Happy Horrordays, Boils and Ghouls! ‘Tis the season to be…murdered, perhaps? Okay, I’ll stop with The Cryptkeeper puns because: A) I’m terrible at them, and B) see A. But it is the season when we focus on blood dripping from the tinsel-laden tree, and there are more than enough solid to great Xmas goodies to help cope with a visit from that racist aunt who’s pleasantly surprised Idris Elba speaks so eloquently. (Don’t pretend you don’t have one.) Mining the Vault of Horror comics, HBO’s Tales from the Crypt delivered their holiday cheer in Season One’s second episode, And All Through the House. If you’re looking to get the kiddies into horror but they still have an affinity for Old Saint Nick, this is not the place to start.
Originally broadcast on Saturday, June 10th, And All’s programming is certainly at odds with any kind of seasonal spirit; my guess is that this is the one director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future) wanted to do right out of the gate, regardless of the season. It’s easy to see why; it’s a cracker of a story that’s simple, straightforward, and has a final tag sweeter than gingerbread-infused rum. (You can keep your nog, thanks.)
Hold onto your cookies and crack open that faux TV GUIDE for a look in the sack:
TALES FROM THE CRYPT: AND ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE (Saturday, HBO)
Christmas is cut short for a vengeful wife who is visited by a murderous Santa Claus. Mary Ellen Trainor, Larry Drake star.
Our tale opens in a suburban home, on a roaring fire. Nat King Cole’s The Christmas Song eases us into a wintery lull right before unnamed wife (Trainor – The Monster Squad) puts a fire poker through the skull of her unnamed husband (Marshall Bell – Freddy’s Revenge), quickly putting to rest any notions of Noel nookie. As a quick call to her lover points out, she offed hubby for the insurance money, and after tucking her named daughter Carrie Anne (Lindsey Whitney Barry – Back to the Future II) back into bed, proceeds to dump his body outside. There’s one tiny setback, however – it turns out an escapee from the local mental institution (Larry Drake – Darkman) dressed as Santa Claus is making house calls. And he’s seeing all the boys and girls, good or bad…
And All Through the House was originally published in EC Comics Issue #35; and while it’s all innuendo and suspense, the story’s bones are strong and simple, and it closes with an all time great capper. Amicus’ Tales from the Crypt (1972) feature leads off with this tale, Joan Collins terrorized by a grubby Father Christmas in a more somber 12 minute ride that is certainly effective in its own way. The only thing missing is a heightened sense of fun.
And that’s where Zemeckis and genre writer Fred Dekker (The Monster Squad) come in. If you hear those names and just think family friendly-ish fare, you haven’t been paying close enough attention; Used Cars (1980) milks a heart attack-inducing car ride for laughs, and Night of the Creeps (1986) isn’t afraid to lean in to horror, hard. The perfect choices then to capture maybe not the spirit of the holidays, but certainly the creepy and melancholy underbelly present (I mean present not present; as in here versus gift) in most Xmas stories. And All definitely covers those bases; the juxtaposition of the most wholesome of holiday songs against the sharpest of fireplace implements, and in a sly nod to Bob Clark’s classic Black Christmas (1974), dead hubby is kept from bleeding all over the place with rather unorthodox head wear.
Which is to say that Zemeckis and Dekker find the humor in the scenario and amp it up, helped considerably by Trainor’s histrionics and Drake’s malevolence. It’s a two person tango, punctuated with brief appearances by the tyke to remind the viewer of deeper stakes: even if she survives, her faith in Old Saint Nick may be permanently skewed.
Like the best episodes of Tales from the Crypt, And All Through the House manages to pack a complete story into a succinct 22 minutes; And All’s critics maintain that it has filler even at this length, which is absurd. Yes, it is simply a stalker/boogeyman chase scenario, but it is told with a ton of style; every nook of the house is used to maximize the suspense, wonderfully rendered by Dean Cundey, who knows a thing or two about boogeymen.
There really isn’t much more to say about this episode; you either attune yourself to the nasty side of the holiday, or you get a great bit lump of coal from yours truly. The choice is yours. Happy Holidays everyone.Next: It Came From The Tube: A LITTLE GAME (1971)