Tales from the Crypt, Season 2, Episode 15, "Mute Witness to Murder"
We’ve had a real run of event Tales from the Crypt episodes as of late. In last week’s beautiful and achingly sad episode, “Lower Berth”, we learned the tragic circumstances behind the birth of everybody’s favorite horror host, The Crypt-Keeper, while in the episode before that, “Korman’s Kalamity” we got a behind the screams look at life inside the Tales from the Crypt comic book.
Of course they can’t all be special episodes or “special” would lose what little meaning it currently possesses. In that respect “Mute Witness to Murder” is a nice change of pace in that it’s modest and unassuming in scope rather than audacious like “Lower Berth” and “Korman’s Kalamity.”
“Mute Witness to Murder” is an anomaly in other ways as well. There’s no supernatural element and while Tales from the Crypt is almost invariably about terrible, lust and greed-crazed monsters getting what’s coming to them, often in the form of a supernatural comeuppance, the episode’s plucky heroine does nothing to merit her unfortunate fate beyond having the bad luck to step outsider her balcony just as a murder is being committed by an evil psychiatrist in her eye line.
A very young Patricia Clarkson plays Suzy, the episode’s silent protagonist, a beautiful young woman who loses the ability to speak after she steps out onto her patio after an anniversary party with her loving husband and sees Dr. Trask (Richard Thomas) strangling his wife to death.
Suzy’s concerned hubby seeks out a doctor to help his wife with her unfortunate condition who just so happens the man she’d just witnessed committing murder. Trask seemingly has the option of killing Suzy, and her concerned hubby on the spot to hide his crime but he’s all about playing the long game. So instead of offing her himself right off the bat the deadly doctor instead has her committed to a mental hospital that’s even more sinister than most due to the murderous medical maestro being its Chairman of the Board, leader and uncontested God. In the mental hospital Trask has control over seemingly everything, including the lives of his patients.
Clarkson rose to fame and independent film glory as a sexy middle-aged woman with a smoky voice, sly humor and potent, mature sexuality. So it’s fascinating to see a pre-fame Clarkson as a glamour girl, a breathtakingly beautiful young woman who, because she’s played by Patricia fucking Clarkson, is also inherently smart and savvy and strong-willed even in a nightmare realm where she has been robbed of her voice and her agency and put in the care of someone intent on killing her.
Richard Thomas, who plays Dr. Trask, similarly brings an awful lot of baggage to the role. Thomas was known to a generation before me as John-Boy Walton of The Waltons, a show that was enormous and iconic and hugely popular at the time of its existence but has seemingly been forgotten about in the interim. When was the last time you heard anybody mention The Waltons? Probably your only exposure to The Waltons came from when the late George H.W Bush said that the American people needed to be “a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons.”
If Twitter had existed back then, H.W would have gotten roasted! The ratio would have been off the charts! It’s possible that Bush’s Waltons reference was so dated and so lazy and so bad that it all but killed Waltons references, and The Waltons, for perpetuity.
Thomas was an icon of All-American wholesomeness as John-Boy but he nevertheless has an oily, waxy, sinister quality that is exploited to brilliant effect here. The standards for evil, murdering villains are pretty high in Tales from the Crypt. We’ve already watched a murderer’s row of great character actors commit a whole lot of gleeful murder. Thomas belongs firmly in this pantheon of magnificent monsters.
He’s pure evil, with malice emanating from his oily pores, Nurse Ratched and Dr. Giggles wrapped up in one creepy package. “Mute Witness to Murder” is an elegantly assembled bit of hard-boiled suspense. Trask’s heart condition is brought up early in an organic fashion that nevertheless broadcasts that it will figure prominently in the climax.
Thanks largely to the ideally cast leads and a suspenseful script, “Mute Witness to Murder” is a tight little tale of suspense and mental hospital-based horror that’s devoid of monsters in the traditional sense but boasts, in the deplorable Dr. Trask, a figure whose callous indifference towards the suffering of others is nothing short of monstrous.
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