’t, but there’s still an engaging Stephen King-esque camaraderie among them. B+

Mournin’ Mess: Steven Weber plays a down on his luck journalist who, like many real-life journalists, works full-time but doesn’t make enough to pay his rent. Shortly after covering a routine story about a civic organization designed to provide proper burials for the homeless, he gets a tip that there is more to the cause than meets the eye. It’s mostly unremarkable up until the nightmarish ending, which features outstanding makeup and set direction while playing on primal fears. B-

Split Second: The next two episodes are the first that I’ve seen based on a comic I’ve already read. That number should increase thanks to the great collection of EC comics I got for Christmas. It’s interesting to have the additional insight into the adaptation and this one is quite good. A newly-married owner of a timber company (Brion James), totally oblivious to the antics of his predatory wife (Michelle Johnson), develops a bad habit of subjecting his employees to violent fits of jealousy. They’re not going to put up with it forever. Modern audiences may find the gender politics in this episode to be offensive, but then again, nobody of any gender ever really comes off well in Tales From The Crypt. Directed by Russell Mulcahy (Highlander), it faithfully hits all the beats of the original story while fleshing out the camaraderie between the loggers. The changes to the ending are revealing – the original comic ends right before the gory payoff would begin, encouraging readers to imagine it. The show, of course, delivers it in all its blood-soaked glory. B+

Deadline: Crypt MVP Walter Hill is back, so we know this episode will be in a different class. At this point, it’s not breaking new ground to tell the story of another alcoholic, desperate reporter, although it does make me grateful I got out of journalism. Hill gets a great performance out of Richard Jordan as the lead – he’s manic, self-centered and yet strangely sympathetic as the writer whose determination to find a sensational story ultimately corrupts him. The script actually softens the edges of the characters from the original comic, which makes the grim finale all the more tragic. A-

Spoiled: The series returns to the topic of infidelity yet again for this ridiculously campy episode, which fakes the audience out with a soap opera introduction but maintains the arch tone in its story of a neglected housewife (Faye Grant) who has an affair with the cable repairman (Anthony LaPaglia). Everyone loves to make fun of soap operas, but I’ve seen a few episodes of them and they aren’t nearly as over the top as the saucy repartee in this episode. Even the Cryptkeeper wouldn’t risk puns like these. If you’re twelve years old, you might find this hilarious, otherwise it gets old quick. The twist ending, however, is actually pretty funny. C

Yellow: In addition to horror and noir drama, EC also turned out a great deal of war stories during its run and one of the most famous was “Yellow,” a story about the conflict between a hardened general and his gentle son. This comic gets the deluxe treatment as a forty minute episode of the show with Robert Zemeckis directing. It doesn’t take its wartime setting quite as seriously as you might think, but perhaps they thought it would hard to do a traditional war story just after the Cryptkeeper used the phrase “ready, maim, fire!” What does lend this episode some serious weight, however, is the casting of screen legend Kirk Douglas. Aside from just giving an outstanding performance, his presence draws comparisons to Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory, another tale of how pride gets people needlessly killed in times of war. His real life son, Eric Douglas (Michael must have been busy), plays the general’s son, who just doesn’t have the stomach for combat but was drafted anyway because that’s what happened in World War I. With Lance Henriksen and Dan Akroyd in supporting roles, the acting here is on a whole different level from what we’ve seen on the show. The adaptation is also very smart, expanding the story by dramatizing the incident that happened off-screen in the original comic. Most importantly, it does justice to the story’s shocking, unforgettable ending. Easily one of the show’s finest moments. A

That wraps up Season 3. I'd say Season 2 was marginally better, but good times were had by all. Onward we go!

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