Tales from the Crypt

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Ah! Hello, kiddies!


Welcome, boils and ghouls!

A critically acclaimed horror anthology series that ran from 1989 to 1996. Every week, the show featured the Crypt Keeper telling horrifying tales based on stories from the gruesome EC Comics of the 1950s. Because the show was on the premium cable channel HBO, it was not subject to FCC censorship and featured lots of gore and sexual situations. The Crypt Keeper, a gruesome puppet voiced by John Kassir and performed by Patty Maloney, served as host in a manner similar to that of Rod Serling on The Twilight Zone, providing lead-ins and closing comments... which were filled with Incredibly Lame Pun after pun of a macabre nature.

Related loosely to the 1972 Film of the same name, as both had stories based on comics from the same company. For the animated adaptation, see Tales from the Cryptkeeper.

Tropes used in Tales from the Crypt include:
  • Abhorrent Admirer: Winona, in spades.
    • Charlie in "Dead Right". Kathy puts up with him due to a prophecy that he will die and inherit a huge amount of money. Of course,It doesn't quite work out the way she expects.
    • In "'Til Death", Margaret becomes one. A similar arch occurs in "Loved to Death."
  • Amoral Attorney: "Let the Punishment Fit the Crime".
  • An Axe to Grind
  • And I Must Scream: "You, Murderer" is completely from the point-of-view of the protagonist, even when he dies shortly into the story. Thing is, he is still in his body afterwards, but no one can hear him, and he can still feel pain. Only the last one is of any concern to him (because he finds it annoying), as he has the unfolding story to narrate and concern himself with.
  • Artistic License Chemistry: The woman who reduced her ulcer-prone husband into bathroom soap, then she got burned by his 'stomach acid' by using it in the shower. (Soap-making requires lye, which would neutralize the pH.)
  • Asshole Victim: Oh, so many - and sometimes they're the main character of an episode.
  • Bad Humor Truck: "People Who Live In Brass Hearses"
  • Bad Santa: "And All Through The House"
  • Berserk Button: Don't hurt Anita's pets.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Longtooth from "The Relunctant Vampire" really doesn't like to kill people in order to satisfy his thirst for blood, but he will still bite your neck if you try to mess with him or his heart-crush or, in a lesser extent, if you are a criminal.
  • Bittersweet Ending: "My Brother's Keeper": Frank watched his Siamese twin brother Eddie murder the love of his life, but (before both blacked out) he managed to sign the release for surgery. When they wake up, they're "free," with Eddie taken away by the police and Frank planning to live his life to the fullest.
  • Black Comedy: The episode "Cutting Cards" is a particularly vivid one, as a game of Russian roulette devolves into a round of "chop poker" that goes nowhere good in a hurry.
  • Black Comedy Rape: In the episode "Death of Some Salesman". Counts as both Rape Is OK When It Is Female On Male and Double Standard Rape (Male on Male), since Winona is quite obviously played by a man (Tim Curry, no less!). Technically he agreed to it...but it certainly wouldn't have been any better if he hadn't.
  • Bloodier and Gorier: Than the comics, which were 'plenty' gory enough on their own.
  • Blood Is the New Black: Every episode ends up with someone getting gorily dismembered, if not the main character.
  • The Bluebeard: None but the Lonely Heart.
  • Body Horror: How about the episode with the mask and the TV adaptation of Forever Ambergris where the main character's nose and his body drop right off.
  • Book Ends
  • Buried Alive: "Dig That Cat, He's Real Gone"
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Standard, with one or two Karma Houdini subversions.
  • Cats Have Nine Lives: A homeless dude is offered a chance at (gruesome) fun and profit after he has a cat's brain gland implanted into him; it gives him the mythical extra lives, which allow him to die repeatedly as a circus performer.
    • Also played with in the episode "Ear Today, Gone Tomorrow".
  • Christmas Episode: "And All Through the House" with a maniac Santa.
    • Bad Santa
    • "The Pit" was aired at Christmas and had a Christmas-themed segment for the Crypt Keeper, although the story itself has nothing to do with Christmas.
  • Cinderella Circumstances: Bobby from "Fitting Punishment"
  • Compilation Movie: The first three episodes were edited together as one movie for some airings. Notably, though, there is no new linking footage. The episodes appear together as they would separately.
  • Conjoined Twins: The episode "My Brother's Keeper" is about completely opposite conjoined twins. This is also used in a twist in at least three other episodes: "The Ventriloquist's Dummy", "People Who Live In Brass Hearses", and "About Face".
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Steve Dixon in "Split Second" rapidly becomes one after getting married, and unfortunately for him, his wife has no intention to remain faithful.
  • Creator Cameo: Not unusual, especially if a given director happens to have an acting career of their own. Michael J. Fox plays a prosecuting attorney in "The Trap," Arnold Schwarzenegger helps get the Crypt Keeper in shape in "The Switch," Tom Hanks shows up in "None but the Lonely Heart," and Bob Hoskins is in the opening to "Fatal Caper."
  • Creepy Crossdresser: Roger in "Came the Dawn" by way of split personality.
  • Cruel Twist Ending: A few episodes.
  • Darker and Edgier: The final episode, "The Third Pig", gives this treatment to Three Little Pigs.
    • The whole show in general is Darker and Edgier than the comics, although they weren't exactly family-friendly to start with: The lack of censorship allowed them to basically throw in as much sex, violence and swearing as they liked.
  • Death by Materialism: This is a recurring theme.
  • Demonic Dummy: In "The Ventriloquist's Dummy".
  • The Dog Bites Back: If someone committed an immoral act, you can be absolutely certain that he will meet his end by the end of the episode — often in a spectacularly gruesome manner.
  • Dr. Jerk: "The New Arrival"
  • Eat the Evidence: "The Assassin" ends with Janet, revealed to be the missing assassin (she has had a sex change to disguise herself) serving up the remains of the CIA agents to her husband, though he doesn't know what he's eating.
  • Everybody Lives: A rare example with a macabre Black Comedy twist in "Cutting Cards".
  • Evil Uncle: "Fitting Punishment"
  • Eye Scream: Relatively often, but "Carrion Death" is by far the most notable (and Nausea Fuel-filled) example.
  • Fake Twin Gambit: "Split Personality".
  • Fate Worse Than Death: "Let the Punishment Fit the Crime".
  • Fingore: "Cutting Cards" has its two gambler protagonists engage in a game of "Chop Poker", where the guy with the losing hand gets a finger chopped off by a meat cleaver.
  • Flanderization: The Crypt Keeper is far more subdued, more ominious in Season 1, whereas he is more tongue-in-cheek in the rest of the series. According to John Kassir, production always wanted the latter approach, but budget constraints required the Season 1 approach. Renewal and a budget increase allowed production to make the Crypt Keeper the way viewers remember him.
  • Fractured Fairy Tale: "The Third Pig".
  • Friend to All Living Things: Anita from "Collection Completed." She has many pets of different species and is always willing to take in strays.
  • Fun with Acronyms: The episode "Mournin' Mess" revolves around a reporter investigating the mysterious deaths of several homeless people, which he believes are connected to a charitable organisation called the "Grateful Homeless Outcasts and Unwanted Layaway Society". What do you think their secret is?
  • Fur Against Fang: The ending to "The Secret".
    • And "Werewolf Concerto".
  • Genre Anthology: Of modernised horror stories.
  • Gold Digger: Several. And then they get what they deserve.
  • Groin Attack: Joe Pesci starred the most gruesome example in "Split Personality".
    • The greedy wife in the episode "And All Through The House" throws a swift kick in the family jewels towards the killer dressed as Santa Claus in their first confrontation.
  • Guest Host: One episode had William Sadler 'reprising' his role as The Grim Reaper to co-host with the Crypt Keeper.
  • Happily Ever After: Rare all things considered, but not unusual for sympathetic characters to get what's coming to them.
    • "Four-Sided Triangle" and "Korman's Kalamity" provide reasonably happy, if bloody, endings for The Woobie. "The Reluctant Vampire" gives Donald a happy ending after all.
  • Henpecked Husband: Jim Korman in "Korman's Kalamity".
  • Hollywood Acid: Used as an ending twist in "99 & 44/100% Pure Horror" -- apparently soap made from a human body is acidic enough to melt someone's skin right off.
  • Hurricane of Puns: The truly terrifying element of the show is the Crypt Keeper's awful sense of humor.
  • If I Had a Nickel: "Only Sin Deep" has, "You know somethin' honey, if I had a dollar for every time you stood in the mirror admirin' your face, I could get off these streets and retire to the Bahamas."
  • I'm a Humanitarian: "What's Cookin'", "The Assassin"
    • "Mournin' Mess" and "House of Horror" also touch on this.
  • Incoming Ham: "HELLO KIDDIES!"
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: The Crypt Keeper is proclive to this, along with some of the episode titles.
  • In Name Only: While most of the earlier stories hewed fairly close to the original tales, episodes in later seasons had increasingly little in common with the comic stories, aside from the titles.
    • Additionally, not all the stories came from Tales. Haunt of Fear, Vault of Horror, Crime SuspenStories and Shock SuspenStories also supplied material (and were acknowledged as such in appropriate episodes' credits.)
  • I Want You to Meet An Old Friend of Mine: "Lower Berth" guest stars Jeff Yagher, who is the older brother of Kevin Yagher (who not only directed said episode, but was a key person behind the Crypt Keeper effects).
  • Jerkass: Jonas, the cranky husband, from "Collection Completed." He verbally abuses his wife Anita constantly and does not treat her animals much better. Eventually, he turns her pets into trophies just because he does not like them. He gets his in the end.
    • Uncle Ezra from "Fitting Punishment." As well as being The Scrooge who nickel-and-dimes his customers for every little thing, he treats his orphaned nephew like dirt.
  • Joker Jury: "The Third Pig"
  • Kangaroo Court: "The Third Pig", "Let the Punishment Fit the Crime"
  • Karmic Death: Pretty much the whole idea. Someone horrible does something horrible and then has something horrible done in return. Rinse, repeat.
  • Karma Houdini: While it was common for the murderer to get away, the person killed was always the one the audience hated most. There are exceptions however, as this WAS a horror show, after all.
  • Karmic Twist Ending: Most episodes.
  • Lampshade Hanging: John Kassir, who voices the Crypt Keeper, also plays a minor character in one of the main stories. At the end of the episode, the Crypt Keeper compliments that character's performance.
  • Large Ham: The Crypt Keeper's bombastic introductions provided as much entertainment as the actual stories.
  • Love Potion: Both "Til Death" and "Loved to Death" involve men who use this to win over otherwise unattainable women. This goes about as well as you would expect, given what show they're on.
  • Mandatory Twist Ending: One for just about every episode. However, some were quite happy to the good characters, delivering well-deserved vengeance to the unsympathetic.
  • Mono-Gender Monsters: A variant of this in "Lover Come Hack to Me", where [every baby born into Peggy's family is apparently female.
  • The Movie: Technically six. Two films were produced in the 1970s by Amicus Productions — a self-titled movie and The Vault of Horror. (Unsurprisingly, though, this series has a loose connection to those movies.) In 1989, a Compilation Movie was put together, consisting of "The Man Who Was Death", "And All Through the House", and "Dig That Cat, He's Real Gone". Three stand-alone films were made in the 1990s: Demon Knight, Bordello of Blood and Ritual, the last of which was released straight to video.
    • Note that Ritual was produced as a TFtC movie, but later edited to remove any connection to the franchise. This connection was later restored in an effort to increase awareness of it.
  • No Fourth Wall: At least as far as the Crypt Keeper is concerned.
  • Not in the Face: On one episode which stars a pair of bandit lovers, the man is always paranoid about something happening to his visage. Predictably, there's more to this fear than simple vanity, as revealed by the twist ending.
  • Not Just a Tournament: There are a few episodes where a contestant murders the odds-on favorite, but finds out too late that the "prize" for winning is death. In one case, an actor literally kills for a chance to play Hamlet, but discovers that he was really auditioning to play Yorick [the skull]. In another case, a Beauty Pageant contestant kills another, but discovers that the pageant is "Miss Autopsy".
  • Off with His Head: Happens in a handful of episodes.
  • Origins Episode: "Lower Berth" establishes how the Crypt Keeper came to be. Appropriately, the episode was directed by Kevin Yagher, who helped the Crypt Keeper come to be in real life.
  • POV Cam: "You, Murderer" (with the added bonus of being from the POV of Humphrey Bogart), "Abra Cadaver"
  • Pungeon Master: The Crypt Keeper.
  • Prophecy Twist: A fortuneteller assures a greedy woman that she will soon marry a man who will inherit a fortune from a rich relative and die himself soon afterward. No points for guessing that one important bit of information was left out of that.
  • Rapid Aging: In "Only Sin Deep", a vain prostitute "sells" her looks to an eccentric pawnbroker, only to start quickly looking like an old woman.
  • Reckless Gun Usage: In the episode "Judy, You're Not Yourself Today", a husband points his rifle at a random solicitor, and pulls the trigger while pointing it at his wife to prove to his wife the gun was unloaded. In the end he ends up trying to physically subdue his wife's body snatcher (a old witch traded bodies with her) while holding the gun, and ends up shooting his wife.
  • Resurrected Romance
  • The Scrooge: Uncle Ezra from "Fitting Punishment".
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: In one episode, a pair of twins come to live with the lecherous priest who fathered them. One twin is attractive, sweet-tempered and generally kind to him, while the other is a deformed and violent religious fanatic who deeply resents their father for abandoning them.
  • Something Completely Different: The final episode, a re-telling of "The Three Little Pigs", was animated.
    • Arguably "Lower Berth," too. Whereas most episodes are set in the present-era, "Lower Berth" takes place in the early 1900s.
    • "Yellow", "Showdown", and "King of the Road" are rather tonally different from the rest of the show. This is because they were originally part of a pilot for a planned TV version of Two-Fisted Tales instead.
    • "Fitting Punishment" is notably the only episode with an entirely black cast.
  • Spin-Off: The animated Tales from the Cryptkeeper and the CBS Game Show Secrets of the Cryptkeeper's Haunted House were aimed at a younger audience, but still horrifying.
  • Spiritual Successor: Snoop Dogg's Hood of Horror will seem very familiar to fans of this series, from the Black Comedy to the charismatic host to the godawful puns. The first segment will also seem very familiar to Death Note fans, but that's a whole different story.
    • Perversions of Science, a short-lived series that essentially replaced this one after the final season.
  • Swallow the Key: In "Carrion Death," a criminal and a cop are handcuffed together. The cop is killed, but he manages to swallow the key before the criminal can get it, forcing the criminal to lug the dead cop along as he attempts to escape across the desert.
  • Title Drop: Happened a few times, but perhaps the most (purposefully) blatant was by the Crypt Keeper in "Korman's Kalamity":

"...because long before my eerie offerings appeared on your silver screen, they were a magazine called - get a load of this - Tales from the Crypt!"

  • Tomato in the Mirror
  • Transsexualism: The twist of "The Assassin", where the wife of an AWOL assassin turns out to be the rogue "himself", who had more work done than "his" would-be killers initially assumed.
    • This is also the twist of "Fatal Caper", where the female lawyer turns out to be the father's disowned third son, which she reveals right after seducing him and disrobing.
  • The Uriah Gambit: In "Forever Ambergris", an aging photographer sends his young protege to a village that was ravaged by germ warfare, knowing the younger man will fall victim to the same flesh-rotting disease that killed the villagers, leaving his hot girlfriend for the older man's taking. Naturally, it backfires when the older man learns his protege sent some germ-infected flora to his girlfriend before he knew anything was wrong.
  • Vegetarian Vampire: Again, Longtooth in "The Reluctant Vampire".
  • Vigilante Man: "The Man who was Death".
  • The Virus: "Forever Ambergris"
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: Dead Wait. The voodoo priestess (Whoopi Goldberg) tosses away a huge, valuable black pearl, because she finds the red hair on Sam's (decapitated, natch) head far more valuable.
  • Xanatos Roulette: "The Pit"
  • You Look Familiar: William Sadler plays an electrician in "The Man Who Was Death", The Grim Reaper in "The Assassin", Brayker in Demon Knight and a mummy in Bordello of Blood.