In 1989 HBO debuted┬áTales 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’ll Kill Ya (4.2)

“You can’t live with ’em and you can’t be one.”


A slick, fast talking medical researcher crosses his partners for the last time, and pays for it.



Another weak week. The biggest name here is Dylan McDermott (The Practice, In The Line of Fire), though this was years before he became an inexplicable mid-level television star. Supporting him is a wasted Cleavon Little (Blazing Saddles, Vanishing Point) and Sonia Braga (Kiss of the Spider Woman). Robert Longo (the genius auteur behind Johnny Mnemonic) directed the episode, and Gilbert Adler and A L Katz (Bordello of Blood) wrote it. But at least the transportation coordinator, Dan Henley, went on to be a transportation CAPTAIN for Zathura. Way to go, Dan. Moving up in the world.



Season four marks a clear decline of name talent behind the camera for Crypt. It would continue to be a good place to see B-List actors play dress up and act silly but, with a few notable exceptions (like the next episode directed by William Friedkin), Crypt episodes increasingly relied on the same pool of TV writers and directors. This is the second of eleven Crypt scripts the team of Adler and Katz would go on to write and if it’s any indication of what’s to come, I’m not looking forward to the other nine. The episodes of Crypt that work best are the ones that realize the limitations of making a 20 minute short film, and pace themselves accordingly. This is not one of those episodes. It takes a special kind of talent to write a story about the final hours of a poisoned man that completely lacks tension, but the lawfirm of Adler and Katz possess that talent.


We open on the man in question, George Gatlin (Dylan McDermott), dragging the beaten corpse of his research partner Pack Brightman (Cleavon Little) into a police station and saying “I’m dead, and this is the man who killed me”. It’s most certainly one of the best opening lines of any episode, with flavors of noir (specifically D.O.A.) but it ends up robbing the story of nearly all tension. You see, we then flashback to his laboratory a few days earlier where he asks partner Sophie Wagner (Sonia Braga) to retrieve his insulin from the same fridge they keep the Re-Animator serum they’ve been working on. It’s not really a Re-Animator serum, but the “magic serum that has vague and miraculous powers” has become so ubiquitous in this show, that I feel I should have a standard name for it. Anyway, she chastises him for leaving it there, telling him that one day he’s going to confuse the two and poison himself. We’re now about 5 minutes in and know basically every important event that’s going to happen in the episode. If the story was enjoyable to watch unfold, this would be forgivable. But it’s not, so it’s not.


At this point Pack comes in to chastise George as well. It would seem that George, with dreams of becoming rich and successful, has a habit of talking up their Re-Animator serum to the press, making claims and promises that they might not be able to keep. George is this episode’s irredeemable asshole, so he basically tells everyone to go fuck themselves and leaves. Later he hits on Sophie at a bar but she tells him to fuck himself and leaves. This leads to what may be the most horrifying and disturbing sequence in the series, in which George breaks into her house, corners her in her bathroom and basically rapes her. Sure, she sort of gets into it (Straw Dogs style) about halfway through, but it never feels like anything other than sexual assault. I’m not sure what purpose this scene serves. He’s already been established as a total prick, we didn’t need him to be a rapist to understand that. And what’s worse, it transitions into a sensual softcore porn scene complete with lingering shots on Sophie’s naked body, trying to have it’s cake and eat it too. It’s gross and uncomfortable, but it’s also completely gratuitous and unearned.


George is a man in a Tales from the Crypt episode, so he quickly leaves after getting his rocks off throwing some casually demeaning remark over his shoulder. You know the drill by now. The next day, George again asks for his medicine but (gasp!) he’s accidentally given the serum instead. Since it’s not ready for human consumption, Pack and Sophie figure he has about 12 hours or so before he dies from massive tumor growth. Despite being a total prick and a rapist to boot, George takes the news of his imminent death pretty well. Instead of going ballistic or calling the police or a hospital, he goes for a mopey walk to his favorite bar. The serum also has a side-effect where his vision will randomly look like a Pearl Jam video, with quick cuts and noises over black and white footage of Virgin Marys and Lemon Yellow Skies. These hallucinations eventually take a turn towards Jacob’s Ladder, as he begins to have visions of everyone he knows consumed by tumors. As we’ve mentioned in past articles, the make-up effects for this show are always top notch, so these sequences are actually pretty effective with a Cronenberg-lite feel to them.


He wanders over to Sophie’s house, perhaps for one final goodbye rape, but she’s not there. What is there is an answering machine message from Pack, saying that he “felt bad about what they did to George, even though he needed to be taught a lesson”. Finally reaching the furious anger we’ve been waiting for since the episode started, George runs to the lab and beats Pack with a baseball bat. Pack tries to apologize and explain something to George, but before he can George stabs him in the stomach with his insulin needle, killing him. Which brings us back to the opening, where George is considering whether he should try for a suicide by cop or let the serum finish him off. Before he can decide, Sophie rushes in with two important pieces of news:


1. They didn’t actually inject him with the serum, just something that would give him a stomach ache, to scare him.

2. The latest tests show that the serum is complete, and works.

Not exactly a difficult twist to guess. And if George weren’t a rapist, there’s a chance we could actually care that he fucked himself out of millions of dollars. But he is, so fuck him.


Sam Peckinpah’s controversial 1971 film Straw Dogs got major flack from critics for implying that Susan George’s character Amy Sumner begins to enjoy her rape. Whatever side of the fence you land on on that issue, at least Peckinpah had thematic justifications for that to happen. This’ll Kill Ya has no such justifications, and as a result just feels gross and horrible. The women in this episode may not be evil, but it’s attitude towards them is still shitty.



*I was going to say that Dylan McDermott isn’t suited for the role of George but I find him to be a really unappealing actor in general, so it’s hard for me to objectively determine if that’s the case. Unless it was stunt-casting, to ensure I would hate the character. If that’s the case, he’s perfect.


*Right before George injects himself with the fake-serum, there’s a hilarious bit of editing where Pack shouts “No! Stop!” three times in a row, from different angles, like he’s an exploding building in a Michael Bay movie.


*There is one other interesting throughline, which is that throughout the episode George actually goes through The Seven Stages of Grief. So I do have to give Adler and Katz credit for putting that in there, and for not pointing it out too obviously.



“You didn’t know your old pal the Crypt Keeper was the boo it yourself type, did you? I’m actually pretty handy with my ghoul box.”



Yeah, I gots to agree. This is a shitty episode with nothing to offer. There’s almost nothing left to say about it that Patrick didn’t cover (boring plot, horrible sexuality, good makeup), so I’ll just point out that it’s a shame Cleavon Little died right after completing work on it. He’s a good actor and kind of good in this episode, but it’s all for naught. Also, it can’t really be stressed enough: Dylan McDermott is no good to watch, in anything.