Tales from the Crypt, sometimes titled HBO's Tales from the Crypt, is an American horror anthology television series that ran from June 10, 1989 to July 19, 1996, on the premium cable channel HBO for seven seasons with a total of 93 episodes. The title is based on the 1950s EC Comics series of the same name and most of the content originated in that comic or the other EC Comics of the time (The Haunt of Fear, The Vault of Horror, Crime SuspenStories, Shock SuspenStories, and Two-Fisted Tales). The show was produced by HBO.
Because it was aired on HBO, a premium cable television channel, it was one of the few anthology series to be allowed to have full freedom from censorship by network standards and practices. As a result, HBO allowed the series to include content that had not appeared in most television series up to that time, such as graphic violence, profanity, sexual activity and nudity. The show is subsequently edited for such content when broadcast in syndication or on basic cable. While the series began production in the United States, in the final season filming moved to Britain, resulting in episodes which revolved around British characters.
Each episode begins with a tracking shot leading to the front door of the Crypt Keeper's decrepit mansion. Once inside, the camera pans down hallways and stairways, and finally descends into the basement. The show's host, the Crypt Keeper, then pops out from his coffin, cackling wildly; finally, green slime pours down over the screen as the main title appears. The Crypt Keeper is an animated corpse, as opposed to the original comics in which he was a living human being. The wisecracking Crypt Keeper (performed by puppeteers like Van Snowden, Mike Elizalde, Frank Charles Lutkiss, Patty Maloney, Anton Rupprecht, Shaun Smith, David Stinnent, Mike Trcic, and Brock Winkless, and voiced by John Kassir) would then introduce the episode with intentionally hackneyed puns (e.g. his frequent greeting to viewers: "Hello, Boils and Ghouls" or "Hello, Kiddies"). Each episode was self contained, and was bookended by an outro sequence again involving the Crypt Keeper. Comic book cover art was created by Mike Vosburg and Shawn McManus.
The episode "You, Murderer" (1995) is particularly noteworthy since it was one of the first shows ever filmed that used computer effects to digitally insert actors into an episode. The episode was directed by series producer Robert Zemeckis, who had recently directed Forrest Gump which used the same effects (both sets of effects being done by Industrial Light & Magic). Alfred Hitchcock appeared in a cameo at the beginning of the episode, and Humphrey Bogart played the starring role for this story. Because both men had been dead for decades, their appearances made the episode very well known amongst fans. This episode was also notable for Isabella Rossellini's guest appearance in which she parodies her lookalike mother, Ingrid Bergman, for the first (and only) time.
Very few of the episodes, especially in the early seasons, were based on actual stories from Tales from the Crypt. Many were instead from other EC Comics series. For instance, season one was predominantly from The Haunt of Fear, while season two was mostly from Shock SuspenStories. Tales from The Vault of Horror appeared sporadically throughout the series run. The final episode broadcast, "The Third Pig", was the only original story not based on the comics, and the only one that was fully animated.
Individual episodes from the series often involved big-name stars, either as writers, directors, or actors. In this way, many A-list Hollywood stars were appearing on both the big screen and the small screen at the same time.
A list of actors/guest stars includes the likes of Adam Ant, Lee Arenberg, Patricia Arquette, Bess Armstrong, John Astin, Dan Aykroyd, Hank Azaria, Jonathan Banks, Frances Bay, Ed Begley, Jr., Sandra Bernhard, Sonia Braga, Sandra Bullock, Steve Buscemi, Tia Carrere, Julie Chen, Patricia Clarkson, Steve Coogan, Daniel Craig, Tim Curry, Mark Dacascos, Timothy Dalton, Roger Daltrey, Beverly D'Angelo, Blythe Danner, Benicio del Toro, Lou Diamond Phillips, Kirk Douglas, Brad Dourif, R. Lee Ermey, Corey Feldman, Sherilyn Fenn, Teri Garr, Brad Garrett, Whoopi Goldberg, Bobcat Goldthwaite, Shelley Hack, Tom Hanks, Teri Hatcher, Marg Helgenberger, Mariel Hemingway, Lance Henriksen, Jane Horrocks, Bob Hoskins, Ernie Hudson, Kathy Ireland, Eddie Izzard, Lainie Kazan, Patsy Kensit, Margot Kidder, Art LaFleur, Ute Lemper, Audra Lindley, John Lithgow, Cleavon Little, Meat Loaf, Traci Lords, Jon Lovitz, Kyle MacLachlan, Wendie Malick, Malcolm McDowell, Elizabeth McGovern, Ewan McGregor, Demi Moore, David Morse, Judd Nelson, Donald O'Connor, Catherine O'Hara, Joe Pantoliano, Robert Patrick, Bill Paxton, David Paymer, Mark Pellegrino, Joe Pesci, Lou Diamond Phillips, Brad Pitt, Amanda Plummer, Iggy Pop, Priscilla Presley, Kelly Preston, Christopher Reeve, James Remar, John Rhys-Davies, Natasha Richardson, Don Rickles, Mimi Rogers, Isabella Rossellini, Tim Roth, Zelda Rubinstein, Katey Sagal, Colin Salmon, Julia Sawalha, Martin Sheen, Brooke Shields, Slash, Vincent Spano, John Stamos, Imelda Staunton, Ben Stein, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lea Thompson, Rachel Ticotin, Twiggy, Susan Tyrrell, Vanity, Ally Walker, David Warner, Sam Waterston, Steven Weber, George Wendt, Adam West, Clarence Williams III, Treat Williams, Grace Zabriskie, and Billy Zane among others.
A list of famous directors includes Michael J. Fox, Tom Hanks, Kyle MacLachlan and Arnold Schwarzenegger (who also had cameos in their episodes). Many well-established film directors also contributed episodes. They include Robert Zemeckis, Richard Donner, Howard Deutch, John Frankenheimer, William Friedkin, Walter Hill, Tom Holland, Tobe Hooper, Mary Lambert, Peter Medak, Russell Mulcahy, Elliot Silverstein, Vincent Spano, and Freddie Francis, who directed the original 1972 film.
The success of the series led to numerous spin-offs and films.
Originally the Crypt theatrical films were planned as a trilogy. "They felt that in order to make this thing work, we had to do it essentially like the series, which began with three half hour episodes, so we decided to do three movies," Joel Silver told Fangoria magazine in 1995. Ultimately three films were made, but the trilogy did not pan out as originally intended.
Two movies, Demon Knight (1995) and Bordello of Blood (1996) were released in theaters. A third movie, Ritual, was initially slated for theatrical release in 2001, but was instead distributed internationally without the Tales from the Crypt connection. In 2006, it was released on DVD in the United States with all previous Crypt references restored.
As a follow-up to Demon Knight, producers planned to make a film titled Dead Easy (a.k.a. Fat Tuesday), a New Orleans zombie romp. "We were rewriting it, and it was getting scarier and more intense, but a lot of the humor had been lost, and we always felt that was an important part of Tales from the Crypt -- scare people, then let them laugh." Gilbert Adler told Fangoria in 1996. The third film that was planned, Body Count, also never found its way to the screen.
It is also worth noting that the Peter Jackson film The Frighteners was originally intended to be a Tales From the Crypt movie helmed by another director, but it was produced and released on its own merit after executive producer Robert Zemeckis read the script.
In 1993, a Saturday morning cartoon called Tales from the Cryptkeeper was spun off from the HBO series. Produced by Nelvana for ABC, the violence of the prime-time series was substantially toned down and the gore was omitted. Nelvana employed a child psychologist to review the scripts to ensure the episodes would be suitable for young viewers. The Cryptkeeper puppet was considered as the host for the series but it was ultimately decided that it might frighten youngsters, so instead an animated version was created (which bore more of a resemblance to the puppet than the version of The Cryptkeeper that originated in 1950s EC Comics) and John Kassir was retained as his voice. "Nelvana created a kinder, gentler personality for the children's Crypt Keeper, and it feels a little uncharacteristic at times," Kassir later said. In addition to the Cryptkeeper, EC Comics' mascots The Vaultkeeper and The Old Witch also made frequent appearances, often fighting with the Cryptkeeper for control of the show's hosting duties. The series lasted two seasons on ABC with a total of 26 episodes.
In 1999, the show was revived on CBS for an additional 13 episodes under the title New Tales from the Cryptkeeper. Due to the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that demanded more educational value in cartoons, the final batch of episodes was radically dumbed-down and included much more streamlined morality lessons. Although it was once again produced by Nelvana and the opening credits sequence featured clips from the ABC series, the style of the animation underwent a substantial change, with characters appearing much more rounded and cartoon-like. The Vaultkeeper and The Old Witch were omitted, and the Cryptkeeper generally appeared in disguise interacting with characters throughout each episode.
A kid's game show called Secrets of the Cryptkeeper's Haunted House was featured on CBS from 1996 to 1997. The Cryptkeeper (again voiced by John Kassir) was the announcer of the show (he would often break into the action with appropriate wisecracks), and contestants competed in physical challenges on a variety of elaborate haunted house sets at Universal Studios Florida. In addition to The Cryptkeeper, the series also boasted an original character named Digger the Skeleton (voiced by Danny Mann).
In 2000, several Tales from the Crypt "radio shows" were recorded for Seeing Ear Theatre, an online subsidiary of The Sci-Fi Channel, and were offered free as streaming RealAudio files on their website, as well as for sale on Audible.com. Although 13 episodes were planned (with forthcoming episodes listed as "TBA"), only 8 stories were recorded. Seven of the eight shows were released on CD in 2002 by Highbridge Audio ("This Trick'll Kill You" was omitted from the CD set).
In 1991, the Fox television network aired a pilot for Two-Fisted Tales, a spin-off based on the 1950s EC action comics. When Fox passed on the pilot, Crypt Keeper segments were tacked onto the three stories ("Yellow", "Showdown", and "King of the Road"), and HBO ran them as Tales from the Crypt episodes.
After the original series ended, a spin-off called Perversions of Science premiered in 1997 on HBO, this time being based on science fiction instead of horror. The series only lasted for a short run, and was cancelled the same year. This iteration of the franchise featured a stylized female robot host in place of the Cryptkeeper.
In 1991, Big Screen Records released a soundtrack album featuring assorted music from the series. The album includes the theme music, suites from 11 episodes and an original song titled "Crypt Jam" performed by The Cryptkeeper (John Kassir). A music video for "Crypt Jam" was filmed and is available as an extra on the Region 1 Season 3 DVD.
|01||Tales from the Crypt (Main Title)||Danny Elfman||2:27|
|02||Three's a Crowd||Jan Hammer||3:50|
|03||Cutting Cards||James Horner||3:45|
|04||Loved to Death||Jimmy Webb||3:19|
|05||Dead Wait||David Mansfield||4:04|
|06||Undertaking Palor||Nicholas Pike||3:10|
|07||Carrion Death||Bruce Broughton||3:32|
|08||Ventriloquist's Dummy||Miles Goodman||3:32|
|09||The Thing from the Grave||David Newman||2:53|
|10||The Man Who Was Death||Ry Cooder||4:22|
|11||Reluctant Vampire||Cliff Eidelman||3:50|
|13||The Crypt Jam||Chuckii Booker||4:30|
In 1994, a Christmas album, Have Yourself a Scary Little Christmas, was released by The Right Stuff, a subsidiary of Capitol Records. Most of the songs are spoofs of holiday standards performed by the Cryptkeeper, such as "Juggle Bills" (Jingle Bells), "We Wish You'd Bury the Missus" (We Wish You a Merry Christmas) and "Deck the Halls with Parts of Charlie" (Deck the Halls), with narration and a few original songs mixed in. The CD booklet includes a black and white reprint of the comic "And All Through the House." The album is now out of print.
|01||Intro to Album||0:51|
|02||Deck the Halls with Parts of Charlie||1:55|
|04||We Wish You'd Bury the Missus||2:20|
|06||A Christmas Card for the Cryptkeeper||0:51|
|08||Intro to Cryptkeeper's Family Christmas||0:32|
|09||Cryptkeeper's Family Christmas||2:03|
|10||'Twas the Fright Before Christmas||3:55|
|11||Twelve Days of Cryptmas||3:42|
|12||Intro to Revenge of the Cryptkeeper||0:24|
|13||Revenge of the Cryptkeeper||2:18|
|14||Have Yourself a Scary Little Christmas||2:21|
|15||Should Old Cadavers Be Forgot||3:38|
In 2000, Capitol Records released another album titled Tales from the Crypt: Monsters of Metal. This album is a compilation of horror-themed songs from popular metal bands with wraparound narration by the Cryptkeeper (John Kassir).
|01||The Cryptkeeper Intro #1||John Kassir||0:30|
|02||Heaven and Hell||Black Sabbath||6:54|
|03||Creepy Feelings||Armored Saint||5:21|
|05||The Cryptkeeper Intro #2||John Kassir||0:14|
|06||Cemetery Gates (Demon Knight)||Pantera||5:47|
|07||Eyes of a Stranger||Queensrÿche||4:40|
|09||The Cryptkeeper Intro #3||John Kassir||0:35|
|10||Dead Inside||Arch Enemy||4:11|
|11||Beyond the Realms of Death||Judas Priest||6:53|
|12||Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck||Prong||4:12|
|13||The Cryptkeeper Intro #4||John Kassir||0:16|
|14||Don't Talk to Strangers||Dio||4:52|
|15||Bordello of Blood||Anthrax||4:12|
|16||The Bell Witch||Mercyful Fate||4:34|
|17||The Cryptkeeper Intro #5||John Kassir||0:21|
|19||Hollow Ground||The Haunted||4:10|
|20||Beyond the Black||Metal Church||6:22|
|21||The Cryptkeeper Ending||John Kassir||0:46|
Warner Home Video has released all 7 seasons of the series on DVD for Region 1. The DVDs for Seasons 1–3 are unique because they feature all-new Crypt Keeper introductions and segments. No such segments were filmed for Seasons 4–7. On June 6, 2017, all seven seasons were reissued in a box set entitled Tales From the Crypt: The Complete Series. A Region 2 version of the whole series was released by '84 Entertainment on June 4, 2010.
|Title||Release date||Episodes||Discs||Special features|
|The Complete First Season||July 12, 2005||6||2||
|The Complete Second Season||October 25, 2005||18||3||
|The Complete Third Season||March 21, 2006||14||3||
|The Complete Fourth Season||July 25, 2006||14||3||
|The Complete Fifth Season||October 31, 2006||13||3||
|The Complete Sixth Season||July 24, 2007||15||3||
|The Complete Seventh Season||October 23, 2007||13||3||
|The Complete Series||June 6, 2017||93||20|
In the United Kingdom, the series was aired late-night Fridays on ITV. Satellite and cable channel Horror Channel (then Zone Horror) aired the series in both late-night and daytime slots. The daytime versions were billed as 'cut', although, they remained uncut.
An episode of The Simpsons, "Treehouse of Horror XVII", began with a parody of the series. Using an opening similar to the TV series (including theme music, but with a camera man tripping down the winding stairs), Mr. Burns portrayed the Crypt Keeper and made some obvious puns. Laughing, Smithers then appeared to point out what he did.
An episode of Tiny Toon Adventures had a parody of the series called Toons from the Crypt with the opening similar to the TV series. Buster Bunny portrayed the Cryptkeeper. Interestingly, John Kassir, who voiced the Cryptkeeper, later went on to voice Buster Bunny after the rabbit's regular voice actor, Charlie Adler, quit.
In the 1995 film, Casper, Dr. Harvey morphs into the Crypt Keeper doing a pose from Edvard Munch's The Scream while looking at the bathroom mirror being possessed by Stretch, Fatso, and Stinkie. John Kassir reprised his role.
The Robot Chicken episode "El Skeletorito" has a parody of the series.
American Dad! parodied the series in the episode "100AD".
Rapper Magneto Dayo did a song called "Tales From The Crypt" (Halloween).
Tales from the Crypt won the following awards:
In July 2011, it was announced that Gilbert Adler, who produced the original series, was working with Andrew Cosby to develop a new Tales from the Crypt series. It was said to be a continuous story, rather than an anthology, and would also omit the Cryptkeeper. The series was unsuccessfully shopped to several major networks.
In January 2016, Entertainment Weekly reported that M. Night Shyamalan would helm a series reboot as part of TNT's new two-hour horror block. In April 2016, it was reported that the network had ordered a 10-episode season that was slated for fall 2017. The show was to keep the episodic anthology format, but without the Crypt Keeper. In June 2017, it was announced that TNT would not move forward with the series due to legal rights issues concerning the rights for the character of the Cryptkeeper from HBO.