Tales from the Crypt Top 10

A Halloween post for 90’s kids. If you were a preteen anywhere between 1989 and 1996, Tales from the Crypt was the ultimate forbidden fruit. It pretended to be marketed for adults but was made for kids whose pre-internet minds would be blown by gore, nudity and swearing. The Crypt Keeper is still an intense sight (I can’t believe how articulated his face is and those eyes are creepy as hell) but only a kid could find his shitty Uncle jokes funny.

It’s not a good show. Unless viewed through a lens of nostalgia, most adults would find it boring and modern kids have a better horror pool to pick from. But it does have a couple of points working for it: incredible practical effects, fun gore, and a great roster of guest stars and directors.

While I’m calling this a Top 10 list, I only had around 15 contenders vying for a spot after going through 93 episodes. (For perspective, when I did a Twilight Zone Top 10 last year, I had to whittle down about 70 “top” episodes out of 156.)

(10) Smoke Wrings (Season 7, Episode 6)

A cocky young man cons his way into an advertising company with the help of a device that utilizes the power of suggestion.

The seventh (and final) season of Tales from the Crypt moved production to England, which resulted in the most professional-looking episodes of the series and plots that moved away from the typical sexual double-cross. It also gave an opportunity for Brits like Ewan McGregor, Steve Coogan and Eddie Izzard to show up. “Smoke Wrings” stars Daniel Craig and Denis Lawson. Lawson does a lot of British television but is best known to Americans as Wedge Antilles from the original Star Wars trilogy. He’s also awesome.

This episode leans more on the twist than gore but it does something few Crypt episodes do: it stays interesting throughout. You don’t sit through 18 minutes of boredom for 2 minutes of a shambling corpse. There’s fun in watching the actors simply do their thing.


(9) The Thing From the Grave (Season 2, Episode 6)

A beautiful model and handsome photographer fall in love, but the model’s manipulative abuser refuses to let anyone else have her.

Miguel Ferrer is an automatic bonus to any project (I’m looking at you, The Stand). He plays his role of villain just right – serious and smarmy and just the right level of dangerous without going too intense. Teri Hatcher gets to play a rare type for Crypt; a woman who isn’t using a man for ulterior motives and also isn’t an idiot.

These episodes live and die by their final shots and the ghoul make-up and hand trauma is fantastic. Not scary (very little on this show is meant to be genuinely scary) but gross and fun and the best example of the blueprint that so many future episodes would follow.

Written and directed by The Monster Squad’s Fred Dekker.


(8) And All Through the House (Season 1, Episode 2)

After killing her husband on Christmas Eve, a woman is terrorized by a serial killer in a Santa suit.

Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump) directed “And All Through the House” and if any episode could be called the classic Tales from the Crypt, it’s this one. Larry Drake gives a terrifying, near-silent performance (his make-up and that dirty Santa suit haunted me as a kid) and, as in the best horror, there’s a back and forth of humor, irony, and danger.


(7) Death of Some Salesmen (Season 5, Episode 1)

A conniving salesman thinks he’s caught some suckers when he meets a seemingly backwoods family.

The best compliment I can give to any actor on Crypt is that they understand they’re playing a cartoon archetype in a comic universe. Some actors I love (Tim Roth, Adam Storke) play it too straight and the resulting uneven tone is death for their episodes. But in “Death of Some Salesmen” Tim Curry (playing three roles, two of them female) and Ed Begley, Jr. hit their notes perfectly. The lighting on Curry’s make-up is too well-lit to come off quite right but the gore effects are spot-on.

And, like “And All Through the House”, the main character is established as downright evil in the opening scene but by the end, you almost feel bad for the asshole. It’s a good trick.


(6) Ventriloquist’s Dummy (Season 2, Episode 10)

A struggling ventriloquist visits his idol for guidance.

A very fun, very stupid episode. Bobcat Goldthwait and Don Rickles chew the hell out of the scenery and I love watching them do it. Richard Donner (The Omen, Superman, The Goonies) directs and Frank Darabont (an excellent screenwriter and director of some of the better Stephen King adaptations) writes.

(5) Split Second (Season 3, Episode 11)

A young wife gets bored with her older, violently jealous husband.

This was one of my first Crypt episodes and sentimentality probably makes it seem better than it is. Brion James is absolutely disgusting and terrifying. As a kid, I was convinced he was wearing prosthetics and heavy make-up, but no, the man could just contort his face and put the crazy in his eyes like no one’s business (these are compliments). Michelle Johnson is a confident, engaging lead and her voice-over adds to the pulpy, comic vibe.

The final scene, while implausible, is awesome.


(4) Carrion Death (Season 3, Episode 2)

A prisoner trying to get to the Mexican border kills a pursuing officer while handcuffed to him.

The best solution to Kyle MacLachlan’s problem is painfully obvious but doesn’t occur to him until the end of the episode, but I’ll give it a pass. “Carrion Death” is wicked and disgusting in best ways (and that vulture is the greatest animal actor I’ve ever seen). It’s also pure cartoon – the money bags have $ symbols on them like a kid’s drawing – but MacLaughlan is totally on the right wavelength.

This wins the award for grossest episode. You think it’s bad, then it gets worse, then it gets worse. The effects (shown in full, desert daylight) are excellent.


(3) The New Arrival (Season 4, Episode 7)

A radio show psychologist makes a home visit for the sake of ratings.

Holy shit, Zelda Rubenstein was a genius and David Warner is the master of classy schlock. The two play off each other wonderfully and Rubenstein shifts from sweet to terrifying on a dime.

Directed by Peter Medak (The Changeling), who knows how to make a house scary.


(2) Only Skin Deep (Season 6, Episode 2)

After a Halloween party, a cruel, angry man accepts a one-night-stand invitation from a masked woman.

“Only Skin Deep” is the only episode of Crypt that truly unsettles me. It feels out of place with the rest of the series. There is no fun here. It is cruel and played completely straight and takes place firmly in the nineties unlike the usual playful 50s/80s pastiche of the other episodes.

The woman’s make-up/mask would have been perfect for a late-90s slasher film. Sherrie Rose gives an outstanding performance without being able to use her face at all. This feels more like a Hellraiser film than an episode of television.


(1) Fatal Caper (Season 7, Episode 1)

A wealthy man tells his two greedy sons they must find their long-lost brother to secure their inheritance.

Bob Hoskins directed this episode (and has a minor acting role). I might have to track down the two films he directed because he did a fantastic job on “Fatal Caper.” The cast is perfect (Natasha Richardson is magnetic and steals every scene) and even the score stands above most of Crypt‘s offerings.

The final reveal is a bit head-smacking but, for the nineties, handled not-as-terribly as it could have been.

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