Sunday, June 07, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: Hey, Kiddies! It's the Tales From the Crypt Cartoon!

From the late '80s through the mid-'90s, HBO aired its popular horror anthology Tales From the Crypt. Taking its title from the scandalous EC Comics of the 1950s, the series featured some of the biggest names in Hollywood toiling both in front of and behind the camera, in service of spine-tingling tales of gore, violence, and vengeance, bloody vengeance. Here's one of the framing sequences, with the show's "host," the desiccated Cryptkeeper (voiced by comedian John Kassir) setting up that week's scares in punny fashion alongside that episode's celebrity director:

At the height of its popularity, Crypt (executive produced by such Hollywood heavy-hitters as Richard Donner, Joel Silver, and Robert Zemeckis) accrued a fair amount of cache and sort of became the "it" thing for filmmakers and actors alike to add to their resumes (in addition to Schwarzenegger, Michael J. Fox and Tom Hanks also directed installments). A further outgrowth of Tales From the Crypt's popularity was the desire to finesse the brand in different directions, which is where the real purpose of this week's Nostalgia Theater comes into focus.

Now, we've talked plenty of times here about some of the bizarre "R"-rated properties that were repurposed by Hollywood into candy-coated kidvid, but while the notion of taking a gore-soaked HBO show whose entire raison d'ĂȘtre was to be too graphic for network, and channeling that onto Saturday mornings seems absurd on its face, that's exactly what happened when ABC premiered Tales From the Cryptkeeper in fall of '93. Because why not, right? Animated by Nelvana, the cartoon was naturally watered down pretty substantially from its pay cable kin. Here's the intro:

(That's the same Danny Elfman music as the live action, FYI.)

Although the original plan was for Tales From the Cryptkeeper to use live action wraparounds featuring the decaying Cryptkeeper corpse puppet setting up the episodes just like its live action forebear, common sense prevailed and they went with an animated version (still voiced by Kassir, though). As you can imagine, the mere announcement of this thing stirred some controversy about whether it was appropriate content for the under-ten set. However, ABC made it amply clear that they'd consulted child psychologists ahead of time about how best to traumatize young children for life.

Of course, you couldn't very well have a Saturday morning show about voodoo, cannibalism, etc., so instead the animated Cryptkeeper centered on little morality fables about kids learning hard lessons about responsibility. Sure, there were maybe a few cursory scares along the way, but they still came out basically okay in the end. Naturally, this being the '90s, there was also a Tales From the Cryptkeeper toyline ready to go from Ace Novelties, featuring various monsters, ghouls, etc. as well as a larger-sized "Talking Cryptkeeper" doll. Watch:

Honestly, I don't really have any memories of this 'toon. I was in high school when it premiered, so by then I was far more interested in the grown-up Crypt than the kiddie one. Nonetheless, I've heard from a few folks who were the right age for the cartoon, who've told me that it left them with some lasting chills, so make of that what you will. Tales From the Cryptkeeper ran for two seasons and twenty-six episodes on ABC, endings its run in December of '94. The HBO skein followed shortly thereafter, wrapping up in July of '96.

However, in a weird bit of resurrection right out of Tales From the Crypt itself, the animated show found itself jolted back to somnambulant life five years after cancellation, this time on CBS under the title New Tales From the Cryptkeeper. The budget was significantly lower for this incarnation, resulting in even looser animation standards, while content restrictions for kiddie fare had gotten even stricter in the interim, ensuring that each story advocated some kind of positive moral message. Thirteen of these installments aired between September and December of '99. Here's the intro:

While the live action series is out in its entirety on home video, only the first two seasons of the animated iterations are available as of now. The heyday of the Tales From the Crypt brand as a force is long in the past now. Although there was a brief attempt in the late '90s to use it as an umbrella title for standalone horror movies, nothing really took, and both the HBO and animated shows have since been consigned to the collective pop culture bin. But man, the mere fact that this cartoon existed continues to be a head-scratcher to me.

One Year Ago in Nostalgia Theater: Sinbad is Sin Bad

Two Years Ago in Nostalgia Theater: The Forgotten Superman

Three Years Ago in Nostalgia Theater: TV's Magnificent Seven -- A Cavalcade of Cult Actors Cowboys Up

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