Welcome to my creepy crypt, fright fiends, and to the third installment of EnCRYPTed, Nerdist’s weekly rundown on every episode of Tales from the Crypt. Today we’ll be looking at the third episode, and encounter the first instance of the now (in)famous Crypt Keeper cackle.
I love this episode, and often think of it when mentally compiling my favorites. I hasten to add that “Dig That Cat… He’s Real Gone” is one of the first episodes I ever saw of Tales from the Crypt, so ever-present, hazy nostalgia goggles might be altering my final judgment. Although, oddly, I seem to recall that it starred Billy Zane when in actuality it starred Joe Pantoliano. I recall the episode with fondness, but didn’t remember it well. I guess that’s nostalgia in a nutshell.
“Dig That Cat… He’s Real Gone” first aired on June 10th, 1989 as the third part of the three-part pilot event. It was directed by Richard Donner (Superman, The Goonies), who was a central member of the show’s star producing team, and written by Terry Black, based on a story from William Gaines’ “The Haunt of Fear.” Of the three Tales from the Crypt episodes I have seen so far, only one has been based on an actual “Tales from the Crypt” comic. Going forward, you will find that a very small portion of the show came from its titular source material. I’m curious why they chose “Tales from the Crypt” as their stamp, and not something like “Shock SuspenStories,” or “The Vault of Horror.” It’s probably because “Tales from the Crypt” is the most evocative.
Donner’s tale is a tilting carnival nightmare that takes place in what I can only assume to be a parallel universe. It’s about midway sideshows, and still features carnival barkers (represented by Robert Wuhl), but the dollar amounts have been adjusted for inflation, and technology is decidedly from 1989. I can only guess that we’re in a world where the movies and television where never invented, ensuring the longevity and increasing popularity of the sideshow. As such, a star attraction like Ulric the Undying can actually pull in $1000 a head, and no one bats an eye.
Ulric the Undying (Pantoliano) is the narrator of this episode, and he explains right to the camera that he can die and come back to life. How is this possible? He used to be a homeless man, but a mad scientist named Emil Manfred (Gustav Vintas) hired him for a ghastly experiment. It turns out that cats’ brains have the capacity to repair the body after death, but only a finite number of times. Eight times to be exact. So, yes, cats have nine lives, and a mad scientist found a way to implant those lives into a human. Ulric becomes essentially immortal, and the first thought both he and Emil have is to sell his immortality on the sideshow circuit. Watch a man die for real! See him drown, get hanged, get electrocuted! And then marvel as he comes back to life! Only $1000! Would you pay that much to see something like that? I might. Ulric and Emil split the proceeds 60/40.
Of course, Ulric gets greedy and decides to kill off Emil at one point, using a lethal car crash. If you’re already known for resurrection, and you choose to murder someone, will dying yourself really protect you from the law? I don’t think so, but Ulric gets away with it. This sets up the classic Crypt structure in which a murderer or evil person will eventually be cosmically punished for their crimes. Seriously, it’s the most common theme of the show and of the comics. After dying six times (one of the deaths was a betrayal by his ditzy girlfriend Kathleen York) Ulric decides to be buried alive for 24 hours as his final trick. It’s here that we get his narration. And, during that narration he comes to conclusion that the cat he got his nine lives from had to die in the procedure. Bad math, buddy. You don’t have nine lives. You only have eight. That coffin will be, well, your coffin.
The Crypt Keeper portion of the show is slower and more atmospheric than the others, and my guess is that “Dig That Cat… He’s Real Gone” was intended to air first of the three. The Crypt Keeper (John Kassir) is still a creepy character, and hasn’t yet turned into a giggle punster, which will be a slow evolution. This is the first episode, however, wherein Kassir will start to use his now-famous shrieking cackle. The jokes of the Crypt Keeper would eventually come to dictate the evolving tone of the show. To reiterate from last week’s review: As it progressed, Tales from the Crypt became more and more gleeful about its gore and nudity, and the Crypt Keeper, as such, became more and more energetic. By season two, things will be codified.
Until next week, kiddies, the crypt is closed. Join me then for “Only Sin Deep.”