Since it’s first introduction into the market in the early 1950s, the "Tales From The Crypt" comic books have been an ongoing phenomenon that attracted countless children and adults of various generations with its gruesome stories and the dark, witty humor. The Cryptkeeper, the skeletal host of these comics, has become the epitome of all horror event hosts and can be found across the genre in many different wise-cracking variations. When he eventually made it to TV in his own "Tales From The Crypt" show, the immediate success catapulted both the series and the Cryptkeeper to widely accepted cultdom, practically removed from the comic books.
In time for the Halloween season, HBO Home Video has released a DVD featuring three great episodes from the TV series, all three of them directed by Robert Zemeckis, one of the minds who originally initiated the progression of the comic books into an acclaimed TV series. As such it is hardly surprising that the disc also contains the episode "And All Through The House..." one of the first three episodes that were originally filmed and tested, and one that adequately set the tone for things to come.
The anthology opens appropriately with "And All Through The House..." an grim episode that was exemplary for the subject matter and perfectly captures much of the original nature of the comic book stories. Both, quite bloody and with a strong moralistic side, viewers of this episode immediately knew that horror is going to take primetime centerstage in this innocent sounding TV series. It is the macabre tale of an adulterous woman who kills her husband after years of frustration to collect his insurance policy. In cold blood she splits his head with a fire-iron and then plunges the dead body in the well behind the house on a cold, snowy Christmas Eve.
That same night an escapee from a local insane asylum prowls the neighborhood. Dressed up as Santa Claus he is wielding a sharp axe and is out for some blood himself. As fate has it, he turns up in the lady’s house and suddenly the woman is becoming a victim of her own skullduggery. Unable to call the police because the signs of her own crime have not been cleaned up yet she’s horribly victimized... until she devises a change of plans that would make Psycho-Santa the killer in spe. "And All Through The House..." is an incredible episode that keeps viewers on the edge all the way to the end. With rapid twists the story is never really predicable despite the fact that we know the outcome of course.
The second episode presented on the disc is "Yellow", episode #38. It stars Kirk Douglas, Dan Aykroyd and Lance Henriksen in a World War I story that is quite reminiscent to Stanley Kubrik’s film "Paths Of Glory", in which, incidentally, Kirk Douglas also starred. It is a tale about cowardice in the face of the enemy and this time it has to be settled between a commanding father and his son. After causing a massacre of his own fellow soldiers during the war, the son is accused and sentenced to death for cowardice by his own father - played by real life father and son combination, Kirk and Eric Douglas. Desperate and afraid of death, he pleads his father for forgiveness. Can the father really kill his own flesh and blood? You’ll have to see for your self.
"Yellow" is another great episode and is very convincingly acted. Especially the production value of the episode is impressive, setting up a good battlefield atmosphere for the key scenes. Although it is not exactly a horror tale, it is a dark story that nicely fits within the realms of the "Tales Of The Crypt" series.
The third story on the disc is episode #80, called "You, Murderer". Starring John Lithgow, Isabella Rossellini and Humphrey Bogart, this is quite an exceptional entry. Not nearly as "horrific" as many other episodes, this is more of a crime-thriller, film noir type of film. Using archival footage of the late Humphrey Bogart, the story tells the story of an ex-crook who is murdered by his wife and his plastic surgeon after a set-up.
Mostly seen through the dead man’s eyes, the story has a wicked edge, especially every time we see a reflection of the dead body in the surroundings. The man may be dead, but he is still quite rational and sees everything happening around him. He watches as the killers dig his grave to dispose of the stiffening body. How will it feel to see the dirt dripping onto his dead body? How will the eternal blackness afterwards feel?
Nicely photographed, well acted and superbly brought to life with the help of the latest technologies, this episode has a charm not unlike the real films Bogart was in. The thoughtful, well-written voice over and the dramatic, almost claustrophobic helplessness of the narrative adds nicely to the atmosphere of the episode as we watch things evolve. The episodes are held together by the original crypt-keeper segments from the TV shows that nicely lead into each one of these stories. These presentations would be nothing without the Cryptkeepers dark sense of humor and his clever puns. Needless to say, the Cryptkeeper is eloquent and well-behaved as always.
HBO Home Video presents "Tales From The Crypt" in its original fullframe aspect ratio. The transfer on the disc is very good and contains plenty of detail. The compression has been done appropriately and compression artifacts are noticeable only occasionally. Nonetheless, the presentation on this disc is splendid and no TV broadcast can keep up with this. The film’s colors are natural looking with deep shadows and good highlights. Presented in Dolby Stereo, the discs audio tracks are very clear and nicely bring the stories to life.
After seeing this DVD I can only hope, HBO is creating more releases of its kind from the series. There are so many more great episodes from the TV series that this DVD almost feels like a big teaser. The quality of the presentation on the disc is superb and makes these little pieces of suspense cinema better looking than ever before. The selection of episodes is great, giving viewers the whole variety of what "Tales From The Crypt" is about. From gory horror it goes all the way to the stylish, almost artsy thriller material that has also become part of the series. Every fan of the series should take a good look at this release, if only to get an idea what the rest of the series could look like. Let’s hope HBO will soon make more of those gems available to us. I for one can hardly wait!