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 undead 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 Crypt Keeper.Has a Recap page.
Alas, Poor Villain: In some episodes. One example is "Staired in Horror" where an antebellum widow's house is cursed so she gets older upon descending the stairs but any man ascending the stairs gets older. A killer who meets up with her flees much higher into the house to hide from a police dog and is rendered a completely helpless old humanoid in the attic.
All-Star Cast: Sort of the entire point. Everyone from Christopher Reeve to Ben Stein showed up at some point.
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.
Anti-Hero: In a rare instance of this trope in Tales From The Crypt, the narrator of You, Murderer continues to have our sympathy in spite of being a wanted criminal who has killed, robbed and cheated many people. One of the very, VERY few instances when an amoral character is actually portrayed sympathetically on the show.
Artifact Title: "Forever Ambergris." The main characters of the original story were an old sea captain and one of his men, and ambergris was very important to the actual plot. In the TV adaptation, they're war photographers- and nowhere near any whales.
"What's Cookin'." The original comic story had nothing to do with squids, cannibalism or a landlord.
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 some lye, which would actually neutralize the pH.)
The end of "Oil's Well that Ends Well" has the con artist Kill 'em All by tossing her cigarette butt into crude oil and causing a massive explosion. The stuff is flammable, but not by that much, and a lit cigarette won't even ignite gasoline, let alone crude.
Artistic License - Gun Safety: The Trigger Happy husband from "Judy, You're Not Yourself Today" is depicted as a die-hard NRA member, even though his extremely careless gun handling would have easily gotten him kicked out of those meetings he attends.
Asshole Victim: Oh, so many - and sometimes they're the main character of an episode.
Sometimes the show would turn undeserving victims from the source comics into assholes to make for less of a Downer Ending. In the original "Death of Some Salesmen" story, for instance, the main character isn't a con man and wasn't even trying to sell anything to the creepy old couple who murder him.
The Atoner: The main narrator of You, Murderer attempted to be this in a bid to try and put his criminal past behind him. It backfires on him horribly.
The Bad Guy Wins: Given this is a horror series, this happens at times. Notable examples include:
A very tragic example occurs in the episode "People Who Live in Brass Hearses" where brothers Billy and Virgil seek revenge on Billy's former employer, a jolly ice cream man, for reporting the criminal behavior that landed Billy in jail. Billy and Virgil fail initially, but finally break into the ice cream man's home and murder him, albeit by Virgil accidentally shooting him. In the end, it is revealed that the man they seek revenge against is one of two conjoined twins who promptly murders Billy and Virgil in revenge. But at the episode's end, the ice cream man is dead, his rotting corpse will likely lead to his conjoined brother's death, and the ice cream truck's wares are shown to be 50% off, indicating a failing business. Which means Billy ultimately got the revenge he sought.
"The Third Pig" features poor Dudley Pig getting framed for the Wolf's murder of his brothers by a rigged wolf jury. His dead brothers bail him out of jail and lead him to create a Frankenstein's Monster pig that devours the Wolf alive. But Dudley, feeling guilty for creating another monster to combat one, goes to kill the Frankenpig, succeeding in electrocuting it. But then the Wolf, reanimated by the electricity, emerges from the dead pig monster's body and devours Dudley alive.
Be Careful What You Wish For: In "Last Respects," a trio of sisters gets a hold of The Monkey's Paw itself. Delores tries to use the Three Wishes and her first one is for one million pounds. It turns out Marlys had a big life insurance policy, so she dies in a car accident. Thinking she can beat the Paw, Delores uses the second wish to restore Marlys to before the accident. It turns out that Marlys was really shot by the third sister Lavonne, meaning the second wish simply undid the cover-up and exposed the truth to Delores. Delores does find a way to beat the Paw in the end. She wishes that her last wish go to her sister... but doesn't say which sister.
"Split Second" HOLY SHIT Snazz, Artie and the rest of the lumberjacks...
Big "NO!": The end of "Let The Punishment Fit The Crime"
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. Although this can actually be viewed as a Downer Ending when you consider that Frank "living his life to the fullest" involves acting quite a bit like his brother used to.
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.
Of course, the Crypt Keeper himself specializes in this.
Cats Have Nine Lives: In "Dig That Cat... He's Real Gone," 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. Too bad he forgot to count the death of the cat to begin with before pulling his final stunt...
Also played with in the episode "Ear Today, Gone Tomorrow".
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.
Mitch Bruckner in "The Thing from the Grave."
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 a bit part in "None but the Lonely Heart" and even gets killed, and Bob Hoskins is in the opening to "Fatal Caper."
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.
Demonic Dummy: Subverted in "The Ventriloquist's Dummy". "Morty" is actually Ingels' vestigial twin brother underneath a dummy costume.
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.
A literal example occurs in "Curiosity Killed" with the bitter old woman who berates her husband's dog with the implication that she regularly mistreats it. During the story, the old woman sabotages her husband's friends' plan to make a youth potion to spite her husband, which leads to them dying via Rapid Aging while she takes the untainted youth potion for herself. She doesn't get to enjoy her youth for long when her husband's dog, who has also taken some of the potion, leaps up and violently avenges his master.
Double Entendre: Tons of it in "Spoiled" between the housewife and the cable man, before they begin an affair of course
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.
Another rare example is "Spoiled" about a scientist who's on the verge of working a new anesthetic while his wife has an affair with a cable man. Everybody lives but the scientist gets revenge on his adulterous wife by performing an operation that switches the heads of her and the cable man.
Faking the Dead: In "The Trap," a deadbeat Jerkass decides to fake his own murder for the insurance money - getting his abused wife to tell the cover story, and his little brother (a doctor) to fake an autopsy and cremation. It works, so he skips the country and gets a little plastic surgery. He returns to find out why his wife never came out to join him, though. He finds his wife and brother now married and "unaware" of who he is, as well as police eager to know why his fingerprints and blood are on the murder weapon.
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.
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?
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.
How Enoch strikes back at Mr. Sickles in "Lower Berth".
"Groundhog Day" Loop: "Whirlpool" features a comic artist who experiences the same day of getting fired for a story her boss doesn't like and a confrontation that kills her boss which ends with her being killed by policemen. It's revealed to be a story created by an employee featuring his Jerk Ass boss as the female protagonist. And his final words suggest he's trapped in one of his own.
Half the Man He Used to Be: The ending of "Split Second" where loggers help a new employee blinded by their Hair-Trigger Temper boss get revenge by having him chainsaw the boss in half while he's bound and gagged inside a hollow log.
Also in "Split Personality", where a guy pulls a Fake Twin Gambit in order to date two beautiful twin sisters at the same time. When they find out, they resolve the problem by sawing him down the middle so they can each keep half.
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.
"The Trap" also ends quite happily for Irene and Billy. Irene's abusive husband Lou, on the other hand...
Haunted House: "Television Terror." Also the twist ending for "Surprise Party".
Heart in the Wrong Place: In the episode "Dig That Cat... He's Real Gone", a bear-shaped archery target has a valentine-shaped cutout on the left side of its chest. They do get it right on the occasions where somebody gets their heart ripped or cut out, though...
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.
How We Got Here: "Dig That Cat... He's Real Gone" has the cat-gland-implanted/coffin-housed protagonist tell the audience via flashbacks the tale that led to his being willingly buried alive prior to his ninth life. And experience a massive Oh Crap moment when he realises that because the cat had to be killed to get the gland out, he only had eight lives all along instead of nine...
Hurricane of Puns: The truly terrifying element of the show is the Crypt Keeper's awful sense of humor.
Idiot Ball: There's often an easy way to avoid the horrible fates characters either have in store or bring upon themselves, but a firm grasp on this keeps them from thinking of it.
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."
Inkstain Adaptation: People who read the comics after seeing the show are usually surprised by how the Crypt Keeper looks, as in the comics he is simply an ugly old man with long white hair instead of the cackling rotting corpse most people are familiar with.
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.)
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; generally, the less an episode centers around a despicable character, the more likely they are to succeed with their evil plans and get off scot-free in the end.
The Crypt Keeper himself is one, considering the occasions he's periodically tortured, mutilated, and/or killed people during the bookends. He occasionally gets tortured and/or mutilated himself, but then, he likes stuff like that.
The main character from "The Man Who Was Death" had a motive to hunt down Karma Houdinis who were found not guilty. Ironically, he was eventually caught and executed for his murders.
Knight Templar: Talbot in "The Man Who Was Death." After his state repeals the death penalty, he goes around killing people that got away with murder.
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.
Magic Plastic Surgery: A trifecta in the episode "The Assassins": The trope is Invoked when a team of government agents show a photograph of a rogue assassin to a housewife and it's obvious that the man in the picture doesn't look anything like her husband. It's Subverted when the rogue assassin proves not to be her husband and Doubly subverted when the mandatory twist ending reveals that the rogue assassin is actually the wife.
Meaningful Name: Leah and Angelica, the twins in "About Face." Angelica is the angelic, beautiful, "good" twin, while in The Bible Leah is the name of one of Jacob's wives, who is unloved and ignored by Jacob in favor of her sister (especially appropriate given that the twins' father is a priest.)
The weaselly Amoral Attorney from "Let The Punishment Fit The Crime" is named Geri Ferret.
Meta Fiction: Particularly notable in some episodes, such as "Korman's Kalamity" and "Whirlpool" which feature writers/artists of the Tales from the Crypt comic as their protagonists (with the Crypt-Keeper even holding a copy of the comic in the former). Another notable example is the end of "Oil's Well That Ends Well" where the Crypt Keeper rewatches the final two-three minutes of the episode and comments upon John Kassir's character for being a "great hacktor" and wondering where he's heard that voice before.
Monogender Monsters: A variant of this in "Lover Come Hack to Me", where [every baby born into Peggy's family is apparently female.
Monster Clown: Played with in "Strung Along" where it appears Joseph's clown puppet Koko has come to life and murdered his adulterous wife. It's subverted in that it was all an act by his wife and her lover to make Joseph suffer a fatal Hollywood Heart Attack. It's then played somewhat straight when the Koko puppet, implied to be possessed by Joseph, murders the adulterous wife and lover in revenge.
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 Contest contestant kills another, but discovers that the pageant is "Miss Autopsy".
Once an Episode: A somewhat loose example. The Crypt Keeper will make at least one "ghoul" pun, no matter how nonsensical or how much of a stretch. Any word with a G and an L in there is fair game, usually "girl" or "gal," but on occasion "goal" and "gill" have fallen victim.
Product Placement: Curiously, Perrier-Jouët champagne turns up in several episodes, with its distinctive painted bottle always clearly visible on-camera. Whether this was a deliberate plug or just what the prop department happened to have handy isn't clear.
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.
Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Grunwald in "Revenge is the Nuts". It's not enough that he steals the home's funds to spend on himself while the blind inmates starve and freeze, but what's presented as the Moral Event Horizon is his sexual harassment/abuse of a new female arrival.
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. "Curiosity Killed" features this happening when a Jerk Ass old woman sabotages her husband and his friends' attempt at creating a youth potion. Also a version of this appears in "Staired In Horror" with any young man who goes up a staircase in a cursed house aging tremendously, while the woman who lives there goes from young to elderly when she descends the stairs, and vice versa.
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.
Rule of Scary: In full force, just like it was in the EC comics that inspired it. Admittedly, the stories and plot twists don't usually make a whole lot of sense, but if someone who watches the show complains about them they're doing it wrong.
Self-Deprecation: Between the Crypt Keeper occasionally deriding the audience for watching too much of the show, and characters in the actual segments tending to have a low opinion of it (or its namesake comic) whenever it was bought up, it seems Tales from the Crypt had no problem poking fun at its own low-brow appeal.
She Cleans Up Nicely: Stella King in "Creep Course" for the majority of the episode is pretty mousey and okay looking in baggy clothing and thick glasses. After encountering the mummy, she is smoking in revealing Egyptian garments and eyeshadow.
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.
Sins of Our Fathers: The big twist of "The Surprise Party." It's pure luck that the ghosts' victim ended up being a murderous arsonist just like his father, because they make it clear they were going to exact revenge on him either way.
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. Of these, "King of the Road" stands out the most for being a completely straight action yarn with no grisly or macabre themes whatsoever.
"The Pit" isn't based a Two Fisted Tales story, but also has zero horror elements, being a martial-arts themed action piece.
"Fitting Punishment" is notably the only episode with an entirely black cast.
Spared by the Adaptation: In the original story of "The Reluctant Vampire", Longtooth is discovered and staked in the heart. In the episode of the same name, it's the Jerk Ass who harasses Longtooth that gets staked in the heart after being mistaken for a vampire. Given the In Name Only reputation of the episodes, this probably isn't the only example.
Another example occurs with "My Brother's Keeper" wherein the original comic story featured the good twin committing suicide via alcohol and pills while taking the evil twin with him due to their shared body. In the adaptation, both survive and are surgically separated, leaving the evil twin to be arrested.
There was also a brief audio series produced for Sci-Fi Channel's Seeing Ear Theatre and done as a Radio Drama. Kassir again returned as our horror host (even singing the opening lyrics) and several high-profile guests (such as Tim Curry and Luke Perry) took part.
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.
Mr. Duvall swallows the black pearl to keep Red from the stealing it in "Dead Wait." Since Red is packing both a sharp blade and an extremely poor regard for the value of human life, this backfires pretty gruesomely.
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!"
Too Dumb to Live: Richard's wife Della and his friend Alan in "Three's a Crowd." While trying to keep a joyous secret (he's gonna be a daddy!) from Richard so the announcement will be a surprise, both seemingly go out of their way to make it look like they're having an affair instead, with Della spending most of her time alone with Alan and then running to his arms whenever Richard tries to confront her about it. But what really makes them this trope is that when Richard finally snaps and moves to kill the two, and it dawns on each of them that he's seriously going to do it, they still refuse to just come clean about all the secrecy, even though it could have avoided the major Tear Jerker that ensues.
Transsexual: 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.
Vocal Evolution: The Cryptkeeper's voice in the first season and roughly the first third of season two sounds noticeably different compared to his more usual one. It's a bit more quiet and raspier and slightly accented, like a sort of high-pitched Vincent Price impression.
Crypt Keeper: I suppose you're wondering what became of Susan. If you give me a scream, I might just tell you! (laughs)
"Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Some of the Crypt Keeper's closing segments allude to what became of the characters after the end. The Dr. Jerk in "The New Arrival" eventually escaped his predicament. Charlie from "Doctor of Horror" opened a club and even sent our horror host a postcard about it. Clyde from "Staired in Horror" eventually managed to reverse his age by slowly shuffling down the stairs, but was then left waiting for Lily to grow.
Worthless Yellow Rocks: Dead Wait. The voodoo priestess (Whoopi Goldberg) tosses away a huge, valuable black pearl, because she finds the red hair on Red's (severed) head far more valuable.
Wouldn't Hurt a Child: The Crypt Keeper assures us that the psychotic Santa from "...And All Through The House" didn't harm the little girl who let him inside, as "He preferred older women... in pieces!"
Miguel Ferrer appears in prominent roles in "The Thing from the Grave" and "In the Groove", as well as having an uncredited minor role in "As Ye Sow."
Michael Ironside has roles in both "Come the Dawn" and "The Sacrifice."
Joey Pants appeared in both "Dig That Cat, He's Real Gone" and "Split Personality."
Larry Drake appeared in "...And All Through The House" and "The Secret."
Lance Henricksen appeared in both "Cutting Cards" and "Yellow."
Character actor Roy Brocksmith appeared in a few episodes: He has a prominent role as the mad surgeon in "The Switch" and had minor roles in both "The Man Who Was Death" and "Cutting Cards" (interestingly enough, playing bartenders in both).
Your Cheating Heart: Several stories feature adulterers, both male and female. By the end, they get their comeuppance.
Sympathetic Adulterer: That said, sometimes that isn't the case, such as in "The Trap" wherein a physically and verbally-abused housewife conspires and becomes intimate with her brother-in-law to get revenge on her Jerk Ass husband.