Tales from the Crypt Season 2, Episode 1: "Dead Right"
Well, boils and ghouls, it seems we have come to the second season of Tales from the City, HBO’s frighteningly funny horror anthology smash. Wait, I meant to write “boys and girls” but I guess my Auto Correct is not working properly.
As some of y’all may recall, my least favorite episode of Tales from the Crypt’s brief first season is easily “Only Sin Deep”, a Howard Deutch- (The Odd Couple II and Grumpier Old Man, both of which dealt with the greatest horrors of all: aging, mortality and unnecessary sequels) directed dud about a sexy gold-digger (Lea Thompson, Deutch’s real-life wife) with an unconvincing New York accent who ends up paying an awful price for her greed.
So how does Tales from the Crypt open its second season? Why with a Howard Deutch-directed terror tale about a sexy gold-digger (Demi Moore) with an unconvincing New York accent who ends up paying an awful price for her greed. Thankfully, the season two premiere is a marked improvement over “Only Sin Deep”, if only by virtue of Jeffrey Tambor’s heavyweight performance as Charlie Marno, the most physically repulsive creature since Terry Jones’ Mr. Creosote unwisely consumed that waiter-thin mint in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. Or Bill Paxton in The Dark Backward
Yes, Tales from the Crypt apparently felt that Tambor was just too goddamn svelte, good-looking and charming to play Marno because they ugly him up here something fierce. Every part of him is repellent, from his greasy combover to his massive gut to his pockmarked face.
But what makes Marno such an unforgettable character is that he’s just as ugly on the inside. We as a culture expect, if not demand, that seriously overweight and/or unattractive people be either meek and self-conscious or sassy and funny to compensate for not measuring up to our culture’s impossible beauty standards.
Not our Charlie, however! Tambor plays a corpulent creep who is incredibly aggressive in pursuing beautiful women despite looking like Danny DeVito’s Penguin after a late-period growth spurt and decades of further neglecting his body.
Where Tambor is physically repulsive to the point of being hard to look at, Demi Moore’s cold-hearted schemer oozes sex and glamour. She’s a shameless gold-digger singularly focussed on snagging a rich husband who will free her from the everyday grind.
While on lunch break from her job as a secretary, Cathy visits an eccentric fortune teller (is there any other kind?), who tells her that she will be fired. When that prophecy turns out to be correct she pays another trip to fortune teller, who tells her that she will meet a large man who will come into a lot of money and then die violently shortly afterwards.
This, friends, is where you should start asking follow-up questions, such as, “How will he come to inherit this money?” and “Will I also be dead when this mystery figure dies violently?” Our anti-heroine, however, is not so inquisitive. At no point does she ask the fortune-teller, “Hey, is this going to be one of those Monkey’s Paw deals where I get something I desperately want, but in a ghoulish, destructive, bitterly ironic way that ultimately leads to my doom? Cause this sure feels like that.”
Nope, Cathy has all the information she apparently needs from the fortune teller’s cryptic comments so when she spies Tambor’ Jabba the Hut-like man-beast at her job as a waitress in a strip club (you gotta admire the show’s commitment to gratuitous nudity) she is viscerally repulsed, particularly when he keeps hitting on her with an intensity and delusional belief in his non-existent charms that suggests he’s never looked in a mirror at any point in his life.
To make things worse, Charlie doesn’t even have any money, but when he mentions that he has a wealthy uncle Cathy decides that he must be the soon-to-be-wealthy man the fortune teller was referring to so she overlooks her intense hatred of Charlie and unwisely marries him.
The gold-digger’s life becomes a living hell of housework, picking up Charlie’s giant underwear and fending off his non-stop amorous advances. “Dead Right” is misanthropic and mean-spirited even by Tales from the Crypt standards. “Dead Right” makes no attempt to humanize Charlie. From start to finish, he is rotten on the outside and just as rotten on the inside.
It’s hard to say which is the crueler moment in the show: when Cathy amuses herself by thinking of all the fun, colorful ways Charlie could die violently, or in that exquisitely uncomfortable scene where Charlie kisses Kathy for way too long, causing her to vomit in disgust over sharing such an intimate moment with Charlie. In his costume and make-up, Tambor barely looks human. When Charlie and Kathy first become physical, it looks like she’s being groped by a horny manatee who won’t take no for an answer.
In a fairly predictable development, the fortune teller’s prediction comes true in a bitterly ironic way when Cathy wins a million dollar prize and is brutally murdered by her husband in a fit of rage, leading to the second consecutive season opener to end with a lead character dying in an electric chair. The other one is of course “The Man Who Was Death”, which, for bonus points, is also about a professional executioner who decides to go freelance.
Now I’m legal scholar, just an unemployable Juggalo, but it is my understanding that if you murder someone, you don’t get to inherit their money. Criminals aren’t even allowed to write books that would allow them to profit from their crime. I’m pretty sure you officially wave your right to any kind of an inheritance when you commit first degree murder against the person whose wealth you would be inheriting.
“Dead Right” offers a new spin on an old tale and if the ending isn’t remotely surprising, let alone shocking, it’s nevertheless satisfying due largely to Tambor’s heavyweight performance as the kind of world-class creep you cannot forget, no matter how dearly you might want to.
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