Tales from the Crypt Season Seven an Unexpected Denouement
by Kristin Battestella
In Spring 1996, the thirteen episode final season of Tales from the Crypt moved to the UK, and despite several fine stories, the sardonic horror suffers thanks to the identity crisis in this awkward end. Our Crypt Keeper is eating flesh and chips and doing a little fright seeing complete with Big Ben, London Bridge, and double decker buses in “Fatal Caper” before director Bob Hoskins (Who Framed Roger Rabbit?) sends his dying client to lawyer Natasha Richardson (The Handmaid's Tale) to handle his will. Three sons have been disowned, but without them there is no legacy or title. Two are summoned to accept the terms of their inheritance – find the eldest brother unseen for fifteen years. However, if one brother remains, he gets everything. Arguments, heart attacks, saucy, and killer suggestions lead to rigged seances, apparitions, and ditching folks in the ancestral tomb as each tries to out scare the other. With the jolly good demented mood, it's easy to presume this is a one off on location special for the premiere – except the Keeper is staying to collect souvenears and worries about getting in trouble with the Die-R-S again in “Last Respects.” Freddie Francis (Dracula Has Risen from the Grave) directs Emma Samms (Dynasty) as a monkey's paw changes the fortune of three sisters and their floundering curio shop in this fun Charmed meets Friday the 13th: The Series combination. Debates about which sister will be a spinster or the most hated have them vying over the talisman, and each thinks they can outsmart it's curse. However, the windfall is not what it seems thanks to injuries and insurance plans, and the bemusingly dry mortician isn't surprised by the ghoulish bodies, turnabouts, and revenge. To start the season, Tales from the Crypt relies on classic horror twists sourced from some of the earliest issues of Tales for the Crypt, Vault of Horror, Shock SuspenStories, and Haunt of Fear. In “A Slight Case of Murder” our astrologer Crypt Keeper warns us to stay away from romantic enstranglements this month, but mystery writer Francesca Annis (Dune) has an estranged husband and a pesky old lady neighbor – a wannabe author after more than just a cup of sugar. English to the face charm contrasts the under the breath zingers, and divorce settlements provide gunpoint threats, fireplace pokers, and burying bodies in the basement. Our cupcake and biscuit forget about the car keys left on the dead as matters of murder remain so polite. After all, the Crypt Keeper says we have to just grim and bear it.
Director Russell Mulcahy's (Highlander) inside heist goes wrong for “Horror in the Night,” leading to creepy hotel hideouts, Art Deco askew, and femme fatale Elizabeth McGovern (Downton Abbey). Drab patinas and rattling trains accent the distorted sense of reality alongside repeated events, delirium, and scotch. The bloody linens and leaky pipes spewing blood escalate with disturbing sex scenes and gruesome guts. Suspect door numbers, never ending hallways, past secrets, and fatal mistakes combine in the superbly bizarre Tales from the Crypt justice we expect yet this might have made a great horror movie unto itself. Commander CK, meanwhile, plays astronaut with his skeleton crew. They're going where no ghoul has gone before because they've got the rot stuff. Crows, fog, and spooky trees open “Report from the Grave” as scientist James Frain (The Tudors) enters a crypt to capture the mental powers of a surprisingly well preserved murderous hypnotist. His machinery may unite the physical and metaphysical, but a good zap and mechanical shock results in asylum restraints, visions of the deceased, and more medical experiments. Lightning, screams, and equations provide a Frankenstein motif for the nineties as motherboards and monitors update the mad science. Saucy and sadness can't stop the pain of death thanks to grave robbing, ghosts, and bloody bathtubs in another Tales from the Crypt gem. Of course, The Keeper does his best Gorelone Godfather send up before Daniel Craig (Skyfall) impresses the advertising agency with his swagger in “Smoke Wrings.” He calls out the old fashioned campaigns, making the other agents look bad, but it's all a con with an underground accomplice and a device that manifests the power of suggestion. Subliminal signals over candies and colas begat knives, revenge, and double crosses like it's Melrose Place on acid but it's a Victorian minister in the saucy for “About Face.” Imelda Staunton's (Maleficent) husband wants another young secretary for his sinful rhetoric, but unbeknownst twin daughters played by Anna Friel (Timeline) come knocking on his door. They'll say their adopted to maintain his righteous image, but one daughter is unable to forgive his wolf in sheep's clothing as shadows of the cross imagery accent the scripture and damnation. Perhaps it's obvious, but slit throats, strangulation, and impalements provide enough twisted drama. Unfortunately, we need diefocals because we have terrible eyesight from watching too much Tales from the Crypt according to Dr. Keeper in “Confession.” Swanky fedoras and cigarettes belie headless victims, and the police fear headlines of headless girls in the topless club. Profiler Ciaran Hinds (The Phantom of the Opera) interrogates suspected screenwriter Eddie Izzard (Shadow of the Vampire), for his movie about a serial killer is a box office hit. However, the police don't believe his expertise in killing is just from research thanks to freak show heads in jars, nasty history, and their insistence that no one is ever really innocent. Flashbulb cameras, two way mirrors, and dank rooms add to the congested tension, bowling ball bags, and psychological one on one, combining the seriousness of a noir thriller with self-referential winks. Viewers will see the twist coming, but that cheeky matches the optometrist bookends, and this would have been a fitting if subdued series finale.
After starting well, Year Seven falters with several mixed bag entries before going downhill with the back and forth betrayals in “Escape.” German prisoners in 1945 England object to making coffins and want all the comforts to wait out the war – yet they also plot for useful information about tunnels below their castle jail. Sirens and bloody clues add to the period atmosphere, but none of the motivations are likable, and the supersized Season Three World War I episode “Yellow” remains superior. A convenience store robbery goes wrong for Ewan McGregor (Shallow Grave) in “Cold War” leading to gunshots, arguing couples, colorful clubs, and awkward dance offs to Tom Jones with Colin Salmon (Tomorrow Never Dies). It's a thoroughly British tale, almost alienating to an audience at the time tuning in for American sleaze. Off the mark racism commentaries and love triangles are terribly dated, and it takes to too long to get to the apparent but fun undead twist. While the Crypt Keeper's playing Wimbletomb, a pawnbroker takes in a pregnant woman only to become jealous of the interfering baby in “The Kidnapper.” The lame narration and warped abduction plan is too disturbing – real world horror caused by a pathetic dude wanting sex to make it all better. It's not entertaining, and even the terribly fake babies during action sequences can't make this better. Eventually, viewers won't get Slay Mart cashier Keeper and his boo light special joke, and “Ear Today...Gone Tomorrow” provides safe cracking failures, sophisticated bookies, and a saucy mobster's wife who says they can help each other. Hearing loss has ruined his trade, but she knows a doctor using radical innovations and multi-species benefits. Visuals amplify his newly owl heightened hearing but the animal twists are laughable. There's more nudity in this half hour than the rest of the season and maybe it's not a terrible story, but we've seen similar crime episodes on Tales from the Crypt already. The animated “The Third Pig” finale is also an odd gimmick that both makes one wonder why Tales from the Crypt didn't do adult animation more often when it had the chance and why they are unnecessarily doing it now. This Three Little Pigs spin has John Kassir as the Crypt Keeper narrating Drinky, Smokey, zombie pigs, and mad science – going on and on with humor that requires you to be likewise drunk or high and it's baffling how anybody thought this was a good way to end the series.
Tales from the Crypt's production move to Britain immediately shows with outdoor filming, grand estates, Tudor windows, cluttered antiques, and tweed. Fine woodwork, ornate chairs, carriages, candles, and oil lamps set off great looking period episodes alongside bangers and mash, plenty of accents, and across the pond slang. Swelling music and winking, whimsical notes add suspense or humor while chanting, heartbeats, and retching sounds match the blood, poisons, and tombs. Typewriters, big old televisions, cassettes, and dated fashions continue the nostalgia while overhead camera angles, distorted views, and sped up visuals keep the sardonic humor. Rather than eighties garish color, mid century crime, or noir settings, Tales from the Crypt embraces the British horror tone – putting aside the hip and edgy that was getting a little passe by the mid nineties. Every episode has a spooky, windswept atmosphere with cemeteries, cobwebs, and shrewd lighting accenting the pale, sickly pallor, zombie strung out, chopped off heads, and veiny skin. Despite boobs, splatter, and the gory deceased, this season is relatively tame compared to what viewers may expect from Tales from the Crypt. If a pushing the envelope, mature macabre, cheeky big bang finale is what you're looking for, this serviceable but not the best the series has to offer exit will be a disappointment. Compared to Tales from the Crypt's finest, this more serious season definitely feels like a different anthology. For fans of British programs there are plenty of familiar faces, but at the time it was probably tough to accept such English bits and bobs on late night HBO. If you can overlook the off brand demented fun then Season Seven has enough gothic morose for a quick and easy marathon.