Terror Television: Tales from the Crypt

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on November 29, 2011 by Nicholas Gentry

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!  

The Top Creature Features

Posted in Uncategorized on November 22, 2011 by Nicholas Gentry

Hello, fiends! As I slithered through my collection of frightful flicks, I thought it would be fun to write about some of the most disgusting cinematic creatures. With so many remakes, wimpy vampires that sparkle in the sunlight and a pure lack of imagination in Hollywood, your flesh will ooze with excitement as we remember a time when films not only had plots, but originality as well. These are not award-winning films; to be quite honest some of them are so bad they barely found an audience at all. How bad are they? Well, let your old pal Medusa put it this way: Some of these creatures are adorable, yet mischievous; some of them are slimy and brutal; and, one of them…is a killer cookie. That's the great thing about creature features! Even if the "creature" is a bit silly, that doesn't mean it's unable to deliver genuine scares.

Gremlins (1984)
When this film was released, audiences were shocked by the extreme violence depicted on-screen. Gremlins tells the story of a young man named Billy Peltzer, who receives a strange pet named Gizmo as a Christmas present. Gizmo is a "mogwai" and he's not only cute and furry, but kind-hearted, too. However, he also comes with a specific set of rules: Don't get him wet. Don't expose him to bright light. And, no matter what, don't ever feed him after midnight.
Sure enough Gizmo ends up getting wet, causing him to multiply. The new offspring are cute and furry…but far from kind. When the mogwai hatch from their gooey cocoons, they're vicious, blood-thirsty monsters with a knack for destruction. Mixing horror with comedy, Gremlins earned a PG-rating, enraging many parents. The sequel, Gremlins 2: The New Batch was released in 1990 with a well-deserved PG-13 rating, wilder violence and slimier creatures. If you're in the mood for creatures with real attitude, check out this classic slice of horror heaven!

Ghoulies (1985)
Known for its poor storyline and cheap effects, this little horror film found its true audience on videocassette. A man and his girlfriend move into an old mansion. Soon the man begins experimenting in witchcraft, and manages to summon a group of goblin-like creatures to do his bidding. While the film focuses more on black magic, possession and supernatural forces, the title characters are fun to watch, though they don't get the screen time you'd expect. Three more sequels were later released; Ghoulies II delivered terror at a carnival, while Ghoulies Go to College was bottom of the barrel…the discount barrel at Wal Mart.

Critters (1986)
A fun sci-fi/horror that features hungry monsters consuming a small town and those who stand in the way. While the film has its bloody, gory moments, many of the deaths are seen off-screen; cows and other animals are the main victims. The creatures are not only brutal, but creepy to look at. With sharp teeth and poisonous spikes that can shoot from their furry bodies, these characters make Gremlins look like a Disney cartoon. 

Slither (2006)
Writer/Director James Gunn (2004's Dawn of the Dead), showcased his love for the horror genre with this gory masterpiece. When a strange slug-like creature wreaks havoc on a small town, a sarcastic cop and a beautiful teacher must fight to survive. Filled with outrageous moments of blood, gore and suspense, Slither is one creature feature that takes fear to new heights. 

Munchies (1987)
For a horror film, this title never really found an audience. By the time it was released audiences had already flocked to see titles like Gremlins and Critters. Munchies is a low-budget film about strange creatures discovered in Peru and taken back to the United States by an archaeologist. When his evil brother, a maker of snake foods kidnaps the creatures, he discovers they can be very vicious…especially when chopped up. The film does manage some fun moments, especially from actor Harvey Korman. 

Jack Frost: The Killer Mutant Snowman (1997)
A low-budget horror gem that's surprisingly fun to watch, Jack Frost is about a serial killer who dies in a car accident on his way to be executed. When his remains are mixed with snow, he rises up as a giant snowman. Before long he's stabbing, mutilating, slicing and dicing his way to the sheriff who arrested him. Jack Frost managed to do well when it arrived on videocassette, not only inspiring a sequel, but a cult following as well. Actress Shannon Elizabeth (Thirteen Ghosts) made her acting debut in this "chilling" horror film. 

The Tingler (1959)
Horror legend Vincent Price stars in this classic film as a doctor trying to prove fear is the result of a creature that inhabits all human life. He believes this strange creature is suppressed by screams when a fear becomes too strong. When he meets a deaf patient he gets the chance to test his theory, convinced her inability to scream will cause the creature to spring to life. The Tingler manages to pack thrills and chills, especially when viewed on a dark, stormy night. 

The Gingerdead Man (2005)
A true original. When a killer's soul gets mixed in with gingerbread dough, a true "cookie monster" is born. Determined to exact revenge on the girl who sent him to the electric chair, this killer cookie proves he's anything but sweet. Featuring Gary Busey as the voice of the murderous treat, The Gingerdead Man is fun, nasty and quite inventive. It may seem like a weird film, but it deserves a pat on the back for originality. The Gingerdead Man II: Passion of the Crust was released in 2008. 
The Gingerdead Man 3: Saturday Night Cleaver arrives on DVD/Blu-Ray in 2011. 

Killer Shrews (1959)
As if a hurricane isn't scary enough, try fighting off a group of hungry mutant shrews! Several people trapped on an island must do just that in this creepy sci-fi/horror gem.

The Blob (1958)
When an alien devours all in its path, a group of survivors must fight to stay alive. As the body count rises, the jelly-like creature continues to grow. Actor Steve McQueen stars in this terrifying sci-fi classic. A remake was released in 1988 starring Shawnee Smith (Saw, Saw II) and Erika Eleniak (Tales from the Crypt: Bordello of Blood).
Musician/Director Rob Zombie was at one point attached to remake the film for a 2011 release; he has since put the project on hold to direct the new horror film Lords of Salem.  
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Join me next week for Terror Television: Tales from the Crypt.