Welcome back to the crypt, kiddies, and to Nerdist’s second installment of EnCRYPTed, a series devoted entirely to one of the best anthology TV series of all time Tales from the Crypt. The second episode is about a killer Santa
Although I’ve already reviewed the first episode (that would be “The Man Who Was Death”), the pilot of Tales from the Crypt was actually three episodes kind of mashed together. This was not only in keeping with the spirit of an anthology TV show, but likely intended to reflect the structure of an actual issue of the “Tales from the Crypt” comic book from the 1950s, which typically featured three short stories. As such, the first three episodes of the show actually aired back-to-back-to-back on June 10th, 1989 as part of a special TV event. The show’s star producers each directed an episode in this “pilot.” The first episode was directed by Walter Hill. This second chapter was directed by Robert Zemeckis. The third was done by Richard Donner.
This week’s installment of EnCRYPTed will look at “And All Through the House,” a Christmas-themed episode that Zemeckis likely couldn’t wait until Christmastime to air.
Based on a story from Bill Gaines’ comic “The Vault of Horror” (and we’re already straying from the exact “Tales from the Crypt” brand), “And All Through the House” is largely a single chase scene. Mary Ellen Trainor plays a dissatisfied wife who, within the first minute of the show, murders her second husband (Marshall Bell) with a fireplace poker. Oh yes, and it’s Christmas Eve. The unnamed woman’s curious daughter (Lindsey Whitney Barry) comes downstairs to ask about Santa, and mom calmly rushes her back up to bed. A brief phone call to an unseen lover of some sort explains that this woman will inherit her dead husband’s fortune, and she’ll be able to run away with her new man. A radio report explains that an escaped murdering lunatic is also on the loose, and that he’s wearing a Santa Claus outfit.
This is all the exposition we’re offered. The rest of the show is scenes of Trainor eluding the escaped psychopath (Larry Drake) who chases her around the house with an axe. Having a killer nearby right after you’ve murdered someone is actually pretty handy; you can just blame your murder on that other guy and no one will be the wiser. Of course in the world of Tales from the Crypt, cosmic justice is the word of the day, and having a killer nearby after you’ve murdered someone is actually a sign of instant karma.
You can’t make a story like this with grace or subtlety, and Trainor wisely gives a sweaty, unhinged performance wherein she got to shriek a lot. And, man, she has a good scream. Not all actors do. Many actors loves appearing on Tales from the Crypt for this very reason; it was a chance to just swing for the walls, shriek at the top of your lungs, and get some blood on your hands. We’re learning very quickly that Tales from the Crypt is way over the top by design.
There was a time in popular culture when Santa Claus was not to be touched. He was a sacred symbol of childhood wholesomeness, and parodying him in the form of horror was verboten. In 1984, the film Silent Night, Deadly Night kind of blew the lid off of that, and we’ve since seen numerous killer Santas. Of the killer Santas I’ve seen, Larry Drake ranks pretty high as the slightly cross-eyed, snaggletooth filthy weirdo with only one line of dialogue. He says “Naughty or nice?”
The Crypt Keeper segments seem to be the part of the show that still need the most massaging. John Kassir’s Crypt Keeper voice still has his rasping cough, and he hasn’t yet begun spewing out his trademark atrocious puns, and the shrieking Crypt Keeper laugh hasn’t been heard yet. In these early episodes, The Crypt Keeper seems more sinister and wicked, like an actual monster. His playfulness would only increase as the series progresses.
Until next week, kiddies, the crypt is closed. Join me then for “Dig That Cat… He’s Real Gone.”