Tales from the Crypt was a show that not only appealed to horror fans, and comic book fans, but to a wide audience that still tries to catch reruns of the show whenever they can. Recently, when taking questions from the audience of a panel that I was sitting on about horror, I was asked, “Why was Tales from the Crypt so popular?” I have to say that it was one of the more interesting questions that I have ever been asked.
Tales from the Crypt ran on HBO from 1989 until 1996. This was in interesting time in history as we had experienced some major events just previous to the release, and some more transpired during the airing of the show that made it more poignant to Americans. As I go through these points, I will bring up real world situations that correlated to the types of themes presented in Tales from the Crypt.
Never Thought You Would See This
One of the aspects that drove Tales from the Crypt was the fact that viewers were being shown situations that they never thought that they would see. There were graphic overtones of the show that many viewers were surprised that they were seeing on TV.
In 1989, we were seeing the end of communism in Russia. The Berlin Wall was coming down. This was a step in a new direction, and a turning point in world history. Tales from the Crypt was a turning point in horror. Since it was being shown on TV, there were certain liberties that directors and writers could take that they would have to have kept in check if they released these stories as a feature length movie. Since the show was on HBO, these ideas could be nurtured without the prying eyes of censors.
Get What They Have Coming
The end of the 1980s and early 1990s, we saw scenes play out in our nightly news about bankers, politicians, and investors that were coming under fire for the Savings and Loans Scandals. We saw people that had a belief that they were above the law due to their money and power finally get the just deserts that were coming to them.
As our heads spun with visions of bankers, investors, and the Keating Five, we turned to Tales from the Crypt for a release. We saw the same types of people being shown each week in episodes of the show that reminded us of the rich that were getting sent to jail. Instead of jail, these characters were being sentenced to death by the Crypt Keeper. We gained a sense of closure to some of the news stories.
A Face of Horror
In the late 1980s, with the fall of communism in Russia, we lost a face of horror. Before this, we had always had a face that we could place on horror (as in an enemy). We always had a face to place as the enemy, or at least a country. We lost that in 1989.
Along comes the Crypt Keeper in Tales from the Crypt. Here is a character that exudes horrors of all kind. Here is a physical face that we can attach to horror, and one that we will remember through our nightmares. I remember a poll being taken in 1993, though, that placed the Crypt Keeper higher on the list of recognizable faces of evil than Saddam Hussein.
Keep these ideas in mind the next time that you see an episode of Tales from the Crypt. Remember that Tales from the Crypt was popular because it gave people a focused release for many of the issues that were going on at the time. This focused release keeps Tales from the Crypt popular to this day.