In 1989 HBO debuted Tales From the Crypt, a horror-anthology show with an unprecedented amount of tits, gore, budget, and bad puns. Based on a variety of titles from EC Comics, the episodes ranged from silly to creepy to horrible. And we’re going to review every single one of them.

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Dig That Cat…He’s Real Gone (1.03)

“Polanski wants to film my life story. All of them.”

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?:
A man given nine lives by science uses his extraordinary talent to make a killing on the carnival circuit.

WHO’S RESPONSIBLE?:
The talented Mr. Richard Donner (The Omen, Superman, Lethal Weapon, Scrooged) helms this episode written by Terry Black (writer of Dead Heat and the video game Red Steel).



HOW IS IT?:
Fantastic. Everyone involved is having a lot of fun hamming it up, from Joe Pantliano as the bum turned prima donna to Robert Wuhl as a rough around the edges carnival barker (as if there were any other kind). Pantoliano’s skill in playing hammy characters should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with him, but Wuhl’s great performance might come as a surprise to some. I’ve always maintained that Robert Wuhl was a very funny comedic actor who, like his doppelganger Albert Brooks, uses cheesy jokes and humor in a smart (and often meta) way. This episode probably demonstrates his abilities better than anything else I’ve seen him in, especially since a lot of his lines appear to be improvised.

The person on set having the most fun, however, is Richard Donner. The camera-work in this episode is spectacular, with a lot of kinetic Raimi-esque shots, lots of close-ups with wide-angles lenses (in the style of Terry Gilliam), as well as jump cuts and other forms of elliptical editing. It all comes across as a director who was more than happy to not have to worry about a big budget and was free to just do silly things on a whim; a perfect example of what made this show so special.



The episode is about a bum named Ulric (Joe Pantoliano) who has a cat gene/organ/sciencething surgically grafted onto him, in order to give him nine lives. He naturally decides to use this awe-inspiring gift to work at a travelling carnival, allowing himself to be killed in grisly ways for fun and entertainment. The whole enterprise is a clever metaphor for why we love horror. Like Ulric’s act, the horror genre allows us to experience the visceral thrills of violence without any of the guilt or moral ramifications of death or murder. Donner gets this and, where most directors would have used the story to tut-tut the bloodthirsty audiences, Donner agrees that it’s really fun. Like professional wrestling or the show Jackass, he knows that violent stunts are much more fun when there’s a sense of pageantry to it all, and makes Ulric’s stunts look genuinely spectacular to watch.

The story features EC Comic’s classic moralizing, with Pantoliano becoming more evil and corrupted the richer he is, and ends with an ingenious twist that rivals most Twilight Zone episodes. All of these things combined make for, what I consider, the best episode of the first season, and possibly the best of the series.

HOW EVIL ARE THE WOMEN?:
The only woman with a speaking part is Kathleen York, who plays Joe Pantoliano’s empty-headed blonde bimbo girlfriend. She literally stabs him the back and runs off with his money (natch), using up one of his lives. Just when it seemed they were so in love too.

ALSO WORTH NOTING:
* Kathleen York later went on to become a writer and singer of incredibly boring songs under the name of “Bird York”. Her dreary and trite song “In The Deep”, which she did for the equally dreary and trite film Crash, earned her an Oscar nomination.

* Richard Donner makes a cameo appearance as an audience member, enjoying the carnage as much as anyone.



WORST CRYPTKEEPER JOKE:
“’Dying For Dollars’ could have been a popular game show. They could have put it in between ‘Wheel of Misfortune’ and ‘The Newly DEAD Game’!…Unless they buried it in the wrong timeslot.”

Rating:
A

JOHN B. SAYS:
I’m maybe a little less hot on this one than Patrick. It’s awfully good, and quite possibly one of the better episodes of the show, but I think I prefer the “Man Who Was Death,” which aims a bit higher. Cat’s a touch broad maybe, and feels much more like a damn good Twilight Zone than Crypt usually does. That said, it’s a hell of a lot of fun, and it’s true, Robert Wuhl is actually great in it (as is the Pants). One subtle touch I picked up on this time: I think the mad scientist that performs the operation on Ulric is an escaped Nazi. He’s got a a thick German accent, he uses a Mauser pistol, and the experiment is totally some crazy Nazi Hellboy stuff. It’s cool that this is background and never explicit.


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