Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Tales From the Crypt: Season Five, Part Two

Well Cooked Hams: Before The Prestige, there was this standout episode featuring a perfectly cast Billy Zane as an incompetent magician in the 1920s. He meets an older illusionist (Martin Sheen, playing way against type) with a fantastic trick and longs to have it for his own repertoire. But if you're going to steal from a magician with actual talent, you better make sure you do it right. It's highly engaging and may come as no surprise that two years later, writer Andrew Kevin Walker would craft the brilliant screenplay for the classic serial killer film Seven. A

Creep Course: A college jock (Anthony Michael Hall) asks bookish girl Stella (Nina Siemaszko) for help passing a mid-term after a pompous professor of Egyptian history (Jeffrey Jones) threatens to have him kicked off the football team if he fails. From the start, it's obvious Stella is being manipulated and the first half of this episode is generally unpleasant. Maybe it's just me but I've never been comfortable with stories where someone's insecurity is taken advantage of. Things pick up a bit in the second half, when Stella ends up confronting an ancient mummy and manages to turn the tables. The mummy looks great and the final sight gag is good for a chuckle. C+

Came the Dawn: This was one of the most acclaimed stories from the old EC comics and having read it makes me ambivalent about this episode. Perry King plays a man on the outs with his wife who retreats to a cabin in the woods. On the way, he picks up a stranded woman (Brooke Shields) and later hears reports of a killer on the loose. Is his new friend dangerous or is he just being paranoid? It's a passable episode on its own but an awful adaptation of the comic, which had a poetic simplicity and a real sense of tragedy. For whatever reason, it was turned into yet another story of selfish jerks being awful, complete with a stupid twist out of a dozen better stories. This one deserved better. C

Oil's Well That Ends Well: A weak episode starring Lou Diamond Phillips and Priscilla Presley as con artists who get a group of men at a bar excited when they claim they've discovered oil under a nearby graveyard. This series often goes outside traditional horror stories and it's usually fine, but in this case it's just a story of deception without any blood or scares. It almost seems like an episode of a different show, complete with acting that's much worse than what we've come to expect. John Kassir does double duty in his one - in addition to his usual gig voicing the Crypt Keeper, he plays a small role in the story itself (which of course the Crypt Keeper takes great pains to point out during the outro). C-

Half-Way Horrible: That's more like it. The great character actor Clancy Brown gives an epic performance as Roger Lassen, a chemical exec about to unveil a miraculous preservative. At the same time, his business associates are being murdered by someone who seems to know a lot about the new formula. The answer lies in the past when Lassen and the others journeyed to Brazil to acquire the stuff from the natives. It's a solid mystery with some satisfyingly nasty moments near the end. B+

Till Death Do We Part: In the season finale, Kate Vernon plays a waitress having an affair with a mobster (John Stamos, He Who Does Not Age). The trouble is that he's also involved with a murderous older woman named "Ruthless Ruth" (Eileen Brennan) who has some very gruesome revenge in mind. What elevates this one above an average crime episode is a unique structure, cutting between past and present and then shocking the viewer with a brutal twist worthy of David Lynch. B+

So that's Season 5. On the whole, I'd say it was a little better than Season 4, although the back half had several weak episodes and it was surprisingly light on the supernatural elements that I prefer. I'll be back with Season 6 in 2019. Enjoy your Halloween, kiddies!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Tales from the Crypt: Season Five, Part One

Happy October, kiddies! We're back with another season of Tales From the Crypt. Can the violence and cynicism even come close to the state of the world in 2018? Spoiler alert: No. But the puns are better here! Let's get started.

Death of Some Salesman: Tim Curry goes full-on Eddie Murphy in this ridiculous episode, playing three different members of the same family (and two of them are female!) Ed Begley, Jr plays an amoral cemetery plot salesman who makes a living swindling old people. It's quite a racket until he stumbles on the wrong family. He'll have to put all of his bullshitting to the ultimate test to get out of this situation. What starts as a typical poetic justice episode gets more and more tasteless (and funnier). Not scary at all, but amusing. B-

As Ye Sow: A well done tale of paranoia that attracted a huge cast. Hector Elizondo plays a dry cleaning executive who suspects that his younger wife (Patsy Kensit) is cheating on him. The direction of this episode is very clever in how his visualizes his insecurity and the twist ending is pure EC Comics. Just about everyone wanted to be part of this episode - Adam West and Sam Waterston play private investigators and Miguel Ferrer (this is...what, his third appearance on the show?) shows up in a small but very important role. On a personal note, Elizondo was also the voice of the thief Ioz on "The Pirates of Dark Water" and I would have loved to hear him bust out a "Noy Jitat!" A-

Forever Ambergris: Steve Buscemi and The Who vocalist Roger Daltrey (YAAAAAH!) play war photographers in this satisfyingly gruesome episode. The two have a friendly rivalry that turns toxic when Daltrey starts falling for Buscemi's wife (Lysette Anthony), allowing his personal and professional jealousy to take over during a trip to a Central American nation that has been struck with biological weapons. The sloppy demise of anyone exposed to the toxin is disgustingly and awesomely rendered. The Cryptkeeper introduces this one by remarking on his fondness for a fish-eye lens...with an actual fish eye attached to it. Don't ever change, buddy. A-

Food for Thought: This weird take on mind reading stars Ernie Hudson as the sideshow performer Zambini and Joan Chen as his long suffering assistant. She's the one with the more powerful gift, but that doesn't stop Zambini from keeping her trapped in their abusive partnership. The blend of fantasy concepts with believable relationship drama is interesting but this episode can be sloppy with random digressions like a pissed off gorilla and a silly sight gag involving conjoined twins. Plus the ending is a giant WTF moment without that signature Crypt irony. C+

People Who Live in Glass Hearses: Bill Paxton and Brad Dourif play two brothers, Billy and Virgil, who hatch a plot to get revenge on the ice cream vendor (Michael Lerner) who got Billy sent to jail. It often plays like a gruesome "Of Mice and Men," with the not-all-there Virgil frequently endangering the plot with his random outbursts of violence. Like some other episodes, it's basically a twist in search of a plot and the final twist is admittedly pretty great. Everything else is on the dull side, although voice acting legend Cam Clarke gives an uncredited cameo as the voice of a puppet. B-

Two For the Show: This clever episode begins with a rich businessman (David Paymer) murdering his wife (Traci Lords) after she threatens to leave him for someone else. While trying to get out of town, he is followed by a police officer (Vincent Spano) who seems to know exactly what's going on. It's well paced with the audience always wondering just what Officer Fine's game is and plays with expectations - you probably have an idea of what the twist is, but there are more surprises to come. B+

House of Horror: I've never understood why any college student, following four years of high school bullshit, would subject themselves to even more bullshit by joining a fraternity. In this goofy episode, a group of pledges are taken to an abandoned house to undergo a spooky hazing ritual. The location, which is a fantastic piece of production design, has a surprising purpose. Those who have watched enough episodes of the show probably can guess the twist but the comedic banter among the frat boys keeps things entertaining. This episode features a grab bag of young early 90s stars, including Kevin Dillon, Jason London and Wil Wheaton. Even if you don't like the episode, you should stick with it until the very end for one of the Crypt Keeper's best puns to date. B+

Sunday, October 14, 2018

What if Donald Trump nominated Michael Myers to the Supreme Court?

The following is a parody...well, barely.

Wolf Blitzer: Welcome back to the Situation Room, I’m Wolf Blitzer. Washington is still reeling from the shocking news of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s sudden death from alcohol poisoning. Earlier today, President Trump announced his nominee to replace him - Michael Myers.

[show picture]

Blitzer: Now we’re getting word that Judge Myers is being accused of attempted murder. A woman named Laurie Strode claims that Myers tried to kill her with a butcher knife on Halloween night 40 years ago while she was babysitting. When asked for his reaction, Judge Myers said…nothing. In fact, nobody has ever heard him speak. For more on these shocking developments, we’re joined by two members of the United States Senate. Majority Leader and professional hypocrite Mitch McConnell of Kentucky…

McConnell: Afternoon, Wolf.

Blitzer:…and self-aggrandizing hack Susan Collins of Maine.

Collins: Thank you. [turns to camera] Don’t change the channel! In just a few minutes I will reveal how I plan to vote!

Blitzer: So what do you two make of these allegations? Do you believe Michael Myers really chased Laurie Strode around with a knife?

McConnell: Absolutely not. Why are we damaging this man’s reputation over allegations that are 40 years old? There were many babysitters in her neighborhood that night and none have come forward to corroborate this harebrained story.

Blitzer: For the sake of accuracy, Senator, I believe that’s because they were all murdered that night.

McConnell: Seems awfully convenient.

Blitzer: What about the children she was babysitting? Has anyone taken their testimony?

McConnell: Well, uh, I’ll leave that to the FBI. They’ve just started their investigation, which will take no longer than five minutes.

Blitzer: I see. And Senator Collins, how have these new revelations affected your decision?

Collins: Can I get a drum roll?

Blitzer: ….I guess. [drum roll starts]

Collins: 10…9…8…7…6…5…4…3…2…1…here we go! I am going to vote to…..confirm Judge Myers!

Blitzer: So you don’t believe the allegations?

Collins: No, I believe Miss Strode.

Blitzer: But how can you believe both of them? That makes no sense. Somebody must be lying.

Collins: Well, not so fast. Judge Myers hasn’t commented on the matter at all. He is a very dignified man who won’t get dragged through the mud. I expect that he won’t speak much from the bench, much like Judge Thomas. However, Miss Strode is likely telling the truth except she has the wrong Michael Myers. Maybe we should be looking into Michael Myers the actor!

Blitzer: So you think the actor Mike Myers is the one who attacked her?

Collins: It would explain a lot, wouldn’t it?

Blitzer: Don’t either of you think it would be a good idea to postpone the Senate vote to make time for a real investigation of these charges?

McConnell: That will not happen. If we allow the Democrats to ambush us with this nonsense, no man who ever chased a woman around with a bladed weapon will be safe. We all lived through the 70s and 80s so let’s not pretend we don’t have our own babysitter corpses in the closet ready to pop out and scare someone who’s trying to hide from us. A lot of women are saying things like “no” and “please stop,” but we’re just going to ignore what they want and push this thing right through.

Blitzer: Do you think history will look favorably on the Senate if they dismiss such a serious allegation of violent assault?

McConnell: Don’t lose perspective. I’ll tell you what the real violent assault is - getting yelled at by women when you’re trying to walk through an airport.

Blitzer: That happened to you recently, didn’t it?

McConnell: Yes. They were shouting “do you always turn your back on women?” Of course I don’t. I’m perfectly happy to traumatize them to their faces.

Blitzer: One last question. If you were to find proof beyond any doubt that Judge Myers tried to kill Laurie Strode, would it affect your vote?

McConnell: No, but it would really trigger the libs.

Blitzer: Thank you, Senators. When we come back, live coverage of President Trump’s meeting with Freddy Krueger to discuss the economic anxieties of working class dream demons. Stay with us.