Most horror fans will agree that the 1980’s is the greatest decade in horror history. Film series like A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, The Evil Dead and many others catapulted horror heroes, villains, and music into the American pop culture mainstream that still resonate to this very day. Nothing seemed to be slowing down as the decade was coming to an end. 1989 saw the return of Freddy, Jason, and Michael Meyers while booting the Puppet Master series and seeing Stephen King’s Pet Sematary get it’s hotly anticipated big screen adaptation.
The summer of 1989 also gave us one of the best stir-fry mixes of Hollywood talent coming together to create one of the greatest anthology horror television shows of all time—HBO’s Tales from the Crypt.
Anyone who knows me or has heard me talk horror has undoubtedly been bored to tears hearing me bring up the Cryptkeeper and his ongoing tales from beyond the grave. After all, it was one of my first forays into horror as a child and has had one of the biggest impacts on my love of the genre. It also ranks in my top 5 favorite television series of all time. Through seven incredible seasons Tales told half hour stories involving ghouls, vampires, and mad scientists but also touched on more adult oriented themes such as lust, betrayal, greed, loneliness, and so much more. Of course, being on a premium cable channel such as HBO gave this talented crew the reigns to tell their stories however they pleased and that alone set this show apart from so many others.
So, for those fans who either have or have not seen this wonderful little series that might be asking, “what episodes should I see or revisit?”, well, you’ve come to the right place. Listed below are what I believe to be the 5 greatest episodes of Tales from the Crypt ever made, and whether you’re new to the series or a veteran viewer hopefully there’s something you can get out of seeing these episodes for the first and tenth time.
5. Only Skin Deep (Season 6, Episode 2)
In a series that involves plenty of pulpy ghoulish fun, Only Skin Deep might be one of the darker and unsettling episodes in the entire series, but that’s what makes it so unique. When an angry vindictive man named Carl (Peter Oronati) goes to a masked Halloween party to lay waste on his friends and ex-wife, he meets a mysterious woman who offers him an anonymous one-night stand. But when Carl starts to fall for her and ultimately wants to take the anonymity out of the equation, he opens a pandora’s box he soon wishes he kept shut.
This is an episode filled with dark atmosphere and a more adult storyline that keeps even seasoned horror fans unsettled in their chairs until the bitter end. It also features great performances from the two stars of the episode. It’s mysterious and unrelenting in the best possible way.
4. Dig the Cat… He’s Real Gone (Season 1, Episode 3)
The brief 6-episode first season contains some of the most recognizable episodes of the entire series, but none of them comes close to the roller coaster ride of the seasons 3rd episode--Dig the Cat… He’s Real Gone. A wanderer named Ulric (Joe Pantoliano) agrees to participate in an experiment where DNA from a cat is implemented into him so he may gain said cat’s nine lives. When realizing the experiment was successful, he takes his talents of resurrection to a side show in pursuit of financial gain. Along the way, selfishness and betrayal may become his undoing.
Tales hit the ground running with a handful of episodes as unique as horror can get. Dig the Cat is a wonderful combination of horror and the American psyche, where Ulric becomes the best of us and the worst of us throughout its 30-minute runtime. It is easily one of the series’ best.
3. Cutting Cards (Season 2, Episode 3)
The series sophomore season brought in a much larger episode count consisting of plenty of recognizable talent to star in and direct a variety of multifaceted stories. One of my favorite stories is contained in this season. Cutting Cards stars Lance Henriksen and Kevin Tighe as Reno and Sam respectively. Two card shark nemesis’ who run into each other at a casino and decide to take their rivalry to new heights through a variety of games where the loser must suffer grave consequences.
One of the great thing about this series is how much writers can conjure up utilizing so little. This is an episode that shows that in spades. Lance Henriksen and Kevin Tighe give great performances as the only two characters presented in this story, and we as viewers are subjected to their ongoing lunacy of a rivalry as it becomes increasingly more macabre. These are two characters on a crash course into disarray, and we can’t help but to be both horrified and entertained.
2. Forever Ambergris (Season 5, Episode 3)
This is an episode that is almost impossible to dislike. An aging photographer Dalton (Roger Daltrey) goes on assignment in Central America with up and coming star photographer Isaac (Steve Buscemi). Dalton’s worry of his fading status turns to jealousy and malevolence when he schemes against Isaac to regain his professional status and steal Isaac’s wife.
It’s best to keep this episode free from any real potential spoilers. There are some great performances and even better twists and effects. Tales has a great history of utilizing twist endings to their full potential and Forever Ambergris is no exception. It’s grim and macabre in the best possible way. It’s the type of story we should expect to be getting from directors like Eli Roth if only he would shut down all the ridiculous comedic aspects of his films and care more about writing solid character arcs. Forever Ambergris is an episode you’ll tell all your friends about and revisit often.
1. Death of Some Salesmen (Season 5, Episode 1)
Here we are. Death of Some Salesmen is, in my opinion, the pinnacle of this anthology series. When an insurance scam dealing con-man (Ed Begley Jr.) knocks on the door of the unsuspecting Bracket family (all played by a brilliant Tim Curry) he gets far more than he bargained for.
There aren’t enough words in the dictionary to fully describe the insanity and depravity of this episode. Producer Gilbert Adler wrote and directed this adaptation of the EC Comics story and both he and the folks at HBO drew no lines that couldn’t be crossed. What the episode may lack in some of the gorier moments of other episodes it makes up for in Tim Curry’s morbid portrayal of the Bracket family. I promise once you see this one for yourself you may never look at Curry the same way again.
Tales from the Crypt is a 7 season wonder that’s quite hard to break down into only 5 top notch episodes. There’s no doubt hardcore fans may disagree with some of the episodes listed, or maybe even all of them. Whatever type of horror suits your fancy is undoubtedly contained within this series.
Please feel free to send your praise or utter hatred of this list in a comment below or straight to my Twitter profile @GalacticTomb.
By Adam Schreiner