Tales from the Crypt, Season 2, Episode 6, "The Thing from the Grave"
As I have extensively chronicled in these here pages, the essence of Tales from the Crypt’s early greatness often comes down to a simple but screamingly effective formula of great character actors playing astonishingly terrible human beings. We’re not even halfway through the second season and the show has already given incredible, unforgettable roles to heavyweights like William Sadler, Larry Drake, Joe Pantoliano, Amanda Plummer, M. Emmet Walsh, Jeffrey Tambor, William Hickey, Lance Henriksen and Kevin Tighe.
To this murderer’s row of top-notch character actors and actresses who’ve lent their idiosyncratic talents to Tales from the Crypt we can now add the late, great Miguel Ferrer, who specialized in playing weasel-faced bastards, most notably in Robocop, and adds another memorable monster to his roster in the form of Mitch Bruckner, manager, abusive boyfriend and unrepentant murderer in “The Thing From the Grave.”
The episode was adapted for television and directed by cult filmmaker Fred Dekker, whose Monster Squad answered the question of whether or not the lupine community possesses testicles by asserting that, yes, in fact, the wolf man does have nards.
Mitch Bruckner is a sick twist, even by Miguel Ferrer and Tales from the Crypt standards. Then again, Ferrer gave off such a wonderfully creepy vibe that he could be playing a gentle widower looking for love in a movie and we’d spend the entire time waiting for him to snap and start stabbing people in the eyeball.
From his first moment onscreen, it’s clear that Bruckner is our kind of evil bastard. In the episode’s crowning moment, he’s righteously confronted with the God’s commandment not to kill by Devlin Cates (Kyle Secor), the “sexy” photographer who has been sleeping with Stacy (a pre-stardom Teri Hatcher), the now-ex-girlfriend he abused, and briefly seems to be contemplating Godly forgiveness before instead answering “Fuck it” and then pumping a few bullets into Devlin’s body with enough force to knock him backwards into the open grave he’d dug just for the shutterbug.
We then flash back to earlier, happier, less murdery but still tense times. Devlin is confidently directing a glossy, sexy photo shoot featuring Stacy opposite a dim-witted but popular male movie star. Mitch enters the shoot like a sentient black cloud, oozing a trail of slime behind him and making lascivious remarks about Stacy in hopes of baiting the photographer into saying the wrong thing.
Devlin is too savvy for that, however. He doesn’t seem remotely surprised to discover that the creepy stranger who invaded his photo shoot with a whole lot of bad vibes and negative energy is both Stacy’s boyfriend and her manager. He also intuits almost immediately that Mitch has been physically abusing his girlfriend and meal ticket as well.
So he makes a bold move and offers his apartment as a safe refuge for the terrified beauty in case she needs a place to hide out from her creepy boyfriend and his abuse. As I’ve written earlier, one of Tales from the Crypt’s great strengths is its intentional air of timelessness. It’s a product of the first Bush/Clinton era but because it’s based on comic books from the 1950s, it generally has a deeply retro look and feel rooted inextricably in our distant past.
It’s generally not a good thing when the present intrudes on Tales from the Crypt. I’m thinking specifically about how the show’s conception of what a sexy photographer would wear—shapeless khakis, a long sleeve blue shirt over a tee-shirt—looks suspiciously like what a Blockbuster employee at the time might wear on casual Friday.
We all know how sexy photographers look and behave. They have atrocious teeth and say things like, “Yeah, baby!”, “Shagadelic!”, “Do I make you horny?” and “Mariska Hargitay.” Yet despite not saying even one of these hilarious and seductive catchphrases—just thinking about them, full disclosure, is making me horny—Devlin nevertheless takes the terrified model to various locales, including the bone zone and pound town. Also, they have sexual intercourse.
But their bond is deeper than sex. Early in their courtship, Devlin gives Stacy a necklace of the Mayan God of Truth with the supernatural power to make whatever is said by someone holding it come true. So when Devlin vows to protect her history has taught us that that vow will not end with death.
On a similar note, you generally have to kill someone more than once here in order for it to really stick. So even though Mitch did, indeed, succeed in murdering his romantic rival, that doesn’t keep the dogged suitor from rising up from the grave in undead form in order to live up to his words, pun possibly intended.
I could tell where this story was headed pretty much from the get-go and the episode bears an unmistakable resemblance to “Til Death”, thematically and in pretty much every other sense, which aired just two weeks earlier. Yet "The Thing from the Grave" succeeds all the same almost exclusively due to Ferrer’s wonderfully nasty bad guy turn. He would return to the series twice more, not unlike how Burgess Meredith appeared on multiple episodes of The Twilight Zone, but this set the bar awfully high for his patented brand of exquisitely scummy villainy.
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