No TV show has ever shared as diverse a relationship with big-screen talent as HBO's Tales from the Crypt. For starters, the anthology horror series was produced by Robert Zemeckis, Joel Silver, David Giler, Richard Donner and Walter Hill. It had episodes directed by Tom Hanks, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Fred Dekker, Tobe Hooper, Russell Mulchay, William Friedkin, Peter Medak and even Michael J. Fox. And that's not even counting the unbelievable roster of actors who wound up in front of the camera, of which there are far too many famous names to list here.
And yet, even with all those names, there's perhaps no episode as surprising as the season six finale that first aired on January 25, 1995. It was called "You, Murderer," it was directed by Robert Zemeckis, scored by Alan Silvestri, and it starred Isabella Rossellini, John Lithgow and a dead-for-37-years Humphrey Bogart. And as if bringing one movie icon back from the dead wasn't enough, Alfred Hitchcock gets digitally dug up as well. And that's still not the strangest thing about the episode!
It opens with a close-up shot of a feather drifting peacefully on the currents of the wind. It settles on the knee of the Crypt Keeper, who is sitting on a park bench, dressed exactly like Forrest Gump, with a box of chocolates on his lap. Now keep in mind this aired about two weeks before Forrest Gump would receive 13 Academy Award nominations, and about two months before it would win six of those. Can you imagine the director of a movie on the fast track for Oscar nominations directing a spoof of their own movie on a shlocky late-night horror show in this day and age? Never going to happen again.
Back to the episode: the Crypt Keeper is introducing himself as "Fearest Gump" and then offers a "shock-olate" to Alfred Hitchcock, who is sitting on the park bench thanks to some crafty visual effects work that has digitally inserted archival footage of the Master of Suspense. And while it's the last time this episode we see Hitch, it's not the last time Zemeckis uses archival footage of a dead cinema titan. What follows is an episode about a criminal who happens to look and sound exactly like Casablanca star Humphrey Bogart, and it opens with Bogie talking about how "being dead ain't like how I expected it to be."
It's filmed entirely from the first-person POV, with "Bogart" providing his own noir-worthy voice to walk us through a tale of how money and lust always corrupt. The voice was provided by Bogart-impersonator Robert Sacchi, but the face we glimpse in mirrors and photos throughout belonged to Bogie himself, reconstructed from bits and pieces of footage from the actor's career. The effect isn't always convincing, though, and often looks like a Conan O'Brien segment where the top of the head stays the same and the lips are just digitally replaced. The result makes these cheap glimpses of Bogart in action seem like even more of an affront to the actor's image, though one would assume his estate would have had to approve the usage.
The episode itself isn't too bad. It's one of the rare Tales that isn't a horror plot, but a criminal double cross involving best friends and adultery. Even with its problems, it's still one of the more entertaining episodes of season six, which was the first season with more bad episodes than good ones. (The Russell Mulcahy-directed premiere "Let the Punishment Fit the Crime, "starring Catherine O'Hara as a big-city lawyer who gets thrown into a courthouse in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere where all the laws carry severely outdated justice, is the season's best.)
The episode is on YouTube in all its weirdness, though the service provides no means for us to flag it as actually being the copyright of HBO. So until HBO takes it down, you can check it out for yourself. I highly, highly recommend grabbing the show's seven seasons on DVD, though. I've been watching an episode every day for the past few months while running on the elliptical, and it's been an absolute blast of nostalgia to (re-)discover some of the biggest names in the business in the late '80s and early '90s throw in for a show that reveled in being cheesy, sexy and gory. The series unfortunately got worse as it went on, but it's still filled with more than enough gems to make it worth your while.
And if that's not enough "Oh, man, I forgot that existed..." for you, here's a music video starring Bogart impersonator Sacchi rapping about The African Queen. Oh, the '80s...