Hello, kiddies. In case you’ve gotten a lobotomy in the past two decades, we thought we’d take the time to remind you that there’s was an animated series based on the Tales from the Crypt franchise called — wait for it — Tales from the Cryptkeeper. It ran on CBS, the Corpse Butchering Station, throughout the 1990s, giving the little ones goosebumps long before a certain dweeb named R.L. Stine did.
Not as memorable as the classic HBO series it spun off from, Tales from the Cryptkeeper was aimed at the young whippersnappers who had the balls to wake up early enough on Saturday morning to face the horror-themed parables that the mischievous ancient corpse would throw their way. Therefore, no, it wasn’t really that scary. Creepy? Sometimes. Amusing? Also sometimes. Annoying? More often than you’d think, but that’s mostly because of the voice acting. (Trust me. It makes binge watching this series not very pleasant to the ears.)
However, this hidden cartoon gem should not be lost forever to the anals – excuse me, annals of time and dismissed as just another EXTREME ‘90s kids show that assaulted your eye sockets with Lovecraftian dayglo colors that may have left some of us sterile after long-term exposure. No, Tales from the Cryptkeeper is a classic in its own right, and a smartly written kids’ horror series that predated the rather odd “scaring the shit out of kids is fun and lucrative” fad that happened just a couple of years after the show debuted.
Don’t boo-lieve us? Well, keep those eyes peeled, guys, ghouls, and transdimensional beings. It’s time to revisit the best episodes that Tales from the Cryptkeeper has to offer.
Tales From the Cryptkeeper Season 1
Our adventure into the rose-tinted nostalgia of Saturday morning gory starts with a splattering of episodes carefully selected and surgically removed from Tales From the Cryptkeeper’s first season, which aired in 1993. Come for the thrills and stay for the mixed metaphors, kiddies!
Season 1, Episode 2: “Nature”
Most of you out there in the audience might remember the series because of this episode alone, which features kids being shrunk down and facing an army of ants. Honey, does this sound familiar at all? The plot of this episode may sound similar to Rick Moranis’ orifice – er, opus, but it’s more like Woody Allen’s turd Antz than anything else. Still, if ants give you the skeeves, this one’s for you.
Season 1, Episode 3: “Pleasant Screams”
Dare I say this may be my favorite Cryptkeeper episode ever? I dare. There’s plenty of good twists and turns that will leave your head spinning round like one of those enormous black vinyl discs that were used to play music in the late 20th century. What were they called again?
Anyway, “Pleasant Screams” plays around with the whole “…and it was all a dream!” dead horse – er, trope in a shockingly clever way that keeps you on your toes the entire time. Everything but the kitchen sink is thrown at us, which sets high expectations for what’s to come with this series. This potential is mostly realized during season two, but for a first season episode, you can’t get much better than this one.
Season 1, Episode 6: “The Sleeping Beauty”
What was up with ‘90s cartoons and recurring spin-off characters that somehow dominate the show’s screen time? Like those mobster pigeons from Animaniacs. Why were we spoon fed Goodfellas references on a regular basis when we were in the second grade? Was there some sort of Goodfellas-themed agenda we should know about?
Anyway, kiddies, consider this episode the debut of two new recurring comic relief characters — as if it didn’t already have four and counting. Don’t panic, they won’t be around much. (Only two episodes out of the entire series, in fact.) They’re kind of like, hmm, Bulk and Skull? No, that’s not right. One of them is like Gaston from Beauty and the Beast and the other is like Cinderella from, well, Cinderella. To add more to your fairy tale confusion, the plot of “The Sleeping Beauty” retells the plot of Sleeping Beauty with these two as its Prince Charmings. Wait, no he was from Snow White. Screw it. I’m done with this fairy tale bullshit.
This episode is the show’s stab at the whole golden age comedy duo throwback schtick. Watch it because it’s the show going off the rails for a bit during a moment that didn’t feature our not-so-humble hosts. Or not. I don’t give a flying bat’s ass.
Season 3, Episode 9: “Fare Tonight”
Oh, look. Preteen girl vampire hunters roaming the dark and gritty streets of New York. That sounds completely adorable and not dangerous whatsoever!
“Fare Tonight” is an ambitious episode for Cryptkeeper, but the sound design is really the only thing setting it back. The voice acting for both of the main characters is too comforting and becomes an obstacle to engaging with the plot directly. But what do you expect? There’s something to be said on how progressive this show was for its time (as far as representation goes for different genders and races) and this would be a good episode to cite. But, again, it’s hard to take any of it seriously when its presentation comes across as an unusually suspenseful episode of Arthur.
Tales From the Cryptkeeper Season 2
To say that Tales from the Cryptkeeper’s sophomore year is a vast “im-boo-vement” on its tamer first season is an undertaker. Er, understatement.
It focuses less on child-proofing hackneyed horror tropes and more on telling original stories that are truer to the spirit of the show’s source material. The presence of the Old Witch and the Vaultkeeper helped out immensely, of course — although their jokes were far more groan-inducing then our headlining star’s. Despite this, the show was funnier than ever before. But they added an unpredictable flavor to the opening and closing scenes that made them more entertaining. Also, to throw in some variety, most episodes contained not one but two shriek-tastic stories for you too ooze over. (Just make sure to clean up after you’re done.)
The more Tales from the Cryptkeeper moved past its need to rely on traditional horror iconography the better. If I were to recommend this show to anyone, I’d probably tell them to start with this season. Okay, that’s not fair. “Pleasant Screams” was a can’t miss episode.
Season 2, Episode 2b: “The Spider and the Flies”
Another clever episode, “The Spider and the Flies” tells the tale of a heartwarming yet bone chilling encounter between a little boy, his even younger sister, and, well, a bunch of spiders. There’s also a creepy hooded figure voiced by La Femme Nikita’s Don Francks whose appearance kinda gives us Batman: The Animated Series vibes. We mean that in a good way. Could we ever mean it in a bad way? Depends on the season, we guess.
Speaking of super hero mumbo jumbo…
Season 2, Episode 3a: “The Avenging Phantom”
…you would think this particular segment would be all about that, wouldn’t you? It’s not. Yes, there’s superhero iconography thrown around, but this creep tale about a boy getting indirect cosmic revenge on the complete assholes who abuse him throughout his daily routine has more in common with Poltergeist than, say, Attack of the Mutant. “The Avenging Phantom” is perhaps the most unsettling of all Tales From the Cryptkeeper episodes and that’s why you’re guillotined – er, guaranteed to dig it.
Season 2, Episode 2b: “Dead Men Don’t Jump”
Read that title again. You can’t get much more ’90s than this if you tried, kiddies. Only if you were drinking Capri Sun while skydiving right smack into the middle of a martial arts tournament hosted by Sinbad could you get more ’90s.
Essentially, “Dead Men Don’t Jump” plays out like a Halloween episode of C-Bear and Jamal, adding an extra layer of ’90s-ness to everything. Yet the story has this Are You Afraid of the Dark charm that you can’t resist. Give it a shot, kiddies.
Season 2, Episode 4: “All The Gory Details”
Okay, so maybe we have Batman: The Animated Series on the brain here, but if you remember Lt. Bullock and didn’t care much for his huggable personality, you’ll be thrilled to find out he has a doppelganger in this episode that is basically the story’s misogynistic punching bag. Other than that, this is pretty much The Island of Dr. Moreau meets Zombieland meets Kolchak: The Night Stalker meets…um, the list goes on and on.
Judging from the user comments on the YouTube link I viewed this episode at, the ending is pretty dark for a kid’s show. Well, duh. It’s Tales From The Cryptkeeper, not The Bugs Bunny & Tweety Show. That aired in the time slot directly afterwards. Witch, please.
Season 2, Episode 10: “Uncle Harry’s Horrible House of Horrors”
Remember when I said “Pleasant Screams” was my favorite episode of Tales From the Cryptkeeper? Well, I lied. Okay, it wasn’t a lie so much. But I forgot about this episode until just now, because I have a lot going on. (It’s hard coming up with really bad puns.) The truth is, “Uncle Harry’s Horrible House of Horrors” is my #1 favorite. That’s not really fair though, because it hits a particular interest of mine: amusement park dark rides.
This story is about an uncle and his nephew who go on a haunted house ride that turns out to be a lot more realistic than either of them had expected. In case you didn’t know, dark rides can be quite terrifying, especially when you’re little, and especially when you’re me. (If you don’t believe that dark rides can be exercises in terror, wait until you’re alone in a dark room at 3AM and click here.)
Season 2, Episode 11: “Chuck (and Melvin) and the Beanstalk”
Guess who’s back? That’s right. Those two funny guys. We use the term “funny” loosely here, but you get it. In this sequel (or, rather, companion piece) to “The Brothers Gruff” from season one. This time, the two doofuses get their own special take on the old Jack and the Beanstalk fable. Because that’s what the producers think will scare kids? Not exactly sure. But apparently, these two were a big hit last time.
Too bad the didn’t make an appearance in the third season, which is more like a revival than anything else. It’s called New Tales from the Cryptkeeper, and it sucks goblin dong. Speaking of which…
Tales From the Cryptkeeper Season 3
Aw man. Do I have to write about this season? Fine. If you say so, kiddies.
So, like, five years later in 1998 CBS executives think, gee, that Cryptkeeper cartoon we had was pretty good, wasn’t it? This is presumably after they hit the bong and watched the two Chuck and Melvin episodes back to back. Then, in 1999, New Tales from the Cryptkeeper debuts. If you can’t already tell, I’m not a fan of this season. It looks like shit and it sounds even worse. I don’t like saying those things, but in all honesty, this neutered attempt at resurrecting everyone’s favorite sassy corpse is a stain on the franchise which is already soaked in plenty of blood, so that’s really saying something. I would rather sit through every single Secrets of the Cryptkeeper’s Haunted House episode than watch another minute of this unholy dreck that was dead on arrival. Just look at those character designs. They look like they’re taken straight from Sabrina: The Animated Series. P.U.
Once again, the series switched formats, and gears, by having the Cryptkeeper be more than just a corny Rod Serling impersonator and take an active role in the stories he was subjecting us to. If you thought ol’ Cryptie was being portrayed as overly moralistic before, unholy cow — he’s more so here than ever before. He’s the one pulling the strings and psychologically manipulating the kids into being nice now. Why exactly? Is there some sort of community service program in the underworld that we should know about?
Actually, you can thank the FCC for that. They began regulating content in children’s cartoons during those long years in between seasons two and three, forcing educational BS down kids’ throats while trying to make them pee their pants at the same time. Thus, New Tales from the Cryptkeeper had a TV-Y7 rating and an E/I badge which was shown at the beginning of each episode to let you know that the creepy immortal skeleton man was about to reprogram their minds and make them all behave. (No, not the fun Austin Powers behaving — the dull, tedious kind.)
Yeesh. Let’s just get this over with already.
Season 3, Episode 2: “Imaginary Friend”
A little kid has an imaginary friend that teaches two bigger kids that they’re jerkheads. End of story.
Actually, why is this one so cool? It’s not, but the cowboy ghost that’s actually the imaginary friend is a neat idea. If it were presented in a direct-to-video horror movie from 1995, it would be even better. But it’s not. It’s used up in an episode that doesn’t make the most out of its intriguing (if slightly basic) premise. You gotta admit: ghost cowboys, much like bowties, are cool.
Season 3, Episode 4: “Unpopular Mechanics”
What’s to see here? Again, not much. The title is amusing, but that’s about it. This cautionary tale about a kid who invents a remote control that causes household appliances to revolt is pratcially revolting. It’s a more aggressive version of The Brave Little Toaster with a dash of Westworld thrown in to taste, but it’s not as cute as the former and somehow even more boring than the latter. This is a cartoon, for crying out loud! What gives?
Season 3, Episode 9: “All Booked Up”
Do you like The Pagemaster? If so, we’ve got a treat in store for you. It’s not very sweet though; it’s bitter and gamey like a dog biscuit. Either way, a treat’s a treat. Are you going to eat it, or what?
“All Booked Up” is The Pagemaster remade with the Cryptkeeper and and underachieving young man who’s not quite familiar with the works of Mary Shelly and desperately trying to avoid writing a book report for his English class. The Cryptkeeper, taking on the Christopher Lloyd’s role from the forgotten ’90s live-action/animated film, inserts the little dude (gross) into the tale of Frankenstein as — drumroll please — Victor Frankenstein himself. This sounds like more fun than it actually is, so don’t get too excited, kiddies!
Season 3, Episode 12: “Monsters Ate My Homework”
Might as well end this article off with a good episode, right? “Monsters Ate My Homework” is by far the best episode of New Tales From the Cryptkeeper. It’s still not quite on par with the first two seasons, but it comes damn near close. It’s not scary, but it is entertaining. It’s about a young boy who uses the excuse that monsters ate his homework…and then meets a couple that actually do want to eat his homework. One thing leads to another and the kid is being dragged through wacky adventures in the underworld. This could have been the pilot for its own animated series, if, y’now, it wasn’t so watered down with the Cryptkeeper’s dogmatic piss.
That’s it, kiddies. The show’s over. Scram, you little shits!