July 28, 2007

DVD Review: Tales from the Crypt - The Complete Sixth Season

Honestly, I never watched many Tales from the Crypt episodes during their early run. My access to HBO was spotty at best, and my addiction to television (and movies, and music...) had yet to kick into gear. So, I don't have the attachment to these episodes that many of you probably have. My memories of the episodes I did see are faint and contain no specifics. Still, the memories are fond, and I eagerly looked forward to digging into this season when the set arrived on my doorstep. However, not everything is bright and rosey. Most of the episodes in this sixth season do not really live up to those fond memories of episodes gone by. Not all is bad, but I probably should have revisited the earlier seasons first. A tactical error on my point.

Tales from the Crypt ran for seven seasons on HBO from 1989 through 1996, and running anywhere from 6 to 18 episodes per. The concept seems perfect for a horror anthology. In the 1950s, EC Comics published a few series of horror themed comic books, Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, and The Haunt of Fear. It is these books which would become the source material for the HBO series. It was championed, and produced, by some of the biggest names in Hollywood, including Richard Donner, Joel Silver, David Giler, Walter Hill, and Robert Zemeckis. Each episode was brought to the small screen in oft times campy, sometimes bloody, and generally always entertaining fashion. It is the source material that would seem to have betrayed the ongoing quality and success of the series. The best material was obviously the first to go, and that top tier material was probably all used up by the time the sixth season rolled around, leaving it a little trickier to find stories worthy of filming.

Even with this season not living up to what I suspect to find in the earlier years, I love the anthology series. Sadly, these types of shows don't really work all that well anymore, especially in the growing age of the serial drama (which I also like). I guess we can't have it all!

Season six is comprised of fifteen episodes, of varying quality, littered with an array of guest stars. Fortunately, whenever a stinker reared it's ugly head, it was never all that long until a good one came along, although, the next time I get the itch to dive into this season, I will be sure to skip the lesser episodes.

If you want to view the cream of the crop according to me, the following are the episodes you will want to pay particular attention to:

"Let the Punishment Fit the Crime" leads off the season in fine fashion. It stars Catherine McCormack as a big shot lawyer trying to deal with a ticket in some backwoods town. The town is quite strict, and if you're not careful, you will find yourself in a predicament you will not soon forget.

"Only Skin Deep" is a twisted little outing which finds a jilted lover (Peter Onorati) crashing a Halloween party, only to go home with a ghoulish lady of the night. When it comes time to remove their masks, identities are revealed and life will never be the same.

"Revenge is the Nuts" takes place in a halfway house of sorts for the blind. However, the doctor who presides over the tenants is not a nice guy as he pretty much tortures those there. It is up to Isaac Hayes and Teri Polo to gain their revenge.

"Staired in Horror" features a thief taking refuge in the home of an elderly woman living with a curse. It is an interesting curse with results that no one would want to find themselves living with. R. Lee Ermey has a small role as the sheriff on the thief's trail.

"Doctor Horror" One of my favorite episodes of the season has a lineup consisting of Hank Azaria, Travis Tritt, Ben Stein, and Austin Pendleton. It is set in a morgue where a strange little doctor is attempting to harvest the soul, while the guards see an opportunity for advancement.

"Comes the Dawn" features Michael Ironside and Bruce Payne as hunters who head north to hunt bears, and find themselves under attack by vampires in the frigid air. This has a darkly serious edge to it and predates th 30 Days of Night graphic novel and forthcoming film that has a similar concept.

The final episode of the season is called "You, Murderer" and is a fun story, though it is more a technology showcase. It was directed by Robert Zemeckis, coming off of Forrest Gump. It is the story of a killer who has plastic surgery and looks like Humphrey Bogart, and is told in the first person. There are a lot of reflective surfaces to show off the use of Bogart's likeness. It costars John Lithgow and Isabella Rossellini.

You know, that actually isn't that bad a percentage of good episodes considering the mediocre feeling I got from the season as a whole, still you need to work through the lesser episodes to get to them. The lesser episodes include the Rita Rudner/Richard Lewis led episode "Whirlpool," "The Pit" which is not all that clever and borders on dull (though it does feature Mark Dacascos who never got as big as he should have), "In the Groove" with Miguel Ferrer as a radio host, and "Surprise Party" which climaxes in a ghoulish barn party.

Each episode is hosted, as always, by the ever witty (or attempting to be witty) Crypt Keeper (voiced by John Kassir). Most of his jokes were obvious, but many were still funny, even when you saw them coming from miles away. I think it's the voice and that exaggerated laugh that made it work.

Audio/Video. The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0, and it comes through with no complaints. There are no complaints to be had on the sound end, it may not be as nice as a 5.1 mix may have been, but it is full and clear. Video is 1.33:1 full frame, with the menus in anamorphic widescreen. The episodes are nice, clean, and free of any digital artifacting or halos.

Extras. The single extra is a virtual comic book called Whirlpool. I believe it is the story that was pitched in the "Whirlpool" episode. It is narrated by a Crypt Keeper impersonator (it is clearly not Kassir), and it is actually rather dull. Some real extras would have been nice, featurettes, commentaries, something.

Bottomline. Even mediocre seasons are fun to watch. It may not live up to my nondescript memories, but, like you read above, there are still a good number of good to very good episodes to pluck out of the mix. If you are a fan of the series, you will need this to complete you collection, for those thinking of diving in, start with season one.

Mildly Recommended.


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