Tales from the Crypt - The Man Who Was Death (Season 1, Episode 1)

The Man Who Was Death
Season 1 - Episode 1
from Crypt of Terror #17
Aired June 10, 1989
Worst pun: "What a re-volting development" or "I'm sure he new knew 'watt' hit him"

A shocking experience! When the death penalty is abolished, a penitentiary executioner turns freelance electrocutioner. But fate may pull a switch on this man who loves to throw the switch.

Right off the bat you can tell it's the first season. The Crypt Keeper's voice is off, his trademark cackle is nowhere to be found, and there's only 1 pun. What the FUCK? The first episode is directed by Walter Hill, the director of The Warriors and producer of every movie in the Alien franchise. Even though the puppet looks shitty and the voice is off, I'm still positive at this point that this won't be as disappointing as Prometheus. 

William Sadler (the bad guy from Die Hard 2) is taking a break from doing naked karate to portray Niles Talbot, a southern executioner who loves frying people almost as much as he loves delivering long monologues directly into the camera. If he’s not flipping the switch, he’s breaking the fourth wall to tell the viewer how much he loves cleaning up the filth on the streets. He excitedly talks about how most of them scream that they’re innocent when the time finally comes, begging and pleading the guards to let them go because the governor is going to call any second now to pardon them. He always looks them dead in the eye before flipping the switch and even gives them a second shock, just in case.

For many viewers it must be off-putting to see an episode where the central plot  revolves around capital punishment, like an episode based on a killer laserdisc player, or a Walkman, or Jim Belushi. Fortunately for me I live in Texas so it’s just another walk in the park.

He flips the switch on another inmate and wanders around the streets stopping at locations that make nice backdrops for pseudo-intellectual monologues and really drives home exactly how much he loves his job. What an ironic turn of events that the death penalty is being abolished.   

He does not take kindly to this news. Neither does the warden, being played by the voice of Principal Wartz from Hey Arnold. Seeing as how his job is technically illegal now, the warden is left with no choice but to fire him, and since he’s spent the last 12 years killing prisoners, it wouldn’t make a whole bunch of sense to give him another job around the prison. 


Niles copes with this crossroads in his life by telling the camera that it's not him and the thrill he gets from watching someone die. No, people are just scared of death, that's all. To prove to the world that he's the sane one and we're all just a bunch of pussies, he decides within a couple of hours of losing his job the best course of action is to embark on a Dexter-esque “I brutally murder people but don't worry they're 'bad guys' so it's ok" campaign. The decision to murder people on the streets happens seemingly overnight and yet it's still better than in The Boondock Saints. 

An indiscriminate amount of time later, Generic Biker Bad Guy gets off on a murder charge because of a technicality - the warrant was improperly worded. Well, when you let liberal pussies take over, shit like this happens. Niles, who just so happens to be sitting in the gallery, is left with no choice but to take this matter into his own hands. So he electrocutes him. Of course.

RIP Mr. Thornberry you will be remembered

His next victims are the foster dad from Child’s Play 2 and his new lover, some woman who is willing to show her tits for a new series’ first episode. The two of them are relaxing in a jacuzzi enjoying the money he inherited from his wife that said lover killed. Guess what. He fries em. Sense a pattern? It's good to see this series never pretended to be subtle, even in the very beginning. 

Now we’re in a titty bar and he gives us relationship advice, because why not. He’s not there for dope ass titties or a sermon, he’s there to kill. Again. What did this person do? It doesn’t really matter at this point. He has his sights set firmly on this half nude struggling actress and nobody in the crowded nightclub has noticed him attaching giant clamps to the cage she's dancing in.


Nothing happens when he flips the switch. He tries again and realizes the wires have been cut. He's ambushed by the police and arrested. Wouldn't you know it, the death penalty has just been reinstated. As he's carried to the chair he screams that he's innocent and begs and pleads the guards to let him go because the governor is going to call any second now to pardon him. The new executioner looks him dead in the eye before flipping the switch and even gives him a second shock, just in case. 

In the outro sequence things are getting back to how I remember them. The Crypt Keeper has plenty of shock-centric puns, and he hits you with a seemingly endless barrage of them before credits roll. Unfortunately he calls us 'boys and girls' instead of 'boils and ghouls' so we've got a long way to go. 

If you have to wrap your own arms around the puppet to get the shot you want, maybe try a different shot.

It's not one of the classic episodes but it's a very serviceable pilot. It's Dexter before Dexter existed, except the twist at the end doesn't make you wish you stopped watching 4 years earlier. 


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