Tales from the Crypt, Season One, Episode Four: "Lover Come Hack to Me"
Here at the Spookthology of Terror, we’ve talked a lot about the fellas, great tough-guy character actors like William Sadler, Larry Drake and Joe Pantoliano, who lent an effortless verisimilitude to their portrayals of sleaze bags, psychos and the deeply unhinged. Sadler, who starred as the title character in the first episode, “The Man Who Was Death”, in particular made his mark upon the franchise. In addition to anchoring the debut, he also starred in the first film Demon Night, and hosted the Two Fisted Tales, a failed, would-be Tales from the Crypt spin-off whose vignettes were eventually folded into Tales from the Crypt.
Amanda Plummer does not have as extensive a relationship with Tales from the Crypt as a franchise as Sadler but in “Lover Come Hack to Me” she delivers every bit as riveting, unforgettable and challenging a performance, if not more so.
Can we talk about how great Amanda Plummer is? She’s one of those actors you believe regardless of context, an actor with an authenticity that transcends her material. In breakout performances in Pulp Fiction and Fisher King she’s a magnetic combination of breathy vulnerability and balls to the wall insanity.
She’s a delicate, wispy bird of a creature who might just snap and beat you to death in a fit of rage. She’s almost too innocent and pure and fragile for this world, but there’s a tricky, sinister undercurrent to that innocence that makes her dangerous and unpredictable and absolutely perfect for “Lover Come Hack to Me.”
The episode was directed by second-tier fright master Tom Holland, who got off to a hell of a start with his screenplay for the shockingly non-terrible Psycho II (AKA Anthony Perkins stares longingly at knives for an hour and a half, only occasionally in connection with his perhaps regrettable short-term occupation as a short-order cook) and his direction of Fright Night and Child’s Play and written by Michael McDowell, who has one of the all-time niftiest screenplay credits in a movie that came out a year before this also about ghosts, and the afterlife, and the blurring of the world of the living and the dead called Beetlejuice.
“Lover Come Hack to Me” becomes a ghost story but it does not start out that way. The episode opens with the seemingly mousy, sheltered and virginal Peggy (Plummer) getting married to Patrick Bateman wannabe Charles (Stephen Shellen), a big old slab of beefcake with a Chippendale’s physique and very 1980s mane of man-hair, much to the chagrin of her protective Aunt Edith (Lisa Figis), who suspects, with good reason, that Charles is a heartless gold-digger only out for Peggy’s share of the family fortune.
Let it never be said that Tales from the Crypt is afraid to really mix things up and take chances. The last episode, after all, revolved around an evil, cynical female gold-digger willing, even eager, to commit murder to attain her mercenary objectives. This episode, in sharp contrast, revolves around an evil, cynical male gold-digger willing, even eager, to commit murder to attain his mercenary objectives.
“Lover Come Hack to Me” is, for the most part, a two-hander that follows our mismatched newlyweds through the night after their informal nuptials. A storm rages that reflects the mercurial mood shifts of our scheming anti-hero.
Tales from the Crypt had the curious distinction of being at once prestige television show (just look at those Executive Producers! Look at those production values!) and vulgar pulp custom-made to set the hearts of 13 juvenile delinquents like my younger self’s heart aflutter.
“Lover Come Hack to Me” distinguishes itself both by virtue of its tony production values and a level of sexuality high even for an episode of Tales from the Crypt. Twenty-nine years later, it’s still exceedingly rare to see a depiction of female sexual satisfaction as explicit and unapologetic as Peggy's here after she makes a whip neck transformation from mousy wallflower suckered into a ruse of a marriage to crazed, bloodthirsty seductress.
Nearly three decades later it’s still incredibly rare to watch a woman’s orgasm onscreen but “Lover Come Hack to Me” devotes a surprising and, frankly, refreshing amount of time to Peggy having an orgasm so overpowering that she screams so loud that it shatters glass, not unlike my favorite comic book character, minor league super-villain and #FakeNews pioneer Shattered Glass (Hayden Christensen).
When Tales from the Crypt debuted, pay cable was still a luxury and a bit of a status symbol. Tales from the Crypt was the kind of show people signed up for HBO to watch, because of its quality and the heavy hitters involved but also because of its fucking, boobs and butts.
“Lover Come Hack to Me” gets off to an inauspicious start with a gratuitous naked butt shot of our hunky honeymooner but really kicks into high gear when our heroine presents herself sexually to her new husband not as the timid, easily cowed woman he thinks he knows and is eager to murder for her money (he wouldn’t be a protagonist in Tales from the Crypt this season if he didn’t have murder both on his mind) but rather a femme fatale in sexy lingerie cutting an incongruously glamorous and even sexy figure.
Plummer has never been as sexy as she is here. On one level, it’s an utterly out of character performance as a woman who owns her animal sexuality to a homicidal degree. On another, it’s perfectly in keeping with the gallery of eccentrics, wallflowers and deranged criminals Plummer has played over the course of her career.
This role, with its whiplash turns between cold, wet helplessness and furious rage, taps into the alternating currents of strength and weakness, child-like naiveté and adult weariness that make Plummer such a compelling performer. It almost doesn’t matter that the actor opposite her is a stiff. His job, really, is just to react to Plummer, to ground the story in the eminently understandable solid ground of murderous greed while her infinitely more compelling character goes on a crazy journey that takes the story into the realm of the supernatural.
Charles has some pretty dopy dialogue, particularly when he pieces together what’s happening out loud for the sake of the audience but a preponderance of haunted house/spooky honeymoon/rainy night atmosphere and Plummer’s hypnotic lead performance carry this past periodic creaky spots.
Holland isn’t the name Walter Hill, Robert Zemeckis and Richard Donner are, but he’s a horror specialist who knows how to tell a spooky tale, how to build tension and deliver gothic twists and turns. “Lover Come Hack to Me” is primarily a tour de force for Plummer, but Holland and McDowell (who later collaborated on the awful but fun Stephen King adaptation Thinner) provide an appropriately spookily scarifying frame for Plummer to do some of her best and most intense work, and considering that the default intensity level for a Plummer performance is “pummelingly”, that’s really saying something.
“Lover Come Hack to Me” sets itself apart partially by being very sexual, and sexy but also by virtue of its cinematic production values and meticulous production design. To borrow the old Dolly Parton line, it cost HBO a whole lot of money to create a TV show this cheap and vulgar.
Listen to Nathan, Clint and special guest/Crypt-Keeper super-fan Elliott Kalan talk about this episode on Nathan Rabin's Happy Cast: https://www.nathanrabin.com/happy-place/2018/2/27/nathan-rabins-happy-cast-episode-9-tales-from-the-crypt-spook-tacular-welliot-kalan
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