Welcome back to the crypt, ghouls. In the sixth installment of Nerdist’s EnCRYPTed, we’ll be looking at the episode of Tales from the Crypt entitled “Collection Completed,” which explores the banal grind of long-term marriage, and the delightfully gory side of taxidermy.
“Collection Completed” aired on June 29th 1989. It was directed my Mary Lambert (Pet Sematary, Mega Python vs. Gatoroid), and written by Battle & Randolph Davis and co-written by A. Whitney Brown of SNL and The Daily Show. It was based on the William Gaines comic “The Vault of Horror.” I’m surprised to see how few episodes of Tales from the Crypt are based on “Tales from the Crypt.”The sixth episode would be the final episode of the first season, and the show wouldn’t pick up again for nearly a full year; season two began on the 21st of April in 1990. It would also prove to be the end of the initial “restrained” episodes of the series, eventually giving way to even more lurid stories with even weirder twists. This is a strange comment to make in an episode that features human taxidermy.
And I’m sorry to give away that twist ending right away, but “Collection Completed” is one of the episodes that is entirely reliant on its ghoulish twist ending. Otherwise, the bulk of the episode plays like a twisted sitcom; the overall tone is more akin to The Honeymooners or to The Bickersons than it is to Tales from the Crypt. M. Emmet Walsh plays a cranky old man (his métier, really) who has just retired after 40 years of work in some sort of office. His batty wife (Audra Lindley) has spent those 40 years at home alone, collecting pets, and fostering an unhealthy friendship with every stray critter that wanders into the house.
Walsh cannot stand being at home with nothing do to, and he exudes discomfort. It helps that Walsh’s face looks like its spent a decade soaking in lemon juice. He takes up gardening, but only manages to mangle the houseplants. His wife, meanwhile, is also trying to adjust, but treats him more like a pet than a human; she puts his medicine in a treat, for instance. He’s cranky and angry, and she’s flighty and half-crazy. Something’s gotta give.
Walsh’s best friend (Martin Garner) encourages him to take up a regular hobby, like model building, to while away the elongating days. Since Walsh can’t stand all the pets underfoot, he comes upon a brilliant idea: Why not take up taxidermy? He begins merrily slaughtering and stuffing his wife’s “friends,” eager to destroy every last one of them, starting with the bulldog she named after him, and ending with the cat she just rescued. Of course she won’t abide by this, and ends up staving in his head with a hammer (the very hammer given to him as a retirement gift) and turning him into a quiet stuffed human statue.
Tales from the Crypt is a short show: It only runs about 22 minutes, when one allows time for commercials and the theme song. For episodes like “Collection Completed,” the brief running time definitely works in its favor, as there is not much more to this episode besides a setup, a small amount of building tension, and a gory payoff. It’s the kind of story that is ideally suited to the Tales from the Crypt form. Other episodes could easily be padded into a one-hour format. This one is pretty impeccable the way it is.
I just wish it were scarier. It’s funny and the sitcom-like marital tension is played perfectly, but the sense of dread seems to be absent; we see where the story is going, but that gut-wrenching push of horrific inevitability lingers out of frame.
As I have been constantly reiterating, most episodes of Tales from the Crypt stem from a moral lesson of some sort. There is a crime or a vice committed by an ill-meaning criminal, and the story is about their supernatural punishment or gory outcome laced with poetic justice. The vice in this episode only seems to be impatience. M. Emmet Walsh is merely impatient with his wife’s crazy eccentricities. Lindley’s vice is, well, that she’s crazy. She is, however, an innocent. In the universe of Tales from the Crypt, being an eccentric antisocial weirdo is preferable to being a bitter, angry, impatient cat killer. The lesson: Try to accept the weirdness of the crazy person. Violence against their pets is not the answer.
Until next week, kiddies, the crypt is closed. Join me then for the first episode of season 2, “Dead Right” with Demi Moore.