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.]

On a Deadman’s Chest (4.03)

“If you can’t get rid of the tattoo, at least you can get rid of her.”


The front man for a rock band accidentally gets the face of his guitarist’s hated wife tattooed on his chest.


The cast here lacks big names. Tia Carrere plays a smallish role, a few months after Wayne’s World hit. It’s fun to see her right on the cusp of almost-stardom. The rest are character actors: Yul Vazquez, Paul Hipp, and Sherrie Rose, while real life musicians Heavy D and Gregg Allman have cameos. The writer is Larry Wilson, who did Beetlejuice and Addams Family, and sitting behind the camera is William Friedkin, oscar winning director of The French Connection and The Exorcist. That would be a real coup for Crypt.



William Friedkin directed maybe the greatest horror movie ever made in The Exorcist, so expectations going in to his sole Crypt entry should be higher. And while this isn’t an all time great episode, it sure as hell has personality. It’s the only episode to garner honest-to-God controversy, attracting negative attention for its gruesome depiction of violence against women. It’s without a doubt the ugliest, most feculent Crypt to date, filled with more nudity than your average Demi Moore film, shot from angles both leering and clinical. And of course, it’s violent as hell too. In the end, it’s a giant messy puddle of screaming id-driven assholes rutting and stabbing, and I think it might have given my television gonorrhea.

We open in a grungy bar, where Gregg Allman, in an odd cameo, introduces the band Exorcist (wink!), fronted by Danny Darwin (Vazquez) with Nick Bosch (Hipp) on lead guitar. Sort of the Lennon and McCartney of impossibly shitty, sub-STP fictional early 90s rock bands, Danny and Nick have been scrapping over Nick’s new wife, Scarlet (Carrere). Since Danny is a petulant maniac, the fight spills onto the stage, prompting an ugly confrontation which makes Nick abandon the gig. Danny retires grunting to his dressing room, where a couple of skanked out groupies lie in wait. One of them, a bit of sentient herpes named Vendetta (Rose), displays her new snake tattoo, wrapped around her left tit. It sticks its tongue out at Danny (like, literally, a little skin tongue leaps off her breast into the third dimension), and Danny decides he’s got to get himself some of that creepy shit. But first, an incredibly graphic fuck scene, shot from above. It’s strikingly like the last half hour of Enter the Void, actually. I’m pretty sure you can see Danny’s balls at one point. But ultimately, his free range hatred of Scarlet kills the mood, and he struts off naked to scream at her in the house they all share for some reason.

Vendetta takes Danny to Farouche the tattoo artist, a wacky voodoo type played by Heavy D. Of all the wacky voodoo types to ever appear on Crypt, this has got to be one of the best. Danny enters the scene, and all other scenes, like a braying asshole, but Farouche stays coiled, and never really plays up the mumbo jumbo. Farouche, inscrutable voodoo tattooist that he is, doesn’t take requests, insisting that the skin will tell its own story. Heavy D is pretty cool here. He’s got easily the best moment of the episode too. Danny asks him if his eyepatch is for show, something to amp up his rep, and Farouche removes the patch to reveal a tangled mash of skin. Payment for a tattoo given to the deposed Haitian dictator Baby Doc Duvalier, who apparently didn’t much like what his skin had to say and removed his eye with a salad fork. It’s a detour, plotwise, but it’s so cool it doesn’t matter.

The story of Danny’s skin seems to be that there’s a dragon and it’s going to attack Scarlet, who’s face is emblazoned clearly across his chest. Danny loses his shit, but after a few depraved ravings, Vendetta reminds him that he could juts have it removed. Unfortunately, the tattoo removal process only takes the dragon off, leaving Scarlet staring back at him from the mirror. There’s even a dissolve of Scarlet smiling at him from his own chest. Danny gets even crazier and grosser, screaming and hitting things, and also taking to wearing shirts, which is a new thing for him. It leads to a pointed confrontation with Scarlet, who suggests she’s going to get Nick a solo career, effectively killing the band, man. When another round of plastic surgery does nothing but bring the dragon back, Vendetta steps in like a devil on his shoulder and reminds Danny that he could always just kill her.

So he does, in a particularly nasty bathroom assault. It’s a bloody section, in a fairly unpleasant way, and you can really see why special interest groups would have had such a problem with it. I was actually surprised he didn’t rape her too. And like a manlier Dorian Gray story, her bludgeoned face now appears on Danny’s tattoo. At the gig that night, once again at Gregg Allman’s place (there’s a humorously unimportant subplot about how Allman keeps getting screwed by Exorcist’s erratic behavior), Danny gleefully brags to Vendetta about the killing. But once onstage, something starts to push its way out of his chest, squirming around under the skin like Kuato, until he runs off the stage (poor Allman). Once locked in the dressing room, a paper mache dragon crawls out of his chest, Alien style, and Danny wrestles with it. This is a pretty ballsy moment, narratively, and it’s a shame the special effects render it hilarious. Vendetta, eager to betray anyone she can, spills the beans, but when Nick rushes in to the dressing room, he finds Danny has removed his chest skin with a shard of glass. Visible innards and all, Danny rants triumphantly about how he got one over on that fucking bitch. And scene.

So its clearly disgusting and insane, but is it good? Yeah, I suppose. It’s never really engaging from a narrative standpoint, but it’s a heady mixture of pulp nastiness all the way through. So much so that it feels off-model for the show. It’s got enough narrative places to go, and enough thematic ideas driving it, it almost seems ill served by the Crypt format, especially with the madness Friedkin brought to the table. This could have been a full length, and with someone who understood this kind of material (like Friedkin, or even Cronenberg or Clive Barker), it might have been a really good (fucked up) movie. As it is, it’s a hell of a strange Crypt episode, and for its brazenness and bad taste, a much more memorable entry than your average homicidal con man wheeze.


Tia Carrere isn’t exactly sympathetic, but she’s far from evil. There’s tons of ranting about what a castrating succubus bitch she is, but Danny is most certainly not the audience identification character. Mostly, her role is to be beaten to death. So that’s not great. But if you’d like your women hate more traditional, Deadman’s Chest has got you covered. Vendetta is essentially Mephistopheles here, and every bad decision Danny makes is at her dimwitted suggestion. She also gets slapped around a bit. Basically, if you want to see women punished violently, pretty much just for being women, you are in luck. Which probably explains the notoriety this episode gathered.


*As far as the acting goes, Vazquez takes the top prize. It’s not like a really good performance or anything, but it’s committed, and not in a shticky overact-y Crypt way. He just seems to be that character. On the other end of the spectrum is Paul Hipp’s guitarist. I initially was wondering if he was the guy Venkman keeps electroshocking at the beginning of Ghostbusters, which should tell you everything that makes him so wrong for a badass creative genius.

*The Crypt Keeper segments involve CK as Elvis, and then the Beatles in full Sgt. Pepper garb. They’re kind of cute, as far as it goes.


“Still, you’ve got to like where the band is going. Any day now, they’ll be appearing on America’s Chop Forty!”



Clive Barker was the first person I thought of as well. It occupies that same strange casual fantasy realm, where the reaction to a tattoo that sticks it’s tongue out is “cool!” rather than “you’re fucking Satan”. I don’t know if the controversy was a result of this particular episode (it’s not THAT much worse than what has come before) or the entire series thus far, but it’s pretty earned nonetheless. Unfortunately this episode is as ugly on the outside as it is on the inside; it’s an eyesore to look at and a narrative mess to boot. The Big Tyme fan in me was pretty psyched by the Heavy D cameo, though.

On an unrelated note, I couldn’t help but notice that Yul Vazquez has very prominent and pert man-boobs. For an episode that forces us to stare at his chest for extended periods of time, it makes for an unpleasant bit of casting, indeed.