October 18, 2014


(ABC, September 18, 1993-December 10, 1994
CBS, September 9-December 2, 1999)

Nelvana Limited, Fantome Animation (season 3)

John Kassir – Cryptkeeper
Elizabeth Hanna – The Old Witch (season 2)
David Hemblen – The Vault Keeper (season 2)

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.

The Crypt-Keeper, the Old Witch, and the Vault Keeper hover over their
publisher William Gaines.

            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 Horrorhosted 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 SuspenStoriesShock SuspenStoriesand Two-Fisted Tales for inspiration. 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 DonnerDavid GilerWalter HillJoel 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 BeetlejuiceNelvana 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 gamea 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.

Season 1:
“While the Cat’s Away” (9/18/93) – Two brothers plan to rob an abandoned mansion and fall afoul of the Cryptkeeper’s monstrous security system.

“Nature” (9/25/93) – Two brothers torment some ants before they’re mysteriously shrunk down and forced to deal with the tribulations of being an insect.

“Pleasant Screams” (10/2/93) – A teacher and his student find themselves trapped in the fantasies of another student they have tormented.

“Gone Fishin’ / A Little Body of Work” (10/9/93) – A boy tries to warn his wasteful fisherman uncle that the fish are looking for revenge. / Two thugs challenge a boy to race them in the Mustang he’s restoring, but little do they know the car has a mind of its own.

“The Works…In Wax” (10/16/93) – The statues in a boy’s favorite wax museum come to life.

“The Sleeping Beauty” (10/23/93) – Vain prince Chuck and his nerdy twin brother Melvin quest to awaken a sleeping princess, not knowing she’s really a vampire.

“Cave Man” (10/30/93) – A caveman is thawed out and befriended by a scientist’s son, but has trouble adapting to the modern world.

“Hyde and Go Shriek” (11/6/93) – Wendell drinks a formula that turns him into a werewolf and allows him to torment his tormentors.

“Fare Tonight” (11/13/93) – Camille and Mildred create a vampire detector and discover one is much closer than they ever thought.

“Gorilla’s Paw” (11/20/93) – An unpopular boy steals a gorilla’s paw to get into a secret club, but discovers the wishes it grants come with twisted results.

“This Wraps It Up” (12/4/93) – A girl teased because of her massive height suddenly becomes the hero when a mummy unleashes a curse on everyone.

“Grounds for Horror” (12/11/93) – Campers befriend an invisible entity who plays tricks on their no-nonsense counselor.

“Ghost Ship” (12/18/93) – Two shipwrecked joyriders are rescued by a haunted ship full of pirates.

Season 2:

“Game Over” (9/10/94) – Two boys skip school to play video games, but end up in for a fright when the game characters come to life.

“Cold Blood, Warm Hearts / The Spider and the Flies” (9/17/94) – A man and woman investigating a monster in a lake discover they have much in common. / When spiders infest a town, two siblings discover the exterminator isn’t what he appears to be.

“The Avenging Phantom / Myth Conceptions” (9/24/94) – Jimmy wishes he could get revenge on bullies like his favorite super hero and gets his wish, but with dire consequences. / An archaeologist discovers the tomb of Medusa and discovers how his predecessors died.

“All the Gory Details” (10/1/94) – Two reporters try to track down an old scientist for a story.

“The Weeping Woman” (10/8/94) – Camille and Mildred investigate a woman’s ghost that haunts a local inn.

“Dead Men Don’t Jump” (10/15/94) – A boy challenges a monster to a basketball game for his very life.

“The Haunted Mine” (10/22/94) – A boy ends up in an abandoned mine that contains a dark secret.

“Growing Pains” (10/29/94) – Wendell returns as a plant enthusiast and falls for a girl named Rose, whose family has a secret.

“The Brothers Gruff” (11/5/94) – A troll follows Eddie after he crosses a bridge and kidnaps his brother, leaving Eddie and his friend Sheldon to get her back.

“Uncle Harry’s Horrible House of Horrors” (11/12/94) – A boy’s birthday is being spoiled by a skeptical uncle, but a frighteningly realistic haunted house soon changes his tune.

“Hunted” (11/19/94) – A heartless hunter becomes the hunted when a shape shifting monster frees his prey and comes after him.

“Chuck (and Melvin) and the Beanstalker” (12/3/94) – Chuck and Melvin return to steal the treasure of the giant Cyclops Beanstalker.

“Transylvania Express” (12/10/94) – Two surfer dudes accidentally get on a train headed for Transylvania--and a load of vampires.

Season 3:

“Sharon Sharalike” (9/9/99) – A selfish teenager steals her sister’s doll and learns the doll doesn’t like when its owners don’t share.

“Imaginary Friend” (9/16/99) – A young kid’s imaginary friend gets back at two bullies.

“Waste Not, Haunt Not” (9/23/99) – A bog monster is created when two boys dump the chemicals from their science project into the bog.

“Unpopular Mechanics” (9/30/99) – Destructive inventor Randall creates a remote control that causes machines to go haywire, but the machines revolt against him.

“Competitive Spirit” (10/7/99) – Victor tricks his rival into thinking a ghost lives in the mountains, but the real mountain spirit comes after Victor for his ways.

“Trouble in Store” (10/14/99) – Two boys locked in a store after hours discover the mannequins are alive and very protective of their home.

“So Very Attractive” (10/21/99) – An insecure girl buys a beauty cream that makes her irresistible to everyone, regardless of species or status of life.

“Drawn and Quartered” (10/28/99) – A magic pencil allows a boy to get revenge on his bullies through his drawings.

“All Booked Up” (11/4/99) – A boy who hates to read ends up trapped in a library and literally engulfed in the world of literature.

“Town Gathering” (11/11/99) – A girl discovers a group of businessmen are actually carnivorous aliens, but no one will believe her because of her tendency to pull pranks.

“It’s For You” (11/18/99) – A boy uses his new phone line to make prank calls, and one of his pranks ends up becoming his phone stalker.

“Monsters Ate My Homework” (11/25/99) – A boy tells his teacher monsters ate his homework, which comes true when monsters come after him for his homework.

“Too Cool for School” (12/2/99) – Playing around in the school science lab leads to two girls accidentally creating monstrous half-dinosaur, half-frog creatures.

Originally posted in 2014. Updated in 2021.

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