It isn't often that a popular TV series is inspired by a literary property that all but destroyed a particular industry, but such was the case with the weekly, half-hour horror anthology Tales From the Crypt. Most of the episodes depicted herein were based on stories originally published in the EC comic book series Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror, and Shock Superstories in the 1950s. In these grim little morality plays, a number of nasty characters deservedly met grisly fates appropriate to their misdeeds. Examples included the compulsive neat freak who is cut up into little pieces and then tidily repackaged into carefully labeled mason jars, or the homicidal baseball player whose bloody body parts are used as bats, balls, and bases in a grim nocturnal ball game played by the vengeful teammates of his last victim. It was this sort of merry mayhem that brought down the wrath of professional do-gooders (such as the infamous Dr. Frederick Wertham) and their political co-conspirators, who demanded that the comic book industry immediately purge itself of all horror magazines -- and never mind these were among the best written and illustrated comics in the business.
At any rate, the old EC comics had become classics by the time Tales From the Crypt made its HBO debut on June 10, 1989. The series, like the comic books that inspired it, was hosted by the ghoulish "Cryptkeeper," seen here as a skeletal animatronic puppet whose voice was provided by actor John Kassir. Cracking delightfully gruesome jokes all the while, The Cryptkeeper introduced each episode, and showed up at the denouement to make a few additional creepy comments. In keeping with the standards set by the comics, the individual episodes dealt primarily with unpleasant people who were given their just desserts in an even more unpleasant fashion, usually with supernatural assistance. Several top filmmakers contributed their directorial talents to Tales from the Crypt, among them Robert Zemeckis, Walter Hill, Steven E. de Souza, John Frankenheimer, Elliot Silverstein, and even Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tom Hanks. The casts were equally impressive, boasting the likes of Joe Pantoliano, Amanda Plummer, Kirk Douglas, Miguel Ferrer, Teri Hatcher, Harry Anderson, Teri Garr, Beau Bridges, Christopher Reeve, Mimi Rogers, Martin Sheen, Shelley Hack, Natasha Richardson, and Ewan McGregor. The seven seasons of Tales from the Crypt, totalling 93 episodes, aired first in uncut, uncensored form on HBO, then were rebroadcast with a few judicious trims and expurgations here and there by the Fox Network. The last first-run episode was telecast July 19, 1996. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi