Tales from the Crypt returns for its seventh and final season. Moving the show to England, we get a season that is more filled with crime drama and film noir than horror.
The final season of Tales from the Crypt moved the action to England, where the first episode showed the Crypt Keeper (John Kassir) relocating his coffin to the U.K. Because of the change in location, the show drifts into some new thematic areas. Much of the cast in the final season is British and the stories vary from Film Noir to the World War but all remain very British in their presentation and humor.
As with the previous seasons, you get your smattering of star power throughout the episodes and witness some pretty good directors trying their hands at the small screen. Presented by HBO, the show does not face the same censorship as network television, so we get our fare share of nudity, gore, and sick and twisted humor. Blasphemy runs rampant throughout the final season as well as the taboos that you would not see in an anthology show on a lesser network. Some of it works and some of it doesn’t, but the final season throws out some pretty good episodes along the way.
The season starts off with Fatal Caper, directed by Bob Hoskins (Brazil). Hoskins also costars in the episode as a lawyer for an old man who wants to change his will because he realizes what shits two of his sons turned out to be. The beautiful Natasha Richardson is brought in playing an assistant who helps devise a plan to force the two brothers to find and return their long lost third brother, who is supposed to be the better of the children. Hoskins’ direction in this episode is a little shaky but keeps you off balance so when the inevitable twist comes at the end, it takes you by surprise. It is a good start to the season, but turns out to be one of the more average episodes as the season wears on.
A much better episode appears in the third of the season, titled A Slight Case of Murder. It is expertly directed by writer/director Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential, A Knights Tale). The direction almost plays a character in the show, as it brings a humor that really elevates the episode to a thing of beauty. The lead actors are decent but create no sympathy; however the character of the beleaguered next door neighbor is played to perfection by Elizabeth Spriggs, who portrays a character so unique that she makes every minute of her screen time enjoyable. While the acting is above average, it is the camerawork of Chris Faloona, under the direction of Helgeland, that is the true star of this installment.
Other kudos for great directing surprisingly goes to Peter MacDonald (Rambo III) and William Malone (FeardotCom) for their work on the episodes Escape and Report from the Grave. Escape is very unlike a Tales from the Crypt episode, as it is a tale of double cross and intrigue with no horror at all. Taking place during World War II, a soldier betrays his own men to try to get favors from the enemy. It fails when he is seen as scum by even his enemies after the ordeal. The acting is very good and MacDonald’s effort looks beautiful in every way. Report from the Grave might look like many of today’s generic horror films but at the time it was made (1995) it was almost groundbreaking. The style of shooting that Malone used has been driven into the ground with the Asian horror films that have been released since, but viewed as a time capsule it looks really good. It is one of the most horrific tales of the season as a man builds a machine to read the minds of the dead and after his girlfriend’s tragic death he does everything he can to bring her back.
Unfortunately the episodes starring Steve Coogan and Daniel Craig were both uninspiring and, despite strong acting performances by both men, fell short as two of the weaker additions to this DVD. In Kidnapper, Coogan plays a man who grows jealous when he discovers his girlfriend’s new baby takes her attention away from him. The twist at the end of the episode would have almost brought it up a level if not for the quite boring story we had to sit through. In Smoke Wrings, Craig plays a scam artist sent into an advertising firm to embarrass the people who ousted their original partner but everything is not as it seems. The twist ending was confusing and very stupid.
There are five standout episodes in the final season however, and I’ll talk a little about each of those individually.
Horror in the Night is directed by Russell Mulcahy, who also directed The Highlander. The story is about a double crossing jewel thief who is shot by his former partner, checks into a motel and has vivid hallucinations that involves a mysterious woman. The visions are typical fare for haunted house movies, and you have probably seen them all, but in the hands of Mulcahy it is carried out incredibly well. The acting is really good considering that only James Wilby had considerable screen time, although Elizabeth McGovern gave a solid performance as the femme fatale. This was well shot, well acted and worked on just about every level.
Cold War is directed by the man who helmed some of my favorite music videos, Andrew Morahan. This installment features Ewan McGregor in the same year of his breakout role in Trainspotting. McGregor plays Ford, a thief who works with his girlfriend Cammy (Jane Horrocks). They also happen to be zombies. Cammy leaves Ford after one too many botched jobs and hooks up with Jimmy (Colin Salmon). When Ford comes after Jimmy in a fit of jealousy, he gets more than he bargained for when he learns that Jimmy is a vampire. Who doesn’t love a story that involves zombies versus vampires? This would have been better with a different actress portraying Cammy (Horrocks has since found her niche as a voice talent in animated features), but this episode was very funny and highly entertaining just the same.
About Face is the token blasphemous episode of the season. A renowned reverend who loves to sleep around finds out he has twin daughters that he never knew about from his fling with a maid years before. The twins are the standard horror fare – one beautiful and pure at heart and the second disfigured and filled with hatred. While the beautiful daughter wants to get to know and love her father, the disfigured one spouts scripture condemning him and eventually proves to be pure evil. Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake) guest stars as the wife of the priest and makes the most of her small role. This installment was very disturbing and unnerving, succeeding in what is expected from a Tales from the Crypt episode. The climax was twisted and created a horrific ending.
Confession is a neat installment directed by Peter Hewitt (Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey) and stars Eddie Izzard. The entire focus of this episode is the battle of wills between a screenwriter named Evans (Izzard) and an investigator named Jack (Ciaran Hinds) who is the best investigator the police force has ever seen. Evans finds himself the prime suspect in a murder investigation and Jack is certain that he is guilty. The twist ending is telegraphed from a mile away and the direction does nothing to hide the fact of who the real villain is. Forget the direction; the true star of this installment is the acting. Whenever Izzard and Hinds are together in the interrogation room the chemistry is amazing. The two swat lines back and forth like a tennis match and the tables turn over and over until the final resolution, a disappointing one considering the obvious twist. The acting was outstanding and might be the best of the entire season.
Finally, the closing chapter of the series might be the best one I have seen. The Third Pig is an animated tale, reinventing the story of the Three Little Pigs (named Dudley, Drinky and Smokey). The Crypt Keeper is the narrator of the story where Smokey and Drinky are trouble makers while Dudley is the smartest little pig of them all. There are very humorous moments in this episode, such as when the wolf (voiced by Bobcat Goldthwait) cannot rhyme, becoming frustrated and trading quips with the narrator about how hard it is. The animation style recalls the form of The Ren and Stimpy Show, but the violence, gore and disgusting situations makes even that show look tame in comparison. The story is quite original and the ending is a riot. While the animation is a departure from what you are used to from Tales from the Crypt, this final episode made sure that the show went out in style.
The season was not without its downs, but the switch to British humor gave it a shot in the arm and the style of storytelling was a refreshing change from previous seasons. It was not as great as the show’s heyday but the high points of this final season were good enough to give it a passing grade.
There is only one extra, a virtual comic book called Fatal Caper, although it had nothing at all to do with the episode of the same name. It is completely voiced by John Kassir and shows comic panels as the story progresses.