12 Spine-Tingling Facts About Tales From the Crypt

HBO
HBO

Yanked from the tasteless, imaginative, and classic E.C. comics that incited a Congressional investigation in the 1950s, HBO’s Tales from the Crypt—which premiered on June 10, 1989—was one of the few television shows where A-list Hollywood talent appeared. Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future) was an executive producer, along with Richard Donner (Lethal Weapon, Superman: The Movie) and Walter Hill (The Warriors). Each week, the anthology series would deal out a bloody morality tale, framed by the cackling Crypt Keeper (voiced by John Kassir). Boils and ghouls curious about the show’s history should keep reading, or more puns will follow.

1. Lethal Weapon is partly responsible for the show.

Producer Joel Silver was on the set of 1987’s Lethal Weapon when he and director Richard Donner began talking about Silver’s failed attempts to adapt Tales from the Crypt as a feature film: the disappointing reception to 1983’s Twilight Zone: The Movie and 1982’s Creepshow had lessened enthusiasm for horror anthologies. Unmoved by those failures, Donner said he’d be interested in joining the project. When the series idea was brought to HBO, they were intrigued that so many feature film talents were backing the idea. When Zemeckis—who was working with Silver on 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit?—got involved, the network agreed to move forward with the show.

2. The Crypt Keeper has Chucky's eyes.

When a film or television show needs a creepy animatronic puppet, they usually call Kevin Yagher. As horror’s Jim Henson, the prolific special effects expert has been responsible for the Crypt Keeper, Chucky of the Child’s Play films, and various versions of the Freddy Krueger make-up. To create Tales from the Crypt’s decomposing host, Yagher used the clear blue eyes from his Chucky fabrication; it took six puppeteers to make him fully operational.

3. Arnold Schwarzenegger directed an episode of the series.


HBO

Tales from the Crypt was famous for luring a number of noted feature directors to television at a time when it was considered a step down from movies. While having producers like Donner and Zemeckis making phone calls helped, the primary attraction was getting to shoot what amounted to a short film with minimal interference. For actors, it was also a chance to step behind the camera without the burden of an extended shoot. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was paid scale ($15,000) to direct an episode, said at the time “It was, I would say, the greatest joy I’ve ever had in the movie business."

4. The series brought Humphrey Bogart back from the dead.

Zemeckis’s involvement often meant that Tales from the Crypt would take any opportunity to explore new techniques for visual effects. In the episode “You, Murderer,” a career criminal murdered by his wife and best friend posthumously narrates the events leading up to his demise. When the character looks in the mirror—the show takes place from his POV—viewers see the resurrected features of Humphrey Bogart. Zemeckis used footage from Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, and other Bogart films to capture footage and digitally insert it into the frame. During wraparounds, the Crypt Keeper also converses with a seemingly above-ground Alfred Hitchcock.

5. It helped create the "It's not TV, it's HBO" tag.

Free from the restrictions of broadcast networks, HBO had no problems pushing boundaries in its content. When the channel enlisted a new ad agency to develop a marketing campaign for Tales from the Crypt, they screened a collection of racy footage from the show along with other original programming. When the lights came up, someone said, “It’s not TV.” Another person said, “No, it’s HBO."

6. Two versions of each episode of the show were shot.

For Zemeckis, Donner, and the rest of the show's high-profile producers, the financial payoff was always thought to be a move to syndication. Because HBO was more permissive in terms of content, they needed to prepare for an eventual screening on broadcast TV stations. When Tales from the Crypt was bought by Fox for a late-night Saturday slot in 1994, the episodes were re-edited to include alternate takes that eliminated most of the original episodes' gore and nudity. The show also had actors loop non-profane dialogue during shooting. While HBO normally values exclusivity, it didn’t mind the deal: uncut episodes were still an attraction and, as one executive pointed out, “The show is called HBO’s Tales From the Crypt.” Free advertising never hurt.

7. Tales From the Crypt's axe-wielding Santa had been seen before.


HBO

One of the show’s earliest episodes featured Larry Drake (L.A. Law) as a murderous Santa Claus stalking a woman who had just murdered her husband and couldn't exactly plead with the police for assistance. While the premise was based on an E.C. story, it wasn’t the first time it had been filmed. In 1972, a production company named Amicus released a Tales From the Crypt feature: in one segment, Joan Collins appears as the freshly widowed wife being hunted by a significantly less sinister-looking Santa.

8. John Kassir called into radio shows in charater.

As an anthology show, Tales from the Crypt didn’t have any recurring cast members to help drum up publicity. The only familiar face (and voice) was Kassir's. So HBO had him make the media rounds at the start of each season, calling into radio shows as the Crypt Keeper. “We would launch a new season and I would spend a week in the morning doing 50 or 60 radio interviews as the Crypt Keeper,” he told CrypticRock.com. “I would naturally have to improvise all of that. I would have some bullet points and all that to talk about when the show was coming on ... [the Crypt Keeper] would sit there and talk. ‘How are you Frank? Ha ha ha.’”

9. The series moved to the UK for its final season.

And not, as some suspected, because it was cheaper. After six seasons, Tales from the Crypt had more or less exhausted California’s reserve of actors and filmmakers. For its final season, the production moved to Ealing Studios in West London. Producer Gil Adler endorsed the switch for enabling new faces and locations to be utilized. As a result of the change, Ewan McGregor and Bob Hoskins were among the actors who popped up on the series.

10. It got G-rated for an animated series.

The success of Tales from the Crypt in live-action prompted Silver to consider alternative revenue streams for its popular host, who once sat in with The Tonight Show band. In 1993, ABC aired a Saturday morning cartoon show, Tales From the Cryptkeeper, that featured a somewhat softer approach to the morbid material: characters didn’t die, and being dismembered was off-limits. Originally intended to be introduced by the puppet version, concerns over his appearance—the Crypt Keeper is essentially a rotting corpse, which might disturb children—led producers to replace him with an animated substitute. John Kassir remained the voice. The light alternative didn’t resonate with viewers, who tuned out after two seasons.

11. It also spawned a game show.

The unwieldy title was probably a fair warning: Secrets of the Crypt Keeper’s Haunted House was a 1996 production that featured Kassir and his puppet alter ego in a game show that aired on CBS on Saturday mornings. Shot at Universal Studios Florida, teams of contestants awkwardly interacted with a green screen and 1990s-era computer graphics while the Crypt Keeper taunted them. The effects were so peculiar that the show’s premiere was delayed by a month while technical difficulties were sorted out. It lasted a season, but that was enough to make some kind of TV history: by this point, the character had appeared on ABC, CBS, Fox, and HBO.

12. There was also a Christmas album.

Reminded that Freddy Krueger once performed with the Fat Boys, Kassir recorded several albums in character for Warner Bros. The first, Have Yourself a Scary Little Christmas, was released in 1994. (Sample track: “Deck the Halls with Parts of Charlie.”) Kassir has said his father, a surgeon, enjoyed playing the holiday record during procedures.

George R.R. Martin Doesn't Think Game of Thrones Was 'Very Good' For His Writing Process

Kevin Winter, Getty Images
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

No one seems to have escaped the fan fury over the finals season of Game of Thrones. While likely no one got it quite as bad as showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, even author George R.R. Martin—who wrote A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series upon which the show is based, faced backlash surrounding the HBO hit. The volatile reaction from fans has apparently taken a toll on both Martin's writing and personal life.

In an interview with The Guardian, the acclaimed author said he's sticking with his original plan for the last two books, explaining that the show will not impact them. “You can’t please everybody, so you’ve got to please yourself,” he stated.

He went on to explain how even his personal life has taken a negative turn because of the show. “I can’t go into a bookstore any more, and that used to be my favorite thing to do in the world,” Martin said. “To go in and wander from stack to stack, take down some books, read a little, leave with a big stack of things I’d never heard of when I came in. Now when I go to a bookstore, I get recognized within 10 minutes and there’s a crowd around me. So you gain a lot but you also lose things.”

While fans of the book series are fully aware of the author's struggle to finish the final two installments, The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring, Martin admitted that part of the delay has been a result of the HBO series, and fans' reaction to it.

“I don’t think [the series] was very good for me,” Martin said. “The very thing that should have speeded me up actually slowed me down. Every day I sat down to write and even if I had a good day … I’d feel terrible because I’d be thinking: ‘My God, I have to finish the book. I’ve only written four pages when I should have written 40.'"

Still, Martin has sworn that the books will get finished ... he just won't promise when.

[h/t The Guardian]

Attention Movie Geeks: Cinephile Is the Card Game You Need Right Now

Cinephile/Amazon
Cinephile/Amazon

If you’ve got decades worth of movie trivia up in your head but nowhere to show it off, Cinephile: A Card Game just may be your perfect outlet. Created by writer, art director, and movie expert Cory Everett, with illustrations by Steve Isaacs, this game aims to test the mettle of any film aficionado with five different play types that are designed for different skill and difficulty levels.

For players looking for a more casual experience, Cinephile offers a game variety called Filmography, where you simply have to name more movies that a given actor has appeared in than your opponent. For those who really want to test their knowledge of the silver screen, there’s the most challenging game type, Six Degrees, which plays like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, with the player who finds the fewest number of degrees between two actors getting the win.

When you choose actors for Six Degrees, you’ll do so using the beautifully illustrated cards that come with the game, featuring Hollywood A-listers past and present in some of their most memorable roles. You’ve got no-brainers like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill (2003) and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall (1990) alongside cult favorites like Bill Murray from 2004's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Jeff Goldblum in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984). Of course, being a game designed for the true film buff, you’ll also get some deeper cuts like Helen Mirren from 1990’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover and Sean Connery in 1974's Zardoz. There are 150 cards in all, with expansion packs on the way.

Cinephile is a labor of love for Everett and Isaacs, who originally got this project off the ground via Kickstarter, where they raised more than $20,000. Now it’s being published on a wider scale by Clarkson Potter, a Penguin Random House group. You can pre-order your copy from Amazon now for $20 before its August 27 release date.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER