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.——————————————————
[This entry by John B.]
Korman’s Kalamity (2.13)
“Try some skin lotion, Zitface! Your complexion would scare a proctologist!”
WHAT IS IT?
A cartoonist’s monstrous sketches come to life and wreck havoc.
Can any single person be held responsible for something like this? The central role of Jim Korman is embodied by Harry Anderson, famed for Night Court, Dave’s World, and Stephen King’s It, all of which look like Jim Jarmusch films in comparison. Supporting him is Cynthia Gibb, who’s one of the longtime working TV actresses with a familiar face but no familiar roles, and Colleen Camp, who’s worked tons, but mostly she was the French maid in Clue. And directing is the appropriately named Rowdy Herrington, the journeyman behind such seminal films as Road House and Striking Distance. Like Paul Thomas Anderson and Kubrick before him, Herrington works only intermittently, preferring the wait for inspiration to strike between projects, and seeing as his last was 2004’s Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius, we’re all due for a reckoning.
HOW IS IT?
Sheesh, how to answer that question…It’s kind of amazing. We’ve seen bad episodes all season long in Crypt. Some are obnoxiously broad, others are tediously dull, and a few even manage to transcend their awfulness and be entertaining as a result. But this is the only Crypt episode, and really, one of only a few scripted entertainments I’ve seen, that gleefully jumps and down proclaiming its own terribleness. This is not the product of laziness, budget problems, or a rushed production schedule; Korman’s Kalamity is full of considered moments and a distinctly chosen tone. To be sure, it is brazenly awful and constantly difficult to watch on purpose. The central enigma is Why. It’s kind of like watching a naked fat guy walk to the middle of the dance floor and take a huge liquid dump in the middle of the room. And while he laughs and yells racial slurs, you can’t help but admire his chutzpah.
The episode opens in the offices of Tales From the Crypt, the comic book. As envisioned here, it’s one of those zany offices, full of kooky ‘cut-ups’ and the like. The walls are adorned with in-jokes, and the dress isn’t so much business casual as it is theme park gift shop. Sporting a short so loud it hurts to look at is Jim Korman, head illustrator for such Crypt stories as ‘Corpse Eaters’, who’s currently blocked on what kind of swamp monster to draw. His two co-workers, sort of a half-assed Greek Chorus, appear to be a caveman in a business suit and a schlubby dude dressed like a referee. They show up a handful of times during the episode and engage in comic bits, and would you believe they’re not funny and awkwardly forced? Well, they are.
Suddenly, Korman’s overbearingly horrible shrew wife (Camp) arrives. This performance really makes it clear up front that Korman’s Kalamity will not ever be fucking around with words like “good”, “well-considered”, or “dignity”. It only remains to be seen how far into Hell this episode is prepared to go (a ways). Introduced by 1940s style va-va-voom hotcha music, Camp’s Mildred Korman is a shrill screaming caricature of pure emasculation and manslavement, shrieking every evil shrew line at top volume. Her tirade of threats and complaints ends with a demand that Korman knock her up. Blaming his weak seed, Mildred is forcing him to take experimental fertility drugs with unknown side effects (‘I think they’re making my imagination more fertile!’ Korman offers). Anyways, he wussily agrees, while Caveman and the Ref perform a desperate pantomime routine behind glass doors. After Mildred’s loud exit, Korman finishes up his panel, a swamp monster emerging from a washing machine.
Cut to a Laundromat. Korman is just leaving, but a pretty young lady cop named Lorelei is left doing her laundry when the lights click off. A creepy hillbilly wanders in, and Lorelei tries to get him to help, but he proudly tells her he shut off the lights and plans on raping her. This is the single fifteen seconds of the episode that kind of work, and all credit for this goes to the hilarious casting of the West Wing’s Richard Schiff as the rapist. In a stroke of terrible genius, he’s wearing a Gimme Cap with a jheri-curled rattail popping out the back. Despite Lorelei’s lady cop martial arts expertise, the only thing that saves her from Schiff’s gruesome sexuality is the manifestation of Korman’s swamp monster. Furious over Toby’s 7th season military shuttle arc, the swamp monster beelines right for Schiff and bites his head off.
Lorelei can’t convince her cop friends of the swamp monster’s existence, which is not surprising, as none of the manifestations ever last any longer than the exact length of time the script needs them. Even a current rash of monster sightings can’t change their minds ‘You sound just like the housewife that found a dinosaur in her volkswagon,’ one cop says, helpfully. But then she passes by a streetside comic book stand and notices the swamp monster, and all the other recently sighted beasties, on the cover of Tales From the Crypt issues! So she steals all of them, as the ethnic shopkeep yells comically after her.
Lorelei tracks down Korman, and spills her crazy your-pictures-are-coming-to-life theory. As proof, she offers a comparison of Korman’s work and police sketches of the various monster sightings, and damned if they don’t just look similar, but have the exact same angles, poses, scale, and artistic sensibility, looking pretty much how tracings would look. Korman thinks she’s nuts, but she’s pretty and he would love to cheat on his shrew wife, so he humors her and uses the opportunity to flirt improbably well. For a middle-aged dork in a Jimmy Buffett shirt, Korman does damn well. In order to keep that hook baited, he sketches a quick zombie for her and hard sells a dinner date. She basically says ‘yes, if I find a zombie monster somewhere’.
And of course the zombie turns up, interrupting the war games of a bunch of Little Rascals types, led by those beloved stock child characters, Nerdy Kid and Fat Bully. Meanwhile, Korman has been daydreaming about his future with Lorelei, going so far as to draw predictive sketches of them enjoying dating. She calls to tell him of the zombie, and schedule just such a date, but somehow, the vicious shrew wife has snuck in and overheard everything. She jumps zealously on yet another thing to henpeck Korman with, and goes down to the car to get a ‘surprise’. Korman takes the opportunity to sketch Mildred’s likeness into a rubbery wife ogre, and when Mildred comes back with her surprise gun, said rubbery wife ogre jumps through a doorway with the absolute least amount of grace possible. It would probably have been cooler if Korman had somehow morphed Mildred into the ogre, but whatever, we’re beyond cooler by now. Mildred is oddly blasé to the monster, and when it proves bulletproof, she decides to wrestle it (she’s just that mean, I guess). Lorelei arrives and she and Korman beat a hasty retreat while Shrew Wife fights Ogre Wife. We do get a final blood spurt and scream from Mildred, just to let us now that despite the comical silhouette grappling we saw, the Ogre definitely killed that bitch. Cut to Korman and Lorelei enjoying a date (the very one Korman imagined). “Are you married?” she asks. “Not anymore,” says Korman. And fin.
The plot is not good here, and is in fact quite obviously the wistful, childish, very personal daydream of a Tales From the Crypt staff writer in the 1950s (Jack Kamen, as in Kamen’s Kalamity). But more than that, the tone is so insufferably wrong that this becomes something of a special episode. The broad level it’s pitched at, especially the Mildred character, is so over-the-top, and the Styrofoam monsters so unconvincing, that it bears a closer resemblance to, say, H.R. Pufnstuff than a horror show intended for adults. Which makes the truth abundantly clear: it wasn’t. There are a handful of episodes in this show’s run that wouldn’t cut the mustard on Goosebumps, horror-wise, and this is probably the most egregious one.
DOES IT HATE WOMEN?
If you were looking to pick the most flagrant demonstrations of woman hate on this show, Mildred would deserve consideration easily. I can’t tell for sure, but it looks like they’ve even forced Colleen Camp to wear fat padding under her horrendous eye-sore dresses, just to make her even more offensive. She’s not just a hate-filled castrating joyless bitch, she’s a fatty.
ALSO WORTH NOTING:
*This isn’t the first or the last time Crypt has used the old magic-her-into-falling-in-love plot device, but I don’t recall it ever being portrayed quite as positively, or benignly. Regardless, mildly creepy, especially with the sort-of wife murder Korman pulls off at the end.
*The use of supernatural means to rid oneself of a shrewish wife seems to pop up a lot in Horror fiction. Stephen King, an avowed Crypt fan, used it at least twice in his youth: The short story Word Processor of the Gods, and the Crate segment in his Crypt homage, Creepshow. It seems likely he saw the original comic as a kid.
*Before we started this project, if you’d asked me which was the worst Crypt episode I could remember, I’d have said ‘That’s easy, the Harry Anderson drawings come to life one!” But I would have been wrong. Truth is I remembered how shitty this was, and I’d much rather watch memorably shitty than dull and dramatically inert episodes that slip off the mind before they’re even over, like The Sacrifice.
WORST CRYPTKEEPER JOKE:
“Maybe if she’d been nicer to him, she wouldn’t have ended up a monsterpiece!”
GRADE: F, but for entertainment’s purposes, I could just as easily say C.
I’m not sure I found this as over-the-top horrible as John did. Over-the-top, definitely, but horrible? I reckon I have a stronger taste for the utterly silly than my compadre. Also, whether or not they look like the spawn of Sid and Marty Krofft, there are actual monsters here, which have been pretty rare thus far. It’s as stylishly directed as these episodes can be and the casting of Richard Schiff as a hillbilly rapist is probably the weirdest thing I’ve seen on the series yet. I think the episode’s main problem is that it’s story has no real momentum. It splits the lead duty between Korman and Lorelei and as a result neither feels like an actual main character. I’d probably give it a pass though, just because I’m a sucker for meta.