Horror and sci-fi anthology tv shows seem to have been around for as long as televisions themselves: Tales of Tomorrow in 1951; The Twilight Zone in 1959; The Outer Limits in 1963; Night Gallery in 1970; Ghost Story in 1972; The Hitchhiker in 1983; Tales from the Darkside in 1984; Monsters and Freddy’s Nightmares in 1988.
Until the last decade, most horror-themed television shows were watered down due to the ratings policies of general broadcast television. But there was one show, born from cable tv and found its way to late-night syndication with less editing than expected, that still claims the throne of the televised horror anthology: Tales from the Crypt.
Season 1 Episode 02: Dig That Cat… He’s Real Gone (first aired June 10th, 1989)
Source Story: Haunt of Fear #21
Director: Richard Donner finishes off the trifecta of Tales from the Crypt executive producers directing the first three episodes. Richard Donner is most well known for directing a huge range of genres: The Omen (1976), Superman (1978), The Toy (1982), The Goonies (1985), the Lethal Weapon series (1987-1998), and Scrooged (1988) among many others.
Plot: A doctor transplants a gland into the brain of a homeless man, giving him nine lives (or so he thinks.) This new-found gift is used to rake in a fortune when the man takes the moniker “Ulric the Undying” and gets killed for money over and over again in a carnival sideshow.
Murderous Moral of the Story: Pay attention in Math class, it could save your lives.
Critique: Looking back on the entire Tales from the Crypt series, it’s surprising that there was a science fiction angle in the first group release of episodes. It’s an angle that is reminiscent of Re-Animator, but “Dig That Cat… He’s Long Gone” is much less science fiction-y than that, especially considering that Richard Donner, Walter Hill and Robert Zemeckis went on the produce the short-lived Perversions of Science, which was a sci-fi anthology series based on old school science fiction comic books by William M. Gaines, and aired on HBO. We also have to suspend more science fiction belief than usual that a brain gland from a cat has hints of a healing factor like the X-Men’s Wolverine.
But irritating, “too serious for a horror franchise” details aside, “Dig That Cat… He’s Long Gone” has the perfect mix of horror, humor, and over-the-top campy acting that made the Tales from the Crypt franchise great. It’s not only the main characters’ interaction with each other, but the energy of the literal audience at the carnival, hungry to spectate death in a satirical way that flashes the mirror at us horror fans, not in a scolding way but a playful nudge in the ribs and a wink.
Add that to the timely monologue cuts of Ulric in his coffin, telling his story up until the present day for him really helps cram a ton of story into 28 minutes. When 28 minutes feels like an engaging hour or so, that is great story-telling.
Body Count: 2, or 9 if you count all of Ulric’s deaths
1 by gunshot to the head
1 by drowning
1 by hanging
2 by car crash
1 by electrocution
1 by arrow through the heart
1 by literal stab in the back
1 by being buried alive
Actors/Actresses of Note: We have a lot of randomness in this cast. Ulric is played by Joe Pantoliano, who played the pimp in Risky Business, Francis in The Goonies, Cypher in The Matrix, and Teddy in Memento to name a few. The carnival barker was Robert Wuhl, who I’ll always remember as that dickhead reporter trying to get into Vicki Vale’s pants in Batman. A couple of bit parts were played by the father and son pair that tried to use the crossbow: the father was Steve Kahan, usually portraying a police chief or something, most notably in the Lethal Weapon series; the son was Michael Bower, before he became Donkylips in the Nickelodeon show Salute Your Shorts.
Quote: “You want to eat with me, later? After you’re dead? I’ll wait here, okay?” – Coralee
Watchability: 4 out of 5. The story isn’t great, but the comedy and ridiculousness of the theme mixed with the horror genre makes this a Tales from the Crypt classic.