Tales From the Crypt, Season 2, Episode 17 "My Brother's Keeper"
Welcome, fiends, back to a little column that we like to call the Spookthology of Terror. It’s the feature that takes a loving look back at the entirety of Tales from the Crypt, the iconic HBO horror anthology that rocked my world as a teenager and continues to hold a place of distinction in my memories and the imagination of my generation.
This column has not been updated in almost a year. The last time I waded into the pun-laded realm of the Crypt-Keeper and his ghoulish magic it was December of last year and the episode in question was “Television Terror”, a wonderfully bleak vehicle for talk show host, singer and actor Morton Downey Jr.
Why has it taken me so long to get back to this column? That is a damn good question. I’m not sure. It was nothing intentional. So much of my life as a full-time freelancer/website proprietor is about finding the time to do all of the things that I want to do and finding the time to do the things that I absolutely need to do.
I enjoy writing Spookthology of Terror because I fucking love Tales from the Crypt but for the last year or so writing new entries has fallen squarely into the “things I want to do and consequently may or may not get around to at some point in this life or the next” category rather than qualifying as “things I absolutely need to do.”
Things I absolutely need to do include making sure there are at least fifty two new Case Files in the second My Year of Flops, writing between 50 and 60 Control Nathan Rabin 4.0 entries a year, finishing The Weird Accordion to Al so I can publish the book version and doing all of the work and research for Nathan Rabin’s Happy Cast and the podcast itself.
It’s Shoctober, however, the spookiest of months, so I figure it’s the perfect time to bring this beast back to life with “My Brother’s Keeper”, the second to last episode in the horror institution’s second season.
“My Brother’s Keeper” is the second episode of the season from the writing team of Jeffrey Price & Peter S. Seaman, who earned a permanent place in the pantheon of pop culture with their screenplay for one of the greatest and most groundbreaking American films of all time: Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
Robert Zemeckis gets most of the credit for Who Framed Roger Rabbit being a towering technical and creative achievement but Price and Seaman undoubtedly played a major role as well.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit is one of the most technically ambitious and accomplished films of all time. Over three decades later we’ve never come close to matching its masterful integration of animation and live action. Price and Seaman’s episodes of Tales From the Crypt are similarly complicated and impressive from a technical perspective.
Earlier this season we enjoyed another Seaman-Price collaboration in “For Cryin’ Out Loud”, a standout episode set in the unforgettably scuzzy milieu of the rock and roll world that, like “My Brother’s Keeper” is about a greedy, desperate lunatic violently divided against himself and his better half.
In “For Cryin’ Out Loud” the greedy, desperate lunatic is a larcenous promoter played by Lee Arenberg who steals money from a benefit for the rainforest and then is confronted by a most unwanted force in his screaming, hectoring, belligerent conscience, brought to life in an Emmy-worthy vocal performance by a perfectly cast Sam Kinison.
In “My Brother’s Keeper” the greedy, desperate lunatic is Eddie (Jonathan Stark), a binge-drinking, chain-smoking, skirt-chasing monster of id and ego unhappily tethered to conjoined twin Frank (Timothy Stack).
I’m going to be brutally honest here. I’ve gone through the last three decades thinking that Timothy Stack played Mr. Belding on Saved By the Bell and that when not on Saved By the Bell Mr. Belding created and starred in the Baywatch spoof Son of the Beach and the talk show parody Night Stand.
I was wrong. Dennis Haskins plays Mr. Belding while Stack created and starred in Son of the Beach and Night Stand. Stack is cast against type here as Eddie’s polar opposite, the kind of gentle, nerdy soul who brings a book to a bar while his lesser half tries to hit on every horrified woman in the establishment simultaneously.
Stack and Stark have such natural, unforced chemistry, and such similar last names that my dumb brain assumed that they were brothers, possibly even fraternal twins, when they’re not even related.
On a purely physical level, the choreography and costuming necessary to create the illusion that these brothers are unhappily and grumpily inhabiting the same body is impressive in a manner redolent of the lovely and overlooked Farrelly Brothers comedy Stuck on You, which was equally remarkable as a virtuoso exercise in synchronized movement and a surprisingly poignant exploration of the joys and pain of longterm relationships.
In “My Brother's Keeper”, Frank’s quiet, lonely life as the eternal victim of his brother’s flagrant jackassery is enlivened by the introduction of Mary Hilton (the heartbreakingly poignant Jessica Harper, from Phantom of the Paradise and Pennies From Heaven), a quintessential “nice girl” who is intrigued by his gentle bookishness but put off by the horny, overly aggressive asshole he’s tethered to somewhere around the hip area.
Eddie wants to break up the act permanently so that he can pursue his debauched hungers independently without having to worry about Frank ruining everything by having a conscience. Eddie tries to push his brother to the breaking point so he will give in and agree to be separated medically. That operation is so easy that even a numbskull like Ben Carson can perform it successfully, and that dude is crazy inept at everything else but Frank is worried both about dying instantly if the procedure fails and dying of loneliness if it succeeds.
Eddie is forever on-hand to heckle his brother from the closest of distances, ensuring that nothing goes right with his life. In the midst of an otherwise successful date with Mary, the boozy libertine profanely offers to treat his brother’s demure date to the kind of swinging evening that prominently involves a “tank of nitrous oxide” and a “twelve inch vibrator.”
I am on record as grudgingly tolerating rather than “loving” funny episodes of Tales from the Crypt but “My Brother’s Keeper” is the rare “funny” episode that’s actually funny. There’s a lot of inspired, brutal physical comedy involving the very different lifestyles and sensibilities of the twins, like when Frank is very sensitively getting ready to pop the question while his brother is simultaneously having very noisy sex with a whip-wielding dominatrix.
Alas, it turns out that Mary is not quite as innocent as she seems. Nor is Frank. After his brother kills the only woman he has ever loved, Frank gets himself separated from his brother just in time for his brother to pay for his crimes.
Frank seems to have acquired some of his brother’s sneering awfulness through osmosis; he ends the episode hitting on the closest attractive woman using the same sordid line of patter as his now doomed sibling.
In “My Brother’s Keeper” hell isn’t just other people; it’s one specific person you unfortunately happen to share a bloodstream with until you don’t anymore, and suddenly you’re a whole lot freer in every conceivable way.
Yes, boys and ghouls, “My Brother’s Keeper” is a fine way to reintroduce this column. I promise you won’t have to wait another ten months for the next installment.
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