I miss Tales from the Crypt. No, I mean I really miss it. Along with Monsters and Freddy's Nightmares, it was one of the best horror anthology series of my youth and I always looked forward to seeing new episodes of it on HBO each week. We didn't get HBO in our house for a long time, but our old cable box had a weird glitch where if you pressed the two channel buttons closest to the HBO channel at the same time, it would make HBO come in fairly clear. We're not talking crystal clear, but it wasn't as bad as Gremlins messing with the TV antenna on the roof or anything, and there was no way in hell I was gonna miss an episode of the Crypt.
Watching it every week, I loved all the awful, horror-themed puns that the Crypt Keeper (voiced by John Kassir) would blurt out with his trademark high-pitched cackle before introducing a story. "Heads, I win. Tails, you ooze!" In addition to the bad puns, almost every episode had a cameo by a well known celebrity and it also functioned as a proving ground for many upcoming talents at the time.
The show had a lengthy seven season run, which is an eternity for anything in the horror genre as far as I'm concerned, so there are a lot of great episodes to choose from. When it comes to holiday horror specials, however, there's only one episode that comes to mind, and it's from way back in the first season: "And All Through The House" (based on a story that appeared in the old "Vault of Horror" comics #35). Being one of the first episodes to air, many people were introduced to the series with this classic tale written by Fred Dekker (the man behind Night of the Creeps and The Monster Squad) of a mental ward escapee dressed in a Santa Claus suit. So let's take a little trip down memory lane, or as the Crypt Keeper would say, "Let's take a little RIP down memory PAIN!" Man... I could've been a writer for that show when I was eight years old.
The episode starts off with the Crypt Creeper dressed up in a Santa costume that looks like it came straight out of some seasonal mannequin store display nightmare. He explains that he's in the costume to celebrate the holidays: "Why else would I be in this getup, unless there was a Claus in my contract! Eee heee hee ha ha ha!" After a few more puns, he opens up his book for a new tale entitled, "And All Through The House".
It all begins with The Christmas Song playing as the camera slowly pans in on a cozy little home decorated for the holidays as the snow covers the ground outside. A plate of cookies with a note written in crayon that reads "For Santa, Love Carrie" has been left on on a table near the Christmas tree, and mom 'n dad are enjoying a nice relaxing evening in the living room. Dad (played by Marshall Bell - aka: Kuato from "Total Recall") is enjoying his glass of brandy near the fireplace as his wife (played by Mary Ellen Trainor, who you should immediately recognize as Mrs. Walsh from "The Goonies") paces around the room with the fireplace poker in her hand. "Something needs to be done about that fire. Do you have the poker?" he asks. When she responds affirmatively, he says, "Well let me have it." And boy, does she ever let him have it. She slams it down on him as the poker becomes embedded in his skull. "Merry Christmas, you son of a bitch!" she says with a satisfied smile.
Oh yeah, we're definitely off to a great start here.
After a few failed attempts at removing the poker while comically slamming his stunned face onto the table, mom finally pries it loose and falls down in the process. The commotion wakes up her daughter, Carrie, who thinks Santa Claus has come to pay her a visit. As mom quickly rushes over to her daughter, we get a hilarious view of dad's bloodied and shocked expression in the foreground while she explains to her daughter that she needs to go to sleep or Santa won't come bring her any presents. As they walk upstairs, Carrie says she already saw Santa running around outside. Oooh, foreshadowing!
Being the brilliant woman she is, mom actually leaves a voice message to a guy named Vic (her lover), revealing the full details of her plot to collect on the life insurance policy of her now dead husband Joseph. Yeah, that's exactly what you're supposed to do whenever you've committed a murder - immediately leave indisputable proof that you did it. I also have to say that she has impeccable taste in men, because the voice mail that plays when she calls says: "Hey, it's the Vic-monster... I'm out partying! Leave your name, number and measurements!"
After she's done making that completely necessary phone call, she wraps up hubby's head in some festive cellophane with a nice red ribbon and then drags him outside. As she drags him out the door, she doesn't hear the radio playing in the house with a news report about an APB the police have issued regarding a man who escaped from the Pleasantville Institute for the Criminally Insane (funny, I don't remember hearing about that in the movie Pleasantville). The man is reported to have brutally murdered four women and is dressed in a Santa Claus suit.
She drags her husband near the old well in the backyard, while complaining aloud about how heavy he is and that a few sit-ups wouldn't have killed him. No, sit-ups wouldn't have killed him... you did, lady. Suddenly, Joseph comes back to life and starts choking her with all his might. She tries reaching for a nearby axe, but can't quite make it to it, so he steps on him with her boot to free herself from his grip and then he passes out again. When she looks back up, the axe is gone and she then hears some jingle bells over near the house. Who could it be?
Why, it's the asylum escapee dressed as Santa, of course! But it's not just any old lunatic... it's Larry Drake, whom any horror fan worth his or her salt should know from flicks like "Dark Night of the Scarecrow" and "Dr. Giggles". Without any delay, he starts trying to chop her to pieces with his newfound axe. He soon has her pinned up against the well, and in an act of desperation, she grabs a nearby icicle, slashes his face with it and then kicks him straight in the jingle bells. Mental ward escapee or not, if you get kicked there, it's gonna slow you down at least a little bit.
She manages to get the axe from him and she runs inside the house, but before she can shut the door, he sticks his arm through to prevent her. After screaming about this for a good 30 seconds, she remembers she has an axe in one hand, so she finally chops at his arm. Blondes, right? She doesn't chop it off, but it does enough damage to make him wince and retreat. What's amazing is that while all all of his crazy grunts and her screaming are going on, the daughter remains sound asleep upstairs. Remind me to shop where she shops the next time I need to install some sound-proofing.
With psycho Santa locked out of the house, mom rushes to call the police on the phone for help, but then she remembers that there's the little matter of her dead husband outside. Instead of giving her address so that the cops can come to save her and her daughter, she hangs up the phone. I know who I'm voting for Mom of the Year!
All of a sudden, a tire swing comes bursting through the living room window and Santa starts strangling her from behind.
Did I mention this woman is a genius? Because she really is. When you have a psycho wandering around outside your home, do you A) hold onto the axe or B) put down the axe and lean up against the window so he can get to you easily. If you chose B, perhaps you can star in the sequel to this episode should they ever film one.
So yeah, he's strangling her from behind and the axe is just barely out of reach once again. She struggles for a while and is eventually able to grab the axe. She swings it towards his face annnnnnnnnd......... *BONK* Believe it or not, she actually hit him with the dull end instead! Yes, why kill the psycopath with an axe to the face when you can just disorientate him for a few minutes with a little thump to the skull? But hey, at least we get this classic visual as a result of her brilliance:
Few images are as poignant as Santa Claus passed out in the snow beneath a tire swing as a snowman frowns upon him.
With Santa unconscious outside, she closes the window shutters and then receives a call from the police and they inform her about the escaped lunatic. They also tell her they'll be sending an officer out to her house soon to make sure he's not lurking around, so she finally has a good idea and decides to blame her husband's death on Santa. She even rehearses her story aloud, "Oh no officer! I didn't kill my husband... Santa did!" Makes you wonder how many times that old excuse has been used in human history, doesn't it?
So, mom wanders outside and finally figures out how to use the axe properly and embeds it in Joseph's head to frame Santa for killing him. Now another quick quiz for you: With the lunatic still outside, do you A) hold onto the axe or B) leave it in Joseph's head and go back inside as you wait for psycho Santa to strike yet again.
Yep, never one to learn from her past mistakes, she went with choice B... again. Once back in the house, she calls the operator (apparently 911 is waaaay harder for her to dial than 0) and starts screaming about how the killer is at her house and how he murdered her husband. As she's talking on the phone, she peeks outside and notices Joseph's body has been turned on its side and the axe is missing. Me thinks Santa Claus is coming to town!
Now she's no longer acting and screaming to the operator that he has an axe. The operator tells her to stay inside and find a weapon, and that's when mom remembers that Joseph had kept a gun in the closet. Unfortunately for her, the gun is on the top shelf of the closet and she can't reach it. What's worse, she's just locked herself in the closet and can now see Santa through the window, climbing his way up to Carrie's bedroom.
Carrie finally wakes up, opens her window and sees Santa climbing up the side of the house. "I knew you were here Santa! Come on up, I've been waiting all night!" she says excitedly as she tries reaching out a hand to help him up, but he's just out of her reach. While this is going on, mom continues to scream her ass off and she finally breaks the closet door down. She makes a dash for her Carrie's bedroom to stop her from letting Santa in, but when she's nowhere to be found. Mom then runs back downstairs and finds her daughter...
...holding Santa's hand! "See mommy? I told you Santa would come and he didn't even have to come down the chimney! I let him in!" As mom begins to scream and scream and scream some more, Santa walks towards her and says:
NAUGHTY OR NICE?
NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!
As the screen fades to black with mom's tortured screams echoing away, the Crypt Keeper pops up with the creepy Santa mask at his side for another classic send-off:
"Well, how was that for a scream, boys and ghouls? Oh, don't worry about little Carrie. This particular Santa preferred older women... in pieces, that is! Well, it just goes to show ya... be very careful what you AXE for Christmas, you might just GET IT! Eee heee hee ha ha ha!"
It's a truly classic Christmas horror tale with just about everything you could ask for: a snowy setting, a murder, a moron who clearly deserves to die in the end and Larry Drake playing a lunatic in a Santa costume. It's no surprise that this is one of the most beloved episodes of Tales from the Crypt, and I'm sure if you watch it just once, it'll become a required viewing for many of your future holiday seasons to come.
By the way, if you enjoyed reading this piece, please consider picking up something from the I-Mockery Store. It'll keep you off the naughty list for this year at the very least.
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