Tales From the Crypt #1: Ghouls Gone Wild
by Jim Salicrup, editor (Papercutz, 2007)

Tales From the Crypt was first a comic anthology in the early 1950s. Stories were introduced, with rotten puns and great cheer, by the Crypt Keeper and his friends. The stories followed a predictable pattern of petty betrayal, death and vengeance from beyond. Enthusiastic melodrama and often wonderful art lifted Tales above itself.

Those not big on comics history might know Tales From the Crypt as the cheesy horror anthology program of the 1980s, with enthusiastic if limited special effects and a wonderful Danny Elfman score. The Crypt Keeper once again introduced simplistic, improbable tales of mortal failings and supernatural vengeance. These stories were often not very good, owing to problems of time and budget. But they were always a lot of fun and satisfying as any good campfire yarn.

The comic and the show eventually got buried. But as the Crypt Keeper would agree, you can't keep a good haunt down, and Papercutz has brought Tales From the Crypt back to life -- or undeath -- in its original, unfettered comics form. The new series has all the old trademarks. Like the earlier incarnations, it's horror for a younger audience, with gore and violence often played as comedy. Exaggerated character flaws, ghoulish punishment and improbable crimes abound. There's even the old Crypt Keeper, with his friends the Old Witch and the Vault Keeper, to bring back the old, painful puns.

But the new Tales improves on its predecessors with outright artistic excellence. Each tale is drawn by a separate and very distinctive artist -- and each artist is obviously having a great time with the story. Mr. Exes draws his fellow artist in "Body of Work" with near cubist lines and modernistic ghouls. Tim Smith and Laurie E. Smith binge on extreme angles and toy-store colors for the obsessive compulsion in "For Serious Collectors Only." Steve Mannion makes sure the evil landlord is haunted by the book's most disturbing ghouls in "The Tenant." And Sho Murase paints "Runway Roadkill" with such smooth modern lines and bright pop colors that no one would suspect it of sharing a plot with the other Tales From the Crypt -- until the villain, or possibly heroine, of the piece takes her role to the hilt.

The writers are a bit more limited by the demands of the book. Tales From the Crypt, for all its gore, is as mannered as a haiku. But Don McGregor and Neil Kleid still manage to add a touch of humanity to their black-hearted stars with simple fear and a little introspection. And Mark Bilgrey makes his bickering, front-stabbing couple entertaining enough to be almost likeable. But special attention has to go to Jim Salicrup, who, with Rick Parker, makes the Crypt Keeper's segues as gloriously trashy as they need to be.

Fun, spirited and more than a little absurd, Tales From the Crypt is that rarest of things in the horror world, a successful revival. Enjoy it, before it turns on its creator!

review by
Sarah Meador

17 October 2009

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