NEW TALES FROM THE CRYPTKEEPER
|First final issue of Marvel's first Captain America series, not even starring the titular hero.
years following World
War II, superheroes, which had dominated comics
since Superman’s first appearance in 1938, began to lose relevance with
readers. Without the Axis powers to fight against--which was the basis for many
of the characters--they were basically just treading water and the tastes of
their readers had changed towards a desire for sex and violence. Many
publishers ended their various hero titles and began to expand into other
genres such as western, romance, crime and, relevant for this particular entry,
|The unholy trinity: the first Crypt-Keeper, the first issue of Crypt, and the first issue to don the familiar Crypt title.
1947’s Eerie Comics by Avon Periodicals is often regarded as the first true horror comic. The
following year, American Comics Group’s Adventures
into the Unknown became the first ongoing horror comic title. In 1950, Entertaining Comics (EC)
Gaines and editor Al Feldstein discovered
they had similar tastes in horror. They began to experiment with horror tales
in their crime titles, leading to the publication of Feldstein’s story “Return
from the Grave!” in Crime Patrol #15, cover-dated
December 1949/January 1950. The character of the Crypt-Keeper made his debut as
the host of that story. #16 featured a larger assortment of horror stories over
crime before the book ultimately shifted format entirely with #17. The title
was changed to The Crypt of Terror, although it kept the same numbering to save money on
second-class postage permits (a common practice throughout the early years of
the comics industry, which is why there are many titles out there without a #1
issue). With #20, the book finally became Tales
from the Crypt. Gaines would read many horror
stories and use them as springboards that he crafted new stories from with
horror genre began to take off in comics, EC created two more horror books like Crypt.
With April/May 1950’s issue #12 of War Against Crime, the title became The Vault
of Horror, hosted by the Vault-Keeper. May/June 1950’s issue #15
of Gunfighter saw the series become The Haunt of Fear, hosted by The Old Witch after four issues. The hosts were
a lot more horrific at their inception. The Crypt-Keeper was a sinister hermit
whose face was hidden by his long hair and often seen within a half-opened
door. The Vault-Keeper was an ancient inquisitor in a hooded robe that presided
over the empty dungeon representing his bloody past. The Old Witch was inspired
by “Old Nancy, the witch of Salem”, host of radio series The Witch’s Tale that ran from
1931-38. Gradually, the hosts would be softened into comedic and pun-laden characters
designed to offset the horrors of the stories they presided over. Despite each
having their own books, they frequently crossed over into each other’s titles and
developed a comedic rivalry where they would try to usurp each other as the
ultimate singular host. Together, they were dubbed the GhoulLunatics.
|Senator Robert C. Hendrickson displays an exhibit of "offensive" titles at the Senate hearings.
to launch a fourth title in 1954, reusing The Crypt of Terror title,
but that was that year when everything changed for the comics industry. Comics,
especially in the crime and horror genres, came under fire as being harmful to
the well-being of children’s mental states. The highly publicized Senate
Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency hearings
did all but accuse those kinds of comics as being a catalyst for juvenile
|Advertisement for the seal that appeared on all approved comics.
Reeling from the negative press, publishers,
led by Gaines (who had unsuccessfully testified at the hearings), quickly banded together to head off outside influence
and created two self-regulatory agencies: the Comics
Magazine Association of America and
the Comics Code
Authority. They placed strict guidelines on
publications, such as forbidding the use of “horror” or “terror” in titles, the
use of horror-themed beings and other gruesome characters, disrespect for
authority figures, excessive violence, sexual perversion, seduction, rape, and
other similar restrictions. Not what Gaines intended, he felt his books were
being directly targeted by the Code and was forced to cancel his three horror
books, publishing the one produced Crypt of Terror story as
the final issue of Tales from the Crypt.
As the guidelines of the Code began to
gradually loosen over time, Ballantine Books reprinted selected Crypt stories in
a series of EC anthologies in the 1960s. Later, the series was reprinted in its
entirety by Russ Cochran in The Complete EC
Library in 1979. Further reprints would come in the 1990s through
Cochran and Gemstone
Publishing. In the interim, a 1972 film
Productions adapted five stories from all
three horror titles, as did its sequel, The Vault of Horror, in 1973 (however, the sequel didn’t use any stories from
the comic for which it was named).
|The new look for the Cryptkeeper.
In 1989, HBO, along
Geffen Film Company and Warner
Bros. Television, collectively known as Tales
from the Crypt Holdings, developed a live-action anthology series based on the
original EC comics. Tales from the Crypt featured the
Cryptkeeper (John Kassir), now a rotting skeletal puppet created by Kevin Yagher,
who introduced the tales from his lair. Much like the comic Crypt-Keeper, the
show’s Cryptkeeper started off with a much deeper voice and had a more sinister
presence. Gradually, his voice and tone lightened up to become the pun-laden
host that his comic counterpart ended up being.
The series aired on HBO until 1996, allowing it
to avoid censorship that would come from being on a network and implant liberal
amounts of gore, profanity, nudity and sex more than even the original stories
had. Along with stories from all three horror titles, they used EC’s other
SuspenStories, Shock SuspenStories, and . Following the Cryptkeeper’s introduction, each story
would begin with a comic book cover done by Mike Vosburg and Shawn McManus that resembled the covers used on the original books.
The series also featured a wide assortment of notable guest-stars and
directors, five of which served as executive producers on the show and owned
the rights to the EC stories: Richard Donner, David
Giler, Walter Hill, Joel
Silver and Robert Zemeckis.
|The Cryptkeeper had never been so animated.
At the height of the series’ popularity, it was
decided that there was potential to tap into the children’s market with an
animated spin-off to replace Beetlejuice. Nelvana Limited and ABC partnered up
and set about toning down the series to be an acceptable Saturday morning program with
the aid of child psychologist Brian Newmark. The result was an anthology series that served a moral
lesson at the end of each story as the villains of the tales always received
their comeuppance. It was originally planned to use the puppet Cryptkeeper in
the show, but he was deemed too potentially frightening for younger viewers.
Instead, a full-bodied animated version with green skin (but emaciated to
retain a somewhat skeletal appearance) was used. Kassir was retained as the
voice, and he continued to deliver pun-laden one-liners from his lair while
being sure to strike the story’s message home for viewers.
|Better run to your TV set before you miss the show.
from the Cryptkeeper debuted on ABC on
September 18, 1993. The series used a slightly modified version of Danny Elfman’s theme from the HBO show performed by Heart Times Coffee Cup Equals Lightning. Amin Bhatia composed the rest of the series’ music. The debut episode,
“While the Cat’s Away”, was the only one directly adapted from the old EC
comics. The rest were the original creations of writers J.D. Smith, Peter
Sauder, Eric Luke, Erika Strobel, David
Finley, Terry Black, John
de Klein, Ed Naha,
Thornton, Vince Grittani, Juan
Carlos Coto, Manny Coto, Jeffery
Hause, David Hines, Dana
Olsen, Libby Hinson, Deborah
Goodwin, and Ben Joseph; several of whom also wrote for the parent series. Sauder
served as the story editor. Animation duties were handled by Wang Film
Productions Co., Ltd., Funbag Animation
Studios Inc., Bardel
Animation, Medallion-PFA Film & Video, and International Image.
|The Vault Keeper and the Old Witch attempt to steal Cryptkeeper's show.
Renewed for a second season, some changes were
made to the overall format. The Vaultkeeper (David Hemblen) and the Old Witch
(Elizabeth Hanna) were introduced to the show. Their rivalry was reignited from
the old EC comics over the fact that they were jealous the Cryptkeeper had his
own show while they did not. This resulted in the Cryptkeeper leaving his lair
and heading to other locations to stay one step ahead of his rivals. There were
a couple of episodes where they would tell stories together, and even some of
the story characters from the previous season made appearances in sequel
stories. During this time, Ace Novelty released two
series of four figures based on the show:
two versions of the Cryptkeeper and the rest generic classic
monsters. Other merchandise included a wrist watch, silly putty, play slime, a board
game, a lunch box, monster-faced balls, an electronic handheld game, googely eyes, and talking
|Traversing the graveyard in Secrets of the Cryptkeepr's Haunted House.
At the end of the second season, ABC cancelled
the series. But, that wasn’t the end of the story. CBS had acquired
the licensing rights to Crypt and created a kids’ game show
of the Cryptkeeper’s Haunted House that
aired on Saturday mornings from 1996-97. Following the end of that show, CBS
decided to make further use of the license and revived the Cryptkeeper cartoon.
Titling it New Tales from the
Cryptkeeper, the new batch of episodes debuted on October 10, 1999. They retained
Kassir as the voice but featured radically different animation. The style was
more rounded and cartoony when compared to that of the ABC episodes, which used
a more realistic style that almost emulated a comic book. The Cryptkeeper bore
greater resemblance to his puppet counterpart while maintaining his green skin,
and had a prominent tooth in each gum. Because of new FCC regulations
demanding more educational value from cartoons, the New episodes
were simplified and included more streamlined morality lessons. The Vaultkeeper
and Old Witch were also jettisoned in favor of having the Cryptkeeper in
“disguise” interacting with the characters in the episodes as well as
addressing the viewers, rather than bookending the story with an introduction
and the moral. The revival only lasted for a single season before the show was
cancelled once again.
|An issue of the all-new Tales series by Papercutz.
Although Crypt left the
airwaves before the turn of the century, the producers of the HBO series
attempted to keep it going through another medium: radio. 8 of 13 radio shows
were recorded, still starring Kassir, and premiering for free on Seeing Ear Theater, an online subsidiary of the Sci-Fi Channel. 7 of
those were later released on CD by Highbridge Audio. In 2007, Crypt returned to comics
through Papercutz featuring the original GhoulLunatics and covers
reminiscent of the EC books. The new comics ran for 13 regular and 9 digest-sized issues, with
an editorial by Gaines’ daughter, Cathy Gaines Mifsud, on
censorship appearing in regular issue #8. Parodies and homages of the
classic Crypt covers pop up from time to time on various
modern comics and other visual merchandise.
|The second season DVD.
Beginning in 1994, Sony Home
Entertainment released two-episode VHS
collections. In 2004, Funimation released
Stacks of Fear to DVD,
which contained three episodes. In 2007 and 2008, the first
two seasons were released by Phase 4 Films. In 2013, Sony released Myth Conception and Transylvania Express, which collected the second season. Instead of using art
from the show, the covers of the cases utilized cutesy drawings of a zombie,
Dracula and a mummy. In 2014, the first season was
re-released with a recolored version of the new
artwork from Transylvania Express.
Originally posted in 2014. Updated in 2021.