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.
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Showdown (4.8)

“YOU’RE DEMONS FROM THE PIT!”

WHAT IS IT?

An outlaw gunfighter experiences life after death and death, in that order.

WHO’S RESPONSIBLE?

We got heavy hitters this time around. The always reliable Richard Donner (Superman, The Omen) and Frank Darabont (The Mist, Shawshank Redemption) team up for this episode as director and writer, respectively. In front of the camera we have Neil Giuntoli (Child’s Play, The Shawshank Redemption) as an outlaw, David Morse (The Green Mile, The Rock) as his pursuer, and a guy named Monty Bass as Frank Little Bear. Monty Bass isn’t a significant name (his credits mostly consist of grip work) but I do like that they gave the actor with the coolest name the character with the coolest name. Honestly, I don’t know which I prefer.

HOW IS IT?

All the pieces are in place for a classic episode. The last time Donner and Darabont teamed up, they knocked it out of the park with the The Ventriloquist’s Dummy. The episode was salvaged from the failed Crypt spin-off series Two-Fisted Tales, and it pulls off the gritty Western feel admirably. And David Morse was made for this stuff, his rough face and soft eyes making him a unique fit for either side of the law. So why is this episode so disappointing? I’d place the blame at the feet of two people: Neil Giuntoli and Frank Darabont. Darabont gets off easy because most of the problems with the script, of which there are many, are story-related and probably the fault of the source material more than anything. Neil Giuntoli, on the other hand, is horribly cast. His Billy Quintaine is supposed to be a badass outlaw with a killing field of corpses to his name, but he looks more like a gang extra than anything. Like that one member of the posse who always says something stupid before getting berated by the leader.

We open with our supposed anti-hero riding in the sunset with his injured pal Harley, on the run from posse of Texas rangers. Harley’s shot up bad and rambling incoherently so Billy, recognizing dead weight, puts him out of his misery right then and there in the middle of the desert. Unfortunately, Harley’s body only serves as a sign for the posse, led by Tom McMurdo (David Morse) that they’re on the right track. Billy rides into the nearest town and, I can’t lie, it looks really good. This episode has a lot of faults, but the production design certainly isn’t among them. It’s not Leone, but for what it is, it’s impressive. As Billy gets settled in town he’s confronted by McMurdo, who apparently got their before Billy despite just saying he was a couple hours behind him the scene before. The two exchange very few words and decide the best way to settle their problem is by a quick-draw in the middle of the street, which ends with McMurdo dead, with two smoking holes in his chest. The Quick and The Dead it ain’t, but it’s a decent enough set-piece and definite high-point of the episode.

Billy heads into the local saloon to celebrate a job well killed where he meets Cornelius Bosch (Roderick Cook), a bizarre little man with an outrageous Irish lilt. Bosch offers Billy a magical wonder tonic that’s guaranteed to “quicken the reflexes, sharpen the senses, and improve the vision”. That last claim is rather redundant, but Billy reluctantly drinks some anyway. At first nothing happens, but before too long he begins to notice that the saloon is actually filled with people he killed. McMurdo’s there. Harley’s there. Doc Holiday’s there. Scarecrow, the Tin-Man and the Cowardly Lion, all there. Seriously, this parade of people Billy killed (who we’ve never seen before now) goes on for a good 6 minutes, as they begin to surround him. Billy starts to go into histrionics but unlike the similarly vengeful ghouls in None But The Lonely Heart, they don’t seem intent on doing anything but crowding him and telling him he’s already dead. Maybe Billy’s claustrophobic.

After a final over-the-top outburst, Billy finds himself alone in the Saloon. That is, until a group of tourists and their guide step in. That’s right, it turns out that Billy is not only a ghost, he’s a ghost at a cheesy western tourist trap. The guide brags to his group about how the ghost of Billy Quintaine haunts the amusement park and tells the story of how, after he shot McMurdo, the rest of the posse swarmed on Tom like a bunch of angry bees. Then, just as suddenly as before, he’s transported back to his time, to have the gunfight with Tom again. He goes through with it, same as before, only this time is ambushed by Tom’s posse. He takes as many of them down as he can, Wild Bunch style, before ultimately succumbing to his fate. His fate, we see later, is apparently to ride around on horses with all the people he shot, moving together as one giant pack. What are they doing? Where are they going? Who knows, who cares.

You can sort of see grander themes being attempted here. About accepting a violent end to a violent life, about the silent fraternity that all those violent lives belong to, about how they belong to an era that will be lost to history, but it’s completely mishandled every step of the way. It feels like the last 20 minutes of a feature-length movie, lacking context to give any of it meaning, but even then the “twist ending” of the western town tourist trap is pretty lame and pointless. Mostly this episode is boring and pretty ugly to boot. The scenes outdoors are, as I said, impressive. But most of the episode takes place in indoor locations, all of which look really poorly lit and orange, like you’re viewing it through a glass of Tang. I’m always excited when Crypt does different genres, but this is a complete waste. As always, the worst sin an episode of Crypt can commit is to be boring.

DOES IT HATE WOMEN?

No women, no cry, no sexism.

ALSO WORTH NOTING:

*When they’re introducing the endless parade of Billy’s victim, they keep showing flashbacks to their deaths, whether they happened in the episode or not, adding to the feeling that this is the end of a longer film.

*Whether or not it’s the magic elixer that causes Billy to see the ghosts or not is unclear. Especially since Cornelius reveals that he’s one himself, an innocent bystander who caught a stray bullet.

*The jumping back and forth through time is also needlessly confusing. The editing in general is a mess. Here’s a hint to all aspiring filmmakers out there: don’t put your twist ending in the middle of the story.

WORST CRYPT KEEPER JOKE:

“It’s die noon. That means it’s time for a gunfright at the OK gore-al!”

GRADE: D

JOHN SAYS:

I love what this episode is trying to do. It’s practically an adaptation of the song ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’, and as off model as Crypt gets. The tourist trap stuff almost works too, kind of like The Others with cowboys. But somewhere along the way, shit went fundamentally wrong in some way, and this did not come together. My guess is they didn’t get many of their shots, and the editing process became an attempt to turn a bunch of terrible story elements that didn’t cut together into a mood piece. It came out a little while after Unforgiven, and you get the sense it’s dicking around with a lot of the same motifs, but only to disguise an unfinished mistake as something profound. And yeah, it’s maybe the most boring episode of the series.