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DVD Review: Tales From the Crypt Season Six

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The HBO mothership has had its share of hits, including certain seasons of Tales From the Crypt, which features the world's most over-the-top ghost host, the Crypt Keeper, delivering ghoulishly campy puns and alliterative lines that are the equivalent of an Archie comic on spook juice. However, by the sixth season, that juice seems to be watered down to the point where it has transcended itself and become less than camp. The horror is less conspicuous here; most of the good episodes are more like O. Henry tales, with bad things happening to bad people in ways only a writer with an O. Henry primer could think up.

Based on William M. Gaines' published pulp comics from the '50s, Tales is a blend of the macabre and the merry, with a defined sense of waggish hackery that never purports to be anything other than a modern throwback to a very specific nostalgic genre. The main meat of the series is ham, as even the acting by Hollywood vets is exaggerated and insincere. Clearly, not the stuff of greatness, but some fun can be had.

The season is capped with an Industrial Light and Magic special, "You, Murderer," in which the legendary Humphrey Bogart is recreated by integrating stock footage from previous films into a narrative told from the point of view of a man who has had plastic surgery to make him look like Humphrey Bogart. With John Lithgow and Isabella Rossellini in tow and Bogey appearing in mirrored reflections and flashbacks, this episode is a success and the high point of the season. The season stars a number of Hollywood names big and small, including Lost fave Terry O'Quinn in "The Bribe," in which he plays a fire marshal who goes to extremes to save his daughter (Kimberly Williams) from a sleazy club owner (Esai Morales) and his bodyguard (Benicio Del Toro).

Other standouts include Michael Ironside in "Comes the Dawn," a vampires in Alaska story that pre-dates Steve Niles' 30 Days of Night graphic novel by several years, Hank Azaria and Travis Tritt as two security guards at a mortuary who meet a doctor who harvests human souls in "Doctor of Horror," Peter Onorati and Sherrie Rose in "Only Skin Deep," in which an anger management candidate gets a nasty surprise from a stranger in a mask. D.B. Sweeney plays a con on the run who holes up in a house of an elderly woman (Rachel Ticoton) with a mysterious (and ironic) curse in "Staired in Horror."

Mishaps include "Whirlpool," starring Richard Lewis, in which a comic strip writer experiences extreme deja vu, "In the Groove," in which Miguel Ferrer plays a sex talk radio DJ who meets the woman of his dreams, and "Operation Friendship," in which a computer programmer has an unhealthy alter ego. Most distressing is "The Pit," which is neither scary nor funny, and contains a pitiable script and even more pity-inducing acting.

The box set doesn't contain a lot of features. Fifteen episodes total the season, featured in full screen, with the usual episode intros by the creepy puppet voiced by John Kassir. While a little camp goes a long way, a lot might just kill ya. The Crypt Keeper has his charms, but by this penultimate season, the "choke" wears a little thin. There's something here for hardcore Crypt fans and "kill"-seekers, but casual viewers might be scared off by the lackluster feel overall.

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