Tales from the Crypt: Season Two, Episode Two: "The Switch"

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When Clint and I talked with Elliott Kalan about Tales from the Crypt for Nathan Rabin’s Happy Cast, he talked about how uncharacteristically restrained the Crypt-Keeper was in the show’s first season. Of course, “restrained” is a relative term when dealing with an undead, pun and alliteration-crazed puppet cut-up like the Crypt-Keeper but for all of his wordplay (or should I say blood spray! No, I shouldn’t, that makes no sense) he was unmistakably a figure of fright as well as a figure of fun. 

He was a product of the E.C Comics universe, a retro monster of scaremonies (I’m sorry, I meant to write master of ceremonies) with a ghoulish quip and kitschy get-up for every occasion. That began to change with season two, particularly the intro to the second episode of the show’s second season, the Emmy-nominated “The Switch.”

The intro finds the Crypt-Keeper sharing hosting duties with a special guest star: Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Austrian Oak, then at the height of his popularity, does double duty as both a first-time director and the Crypt-Keeper’s personal trainer. Yes, the “Shiver Chef” has another terror tale for all the “horror hooligans” but he’s too busy lifting weights to finish his narration, so Arnold steps in, but not before delivering a little Crypt-Keeper-style wordplay himself, when he asks our perpetually punning horror host, “What’s a matter with you? You want to keep that 90 pound corpse for the rest of your death?” before continuing, “Tonight’s story is about an old man who finds a new wrinkle in the fountain of youth, a twisted tale we call “The Switch.”

 "You look sickly, Crypty. Maybe you have a tuh-ma!"

"You look sickly, Crypty. Maybe you have a tuh-ma!"

By the end of the intro, Arnold, clad conspicuously in a Tales from the Crypt tee-shirt, has draped his arm around the Crypt-Keeper like he was an old college buddy, not a ghoulish monster. HBO seems to have realized pretty early on that kids loved the host of a nudity and gore-filled show they should never be allowed to watch, and transformed him into such a goofy, kid-friendly camp figure that multiple kid-focused spin-offs were created: the animated Tales from the Crypt-Keeper (which I’m excited about sharing with my horror-crazy three year old son Declan when he’s old enough) and the Double Dare-style kiddie game show Secrets of the Cryptkeeper’s Haunted House. 

We then segue from Arnold and Crypty to a wonderful character actor with a bit of Crypt-Keeper vibe himself: William Hickey, the raspy-voiced, diminutive spark plug whose ancient, hunched over presence enlivened movies like Prizzi’s Honor (which earned him a Best Supporting Actor nomination), National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and Puppet Master.

In “The Switch”, Hickey doesn’t just play Carlton Webster, a love-struck old man. Here, he’s old age personified. He’s a tiny multi-millionaire with a twinkle in his eye, an impish grin and a one-tack mind focussed on winning the heart of Linda (Kelly Preston), a beauty about whom Carlton rhapsodizes to his indulgent butler, “She’s cultured, sophisticated and what’s best, she’s young.”

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Alas, it turns out that she’s too young because she responds to his romantic overtures with a painfully blunt, torturously worded, “When I look into your face, I know that I could never marry you. You look too old, old enough to be my grandfather.” 

Carlton is intent on wooing Linda without revealing his wealth. He wants her to love him for him, not his money but when she cruelly rejects him for a deeply superficial reason, he decides that the problem isn’t that he’s in love with a cruel and superficial woman young enough to be his granddaughter but rather that his face is too old. 

He seems to think that if he just gets a new face, then this weird, mean young woman would love him for his personality, and also his sexy, young face. This being Tales from the Crypt, he visits a plastic surgeon, who refers him to a scientist whose work undeniably falls upon the “mad” side of the scientific divide. 

This mad scientist, whose haunted laboratory is filled with disembodied heads floating in liquid that look unmistakably like Halloween masks, promises to give the love-sick old coot the youthful face of hunk Hans (Rick Rossovich), but, somewhat puzzlingly, only his face, for a steep, steep price. 

 Name a more iconic duo. 

Name a more iconic duo. 

A pathetically hopeful Carlton comes back to Linda, whose dominant trait seems to be unabashed cruelty rather than the culture and sophistication the old man projects on her. Sure enough, when she sees his new face, which looks a strange amalgamation of Hickey, Rossovich and a middle-aged Dennis Hopper, she is clearly horrified and blurts out, “But your face! It’s so different and bizarre and your body is still old and decrepit!” 

It’s curious that Carlton is horrified by the idea of marrying a gold-digger only into him for his money but has no problem giving up everything for a much younger dream woman obsessed with an equally superficial quality like age. So when Linda once again rejects him in the ugliest, bluntest way possible, instead of ending his Quixotic quest he then acquires Hans’ ripped, buff torso as well.

Linda is a lot more impressed this time, until they go to the beach and she’s once again viscerally disgusted by her hapless suitor. “Your legs! They’re so scrawny and old! Look at the sagging skin and the veins!” she squeals in horror. 

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When we talked to Elliott he also complained that Tales from the Crypt episodes tend to last 5 minutes longer than they should, and drag out relatively simple premises in the process. That’s true here. Hapless Carlton has multiple operations to transform first his face, then his torso, then his legs and penis into that of a vital, hunky young man before discovering that what Linda wanted all along was a rich man like Carlton was before squandering his entire fortune trying to be young. 

A suspiciously high percentage of Tales from the Crypt deal with the richly earned comeuppances of gold-diggers but this clunky and disappointing episode punishes Carlton for being beauty and youth obsessed rather than the nasty gold-digger he’s hopelessly and haplessly in love with.

This is certainly one of the clumsier Tales from the Crypt episodes. The surprise ending isn’t much of a surprise and even someone as hopelessly love-crazy as Carlton would figure out Linda’s true nature before splurging for three separate surgeries to give him the youth and vitality Linda apparently does not value as much as she does a big old bank account.  

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Schwarzenegger is a renaissance man in so many ways. He’s been a championship bodybuilder, a major movie star, a Governor and, briefly, the replacement host on The New Celebrity Apprentice after that moron who used to yell “You’re fired!” on The Apprentice and Celebrity Apprentice got a new, different job that, frankly, I don't feel he’s terribly qualified for. But judging by his ham-fisted direction here, it would be wrong to add the honorific title of “Frightmaster” to Arnold’s long list of accolades and titles. 

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