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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Collection Completed (1.06)

This entry WRITTEN BY: John B

[Exhumed will return to regular Tues/Thurs schedule next week. – Renn]

“I believe in using chloroform. Doesn’t shock the system, muscles don’t tense up, and they pull away from the bones like butter.”

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

An elderly couple has an unusually difficult time adjusting to each other after retirement, clashing in particular over the excessive number of pets sharing a home with them.

WHO’S RESPONSIBLE?

The bickering codgers are played by a pair of tremendously successful character actors, Audra Lindley and M Emmett Fucking Walsh. The script had three writers: Whitney Brown, Randolph Davis, and the late, awesomely named Battle Davis, an editor with a fascinating variety of credits (Awakenings, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, Lethal Weapon 3). And directing is Pet Semetary’s Mary Lambert, once again wrangling animals.



HOW IS IT?

One of the chief advantages of the anthology format is mutability. The first season of Crypt was all about mixing it up, and it’s notable that none of the initial six feels all that similar to the others (well, the Santa one and the Cat one a bit, but whatever, they’re great). This is, on its face, a jauntier, light-hearted episode, a sort of Ma and Pa Kettle slapstick bitchfest, but to me, it’s jockeying with the Man Who Was Death for darkest of the season. Beneath the poop jokes, falling down jokes, and fish in the bathtub jokes, this is a story about two broken and unhappy people failing one another repeatedly and sometimes viciously.
 
M Emmet Walsh plays Jonas, a cranky old coot forced into mandatory retirement with nothing to show for his 40 year career but a ceremonial gold-plated hammer. His wife Anita, driven slightly mad by loneliness and cabin fever, has adopted a small army of stray animals and treats them like the children. Jonas, a man frequently overcome by his temper, soon finds himself at odds with the adorable pets.
 
Walsh is cantankerous, curmudgeonly, and any other euphemism we employ to call an old person an asshole. He moans bitterly about being forced out of his job, and searches fruitlessly for a way to keep himself active. A rotund neighbor suggests model airplanes, but Walsh rejects this out of hand (and who can blame him?), leaving him little to do but putter about the yard impotently with portentous gardening shears. These sequences feel to me kind of like About Schmidt, but with multiple sequences where Schmidt furiously berates various pets that have somehow gotten the better of him.




Anita isn’t helping either. She’s treating Jonas like one of the animals, hiding his medicine in food and offering belly rubs to smooth over bad situations. She even names a gross little bulldog after Jonas, saying they resemble one another, which of course hurts Walsh’s fragile face pride. Much grief could be prevented with better communication, but Jonas and Anita without fail find the exact wrong thing to say to one other. It’s a strong dynamic, that over the years they’ve turned into completely incompatible people. Lambert stages it all as a sitcom, wacky neighbor and all, putting the shtick front and center, but allowing Walsh’s bitter verbal takedowns to have the requisite teeth. As such, it’s not a surprise when he finally snaps and decides his new hobby will be taxidermy, starting with all his wife’s fucking pets. And from there it’s a straight line to the grisly conclusion, which reminds you exactly what show you’ve been watching.
 
Again, mutability. This episode feels sometimes like the above-mentioned Schmidt and sometimes like All in the Family, and yet still ends up unmistakably in EC punitive Horror land. It’s a freedom the show would continue to take advantage of, but fewer and farther between than in this premiere season. Longer episode orders would take their toll, and you begin to see more overly familiar stuff. But these off-model episodes would eventually become frequent standouts.

HOW EVIL ARE THE WOMEN?

The conclusion might well have come off as anti-woman, but the bottom line is Anita is clearly crazy, M Emmett is clearly an angry asshole, and the final result is preordained. For a show that loved to go sexist, it doesn’t really happen here. Or if it does just a little, it’s child’s play after what we’ve seen in literally every other episode up to this point.



WORST CRYPTKEEPER JOKE:

“I’d you to meet my pet, Peeves. He’s got a terror tail of his own!”

Rating:

B+

PATRICK SAYS:

The excellent work by Lambert, Lindley, and Walsh really make this a special episode. Where most Tales From the Crypt episodes are about horrible people doing horrible things to each other, this episode does a great job making both of these old coots sympathetic. It would have been so easy to make either one of the characters a victim, but Lambert makes both of the lead character’s personality defects come from such real and understandable places. Crypt fans expecting some gruesome taxidermy action might be a little disappointed, but I really like the stuffed-Jonas make-up at the end, achieved by Thomas and Bari Burman (the creators of Sloth from the Goonies).


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