Tales from the Crypt, Season 2, Episode 4: "'Til Death"
The essence of much, if not most, horror involves horrible people being violently and disproportionately punished for their sins. That’s certainly true of Tales from the Crypt. It delights in fiendish morality tales where people who imagine that the laws, rules and moral codes that apply to everyone else do not apply to them learn otherwise in the grisliest possible fashion.
The episodes we’ve lovingly explored so far are lousy with black-hearted gold-diggers who receive grisly comeuppances of both genders. Tales from the Crypt is a true equal-opportunity offender. Men come off terribly in it but women do as well. The iconic HBO horror anthology is less misogynist than it is misanthropic.
As a core matter of principle, the show, like the comic books that inspired it, assumes that people are inherently terrible, and evil, and greedy and selfish, and deserve whatever hideous fate befalls them. Heck, the show’s host makes a point of cackling maniacally at death and murder at the beginning and end of every episode.
Tales from the Crypt did not win any NAACP Image Awards for its depiction of African-Americans because its African-American characters were just as likely to be evil as anyone else. They’re human, after all, and if the iconic anthology has taught us anything, it’s that human beings are the absolute worst, particularly in undead form.
The exquisitely nasty "'Til Death" perfectly casts D.W Moffatt as Logan Andrews, a blow-dried, super-slick hustler, playboy and would-be real estate mogul distraught to discover that the land he’s trying to develop in a tropical paradise is swampy and useless, if not downright deadly, and has problems it would cost a small fortune to solve.
It’s a dilly of a pickle, but this Patrick Bateman/Donald Trump Jr. type spies a way out of his unfortunate predicament when he meets Margaret Richardson (Pamela Gein) a haughty and bored vacationer who is as preposterously wealthy as she is just the fucking worst and good lord is she ever wealthy.
Margaret is racist. She’s a hopeless snob. She’s terrible and cruel but then again so is Logan so he furtively visits a voodoo priestess with the ever so slightly on-the-nose name Psyche (Janet Hubert, of Happiness is Not a Sitcom Mom/hating on Will Smith for decades quasi-fame) who Logan was once involved with romantically before the racism of his friends/himself put an end to that relationship and asks her for a potion that will make the obnoxious heiress fall in love with him so he can marry her and help himself to her fortune.
It speaks to the episode’s refreshing moral ambiguity that having a black ex-girlfriend doesn’t make Logan any less racist. If anything, having a non-white lover he callously abandons the moment it becomes inconvenient for him makes him more racist.
I’ve written about this elsewhere, but the right follow-up questions would prevent a lot of the misfortune Tales from the Crypt characters endure. For example, Psyche tells her sadistic and opportunistic ex-boyfriend that one drop of a love potion will make a woman want to be your wife, but a second drop will make her yours for life.
If I were him, I would ask what that meant. If she was being honest, Psyche would reply, “Oh, that means that even if she dies and decomposes and is a foul-smelling, shambling corpse, a hideous undead ghoul, she’ll still be in love with you, and she'll still try to fuck you.” I’d respond, “That actually sounds terrible. No thanks!” and the episode would be over. It would also suck and be four minutes long.
Logan is nowhere near as forward-thinking, or he wouldn’t be a protagonist in an episode of Tales from the Crypt so he foolishly, if predictably, puts one drop of the potion into the drink of the woman he desperately wants to exploit, and when that doesn't work, he drops a whole bunch more drops in.
It’s a little like taking mushrooms. You take some, nothing happens and you get frustrated, forgetting it takes a half hour or so to kick in. By the time you’re done taking more, you’re way too fucked up once the trip actually starts.
In this case, Logan impatiently voodoo-roofies Margaret until she’s in a feverish state of hyper-lust. Alas, the voodoo somehow only makes Margaret more racist and terrible, as well as unrelentingly horny. Margaret remains in a state of over the top erotic desire even after dying.
Logan thinks he’s home free after his very wealthy new wife dies until she pops up hornier than ever and with a face that keeps deteriorating due to her being embalmed upon death. When Psyche told Logan Margaret would love and lust after him for life, she didn’t specify that that would be true even after she died and began to decompose. That, I suspect, would be a deal breaker.
After Margaret meets an unfortunate, if deserved end, and just keeps going, Energizer Bunny style, “’Til Death” becomes a ghoulish slapstick comedy that anticipates Tales from the Crypt Executive Producer and director Robert Zemeckis’ Death Becomes Her.
“’Til Death” is a triumph of old-fashioned craftsmanship, particularly where the creature effects are concerned. Margaret’s monsterfication is a thing to behold, a masterpiece of practical effects, make-up and prosthetics that works swimmingly in an episode that works splendidly as both a nasty little vignette about two people who get what’s coming to them, and worse, and as an episode-length awards reel for a best make-up Emmy.
The nastiness of course extends to an outro where The Crypt-Keeper leeringly says he wouldn’t “mind a little of that old black magic” from Psyche. My dumb brain genuinely thought, “Don’t be racist, Crypt-Keeper. Obviously you’re an undead ghoul who cackles maniacally at the suffering and deaths of others, but don’t be gross and ruin things with a racist crack.”
It’s weird that I’m so emotionally invested in the non-racism of an undead fictional character from a thirty year old horror anthology. Then again, I did commit myself to watching and writing about 93 episodes of Tales from the Crypt over a three year period for this project so it makes sense that I would have more at stake here than fright fans and horror hounds who haven’t committed themselves to re-experiencing this weird, dark, wonderful world again in its entirety.
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