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Series


If you've got an eyeful of irony, bad puns, gratuitous sex and violence, celebrity cameos, and a corpse puppet that sounds an awful lot like Buster Bunny, you must be watching Tales from the Crypt. The original HBO cable series, produced by Hollywood heavyweights Richard Donner, Joel Silver, David Giler, Walter Hill, and Robert Zemeckis, based on the classic EC Comics, ran to rave horror buff reviews in the early '90s. Each episode is based on a specific E.C. Comic and bookended with an appearance by a host named The Cryptkeeper.

Tales From the Crypt: Season 5
Someone once told me that it's easy to make a Garfield comic funny by simply ignoring everything the orange cat says. This makes for a jet-black comedy strip about a depressing single man who talks to his cat. In a fantasy world where the cat talks back, the man isn't quite so sad, but in the real world, Jon is just about the most depressing man without a debilitating disease in the realms of comedic entertainment.

I discovered while watching 13 half-hour episodes of this late night HBO favourite that a game similar to the Garfield game can easily be played with the character of The Cryptkeeper. On the show he's presented as an evil zombie that spins tall tales with last act twists and morals. If one were to look deeper, one might see a much more tragic figure. Consider, if you will, that more than 90% of the time The Cryptkeeper doesn't have any other zombies to play with. Every time we approach his scary house he's got some new game set up with dead bodies, like a play courtroom, or a play football field. The problem is that these dead bodies he plays with don't play back (or at least very, very rarely).

This leads me to the conclusion that this is not a fantasy world, and that The Cryptkeeper is not actually dead, just really, really ugly. Perhaps he's actually just a deeply disturbed and lonely mortician. Perhaps his ghastly appearance and disgusting penchant for awful puns have made him a social outcast. Think about it, could you imagine being friends with The Cryptkeeper? Picture having him as a roommate and watching him down a bowl of cereal, making some lame joke about how eating said cereal must make him a "cereal killer", while milk dribbles out of that tear in his cheek. It's horrible.

Tales From the Crypt: Season 5
So the sad little creature is cast out by society, and left in a dilapidated and depressing house that he never cleans, re-enacting normal life with rotting carcasses, occasionally murdering a passing salesman, all while talking to the wall. Perhaps we're just in his imagination, and he isn't really telling these tales to anyone. This would also explain the fact that the poor dear tries to commit suicide at the end of almost every episode. He's depressed and all alone.

The Cryptkeeper's pretend show isn't bad though. On the whole the fifth season is a bit of a mixed bag. Watching the same formula over and over again gets a little old. Basically you've got your average, everyday stories with sudden last act supernatural twists, and your tales of crime gone awry with an ironic and moralistic twist. One can only find out someone has an evil conjoined twin so many times without it getting a little old, not to mention that the series ran out of ways to hide dead bodies around the second season.

My personal favourite of season five's episodes is Forever Ambergris, wherein The Who front man Roger Daltrey tricks Steve Buscemi into contracting a vicious flesh eating virus, but this is mostly because it may be the most disgusting episode in the series' history (rumour has it that the second Buscemi's eyeball rolled down his face the switchboards at HBO lit up). Death Of Some Salesman is another delightfully twisted episode, anchored by three Emmy Award winning performances from Tim Curry. Only People Who Live in Brass Hearses made me laugh out loud, due mostly to the comedic timing of actors Brad Dourif and Bill Paxton.

Tales From the Crypt: Season 5
Episodes mostly live or die on their 'freak show' qualities, as 30 minutes really isn't enough time to build up the tension required for a mainstream fright flick. Episodes without hammy celebrity performances and gallons of gore tend to be forgotten. I found not a single episode chilling, or even frightening, but the better ones are most definitely funny.

Video


Well, it was made for TV, and it is 13 years old, but even when offered these beneficial doubts these season six DVD still look pretty bad. The first and most obvious problem is the massive amounts of grain and noise. I don't even have to talk about it, my screen shots really say it all. These also appear to be interlaced rather than progressive transfers. There are occasions of both combing and interlacing images throughout. Each episode seems to vary in quality slightly, but overall these are some very disappointing transfers. The colours appear accurate, and if it weren’t for all the noise, black levels would be acceptable.

Tales From the Crypt: Season 5

Audio


Each episode has a serviceable Dolby Surround track. It is a 13 year old television mix, but the Stereo effects work, and there's even an occasional rear channel effect (mostly echoes and music cues). There was no obvious distortion on any of the episodes, and dialogue was always clear. Fans of the show will of course remember Danny Elfman's awesome opening title theme. The title sequence and Crypt Keeper intros and outros are all pretty consistent, but the sound design of each specific episode varies quite a bit. Some are just made to sound better than others.

Extras


It seems that Warner Bros. has used up all their best featurettes on seasons one through four, because the only extra on the set is a 'virtual comic' version of Death of Some Salesman. Basically, the feature is a radio play of sorts, featuring the voice talents of The Cryptkeeper himself, John Kassir, set to a Flash Animated version of the original comic the episode was based on. This might've been a better extra had there been more than just one episode. Comparing the original run comics to their TV counterparts could've been really interesting, and lord knows Kassir makes a good narrator.

I would love some actor/director commentaries on at least a few episodes, it’s not that people like Lou Diamond Philips has much on their plates these days. Maybe an interview session could’ve worked. Aren’t Silver, Donner, and Zemeckis still proud of their baby? There’s plenty of room on the third disc for stuff, and I only wish they’d filled it.

Tales From the Crypt: Season 5

Overall


For the fans, season five features five or six great episodes, and a half dozen so-so ones. If you like Tales From the Crypt, you'll like season six, if you don't then these 13 episodes won't change your mind. The video transfer is atrocious for a studio release, but isn't entirely unwatchable. There aren't any meaty extras, but I suppose this set is sold on the episodes, not the special features. Until next time, kiddies, when I look at more Die-gital Visceral Discs. Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha haaaaa. Wow, it's a lot harder to write awful puns than I thought.


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