Long before Marilyn Manson and Grand Theft Auto started corrupting young minds, horror comic books like EC Comics' Tales From The Crypt were the forbidden debauchery of choice. Naturally, they were also deeply controversial. As outlined in Tales From The Crypt: From Comic Books To Television, a semi-comprehensive mini-doc included among the special features on the Tales From The Crypt: The Complete First Season box set, Congress held subcommittee hearings about the titles, parents staged mass burnings, and psychologist Fredric Wertham blamed them for everything from tardiness to juvenile delinquency.
But while Wertham won in the short term, driving EC Comics off the shelves, his crusade against its foul and funny stories only cemented their place in the cultural landscape. A few decades later, the cheerfully gruesome Tales, in all their uncensored glory on HBO, became immensely popular (well, by cable standards), and the decaying Crypt Keeper was transformed into a children's icon, complete with his own Saturday-morning cartoon series (Tales From The Cryptkeeper) and lots of Crypt merchandise for "boils and ghouls" to buy.
From 1989 to 1996, the HBO series reveled in the stories' ironic twist endings, the Crypt Keeper's tasteless puns, and Tales' unabashed gore and nudity. (After all, that's why people have cable.) Though the first season was short, it's a pithy slice of the series as a whole, with directors like Robert Zemeckis, Richard Donner, and Mary Lambert each helming one of the six episodes, and excellent character actors like Joe Pantoliano (as a carnival performer who literally dies on stage, again and again) and Amanda Plummer (playing an axe murderer long before her turn in So I Married An Axe Murderer) popping up along the way. Overall, the episodes have retained the same black-humor bite as they did in 1989, especially Zemeckis' "And All Through The House," a Christmastime slasher about a wife who murders her husband, and "The Man Who Was Death," Walter Hill's noir take on the story of an out-of-work executioner.
But in an irony only befitting Tales From The Crypt, the Crypt Keeper himself hasn't aged well. In a new introduction, a shapeless mound resembling the Keeper jokes about Botox from underneath a mountain of gauze. No famously decaying face. No creepy shroud. So where did all those animatronic Crypt Keeper puppets go?