Tales from the Crypt, Season 2, Episode 13 "Korman's Kalamity"
Over the course of its sixty-eight years of existence Tales from the Crypt has undergone myriad iterations. It began in 1950 as a horror anthology comic book put out by E.C Comics that terrified grown-ups and titillated and terrified the kiddies. Then the creeps over at the Comic Code Authority came gunning for E.C publisher William Gaines and his ghoulish menagerie of sicko horror titles and the iconic Mad man shuttered his terror tales to avoid having to put up with their bullshit and censorship.
Tales from the Crypt was reborn across the pond in the early 1970s as Tales from the Crypt, a British 1972 horror cinematic horror anthology with the great Ralph Richardson as the Crypt-Keeper and then in 1973 as The Vault of Horror, both star-studded Amicus productions.
Then of course The Crypt-Keeper came to HBO for the horror anthology we all know and love and was such a spectacular cult success that it started generating spin-offs in multiple mediums. It became, of all things, a Christmas album and a metal anthology, not to mention a children’s animated show (Tales from the Cryptkeeper) and, in perhaps the most off-brand and just plain off version this side of the Christmas album, a Double Dare-style competition for children.
The hits and misses kept coming. In 1995, Demon Knight brought Tales from the Crypt to the big screen again in an assured fashion. Its follow-up, Bordello of Blood, went a long way towards killing the horror institution as a viable cinematic franchise. Indeed, its follow-up, Ritual, went direct to video.
“Korman’s Kalamity” suggests a bold new direction for the beloved American pop culture institution to take. What, it asks provocatively, if Tales from the Crypt was a wacky, meta sitcom starring lovable Harry Anderson of Cheers and Night Court about a Tales from the Crypt artist whose thoughts and drawings have a way of coming real and attacking people?
If you read that description and thought, “Wow, that sounds like a lot of fun!”, guess what, you’re right! There are moments when the episode is enormous fun, particularly when it focusses on artwork and monsters. If you read that description and thought, “Wow, that sounds terrible!” you’re also right.
“Korman’s Kalamity” is possibly the most uneven episode we’ve encountered so far. When it’s on it’s an old-fashioned delight. When it’s off, which is often, it’s nothing short of embarrassing.
The unevenness begins with the setting. The mere idea of a Tales from the Crypt office set my inner twelve year old’s imagination aflame and I loved the glimpses of artwork on display throughout the workspace. At the same time, the Tales from the Crypt is a depressingly generic sitcom setting populated by one-dimensional supporting characters like a wacky writer full of outrageous ideas and a gruff editor demanding work yesterday.
Then the wife (Colleen Camp) of day-dreaming protagonist Jim Korman (Anderson) marches into her bullied and henpecked husband’s office like Sherman marching through the South and proceeds to deliver a sour, misogynistic symphony of emasculation, denigrating her husband’s manhood and virility and faithfulness and pretty much every other facet of his existence before storming off in a rage. This, Jim’s coworkers agree, is what a REAL monster looks and acts like.
Jim is so angry that he hate-draws a Creature from the Black Lagoon-looking monster that comes alive and saves sexy cop Lorelei Phelps (Cynthia Gibb) from being sexually assaulted by a redneck rapist played by future West Wing star Richard Schiff. The monster in the laundromat is an old-fashioned marvel of practical effects and inspired production design. Every other aspect is borderline amateurish, not to mention disconcertingly rooted in the threat of sexual assault as a cheap plot point.
Lorelei notices that the monsters that have been popping up all over town bear a distinct resemblance to Jim’s work for Tales from the Crypt and zeroes in on him as the unlikely root of the city’s unfortunate monster problem. The high-concept conceit of “Korman’s’ Kalamity”, beyond, you know, monsters coming to life and life at Tales from the Crypt mirroring the mayhem within its pages, is that once Jim falls in love and his head starts with thoughts of love rather than images of carnage and brutality his life becomes bifurcated along the lines of old-fashioned comic book genres.
Jim’s life with his monstrous and verbally castrating wife remains a horror show that climaxes with Jim drawing a monster version of his monster wife that does him the favor of killing his ball and chain to liberate him permanently from living hell that was his marriage. Jim’s life with the fetching cop of his dreams, meanwhile, unfolds like a romance comic book. Or at least I imagine it does, since I have never read a romance comic book.
It’s a clever conceit that’s at once too clever and not quite clever enough. On a conceptual level, “Korman’s Kalamity” is at once convoluted and inspired but the ham-fisted, heavy-handed execution ruins some nifty ideas, some cool monsters and some awesome artwork.
As I suggested earlier, “Korman’s Kalamity” feels like a back-door pilot for a Tales from the Crypt meta sitcom with a premise that can’t quite sustain even a single episode of an uneven but often brilliant horror anthology show, let alone an entire series.
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