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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 (2.04)

“I’m back!”

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

A gold-digging man
uses a voodoo potion to make a rich woman fall in love with him, but
when he doesn’t follow exact instructions there are some unusual
side-effects. Witch doctors have the worst hand-writing.

WHO’S RESPONSIBLE?

The director of this episode is Chris Walas, director of The Fly 2 but better known as a special effects specialist, doing make-up and effects for such films as Gremlins, Naked Lunch, and Enemy Mine. It written by Jeri Barchilon, who wrote a single episode of Facts of Life and quit show business after starring in Street Fighter
as “Blanka’s Date”, having nothing left in Hollywood to achieve. It
stars D.W. Moffett, the creep from the underrated 1990 thriller Lisa, Pamela Gien, who you don’t know, and character actor Aubrey Morris, probably best known for his roles in Wicker Man and A Clockwork Orange.

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HOW IS IT?

Before Romero unleashed Night of the Living Dead
onto the world, zombie films were a different animal altogether.
Instead of walking corpses hungry for human flesh, zombies were mostly
somnambulist-types bending to their master’s will through the ungodly
(read: ethnic) power of voodoo. There are worlds of difference between Zombie (1979) and White Zombie (1932) and “‘Til Death” is a muddled mixture of the two (with a dash of Return of the Living Dead,
for good measure), with a story of a submissive voodoo zombie who’s
also a rotting corpse. Unfortunately the zombie isn’t the only
somnambulist in the episode; almost all the actors sleepwalk through the
whole thing, bringing absolutely nothing to their respective roles.

We
open on priestess Psyche (Janet Hubert) performing a very high-energy
curse-dance, sacrificing a chicken and splattering it’s blood upon a
picture of a smarmy looking Logan Andrews (DW Moffet). From there we
leap to a fancy dinner party where Logan, an enterprising business man,
and Freddy, an unscrupulous lush of a doctor, are celebrating their
latest conquest. It seems that Freddy let an old woman die of cardiac
arrest so the two could buy her land to build a hotel upon it. Real
stand-up gentlemen. Then, from across the party he spots the most
beautiful woman he’s ever seen: Margaret Richardson (Pamela Gien), “of
the England Richardsons”. Freddy tries to warn him that she’s “a tad
high-strung”, but Logan’s got his mind set on her. Upon conversation,
however, it’s revealed she’s a complete snob, bitch, & racist and
that it’s gonna take money, a whole lot of spending money, to do her
right.

Their
budding hate-mance is cut short, however, when Logan’s employee rushes
in to tell his boss that there’s been a terrible accident. It turns out
that the whole plot of land he’s acquired is nothing but quicksand, in
which one his employees drowned. Not an ideal spot to build a hotel.
Realizing that it will take millions to build upon his land, he hatches a
plan to seduce the extremely wealthy Margaret using some truly horrible
pick-up lines. Margaret, however, is fiercely independent on top of
being rude, and resists his debatable charms. So he visits Psyche, his
voodoo priestess ex-lover who’s harboring a grudge, and asks for her to
help him. She reluctantly agrees and provides him with a love potion,
with the warning that “one drop she’ll be your wife, two drops she’s
yours for life”. Rather than asking her to clarify her prescription, or
why she suddenly decided to speak in rhyme for that matter, Logan
accepts this as is.

Later,
while giving Margaret the hard sell on his hotel proposition, Logan
slips a single drop of the sweet black magic rohypnol into Margaret’s
drink. It doesn’t take effect immediately, but later that night she’s at
his window, Batman Forever
style, hungry for loving. When, in the throes of ecstasy, Logan calls
out Margaret’s name she corrects him, saying “call me Maggie”. As if
Maggie were a particularly more sexy name than Margaret. After some sex
that’s pretty tame as far as premium cable goes but pretty animated as
far as date rape goes, they spend their morning eating breakfast in bed,
ostensibly happy and in love. That is, until Margaret’s old self starts
to come through when she recommends Logan replace his black butler with
“a better breed of servant”. Realizing that his dream woman is
dissipating before his very eyes, he doses her drink with more than a
few drops of the potion, which immediately sends her into cardiac
arrest. He calls Freddy over but there’s nothing he can do. She screams
out “LOGAN, I’LL ALWAYS LOVE YOU FOREVER AND EVER” and dies. Logan is
understandably devastated, with no way to complete his hotel, and
decides to take it out on Psyche, screaming and threatening her even
though he clearly didn’t follow her instructions.

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Logan
returns to Margaret’s grave, despondent and drunk, and empties a bit of
his rum onto her grave, OG style, which immediately makes Margaret dig
herself out of her grave, with an entirely new personality that doesn’t
match either Margaret or Maggie. Maybe being dead for a day gave her a
new lease on life, maybe the writing on this episode is uniformly sloppy
and poor. Who’s to say? After a very brief (about 15 seconds) period of
confusion, Logan accepts that Margaret/Maggie must have been buried
alive by mistake, chalks it up to poor judgment on Dr. Freddy’s part,
and makes sweet necrophiliac love to her right there in the dirt. Her
new personality is exceedingly loyal, pleasant and subservient, so who
is he to complain? But when he later invites Freddy over, the doctor
informs him that she was not only dead, but embalmed. Their conversation
is cut short when an axe-wielding Margaret creeps behind the doctor and
cuts his neck short and sends his head rolling across the table.
There’s no explanation why she did this, and Chris Walas is too
interested in Margaret’s rotting face make-up to really care. Nearly 20
minutes into the episode, it’s the first time Walas appears to be at all
interested in the material.

So
Margaret starts to chase Logan through the jungle, wanting nothing more
than to embrace him. It’s a Pepe le Pew cartoon played for horror, but
at this point logic is a distant memory. Everything takes a backseat to
Chris Walas lovingly showing off Margaret’s increasingly gruesome
make-up and to his credit, it’s pretty good. The chase carries on like
this for a bit until it culminates with Logan setting Margaret on fire
and pushing her into quicksand, where she sinks. Logan returns to his
house and begins to drink, heavily, to cope with what he just saw, glad
that the whole thing is over with. But of course it isn’t over, and when
the charred skeleton bursts through his back door, he takes the only
reasonable course of action: he finds a bottle of poison in the doctor’s
bag, and decides to kill himself, swallowing the whole bottle. But
instead of waking up dead, he wakes up in Psyche’s hut, tied to a bed
and Psyche by his side. She tells him that she wasn’t about to let him
take the easy way out, and calls the decayed skeleton of Margaret
(carrying the re-animated head of Dr. Freddy in a cage for good
measure), who bends down to kiss him with her swollen rotting tongue.

The
episode tries to lay the blame for everything on Psyche, but what her
plan exactly was is so unclear. What parts of Logan’s undoing was she
responsible for and what parts were his own fault? Apart from giving him
the potion and bringing him back from the dead after he poisoned
himself, there’s nothing that happens that she could take the blame for.
The last act of the story is like a crazed fever dream where nothing
makes sense and if Walas were able to make the whole episode as bizarre
and nightmarish as the last minute, it probably would have worked too.
Alas, even as a director Chris Walas is primarily a special effects guy,
unable to get good performances out of his actors and unable to spin
Jeri Barchilon’s sloppy script into hallucinatory gold, and it sinks the
entire episode like a pit of quicksand.

HOW EVIL ARE THE WOMEN?

At
first glance, this episode is chock-full of hatred towards the fairer
sex. The show’s general attitude towards women is split between the two
female characters; one’s an annoying snobbish bitch, and the other is
calculating, Machiavellian bitch. But honestly, EVERY character, man or
woman, is unapologetically evil and nasty. The general thrust of the
story seems to be that it’s better for a woman to be independent and a
bitch than to be a subservient house-wife. When you couple that with the
inversion of the gold-digging woman trope, the sexism doesn’t come
across quite so bad. Still not what I’d call “Gloria Steinem Approved”,
but not so bad.

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ALSO WORTH NOTING:

*At
the end of the episode, the Cryptkeeper says “Psyche can work that old
black magic on me any time she wants!” The Crypt-Keeper has Jungle
Fever?

*The
special effects, from the decaying make-up to the fire stunt to
Margaret’s disgusting swollen tongue, are actually well-done through out
the episode, among the best I’ve seen in the series.

*All
the dialogue in this episode is classic heightened 50’s comic-book
speak, but the most of the actors play it so straight that it just comes
across as an endless series of bad jokes. If one episode could have
used some hammy acting, it’d be this one. The only actor who truly gets
it is Aubrey Morris, playing Freddy as a delightful lush, seemingly
bemused by his own existence.

WORST CRYPTKEEPER JOKE:

“How about Maggie? Girls like that are pretty hard to DIG UP.”

Rating: C-

JOHN SAYS:
I like it a teensy bit more than Patrick, I suppose. As far as middling
episodes go, “Til Death” has its charms, and it marks a couple
important firsts for Crypt:
first actual monster, and first mild racial insensitivity. The cast
really is dull, but I guess I’m just a sucker for voodoo zombies,
because once Margaret claws her way out of the grave and starts falling
to pieces while on fire in a pit of quicksand, I’m delighted. It
strongly evokes the look and feel of the original EC books, and does a
lot with a limited budget. That said, it’s no classic, and an enjoyably
retro visual sense can only get you so far with a lazy script and cast. A
less convoluted plot and some humor and chemistry between the leads
would have done wonders here.

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