The Tales from the Crypt TV series was coming to an end in 1996 with the last season airing from April–July. After seven successful years, the Crypt Keeper was saying goodbye to TV and hello to Hollywood. Things got off to a good start in 1995 with Demon Knight, the first of a proposed Tales from the Crypt trilogy.
This was soon followed by Bordello of Blood. The film centres on a private investigator who, after looking into a missing person’s case, discovers that the local funeral parlour is also a brothel populated with vampire prostitutes. The PI teams up with the missing person’s sister and a charismatic reverend to take on the vampires and their beautiful and deadly leader, Lilith.
The film was released in theatres 25 years ago on 16th August, 1996. However, the film had a difficult and turbulent production that meant it didn’t quite have the same bite as its predecessor.
Actor demands, last-minute rewrites, and enforced casting decisions were just some of the issues that dogged the making of Bordello of Blood. The action behind the camera was a big departure from the cohesive and family-like atmosphere of the TV show.
In this retrospective, we delve into some of the problems that impacted the film and look at how it became the unofficial farewell to Tales from the Crypt.
The plans for a second Tales from the Crypt film seemed pretty staked in place before the first was even released, and originally it had nothing to do with vampires. In a post-credits scene from Demon Knight, the Crypt Keeper advertises the next film in the series, Fat Tuesday—a zombie movie set in New Orleans.
Longstanding Tales from the Crypt producer Gilbert Adler agreed to direct the second film, and he had already started pre-production on Fat Tuesday when he got a phone call that would turn zombies into vampires. Adler recounts:
“I went down with a director of photography and production designer to Louisiana and we were scouting and making plans. While we were scouting, I got a call from Joel Silver and he said, ‘Listen, we just got a call from Universal; they don’t want to make this movie, so close it down and come home. They want you to rewrite Bordello of Blood.’ It was a total surprise to me when they said to close it all down and come back. I wasn’t sure when we left New Orleans what this new script was even about.”
Adler continues, “We had a meeting with Universal and they said, ‘We don’t like the (Fat Tuesday) script as much as we like this script (Bordello of Blood)’.”
One of the reasons Universal may have liked the script so much is that they paid $500,000 for it. It’s been documented in Shout! Factory’s Bordello of Blood documentary, Tainted Blood, that Universal bought the script from Robert Zemeckis to stop the newly formed DreamWorks from luring him away. Universal wanted to keep Zemeckis, so they agreed to buy the script, which was originally written with Bob Gale when the pair were students.
The script was originally written in the early 1970s, so it needed an update. After meeting with Universal, regular collaborators Gilbert Adler and A.L. Katz were told, “You two guys, you know Tales from the Crypt, go write it for Tales from the Crypt.”
After the rocky start to production, things didn’t get much better when it came to casting.
The lead role of Private Investigator Rafe Guttman was played by comedian Dennis Miller, who was paid a million dollars for the part. However, the hefty salary was greeted with some hefty demands. Co-writer A.L Katz has stated that Miller informed him on the second day of filming that he would make up his own dialogue and asked to be ‘shot out’ during filming so actors he shared a scene with had to film with the script supervisor.
Co-star Corey Feldman has also stated that Miller told him that he “wasn’t really an actor, he was a comedian.”
Adler also had several disagreements with his male lead regarding work schedules. Adler recalls, “Dennis would say to me stuff like, ‘I know you’re crazy because you work 12 or 13 hours a day, but I only work eight’, and I would say to him, ‘I’m not gonna use you up and fatigue you, but you’re gonna work a full day, and a full day on a movie set is a 13-hour day’, so we had a lot of back and forth about that, and that was a big issue.”
Another of the film’s leads, Erika Eleniak, didn’t ease the situation before arriving on set. Several days before she began filming, her agent informed Gilbert Adler and A.L. Katz that she would only appear in the film if her character was re-written. This gave Adler and Katz a weekend to revise significant parts of the script to accommodate Eleniak.
The film’s final lead was filled by an actress who had a powerful connection, but little acting experience. During the casting of Bordello of Blood, executive producers Richard Donner and Joel Silver were working on Assassins with Sylvester Stallone, who was dating model Angie Everhart. This connection seemed to give way to another idea that would be thrust upon the film. Adler recalls another phone call that would reshape Bordello of Blood:
“We’re casting, and we’re looking and we’re looking and I get a call one day…”
“Listen, we found the lead”
“What do you mean we found the lead. Who?”
And I was like “…Who!?”
“So, I had to look her up and I met with her, and she was a very sweet lady.”
One of the logistical problems faced by the crew was that shooting in Vancouver in the middle of summer meant reduced darkness at night. This is obviously difficult when making a film where many of the characters aren’t seen in daylight. Adler recollects the reduced filming hours.
“It was difficult, it was very difficult. Our 12-hour days became six-hour days, which was very punishing, and it became difficult to get all the work in without simplifying it to the extreme. So that was one problem.”
Another problem with filming in Vancouver was that Adler didn’t have the family unit around him that had been ready and available on the TV show. Each episode took five days to film and the bulk of the crew mainly stayed the same. Unfortunately, that wasn’t a luxury Adler had when making Bordello of Blood.
“We were in Vancouver, so the crew was all Canadian. Nobody had worked on the TV show, maybe Todd [Masters], because we needed someone special effects-wise, but nobody else I think came up with us to make the movie.”
Seeing the Light
Furthermore, the phone calls kept coming, and this time it was an issue with lighting. The first day of filming took place in a strip club with Angie Everhart. The following day, Adler received a call from Joel Silver, a call that Adler remembers well:
JS: “Listen, we just looked at the dailies—why did you light Angie that way? She looks awful.”
GA: “What do you mean? I lit her so her red hair was prominent, and I think we did a good job.”
JS: “No, she looks terrible.”
“The more I talked to him, the more I realised he hadn’t even looked at the dailies and we got into this big tussle about that.”
The next day Adler received yet another call, but this time it was from Richard Donner:
RD: “I looked at the dailies and they’re great. I love it and I love the way you lit Angie.”
GA: ‘‘Dick, did you tell Joel to call me yesterday and tell me you didn’t like the colour of her hair or how I lit her?’
RD: “No, I haven’t spoken to Joel. What are you talking about? I love it. She loves you. I love you. Keep doing it!”
“It was stuff like that, where every once in a while we would get strange calls and we were like, ‘What are you guys talking about?”’
Executives, especially ones as successful as Silver and Donner, often expect to have input on a project, but what made this particular situation difficult was that none of the producers had exerted anywhere near as much influence on the previous Tales from the Crypt film, Demon Knight. When asked why there was so much communication and pressure from the execs on Bordello of Blood, Adler was to the point:
“Probably because of me. I had never directed a feature. Ernest [Dickerson, director of Demon Knight] had made a couple of movies and was an established director. They probably had more trust and faith in him. Although Zemeckis said, ‘Don’t listen to anybody, don’t listen to my partners. Just do what you want to do, because that’s why we want you to do it.’”
Tales in Two Cities
To further compound the problems, Adler was working on the seventh season of Tales from the Crypt whilst trying to complete Bordello of Blood. Post-production of the film took place during production of the upcoming season. What made matters even more complicated was that the new season was based and set in England, so Adler had to split his time between two projects in two different countries.
“I would spend ten days in L.A. and ten days in London and go back and forth until I finished the movie. It was nuts. I got to the point where I didn’t know where I was. When I got there [to England], I went right into shooting and you’re working so intensely, and even under normal circumstances it’s pretty fatiguing. And after ten days, I would fly back to L.A. to do more work on the movie. But even when I was in England, I was getting notes and cuts and things to look at for the editor to adjust.”
Completing the Trilogy
Bordello of Blood was released in August 1996, a month after the last episode from the final season aired. The Tales from the Crypt franchise wound down soon after.
Originally there were plans to make a third film after Bordello of Blood, but, much like the film’s production, plans were subject to change. Adler was pragmatic about the decision not to make a third film:
“It doesn’t really matter if they think there are three movies or ten movies—if your last movie isn’t successful, there’s not going to be another one. Alan [Katz] and I were always of the opinion of, ‘Let’s see what happens. Let’s make this the best movie we can make and let’s make the Crypt Keeper wraparound as nutty and as crazy as possible, and if it works then there will be another one.’ We never really looked beyond the one we were working on.”
This was the same ethos for the TV series—Adler and Katz tried to make the season they were working on the best it could be. Adler states, “We never knew from one season to the next if we were going to be renewed. We always treated the season that we were filming as the last one.”
A third Tales from the Crypt movie was eventually made, but not for another six years. In 2002, Ritual was released, but without the creative driving force of Gilbert Adler and A.L. Katz. Adler was asked if he wanted to be involved, but six years was a long time and he had effectively said goodbye.
“When Ritual came about, I really had moved on in my own mind. I had done the two movies, what would the reason be for me to do the third movie? Whether it was a good script or not was not even in question—I never really got to that. I sort of felt that I had moved on.”
Based on I Walked with a Zombie, Ritual tells the story of a nurse who falls for her patient whilst working in Jamaica; however, they both fall foul of a voodoo presence. The film included the obligatory introduction from the Crypt Keeper, but something was different. The introduction felt bolted on, especially when compared to the expansive introductions used in the previous films, which saw the Crypt Keeper become a 1930s-style director in Demon Knight, before playing Russian Roulette with a self-obsessed shrouded mummy in Bordello of Blood. The great thing about the Crypt Keeper was his ever-changing personas, his puns and his ability to invite you into a hand-selected story. However, in Ritual, the Crypt Keeper served no purpose other than to sustain the franchise.
Fangs for the Memories
The immersive world of Tales from the Crypt was all-consuming for Adler—13 episodes per season to oversee from pre to post-production, many of which were made at the same time, and towards the end of the run two films were added to the workload. Although Adler had passion and drive, it was still very demanding.
“All these things are hard to make, even Tales from the Crypt. They were very hard days. Every week the entire world changed. It was anthological, so no reoccurring actors, no reoccurring sets, no reoccurring wardrobes. Everything was new. And whenever we made the series, we had five shows in play—two were in prep, one was shooting, and two were in post. It was very taxing. At the weekends, I would just come home and collapse. Yet, Al [Katz] and I needed to get together on the weekends because we had to get the next script ready, which would start shooting anywhere from Monday to Friday.”
Adler remembers his time on the franchise fondly, “It was a lovely memory. It’s something I’m so proud of and I’m glad I did it”.
The popularity of the show is still apparent, even 25 years after it ended. Merchandise inspired by Tales from the Crypt is still being created, from retro shirts to IPAs.
There have been talks about rebooting the series, but ongoing legal issues have meant that various attempts have stalled. In 2017, M.Night Shyamalan tried to bring the show back for TNT, but was unsuccessful.
Gilbert Adler appears to still have an interest in the franchise, too, but trying to make a show like Tales from the Crypt comes with various challenges.
“I’ve been asked a number of times by various distributors and networks to come up with another Tales from the Crypt-style show… If we could come up with an idea or get an idea from anyone about a Tales from the Crypt-type show that obviously isn’t called Tales from the Crypt and it’s not based on those comic books and it doesn’t have the Crypt Keeper, then I’d be interested in doing it. So, would I do another like that if I could come up with what that would be, or someone presented me with an idea that I could get nutty about? Sure!”