Welcome back to my creepy crypt, kiddies, and to the fourth installment of EnCRYPTed, Nerdist’s written series devoted entirely to the best horror anthology show of all time, Tales from the Crypt.
This week’s episode, “Only Sin Deep,” was the first proper episode of the show following it’s three-episodes-in-one pilot event. It aired on the 14th of June 1989, only four days after the pilot. It was written by Fred Dekker (who already wrote “And All Through the House”) and directed by Howard Deutch (Pretty in Pink, True Blood). It was based on a William Gaines story from The Haunt of Fear. Tales from the Crypt would run on a weekly basis late on Wednesday nights. We’re not yet in that brief golden period where Tales from the Crypt would run back-to-back with the nudity-heavy Dream On. If you were a young lad in 1991, and you managed to sneak out of your bedroom late at night on Sunday nights, this two-fer was one of the most magical TV experiences one could have. I wonder if modern-day lads are getting the same illicit thrill from something like Game of Thrones. With available porn on their mobile phones, I’m guessing not.
Tales from the Crypt, you will find, is largely about Deadly Sins. Not just the usual seven, but other character vices like vanity, selfishness, infidelity, obsession, and a propensity for revenge. In this world, though, the evil and the supernatural aids not to rip apart the innocent, but to punish the guilty. Tales from the Crypt is, then, at its rotten little blood-spewing heart, a show about justice and righteousness. Sometimes the monsters get away with it (there are a handful of episodes devoted to relatively clean – yet still scheming – people getting out-schemed by even more evil people), but usually the monsters arrive to destroy a criminal. The featured deadly sins in “Only Sin Deep” are vanity and greed, moreso vanity.
Lea Thompson (in 1989, rowr) plays a sassy 20-year-old Brooklyn hooker fittingly named Sylvia Vane. Sylvia is good at her job, but longs to land a rich boyfriend and live out her days in wealth and luxury, as she explains to her hooker friend Raven (Pamela D’Pella from The Young and the Restless). Sylvia knows how to do this: Get into a high-end party and use her youthful face to seduce a rich guy fittingly named Ronnie Price (Brett Cullen). Tales from the Crypt was careful to flash us a pair of breasts now and again, but was just as careful to show us a handful of alluring studmuffins as well.
In order to fund her party-crashing plans, Sylvia kills her pimp and takes his belongings to a sketchy pawnbroker (Britt Leach). This murder ensures she will not come to a good end. The pawnbroker offers her a weird deal. If he is allowed to make a creepy life mask of her youthful face, she can essentially pawn her beauty. She thinks this is weird, but wants the money, so she agrees. Her plot goes off without a hitch. She lands her rich man, and, four month later, is living in luxury. She also begins to notice that her face is aging at an accelerated rate. Over the course of a few days, she goes from being 20 to being about 75. When she returns to the pawnbroker, he reveals what he did: He somehow magically siphoned her youth into his dead wife. She can have her youth back, but only for hundreds of thousands of dollars. This ensures that Sylvia will have to kill her rich boyfriend and take his things.
The ironic twist: The pawnbroker can indeed restore her youth, but now that she’s a murderer, she may be better off staying old and unrecognizable. The final shot of the episode is the now-elderly Sylvia weeping on the street. For a woman who was reliant on her youth, vigor, and vanity, she has nothing left. Show’s you right.
Although it may seem a bit tame on paper (Only two murders? This sort of material could have easily run on The Twilight Zone 35 years prior), “Only Sin Deep” is careful to keep the visuals and the tone appropriately lurid. A small laugh will never do. It’s always a full-fledged cackle. This early in the series, though, Tales from the Crypt seems a little more restrained in a way. I think they were still testing the waters of how much they could – and wanted to – get away with. In short, the series was known for being a little bit wilder than this.
Also, Lea Thompson does not appear topless. Sorry.
Until next week, kiddies, the crypt is closed. Join me then for “Lover Come Hack to Me.”