TALES FROM THE CRYPT: ON A DEADMAN’S CHEST (1992, S04E03)

(DVD/VOD) It doesn’t get more 90s than this. Look, this isn’t a great slice of horror, despite it being directed by William Friedkin, but it was vividly seared into my brain. In 1992, I didn’t have access to HBO, but my uncle — who my father and I traveled to Albany, New York to attend his second wedding — did, and my father and I were staying at his place. I spent most of my time that weekend binging HBO, including the 70s KING KONG. However, it’s this episode of TALES FROM THE CRYPT that really sticks out in my mind because, at that point in time in my life, I’d never seen anything quite like it.

I’ll summarize this as quickly as possible, but there’s a hell of a lot of plot in this thirty-minute ep: Danny Darwin (Yul Vazquez) is the lead singer in the band EXORCIST (get it?), and he absolutely hates Nick Bosch’s — EXORCIST’s songwriter and guitarist — wife, Scarlett (Tia Carrere) and the feeling is mutual. As typical for EC Comics protagonists, Danny is a complete and utter shitheel and he treats most folks around him like garbage, but that doesn’t seem to keep groupies from wanting a piece of Danny.

After an EXORCIST show, one particular groupie not-at-all-subtly named Vendetta (Sherrie Rose) catches Danny backstage. She unlatches her top to reveal a snake tattoo that weaves across her chest. She begs him to look closer, and the camera leerily leans in as we see the snake take a life of its own, slithering out of her skin to snap at Danny. Danny demands to know who the tattoo artist is, and she says she’ll tell him for a price. (As this is HBO’s TALES FROM THE CRYPT, the price is obviously sex.)

Danny visits the tattoo artist, requests a tiger, but the artist says he’ll find the right tattoo for him. Consequently, he’s left with a giant tattoo of Scarlett across his chest. Danny goes ballistic and storms back to the home he’s sharing with Nick and Scarlett. Scarlett promptly tears into him, and Danny retorts that she’s trying to break up the band.

Fast forward a bit: Danny sees Vendetta at a club, then starts blaming her for setting him up, for giving the tattoo artist the idea to permanently pen Scarlett onto his chest. She recommends a plastic surgeon, and Danny follows through, but is left with a red and raw vague silhouette of the original tattoo that the surgeon notes is “bizarre”. Vendetta then tells Danny that, if he can’t get rid of the tattoo, he can at least get rid of her.

(Obviously, I’m about to spoil the end of the episode, but frankly, you’ve certainly figured out what is about to happen. Also, it’s probably taken me longer to write this summary than it would to watch it.)

Danny then pretends to make amends with Nick, but is intentionally late for their next show to make time to murder Scarlett. Danny then meets up with Vendetta, confesses to killing Scarlett — which she finds “so fucking hot”. Danny removes the bandage from his healing chest, looks at himself in the mirror and sees that the tattoo has fully returned, but instead of Scarlett’s pristine face, he sees it as bloodied and lifeless. He turns to Vendetta, who sees it as the original tattoo — Scarlett’s face clean of blood.

Danny finally appears at the show, goes on-stage to perform and, right as he’s about to let loose, he looks down and sees something visibly moving under his shirt. He runs to the dressing room and a serpent/demon dog creature bursts from his chest. Vendetta relays to Nick that Danny killed Scarlett and, when Nick goes to get revenge, he sees Danny with a gaping torso wound, holding his skinned tattoo in his hand.

Yes, basic EC material, but mostly new to me. While I’d read plenty of horror — I read practically everything that our local library stocked — I’d absolutely never seen anything as graphic as it. The closing shot is what did me in; I barely slept a wink before the wedding, and it’s a bit of horror that I will never fully forget.

(That said, oddly I remember the tattoo being on his back, not his chest, but uh, that’d make it quite difficult to skin off. Not like anything else in the episode fully hangs together, though.)

Please, don’t take this as a full recommendation. It’s rather by-the-numbers and wildly insensitive — even for its time — but that’s par for the series. However, it is stylish, and has some great practical effects work.

https://tftc.fandom.com/wiki/On_a_Deadman%27s_Chest