NEW TALES FROM THE CRYPTKEEPER
|First final issue of Marvel's first Captain America series, not even starring the titular hero.|
In the 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, horror.
|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) publisher William 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 Feldstein.
As the 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.|
EC planned 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 delinquency.
|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 from Amicus 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 with The 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 books Crime 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.|
Tales 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, James 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 Cryptkeeper dolls.
|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 called Secrets 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.