Welcome, welcome, welcome. Today I introduce you to my new monthly feature here on Geekade, and just in time for our 31 Days of Halloween celebration. “Rising from the Crypt” is a review of the entire “Tales from the Crypt” television series that aired from 1989 to 1996. If you’ve ever read any of my ‘Macabre Movie Mausoleum’ reviews, you’ll know I owe a great debt of gratitude to this series and the Crypt Keeper himself. And I can’t think of any better way to pay homage to a series that influenced my childhood so much, than to review all 93 episodes of the show. So once again, welcome to “Rising from the Crypt” I am your host, Dr. AzarRising, and you, my ever faithful Gravediggers and Undertakers, are in for a spooky good time.
However, before we begin can we all take a moment to appreciate the opening sequence for the show? It’s one of the all-time classics, and it deserves its own recognition. Composed by Danny Elfman (if you don’t know his name, you know his work), the music hits your ears in such a way that you never want it to end. Listening to it again just now, I may make it my new ringtone.
Tales from the Crypt
Season 1 Episode 1 “The Man Who Was Death”
Directed by Walter Hill
Starring William Sadler, Gerrit Graham, and Roy Brocksmith
Originally aired: June 10th 1989
Sourced from: Crypt of Terror #17
This episode, as with every other one, starts with the Crypt Keeper giving an intro for the forthcoming story. For the most part, I don’t believe I’ll be going over these intros, but this first one at least earns a shout out. The Crypt Keeper would use puns so absurd that my editor’s head would explode from joy if he heard them all at once. (editor’s note: This is true.)
Since the show is actually based off of a 1950’s comic series from EC Comics (also called Tales from the Crypt), following each intro, the title card would be shown in the form of a drawn comic page, and some of them were spectacular. I wish that for the first episode there had been a better one, but the image was serviceable, and conveyed the theme of the episode properly enough.
Unfortunately, that seems to be the theme with the episode. It was good, but for a series premier, I wanted more.
For twelve years, Niles Talbot was an executioner for the state. However, when capital punishment is outlawed, he’s let go. Niles tries to get a different job with the prison, but no one there trusts him because he took too much pride in executing people. Jobless and directionless, Niles gets inspired while talking to his bartender ‘friend’. The next scene, he’s shown observing a court trial for a biker accused of murder. However, he was acquitted thanks to faulty paperwork. Niles takes it upon himself to correct this, and electrifies the gate the murderer parks his bike behind. Trying to open the metal gate, the biker is fried to death.
Back at the bar, the bartender praises God’s mysterious ways, further encouraging Niles, who is next seen in another courtroom. This time a man and woman are accused of killing a man’s wife, however the jury finds them not guilty. Somehow, Niles knows they’re guilty and follows them to their house. The man explains that he wanted to move on to a younger more attractive woman, but didn’t want to lose half his money in a divorce, so they decided murder was the answer. Niles confronts them as they celebrate in a hot tub, and the new woman confesses it was all the man’s idea. Turns out Niles had rigged the tub with a trigger that he used to electrocute them both in a horrible display of acting. It was great.
Niles finds his next target in a strip club. He singles out a specific stripper and calls her “the queen bitch.” He doesn’t say what she’s guilty of, but he does say that she may have fooled the jury, but not him. She’s dancing in a cage, and he’s linked it to a charge. When he goes to throw the switch though, it fails. Suddenly, while trying to figure out what’s going on, the cops bust into the room, and he’s arrested.
In a twist the show will become known for, the death penalty is reinstated, just in time to execute Niles. His executioner seems to take as much joy in the act as Niles did, closing the circle of death and punishment.
On to the rating…
The best thing about this episode, aside from the always entertaining Crypt Keeper, were the many 4th Wall breaks that Niles makes in order to exposit the themes of the episode. Getting in his head was a fun trip, but the story needed to be longer to fully explore the themes they were tackling. Unfortunately, this is a constant drawback for a 30 minute series. William Sadler does a good job portraying a character like Niles Talbot. He’s one of those actors that you’ll know his face if not his name. Much like with the opening, the Crypt Keeper makes a pun-tastic ending wrapping up with a ‘moral’ of the story. As far as pilot episodes go, it wasn’t the worst by a long shot. See you back here in one week for episode 2: “And All Through the House,” featuring murder, intrigue, and an escaped mental patient in a Santa suit.
For more from Dr. AzarRising, please visit his website here.