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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Dead Right (2.01)

“Vorna is right. Vorna is always right.”

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

A gold-diggin’ woman marries a hideous fatty when a gypsy says he’s due a big inheritance.

WHO’S RESPONSIBLE?

This episode was directed by Howard Deutch, director of last week’s gold-digging entry “Only Sin Deep”. Our screenplay was penned by Andy Wolk, who went on to direct the surely-hilarious CBS TV movie adaptation of NewSong’s horrifying carol The Christmas Shoes. The cast includes three actors who were on the verge of hitting the big time: the always capable Demi Moore (three months before Ghost annihilated the box office), the ineffable Jeffrey Tambor (two years before The Larry Sanders Show would forever change the face of television comedy) and globe-trotting pussy-hound Earl Boen (one year away from Terminator 2: Judgement Day catapulting him into super-stardom).




HOW IS IT?

Everything that Deutch got wrong with Only Sin Deep he gets right here. Uninspired and straight-forward direction last week turns into well-shot story with several directorial flights of fancy, a humorless tone turns into a darkly comic one and, most importantly, a poorly casted group of uninteresting characters becomes Demi Moore and Jeffery Tambor. Demi Moore has never been a great actress, but she has a toughness and a screen presence that makes her a good fit for the 1950’s setting. As for Tambor, if you’re not aware of the man’s greatness, run out and get the dvds for The Larry Sanders Show and Arrested Development. You can thank me later.

Our episode opens with Cathy (Demi Moore) visiting local gypsy fortune-teller Madame Vorma, who accurately describes Cathy as an unhappy secretary who wants nothing more out of life than to marry a wealthy man. But when Vorma predicts that Cathy will get fired, only to find a new job that very day, Cathy balks at the idea, writes the gypsy off as a quack and bids her and her dog Trotsky farewell. She arrives back at her work only to be fired by her boss (Earl Boen, playing a self-satisfied prick as only he can) for being 25 minutes late for work. This features what must be the most ominous stinger ever to be played during a slow pan to a wall clock. You’d think the clock just choked Annie Brackett to death in an Oldsmobile. Walking home from her place of ex-employment, she strolls past a strip joint whose bartender offers her a waitressing job. This is a 1950’s tassle and fringe strip-joint, which is either better or worse than modern strip clubs depending on your attitudes towards women.  Later, visiting again with her gypsy pal, Cathy tries to write off the soothsayer’s predicitions as a self-fulfilling prophecy, claiming that Vorna made her lose track of time. This doesn’t wash because A) she spent less than 2 minutes at the Gypsy’s and B) whenever the predictions came true, the soundtrack let loose some serious tinkling chimes sound effect. Tinkling chime sound effects are the Official Magical Event Indicator of 80’s & 90’s TV and, like the theme music in Jaws, are never used in the event of a Red Herring.

Anyway, while there, Madame Vorma spoils the plot of the rest of the episode by making the following predictions:

*Cathy will get married to a large man.
*Her husband will not be wealthy at the time of their wedding.
*Soon after the wedding, her husband will inherit a fortune from someone close to him.
*Soon after that, he will die.

Now that we know the plot, the only question is how the predictions will come true in a way that subverts our expectations. It’s a device old as Macbeth, particularly common in pulp stories like these, but done right like it is here, it can still be a lot of fun.



Later while waitressing at the strip joint, Cathy spots her future husband Mr. Charlie Marno (Jeffrey Tambor), looking like the schlubby love-child of Mr. Creosote and Dan Aykroyd in Nothing But Trouble. Tambor plays him with a bit of pathos, but he’s mostly a handsy creep who can’t take “no” for an answer. He even corners Cathy later, trying to convince her that it’s destiny they be together, his every word permeated with the scent of rape. It’s a good choice because it allows our sympathies to remain with Cathy a lot more than if he was a lovable loser, like Hank from The Larry Sanders Show. Cathy rushes to Madame Vorma’s, wanting to make sure that this sack of sad isn’t her future husband. But of course he is. This leads to a delightful scene where Cathy and her friend imagine the various ways he could croak, including being hit by a semi (a taxi would be too small) and choking to death on spare ribs. It’s a well-shot and fun sequence, with Tambor really hamming it up; a perfect example of what some inspired direction can bring to an episode like this.

After weeks of wearing her down, Cathy finally agrees to go on a date with Charlie and has a predictably awful time. She despises him so much that even his good night kiss makes her vomit (which Demi, to her credit, does on-screen and sells well). But when he later mentions that he has a rich uncle (who owns a factory!), she realizes that Madame Vorma must be right, and agrees to marry him. Following the most awkward consummation scene since…well, two episodes ago, there’s a delightful montage juxtaposing Cathy Marno’s domestic hell with shots of the newly-weds gayly dancing to Fred Astaire’s rendition of “Cheek to Cheek”. Using upbeat popular music to contrast dark or disturbing images is a film cliche at this point (Kenneth Anger hiked the ball in 1964, and Scorsese ran with it), but it was rare to see on TV back in 1990, let alone on a show like this.

Angry, exhausted, and feeling gypped by Madame Vorma, Cathy treks to the grocery store where she’s awarded a million dollars for being their millionth customer. Really? Is that really a fiscally responsible promotion? 1950 may be a long way from today’s in-genius promotions like McDonald’s Monopoly game, but I doubt Don Draper would stand for that shit. Anyway, Cathy now has all the money she could ever dream of (or, in her words: “Plenty. Plenty plenty plenty plenty.”) her first order of business is to leave the heap of unpleasantness she calls a husband. Packing her things she says a few unkind things about his body, his personality, and his hygiene. To say he doesn’t take this well is a bit of an understatement. He loses his fucking mind, starts screaming hysterically and stabs her thirteen goddamned times in the chest. And with only one wound at the end! Guy’s got some impressive aim. So Mr. Marno gets sent to death row where, after having the “biggest recorded last meal in history”, he’s given the juice. And Madame Vorna watches the execution on TV, feeling content even though she could have stopped the two from being killed. Fucking gypsies.

HOW EVIL ARE THE WOMEN?

Pretty evil. Cathy makes clear that she has no goal in life other than money, and her gypsy friend quietly condones this viewpoint. The only way this episode pulls any kind of punches is that Charlie the human grease puddle is pretty ugly on the inside as well. Doesn’t make Cathy any less shallow and heartless, but at least the schlub whose heart she breaks was a prick to begin with.



ALSO WORTH NOTING:

* Make-up designer Greg Cannom went on to win an Academy Award for his work on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

*One of my favorite details about the episode is how the gypsy slowly becomes less mysterious and mystic, and more like a gossipy girlfriend. Her first scene, she’s making a potion of some kind. By the end she’s working out to The Jack LaLanne Show.

*While on their first date, they go to see The Wolf Man. Not a bad choice, given the episode’s gypsy content, but I’d have gone with Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast.

*The episode takes place in 1950, but there’s not a lot done with the setting. If this was any show other than Tales From the Crypt, I’d say the time period would be used to justify the outdated sexual politics, but that seems pretty unlikely.


WORST CRYPTKEEPER JOKE:

“When Charlie got his just desserts…he asked for seconds!”

Rating:

B

JOHN SAYS:

It’s odd that Howard Deutch would come back so soon with such a remarkably similar premise, unless he wanted a do-over. Which makes sense, actually. Demi Moore, unlike Lea Thompson, is really well cast here. The best decision they made was to make Tambor’s character an unlikeable grotesque. The makeup is simultaneously convincing and muppet-ish, and it gets us sympathizing with Moore, no small feat. The fantasy sequences all work too. Most of the credit for this episode goes to Deutch. Good on ya, Deutch! It’s no classic, but it’s a completely entertaining half hour of Crypt, and a great use of the biggest star they’ve had on the show to date.


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