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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Cutting Cards (2.03)

“I got a tip for you Reno. You take on everyone who laughs at you, you’re gonna have a lifetime of work.”

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Two professional gamblers take their personal grudge against one another to absurd heights.

WHO’S RESPONSIBLE?

It’s series producer Walter Hill’s second Crypt episode as a writer/director. It stars genre legend Lance Henrikson and Locke’s dad Kevin Tighe as its nutball heroes. And that’d be it.




HOW IS IT?

Lance Henrikson is an icon, of sorts. He’s part of a fraternity of tough guy character actors that movie geeks in my age bracket love because he appeared in a huge number of our formative scifi/action/horror flicks. There were more guys like him back in the day, such as Clancy Brown, Michael Ironside, Miguel Ferrer, and Brad Dourif. They always brought huge game, and it could elevate minor supporting roles into indelible parts of the whole (as Henrikson does in Terminator) or take run of the mill bad guys and make them tragic antiheroes, sometimes more sympathetic then the leads (Henrikson in Near Dark). The secret was that beneath the strength and sleaze they could draw from like it was on tap, they were excellent actors that treated the craft like professionals, quite possibly more so than actors with a lot more awards and critical regard. Seriously, watch an interview with Jack Nicholson or Anthony Hopkins.

Crypt would prove to be gainful employment for most of this crew (several of them appeared twice), most likely because Crypt’s leads tended to be less than lovely people, but also because genre directors knew how great they were. Henrikson is awesome in “Cutting Cards,” playing a role similar to the hilarious dandy he played in Sam Raimi’s The Quick and the Dead, a preening loudmouth cowboy, although he displays a lot more sand here. Opposite him is an actor with a special knack for playing unbelievable assholes, Kevin Tighe, who’s probably best known now as Locke’s unbelievable asshole father on Lost. It’s pretty much a two hander between them, although you could say the third man is director Walter Hill, who directed my favorite episode up to this point, The Man Who Was Death, which starred another actor you could easily add to that list, William Sadler.

It’s a simple, spare episode, boiling down to about three scenes, but the tension, the comedy, and the fun are all top shelf.



Henrikson plays Reno Crevice, a hotshot gambler that absolutely loathes another hotshot gambler, Tighe’s Sam Forney. Forney hates him right back, so much so that they dare each other into a loser-gets-out-of-town battle of wills that starts with Russian Roulette and escalates into a ludicrous dick measuring contest called ‘Chop Poker’, which has no bluffs, no raises, and no skill, just pure luck of the draw. You get a hand of cards, you compare them, and the winner chops off the finger of the loser until someone backs down or…well, until no one has any appendages left. Which is just what happens, as the episode ends with Crevice and Forney, both limbless, playing aggressive angry checkers across from one another in a lunatic asylum. 

There’s nothing remotely scary in this, but that just goes to show how little Crypt needed to be beholden to ‘horror’. It’s a giddy high wire exercise in tension, and the Russian roulette sequence, where Tighe and Henrikson take turns risking blowing their own heads off, exemplifies this best. Both actors play the stakes with the exact right mix of braggadocio and nerves, and each click of the pistol is more charged than the one before. I mentioned awhile back that my issue with this episode was that I find Henrikson, especially in flashy cowboy mode, to be way more likable than Tighe, which unbalances my rooting interest in whether one of these pricks ultimately triumphs. But rewatching for this article cured me of that. Tighe is excellent here, and even though the surface level moral is very clear (being ruled by your hate leads to insanity), what I ultimately got out of this was that these two characters only think they hate each other. In the end, this level of crazy high stakes competition is what they both want most out of life, and finally, they’re the best friends either one could ever ask for. Hell, the episode ends with a freeze frame of the two of them forehead to forehead, staring into each other’s eyes, inches, and possibly seconds, away from a kiss.

HOW EVIL ARE THE WOMEN?

There are no women at all, which means that nine episodes in, this is the first Crypt that isn’t remotely misogynist.



ALSO WORTH NOTING:

*Roy Brocksmith, who was in the last episode “The Switch” has a walk on role here as well. The way TV was shot back then, he probably banged out both episodes in the same week.

*Speaking of “The Switch”, I wonder what Hollywood would look like today if Henrikson had played a role originally written for him, the title character in an early James Cameron film that made Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career.

*I’m not sure if this or “The Man Who Was Death” is my favorite episode thus far. They’re both terrific, both off model, and both directed by Walter Hill. For as great as Hill can be, I’m kind of surprised he hasn’t made more films that are stone cold classics. Still, if you haven’t seen Trespass, I’d recommend giving it a look.

*The pacing on this episode is crazy fast. It’s a short one at just over twenty minutes, but it feels more like ten.

*The only real misstep? A synth-reggae score.

WORST CRYPTKEEPER JOKE:

“I’ve got to hand it to Crevice and Forney. They’ll do anything to elbow their way to the top.”

Rating: A

PATRICK SAYS:

I wish I could agree with John here, but I don’t think “Cutting Cards” is “A” material. It’s well-shot and has two truly great performances, but barely anything happens at all. I don’t know if there’s an episode of Crypt that has less plot than “Cutting Cards.” Henricksen arrives at a bar, they play Russian Roulette, they play Chop Poker, and they end up in a mental hospital. That’s it. I appreciate how impressively done the set-pieces are, but some kind of rising dramatic structure would have gone a long way. Definitely one of the better episodes, but not up there with episodes like “The Man Who Was Death” or “Dig That Cat, He’s Real Gone”.

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