SJTV: Tales From The Crypt, ‘Dead Right’

Welcome to SJTV: Tales From The Crypt, as we start to recap the second season of the HBO series Tales From The Crypt. In the initial installment, the future George Bluth Sr. decides to woo the future ex-Mrs. Bruce Willis in an episode that shows that money is thicker than water. Or something.

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DEAD RIGHT (first aired April 21, 1990)

This episode was directed by Howard Deutch, who directed ‘Pretty In Pink,’ ‘The Great Outdoors‘ ‘Getting Even With Dad‘ and ‘Grumpier Old Men.’ After 2008’s ‘My Best Friend’s Girl,’ Howard has kept himself to directing an odd television show every here and there (Big Love, Hung, CSI: NY, Warehouse 13, American Horror Story, etc.,) I can’t blame him – after doing a movie with Dane Cook, Jason Biggs and Alec Baldwin, I’d quit movies as well.

We start off with a snythtastic 80’s Noir plunkings, courtesy of Jay Ferguson (who?) as if Casablanca was done somewhere east of the Pyramid Club in 80’s NYC. We start off with our heroine walking down the street. Judging by Cathy Finch’s (Demi Moore, about two months away from her iconic role in Ghost) manner of dress, it’s a nebulous 50’s type of era. Cathy walks into Madame Vorna’s Fortune Teller parlor. Vorna is played by Natalija Nogulich, who I only know as a Fleet Admiral from two different Star Trek series. That doesn’t really do the woman’s body of work justice, but that’s all that comes to mind.

After Cathy pays twenty bucks for a reading, most of Vorna’s accent splits with the cash, leaving the pseudo-gypsy caricature to use VIBRATIONS to read Cathy’s future. Instead, she reads Cathy TO FILTH. Vorna isn’t saying she’s a gold digger, but you don’t see her with no broke…

Along with pointing out that Cathy aims to marry into a higher tax bracket, but Madame Vorna says that not only will Cathy lose her job, but she’ll get a new one by the end of the day. That one was on the house – the first one’s free. The second one will always cost you.

We get a wonderful shot of Cathy’s legs as she exits Vorna’s parlor, stepping back into her office, as if the door out leads in to the Office set. A great concept, really makes a crisp transition from one scene to another. And that’s going to be the tone of this episode – quick, clean, fast.

And upon her return, the boss Cathy expects to be gone (“Clayton was going to fire me today. I told her that asshole’s not even in town.”) But it seems that though Clayton’s okay with her calling him an asshole but he’s NOT okay with tardiness. Getting shitcanned for taking an extra twenty-five minutes at lunch, that’s harsh. I’ve been talked down by micromanagers in the past who counted the minutes, so it’s not hard to sympathize with Cathy in this situation.

Dejected, the future-former-Mrs. Ashton Kutcher wanders the streets in a hopeless gaze, passing by a bar where a woman, sans shirt, is being fired by a fat Staten Island-esque Eddie Munster in a Hawaiian shirt, offering her a job. Because before LinkedIn, women could only get job offers from random men on the street! AND THAT’S CALLED MIS-O-GYNY!

“Every exit is an entrance, someplace else,” says Madame Vorna, who consoles Cathy afterwards. Seems Vorna’s a proto-Dan Savage in giving sex advice. And that advice is going to help out, as she tells of a potential marriage to a poor man, who will inherit money ONLY TO DIE OFF, leaving Cathy to dream about being a rich widow.

Cut to the bar and the 80tastic 50’s va-va-voom soundtrack as a topless dancer doing a ‘I Think This Is Sexy’ dance to a crowd of barflies, that’s less arousing and more confounding in the “Huh, I don’t think those are real” way. For some reason, Staten Island Eddie Munster introduces Cathy as a new waitress, which is something they do at strip clubs? I don’t think they do that at Applebee’s, but I don’t frequent either establishments (between the two, I think you’d have a lesser chance of catching a disease at the strip club)

Miss Nude Nebraska 1948 takes the stage and shows just how high an Elephant’s Eye can be, just as Jeffery Tambor arrives in his best Mr. Creosote suit. Man, Jeffery Tambor. Here’s a guy who has never looked any less than 43 years old, even when he was doing MASH, Three’s Company and Max Headroom. But despite probably losing his hair before he was old enough to drink, he never really was a bad looking guy. This is something we all can learn – you can make any bad hand work if you know how to play the cards.

With that said, man. They really had to slather on the prosthetics to make him repulsive – the fat suit, a bulbous nose and buck teeth make him look almost as off-putting as when he played The Mayor of Whoville in ‘The Grinch.’

Of course, Jeffrey is entranced by Cathy’s dress (and the body it’s painted on) and asks for a date after work. Of course, Cathy turns him down until she remembers the words of wise Madam Vorna. Still, it’s going to more than cigarettes and gin to get her into the mood of being mounted by a Bull Elephant Seal in a bad polyester suit, and after he starts laying on how it’s ‘destiny’ that he’s going to get in her pants (the ones she’s not wearing,) she splits faster than the legs of Ms. Nude Nebraska 1948 during an encore set.

We get a Dutch Angle of Demi Moore (which ISN’T a sexual innuendo, I promise) as she runs to Madame Vorna. Vorna’s sitting back to watch The Honeymooners and the two of them gossip like besties. Vorna reassures that yes, once Cathy Hitches the Walrus (which IS a sexual innuendo) she’ll be made like lemonade in the shade.

The next day, Cathy meets with someone (the ex-secretary from earlier on?) and the two of them fantasize about the terrible deaths of Jeffrey Elephant Seal. We get a comedy-level pair of hit-and-runs with a mannequin (because if it doesn’t work once, it’ll work twice) before we watch him choke one some food. This is pretty clever, as it seems to happen around the diner/cafeteria where Cathy and her ex-secretary pal are eating. It adds an element of fantasy to this straight-forward tale of golddiggery.

Right after we see Jeffrey Tambor take a facefirst dive into food, we suddenly get a flash of burlesque breasts in what HAS to be a bad cross-wire of food and sexual impulses. I wonder if anyone else got turned on by fried chicken after this. Strange enough, six years after this episode with topless dancers would air, Demi would turn heads in STRIPTEASE, the movie everyone knows as “Wait, don’t you mean Showgirls?”

Jeffrey Fatboor pops back in and tries once more to woo the ever-confused Cathy. Got to give the character credit, for someone who initially said that love is a low-priority when it comes to marriage, she doesn’t automatically jump on Jeffrey Tambor’s Norbit. She ultimately accepts a date and we learn that she’s about go out with Charlie Marno.

In a move of cinematic glory that pales only to that one time Travis Bickle took Betsy to a porno, Charlie takes two giant buckets of popcorn to a horror movie and they follow it up with a pair of scenes that only emphasis how CHARLIE IS FAT. They have dinner at a Chinese restaurant before ending the night dancing. Despite a few missteps (one of which nearly cruses Cathy’s foot during the dance) it seems like a decent date. Of course, after Charlie kisses Cathy, and she literally throws up. Ah, the subtlety.

A few dates later and like any man of desperation, Charlie proposes to Cathy. Considering her future, she asks about any possible help the two of them might receive if they need it. Charlie says he has an uncle who “owns a factory,” and with the thoughts of inheritance in her mind, Cathy accepts the proposal. We then get a shot of a glassy eyed Cathy, dressed in white, as she swears “till death do us part,” which emphasizes the quick-cut-editing of the day (this being the 90’s, after all.)

But these short scenes do what they need to. I can’t imagine the budget could afford lavish landscapes. This is the first episode of the second season of a relatively young series, and though Tambor and Moore’s price tags were just about to blow-up, I suppose they didn’t come cheap. The brief cuts don’t let the viewer to pick out how sparse or possibly flawed the settings are/could be. They focus on the right things for the right amount of time, something that most horror moviemakers understand. If your monster doesn’t look the greatest, there are ways around that – mainly, don’t show it until the very end.

Right as Charlie and Cathy consummate their marriage, we get at trippy fantasy sequence with the two of them dancing, interspersed with scenes of 1950’s suburbia home life. Seems Charlie saved all the charm for the Chase, because he’s quite a bore after the catch. It’s a lovely choice, juxtaposing the fantasy ideal of marriage life (the fancy dancing) and the reality of domesticity. Of course, Cathy can only take so much. She starts drinking and one night, she “has a headache” when Charlie wanted to be the George Bluth to her Lucile.

Agitated, Cathy asks Charlie if he heard anything about his rich uncle, and he says that Uncle Moneybags is out west with a family of his own. Distraught with the fact that Charlie’s uncle would leave whatever inheritance to an actual next-of-kin, she splits to vent to Madame Vorna, who’s doing her morning calisthenics to Jack LaLanne. Swearing that she’s DONE and THROUGH and that Vorna was WRONG, Cathy leaves in a huff. Vorna, right as she sits herself down to coffee and donuts, says that she’s “always right” into the camera.

And that, dear reader, cues Act III of this episode. If you know anything about Tales From The Crypt, it’s that the finale/climax and conclusion usually come together in the last five minutes of the episode. It’s usually a lot of buildup for a gruesome ending. These are stories taken directly from the old horror EC comics (this story is taken from Shock SuspenStories #6 from 1952) so the pacing is not these shows strong points.

Back to the episode—in her best ‘Rosie the Riveter’ outfit, Cathy goes to get something out of the vending machine – only to win a million dollars for being the millionth customer. Remember when that was a thing? No?

Cue Cindy Lauper and MONEY CHANGES EVERYTHING. After a shopping spree, Cathy enters her home with a new attitude – or her original one, where she confesses her true feelings of loathing and resentment towards her husband. She’s outtahere like Vladimir but Charlie isn’t too keen with break-ups, it seems. After getting stabbed in the heart by her cruelty, Charlie stabs Cathy in the chest with a knife, repeating “If I Can’t Have You, No Body Can!”

A quick cut to the cemetery to Cathy Marno’s freshly buried grave is accompanied by a voice over, which turns out to belong to Ernie Kepros, a TV reporter covering Charlie’s execution. We see him strapped into the electric chair as one last fat joke is made at Charlie’s expense (“…[Charlie] has eaten his last meal, which we understand is the largest any death row prison has ever had.”) In a clever switch, which I mean – the editing on this episode deserves kudos, because throwing the switch on the electric chair causes the screen to go black as the lights dim from the excessive use of electricity. When the lights return, we see the scene in black and white, as we are now watching it on a television set belonging to Madame Vorna. As the episode comes to a close, it begins as it starts, as another woman has wandered into Madame Vorna to ask about their future.

It’s an odd way to start off the second season, but at that time, I suspect that Demi Moore’s name was HUGE. She was a big star and doing this type of period piece probably drew in some viewers. She does a good job, playing the 50’s attitude with conviction. And for someone who was supposed to be a single-dimension character, Moore does her best with the material. Cathy seems to be a real person who demonstrates some regret at the altar as she goes through with the plan. She also doesn’t seem, at first, to hate Charlie completely (up until her cartoonish vomit after the kiss). When the third act kicks in, she is then reduced to the gold-digging stereotype I imagine she was originally written to be.

Despite her final turn on her husband, I don’t think that Cathy is the complete villain in this case. And that’s why the episode is strong. This episode succeeds on the strength of both Demi Moore and Jeffrey Tambor’s acting (Natalija Nogulich’s appearances are frequent enough to justify a third billing, but this is a strict Moore-Tambor show.) It’s Tambor’s howling as he does his best Norman Bates that is the highpoint of the episode, the only real bit of horror within the story.

I think it’s a pretty basic story, even for 1990’s standards of storytelling. Had I seen this back in 1990, I would know that Cathy wasn’t going to make it out alive. The gore is minimal and the horror is in itself sparse, but the director and the two lead actors make it work.

What did you think about this episode? Leave your comments below.

Next week, the grandfather from National Lampoon’s Vacation figures he can rob the cradle by robbing the grave when he goes after one of the starlets from the movie Twins. And when you mention twins, Arnold isn’t that far behind – yes, THAT Arnold directs next week’s episode, THE SWITCH.

1 comment

    • Kraig Khaos on September 18, 2014 at 12:20 pm
    • Reply

    Is Madame Vorna’s dog, Trotsky the same dog from Frasier or just the same breed?

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