Tales from the Crypt, Season One, Episode Six: "Collection Completed"
The sixth and final episode of Tales from the Crypt’s first season, “Collection Completed” represents not just one of those unfortunate “funny” episodes but a very specific subset of “funny” episode: the domestic dark comedy.
“Collection Completed” is a domestic horror story, but it’s also about the horror of domesticity. It’s about a man who is put out to pasture as an irrelevant dinosaur by his company at sixty-five who discovers that “home” and “retirement” both represent horrors beyond his imagination.
The great M. Emmet Walsh, who looked like a fat, sick man on the verge of a fatal heart attack when he filmed this nearly thirty years ago and continues to look that way today, stars as Jonas, the aforementioned unhappy retiree, who was pushed out of his job as a salesman after forty seven years of unstinting loyalty and has no idea what to do with himself without the salesman job that represented his entire identity.
Jonas is fucking miserable. All he knows is work. He’s spent the previous forty-seven years fleeing the prison of home every morning and returning home late at night only to find himself without a job or any way to spend his time.
If being a salesman represents the sum of Jonas’ identity, and he’s utterly lost without it, then his doddering, understatedly melancholy wife Anita (Audra Lindley, best known as Mrs. Roper on Three’s Company and The Ropers) derives her identity and meaning from being the loving, indulgent pack mother to a wild menagerie of animals.
When Jonas grouses about being cursed to live inside Noah’s Ark, his long-suffering wife defends her devotion to all of God’s creatures by calling them her friends and her family. But it’s achingly apparent that this sad, love-starved woman is seeking in her relationships with these tiny little creatures the validation and company she desperately craves but does not get, and cannot get, from her emotionally constipated, depressed husband.
There’s a deep genuine emotional core of real sadness at the heart of “Collection Completed.” It’s the story of a married couple who discover, late in life, that they don’t really know each other, but they also don’t really like each other, either.
The marriage here reminds me of a story I read a long time ago where Noah Gallagher talked about how he and one of his wives had never been sober around each other before they got married, and that when they finally sobered up, they realized that they had nothing in common and got divorced.
Jonas and Anita should never have gotten married. Alternately, they should have divorced long ago, but he obviously kept himself distracted from his domestic misery and cold indifference towards his wife through work and she kept herself immersed in a world of animals.
“Collection Completed” is a strange episode to end such an auspicious and hyped season on. Think of all we’ve encountered so far. An insane executioner who gets executed! A killer Santa! A sleazy hustler who cheats death over and over again! A killer hooker! A crazy sex ghost!
What does “Collection Completed” have to offer in comparison? Mostly M. Emmet Walsh puttering around the house trying to find something to do with himself while complaining bitterly about the makeshift zoo he unhappily shares a home with.
Jonas eventually finds a focus for his restless old man energy when he takes up a new and unfortunate hobby: taxidermy.
In a stomach-churning set-piece, a crazed Jonas shows his wife how he has transformed her entire collection of pets into a much quieter, less labor-intensive collection of animal corpses stuffed and preserved to create the illusion of life.
“Collection Completed” ratchets up the tension and Jonas’ desperate unhappiness until it seems inevitable that he would crack completely and grouchiness would devolve into something much more ominous. The great Walsh is equally believable as a frustrated everyman at an unhappy professional and personal crossroads and as a bloodthirsty lunatic whose hatred of his wife’s hobby eventually results in a horrifying body count.
The revelation that Jonas has been murdering and preserving his wife’s animals is a literal case of overkill. Jonas didn’t just snap and kill a dog or a cat (although, God knows he did that too), he seemingly slaughtered a modern-day Noah’s Ark in order to get his ghoulish revenge on the animal kingdom for messing up his retirement and his peace of mind.
Anita gets the last laugh, of course, when she gives hubby a taste of his own medicine by killing him, then ghoulishly preserving the corpse in a way that, to be brutally honest, doesn’t look even the least bit natural.
“Collection Completed” builds methodically from a well-observed tale of domestic unhappiness to ghoulish, macabre dark comedy. The violence is shocking even by Tales from the Crypt standards in large part because it is committed against animals. Kill dozens and dozens and dozens of adult humans in a movie or TV show and audiences won’t flinch. Suggest a golden retriever might get hurt and suddenly people are suddenly invested to an almost embarrassing degree.
So while “Collection Completed” may not have had a big star in the lead role (although in Walsh, they have a perfect Tales from the Crypt anti-hero) or a flashy premise, it had dead animals in great abundance, and that will always make an impression.
Speaking of dead animals, “Collection Completed” was directed by Mary Lambert, who scored her biggest success this same year as the director of Pet Semetary.
That, friends, is what you call an auteur. Lambert returned to this gruesome subject matter later with Pet Cemetery 2, but that film's toxic reception proves that, when it comes to resurrecting franchises based on Stephen King novels, sometimes dead is better.
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