SJTV: Tales From The Crypt, ‘The Switch’

Just because he’s dead doesn’t mean our Crypt Keeper doesn’t have to stay in shape, as he opens the episode by lifting some ‘dead’ weights. And before we get a chance to make any more puns, in walks ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER wearing a Tales From The Crypt T-shirt. He’s here to turn the Crypt Keeper from that 90lb corpse into a decaying MACHO MAN.

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It’s captivating to look at Arnold as he was twenty-five years ago, especially since he’s been making a second go at a film career playing old, grizzled veterans. Here was a man who was on top of the world, and somehow, he managed that with an accent thicker than his neck. But to see his face without wrinkles and a body in its prime made me sit back and consider time, and how even the man at the top of the world can’t escape the clock.

This concept of time and aging doesn’t go far from our mind as we start THE SWITCH off with a shot of an old hand stoking a fire, before panning back to see a table full of pills in a well-furnished room that would be called ‘old fashioned’ if we were having an estate sale. And we might as well be, since the old man whose hand was stirring those flames seems pretty close to shedding his earthly coil.

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In walks Fulton the Butler, played by Ian Ambercrombie (famed actor who played a lot of roles that nerds, freaks and geeks would know: Alfred Pennyworth on the short lived Birds of Prey series, Mr. Lippman on Seinfeld as well as the wiseman in Army of Darkness), finds his employer spent the entire night in the study.

“I’m in love, Fulton! I’m in love!” says Carlton Webster, and that’s the most goddamn creepy thing I have ever seen, because it’s said by William Hickey. I don’t think there was a time when William Hickey was NEVER 78 years old. He’s known for being Uncle Lewis on Christmas Vacation and a bunch other movies – but this gravel voiced man embodied withered evil. Gnarled. Twisted. And to hear him opine with sweet lovesickness made me leave my chair and fix a calming drink, because it’s going to be one of THOSE episodes.

So Carlton tells his man Fulton that he’s in love with Linda, grasping at her photograph and admitting his true feelings. It’s never really discussed how Carlton met Linda. But this is ‘Tales From The Crypt’ and we only have twenty minutes. Fulton, of course, is worried about this woman’s intentions (because why would a young woman love an older man if not to get into his wallet and not his pants?) Two episodes into the second season and we have two instances of gold-diggers. Wonderful. This is what happens when your script is a comic book from 1954.

Carlton and Fulton have a gleeful curtain opening scene that’s supposed to represent how Carlton has shed his past morose self and has accepted that though he of flesh and bone, that “life” and “living” are a perspective, that no man, no matter the age, is beyond the chance to truly live – it’s a compelling and moving scene, or it’s supposed to be but Jay Ferguson’s fucking synth soundtrack is overwhelming Carlton’s speech that I barely hear ANYTHING he says. GodDAMNIT Jay and your keyboard.

Fulton Chauffeur’s Carl’s Studebaker (and that’s NOT innuendo) out to the Valley or Reseda or West Hollywood. Carlton’s putting on a front about how much as much he’s worth, playing down his overall wealth as a test. He thinks playing a pauper will somehow prove that Linda (played by Kelly Preston, two years after her role in TWINS, six years before Jerry Maguire and one year before marrying John Travolta) loves him for him.

Carl proposes to Linda, but she points out the obvious fact that he’s old enough to be her grandfather, he exits with a vow to do WHATEVER IT TAKES. This is four years before a 26-year old Anna Nicole Smith would marry the octogenarian J. Howard Marshall, so the world wasn’t ready for the concept. TALES FROM THE CRYPT – CUTTING EDGE!

We take a quick detour into Terry Gilliam’s BRAZIL as Carlton sits himself in the waiting room for a plastic-surgeon, but the rich ladies promises of the doctor taking “five to ten years” is not enough for him. Dr. Thorne (J Patrick McNamara, with roles from the Bill & Ted Movies as well as Phantasm II) tries his best to get some business but Carlton realizes that if he looks 20 years younger, he’s still going to qualify for the Senior Citizen Discount at Country Kitchen Buffet.

Dr. Thorne says “this referral doesn’t come cheap,” and clearly he hasn’t been involved in the US medical system because NO REFERRAL COMES CHEAP ANYMORE. Not even with Obamacare. Anyway, a bribe gets Carlton instructions to a Mad Doctor’s laboratory that looks straight out of The Haunted Mansion. It’s campy as all hell and I’m pretty sure the hunched back assistant with the major head wound came with the lease.

The doctor speaks with a vague Austrian accent, which is hilarious considering Arnie’s directing this episode. Herr Doktor is charging a million dollars, which if calculating for twenty-five years’ worth of inflating, would probably cost about half a billion (or about 1/5 of what Minecraft went for, last week.)

Herr Doktor (Dr. Edgemar from Total Recall, Agent Davis from Tango & Cash, Roy Brocksmith in real life) decides to chew the scenery in explaining the line-item costs of the operation. Turns out the actual operation is only 100k, but it’s the parts that run up the bulk of the bill. Instead of reverting Carlton back to his former youth, he’s just going to get a new face care of Hans (who was in THE TERMINATOR. Seems that all the people here starred in Arnold’s past movies. I SENSE A THEME)

Hans gets 9/10ths of a Million dollars in exchange for his face. Clearly, he’s the winner here.

The camp factor is off the charts this episode as we get a creepy montage – EXTERIOR SHOT OF THE CASTLE! CLOSE UP OF THE DOCTOR’S FACE! ZOOM INTO THE FLOATING HEAD! Arnold as a director is well, young. He also isn’t a horror director, but I expect he’s having fun here. This is camp, this is cheese.

The operation is a success but Herr Doktor says that he’s keeping Hans around “if we need him,” and Carlton has no idea what that might mean (foreshadowing.) He leaves and Fulton can’t believe his boss’s face.

We get a shot of Hans-as-Carl looking as Carl-as-Hans drives away. Side note, Hans-Karl Stepp was a Nazi. The more you know….!

We get a close up of Carl-as-Hans. At first, I can’t tell if it’s the actor Rick Rossovich acting as Carl, but I think they really slathered prosthetics on William Hickley’s face. AND HE LOOKS HORRIFIC.

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What is a young face on an old body (but terrifying?) Linda doesn’t get the hots for her plastic lover (innuendo!) so Carl goes back to Herr Doktor for another operation. This time, it’s going to cost TWICE as much to get a new torso.

After another brief montage of goofy shit that’s to imply THE OPERATION, we get Hans acting with Carl’s voice. Carl-as-Hans is happy with the results and because we have Arnie directing this episode, we cut to MUSCLE BEACH!

Yes, we have a Venice Beach work out scene because WHY NOT? While Rick Rossovich in 1990 isn’t fat, it’s odd to see a trim and slim guy working out around your 90’s era of hormone injected beef. It’s like if your Dad decided to join in a game of street basketball just because he completed a six-month workout program to lose twenty pounds.

For some reason, Linda’s there but she’s smiling, totally in love with his body. Or, at least the top half. For some reason, they decided to skip Leg Day and while Carl-as-Hans has a great torso and face, he’s got chicken legs. Off-putting chicken legs.

At the 18th minute of the episode, Linda reveals herself to be shallow and superficial. “I know what I want, Carlton and you just don’t have it.” And this is a bit of an opposite from last week’s episode. Whereas DEAD RIGHT had Cathy and Charlie as faulty characters with both good and bad (Cathy not completely dedicated to being a gold-digging woman and Charlie being innocent and pervy at the same time) this episode has everyone portraying cartoonish sides of good and evil. Carlton is too naive to realize that he’s chasing after a woman who doesn’t care for his personality or the fact that he’s madly in love with him. This once again has me asking “where did he meet this woman?” Of course, answering that question might pull the rug under this poorly constructed plotline, and we don’t have that much time left.

After realizing that girls go crazy for a man with LEGS (who knows how to use them) Carl-as-Hans sits alone in his study. Fulton enters, dressed not in a tux but as if he’s about to hop a bus. Turns out Carl can’t afford him or the house anymore. I might say that Carl forgot the “bros before hos” saying, but I don’t think it was a saying back then. Here, we see Carl giving up his money and what we assume is his only true friend in the world for the last piece of the puzzle. WHATEVER IT TAKES, indeed. The problem is that we don’t see Carl and Fulton develop this friendship. It’s pretty professional and it doesn’t have any kind of warmth. If Fulton had one or two scenes where he expressed the nature of their relationship or how Fulton has spent his life in service to Carlton, we might feel bad about seeing him leave. But because there is no emotional worth in their friendship, there’s no sense of loss when it’s dissolved. We don’t FEEL anything because there’s nothing there worth feeling about.

The next meeting Herr Doktor comes with a $3 million price tag or “one million per each limb” that needs replacing. Yes, we get the mad scientist referring to Carl’s dick as a ‘third limb.’ HILARIOUS. Herr Doktor is eating a length of bologna/salami during this, just to hammer home the subtle references to man-meat.

So we get our third (and final?) surgical procedure and finally – Carl is Hans complete!

Carl is excited to show Linda that he drives off to show her. And we only have three minutes left so you know what that means:

IT’S TIME FOR THE TWIST ENDING

Carlton goes to show Linda his new body but found that she has moved out. And he finds her at the penthouse of her new address. Carl comes in to propose but finds out that Linda…is already married!

See, Linda was a gold-digger after all! She didn’t really care about youth or Carlton. She wanted some kind of financial stability, and she reveals her new husband – his name is Hans! And he comes with a butler named Fulton. Yes, Carlton could have had the woman of his dreams had he only revealed he was rich from the start.

We end with a shot of Hans-as-Carl laughing, with everything that Carl-as-Hans ever wanted.

The Crypt Keeper ends with a PUMP YOU UP pun in honor of the celebrity director and we are done.

Clearly, the rotating cast in the Director’s chair means a wild variety of styles and differences in episodes, but a clearer distinction between this week and last week’s episode could not be made. The experienced hand of Howard Deutch crafted a program that had subtle tones despite a corny script (not to mention the class of actors, where as this week we get a cast of Arnie’s friends.) What shades of grey we had with last week’s show are thrown out for villains who are totally reprehensible and a bumbling fool that borders on pathetic.

Of course, the source material is sixty years old, so it was already dated when the episode ran over two-decades ago. But here, it’s like Arnold is more playful with being creepy and spooky than actually scary. Herr Doktor was more of a goofy exaggeration than anything. There was no sense of realism or weight of the character’s actions. It was a cartoon with people in place of the drawings. If last week was a strong step forward, this week was a goofy stumble.

Next week, we have Cooper from Lost and Bishop from Aliens gamble with their lives as we wait to see how long it takes for someone to make a “Dead Man’s Hand” pun. My money is that the Crypt Keeper does it right before we watch CUTTING CARDS.

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