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The History Of Horror Anthology Series ‘Tales from the Crypt,’ A ‘90s Pun-Filled Fever Dream

Updated September 29, 2021 4.2k views24 items

Hello, boils and ghouls, it's time to take a trip down memory lane and learn just how the beloved horror anthology Tales from the Crypt came to hold its skeletal hand around the hearts of horror fans who lived through the '90s. Gorehounds know that Tales from the Crypt spent seven years titillating audiences on HBO from 1989 to 1996, but the horror anthology was actually born out of the post-war comic book boom in the 1950s.

The EC Comics collection of horror, science fiction, and fantasy comics was only around for a few years, but they proved to be incredibly influential. The comics spawned the well-known anthology series and its star, the Cryptkeeper, but there was also a children's cartoon, multiple feature films, compilation albums, and even a game show. The twisted story of Tales from the Crypt continues to entrance audiences, even if it's been decades since a new version of the series has seen the light of day. Even so, horror fans know that nothing dead stays that way.

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  • EC Comics Started Making Horror-Themed Comics After WWII Because Returning Soldiers Wanted To Read More Sex And Violence

    In 1944, Entertaining Comics (AKA EC Comics) was started by Maxwell Gaines. EC's earliest comics were nothing like the horror stories they would become known for - instead, Gaines opted to publish Picture Stories from the Bible and Picture Stories from American History. After he passed in 1947, the business was left to his son William F. Gaines, an Air Force veteran who wanted nothing to do with his father's comic book business.

    By 1950, but William and his business partner, artist Al Feldstein, were producing a series of horror titles like The Vault of Horror, Weird Fantasy, and, of course, Tales From The Crypt - all of which put violence and sex at the forefront of their stories. Soldiers returning from WWII were searching for entertainment that reflected the last few years of their lives, something that superhero and romance comics weren't doing. The stable of horrifying tales from EC Comics filled that void with stories of murder and revenge from beyond the grave.

  • EC Created Three Comics Series With Horror Hosts - ‘The Haunt of Fear,' ‘The Vault of Horror,’ And ‘Tales from the Crypt’

    In 1950, EC Comics launched three different horror comics with twisted stories of the macabre. To make sure the comics appealed to everyone, the creators added horror hosts to each book. Every host had their own specific vibe, but they all tossed out puns that softened the blow of some of the intense stories inside. 

    The Vault-Keeper introduced stories in The Vault of Horror, Tales from the Crypt was introduced by the Cryptkeeper, and stories in The Haunt of Fear were introduced by the Old Witch. The characters are similar in that they're gross crones with a penchant for puns, but the most noticeable thing about these hosts is the Cryptkeeper looks nothing like the character that made it to HBO in 1989.

  • The Cryptkeeper Quickly Evolved From Being Scary To Punny

    The version of the Cryptkeeper that audiences know and love didn't start out as a corpse that spewed puns so bad that they'd make your uncle facepalm. In his earliest appearances, he takes serious joy in horrifying readers and the pain experienced by the characters in his stories.

    Over time, the Cryptkeeper changed from a deranged creep to a deranged creep with a love of wordplay. In the early story "Gone Fishing," the Cryptkeeper tells the reader to sit on a "bag of hooks," but by issue 35, the Cryptkeeper is all about being the "Host in Howls," and he even answered reader mail in the mocking tone that we know him for.

  • Photo: Dark Horse

    Ray Bradbury Contacted (And Eventually Worked With) EC Comics After They Plagiarized His Stories

    With three comics' worth of material every month, EC Comics needed a lot of stories. They churned out tales as quickly as possible, but every once in a while they gave into their worst impulses and plagiarized concepts - and even entire stories - from science fiction and horror writers like Ray Bradbury.

    Bradbury noticed (because of course he did) and wrote them a letter asking for royalties on the work that they lifted. William Gaines turned lemons into lemonade by telling Bradbury that he'd actually been trying to get in touch with the author over those pesky royalties. Rather than going to court, they struck up a deal, and Bradbury's stories began appearing in EC comics regularly.