Terror Television: Tales from the Crypt

Welcome back, fiends! This week at Medusa's Lair we'll be celebrating one of the greatest horror shows of all time. Which one? Why, Tales from the Crypt, of course! With the holidays fast-approaching, the crazed shoppers armed with credit cards and razor blades, and temperatures dropping by the minute, life is like a horror film. Black Friday is such a terrifying, cringe-worthy experience, yet no director has tackled the gruesome agony of discount shopping. Will we ever see such a film?

Stand outside of a department store at midnight, along with thousands of other people who are all tired and full of turkey. As the doors open you'll fight to maintain your balance as people shove you in all directions, foam glistening from the corner of their deranged mouths; their eyes have become red with evil, while yours simply try to adjust to the fluorescent light. You're scared. Once everyone has entered the store the real nightmare begins. Instantly and without any warning, fights break out as shoppers vie for the most popular items on their list. It's not a fight for the merchandise, but for the glory. You think you're safe from harm as you back into a corner. Suddenly, you feel something behind you, digging into your back.

With a quick turn, you see it's nothing more than a clothes rack. Wait, what's that hanging from it? Is it…a sweater? Reaching out to feel the warm, inviting fabric, you can't help but smile. It's beautiful. It's the perfect size. It's 75% off. Just as your eyes gaze up from the heavenly article of clothing, created only to keep you warm, the smile quickly dissipates from your lips. Hordes of crazed shoppers now surround you. Red, evil eyes stare at the sweater clutched in your white-knuckled hand; the price tag digs into your palm, releasing a warm trickle of blood. With every passing minute they get closer and closer, snarling like rabid creatures from the fiery pits of Hell. There's nowhere to run. It's at that very moment you realize something vital. It's something that deep down you knew all along, but were too stubborn to understand. Now it's too late. All the horror and madness could've been avoided if you'd shopped online.  

Yes, dear readers. The moral of the story is this: Never leave your house on Black Friday!

With so many television shows on the air these days (and more than half of them are crap), your favorite horror hostess has decided to revisit a time before reality television. A wonderful time before people like Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton appeared on every channel, causing the IQ of viewers to plummet with every episode. Tales from the Crypt aired at a time when audiences used television as means of escaping reality, if only for thirty minutes. Based on the controversial horror comics of the 1950s, created by William M. Gaines, Tales from the Crypt started as a low-budget 1970s horror film starring Peter Cushing and Joan Collins. While the film found its cult status, audiences wanted something more. A sequel entitled, The Vault of Horror was soon released (based on another series of horror comics), but failed to find much of an audience at all…even as a cult film.
Well-known film producer Joel Silver, along with Richard Donner, Robert Zemeckis and Walter Hill decided to create a television series, mixing stories from all three horror comics: Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror, and Haunt of Fear. While each comic series had its own host, it was decided that the show's Crypt Keeper would be an animatronic puppet. Actor John Kassir was brought on to voice the character, often mixing puns with twisted humor.

Tales from the Crypt debuted on HBO in 1989, receiving praise from critics and audiences alike. One of the first episodes, And All Through the House, was based on a comic that first appeared in  Vault of Horror. The episode was about a woman who brutally kills her husband on Christmas Eve. As luck would have it an escaped mental patient arrives at her door dressed as Santa and armed with an axe. As the woman fights off the attacker, her young daughter lies awake upstairs, waiting for St. Nick to arrive with her presents. The episode is considered to be the scariest of the entire series, mainly due to the fact that as the series went on, a few episodes contained more black comedy rather than horror or suspense.

Tales from the Crypt featured top actors such as Demi Moore, Lea Thompson, Brooke Shields, Jeffery Tambor, Larry Drake, Mary Ellen Trainor and John Lithgow. A few celebrities even hopped in the director's chair for certain episodes. Actor Tom Hanks directed the episode, None But the Lonely Heart; Arnold Schwarzenegger directed The Switch; and Michael J. Fox called the shots for The Trap.

In 1993 a new Saturday horror cartoon premiered. Tales from the Cryptkeeper introduced younger audiences to the show, combining mild scares with the Crypt Keeper's trademark humor. Ratings for the show were poor. After only a few seasons, Tales from the Cryptkeeper was "axed".

In 1995, Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight opened at the box office. Featuring a cast that included Billy Zane and Jada Pinkett-Smith, the film marked the first Tales from the Crypt-inspired movie. Centered around a group of people fighting for their lives against slimy, vicious demons, the film earned a pretty penny with solid box office sales. A year later actors Dennis Miller, Erika Eleniak, Corey Feldman and supermodel Angie Everheart appeared in Tales from the Crypt: Bordello of Blood, about a wise-cracking detective determined to rid the world of vampire hookers. No, it wasn't going to win an Academy Award, but it was fun. However the film's lack of box office success stopped production on the third film, Fat Tuesday. The television show continued to run strong, even with a few poor episodes. Then in 1996, after seven seasons of horror, blood, gore and laughter (mainly from the Crypt Keeper), Tales from the Crypt was cancelled. The show did find a new home in syndication on the Sci/Fi Channel (now called SyFy). Audiences kept the show going as it bounced from station to station before finally being released on DVD in 2005.

Tales from the Crypt is getting ready to scare audiences once more. In 2011 it was announced that new episodes were underway for the 2012 season. Actor John Kassir has been confirmed to return as the voice of the Crypt Keeper.
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Step back into Medusa's Lair next Tuesday for Medusa's Favorite Horror Hags. Sweet nightmares!  

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