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.]
Mournin’ Mess (3.10)
“I need that fucking story, you fucking bum! Don’t die on me!”
WHAT IS IT?
A drunken reporter tries to uncover the link between a rash of homeless killing and a local charity organization.
The writer/director is Manny Cotto, a TV producer who’s stayed busy with Dexter, 24, and various scifi programs, including the Crypt-like Outer Limits redux. And he directed Dr. Giggles! Starring are Steven Weber (famous for Wings) and Rita Wilson (famous for Old Dogs), with a strong supporting cast featuring the late Vincent Schiavelli and Ally Walker (Agent Stahl on Sons of Anarchy).
HOW IS IT?
Though certainly not one of the better episodes, Mournin’ Mess manages to coast along on little but the rummy charms of Steven Weber’s Dale Sweeney. Weber is an actor I’ve always thought had some decent chops, but one that’s never quite found the opportunity to truly break through. He’s been the best things in projects that should have been more successful (The Shining, Studio 60), but mostly he’s been content to just appear in whatever, floating around the television landscape playing self-interested everymen with unremarkable, and unremarked-on, competence. I’d say his performance here is one of his more notable; he really embraces the pickled sleaziness and seems to be having a blast, mumbling his way through every asshole line. He bumps the whole episode up a notch.
The episode opens with Schiavelli in a familiar role, the homeless guy wandering around yelling. This episode deals with homeless people, and I’m pleased to note that they’re not portrayed as wacky hobo caricatures, but as mentally ill vagrants. Schiavelli’s BFF bum is murdered, the latest in a string of homeless killings, and since he’s a creepy old bum himself, it gets laid on him.
Cut to Weber’s reporter, Dale Sweeney, awaking in bed with last night’s conquest. Sweeney kicks her out of bed and pushes her outside half-dressed, while she squawks about what a dick he is. It’s a delightful sequence. His job today: attending a press conference for the Grateful Homeless Outcasts and Unwanted Layaways Society, which is obnoxiously over-named for a reason. Sweeney makes a killer early impression here, dressing shabbily, locking a rival in a port-a-john, and slurring his way through insulting questions, basically behaving like a lushy, mumbling, interrupting hangover on legs. His target: Jess Gilchrist, the pretty PR lady played by Rita Wilson.
Right after this, he shows up at work and Ally Walker fires him. It’s a traditional Crypt role, the icy bitch boss, but Walker’s pretty good at it. When he stumbles home, he finds Schiavelli, the supposed homeless killer, who tells him to show up at nightfall in the graveyard if he wants a big scoop. Sweeney follows up, but gets easily distracted by Wilson’s comeliness, and being the shit that he is, he brazenly uses his press credentials as a pretense to get her back to his apartment. Sweeney gives off the stank of a thousand sloppy hookups, but surprisingly, Wilson goes for it, and even though she’s obviously evil, that will ultimately have nothing to do with this tryst. Post coitus, Sweeney confesses his love for her, and instantly starts scheming to trick her into giving up some dirt on the Grateful Homeless Society. Clearly, the only time he’ll actually deign to do his job is when he finds a way to be a real douchebag about it. She catches him, seems legitimately hurt, and blows out.
Sweeney continues his drunken amble around the plot. He stumbles upon Schiavelli, now dying of gutstab, who tells him to go check the graveyard again, for real this time, you asshole. Thus motivated, Sweeney passes out in a gutter. When he comes to, he might as well check out the graveyard. He happens upon a grave sinking into the earth, which lights a bit of a fire under his ass, and he digs it up, only to find a secret doorway to subterranean tunnels. He stumbles around, runs from scary voices, screams a bit, ends up in a coffin, etc. Finally, he finds himself in a large dining hall, with the Grateful Homeless Outcasts and Unwanted Layaway Society encroaching from all sides. By this point, we’ve been shown the name all printed out on signage, and the acronym is pretty in your face (it’s fucking G.H.O.U.L.S.), so there’s no surprises left. The Society removes their human faces to reveal the batlike toothy monsters underneath, and lead by Wilson, they attack, devouring Sweeney alive, before he’s even really figured it out.
No lie, the narrative is limp as all hell. There’s virtually zero forward progression to the plot, a problem that can be laid largely at the feet of the ridiculous character Weber plays. He doesn’t seem particularly interested in cracking the case, preferring to just sleaze around being as much of a shit as possible. This doesn’t make for a gripping story, and might in fact make this episode ‘bad’, but I have to admit that I enjoyed it anyway. As far as Crypt villains go, Weber is well cast and has a lot fun, something the series is getting better at achieving in Season Three. No one else really shines, per se, but it’s a kick just to see people like Schiavelli appearing. Crypt would dive back into the drunken reporter milieu soon after with a Walter Hill episode, and that one actually takes the trope seriously, but this is a lark. I’m probably going easier on it than it deserves.
HOW EVIL ARE THE WOMEN?
There was a good chance to hate on women here, and they manage a bit of it with the ball-bustingness of Ally Walker’s editrix, but the Rita Wilson character comes off as sympathetic, even though she’s an evil ghoul.
ALSO WORTH NOTING:
*Weber spends enough of the episode shirtless that you’d think they’d cast Matthew McConaughey. Well, no you wouldn’t, because of how Weber looks, but at least it’s funny. There’s a lot more nudity in season three than we’ve seen before.
*I always thought a ghoul was just a grave robber, but here they’re crazy monster things. According to Wikipedia, a ghoul is a “desert-dwelling, shape-shifting demon that can assume the guise of an animal, especially a hyena. It lures unwary travelers into the desert wastes to slay and devour them. The creature also preys on young children, robs graves, drinks blood, steals coin, and eats the dead, taking on the form of the one they previously ate”, all of which fits the story, actually. Eh, I thought it was interesting. The makeup is really good, by the way.
WORST CRYPT KEEPER JOKE:
“You’ll be happy to hear he’s found himself a new career — as a ghost-writer!”
Weber’s total fucking prick of a reporter might be the best part of the episode but in the end I think they shot themselves in the foot with a main character that doesn’t really give a shit about anything. Limp is a totally accurate way to describe the narrative. I think a little more investigation, a little more of the ghouls, and a little less of Stephen Weber seducing Rita Wilson, this could have been actually good. Still, once the ghouls show up, as late as it is, it’s a lot of fun, particularly a moment in which one ghoul rips off Weber’s ear and sensually feeds it to another.
Also, why do these evil secret societies always go out of their way to have clunky acronyms that reveal their true nature? I’m just saying, you got a town full of Goblins, maybe you don’t name it Nilbog, and if you’re trying to eat the homeless, maybe don’t name yourself G.H.O.U.L.S. They’re lucky that all the best reporters in that town are too busy investigating the bottom of a whiskey bottle to make these connections.