Good morning Creeps and Cronies! Cryptkeeper Bubbawheat here for yet another day in our 31 Days of Tales From the Crypt, day 6 to be ex-hack-t. Today’s episode is being looked at by one of our own authors here at Channel: Superhero, Todd Leibenow. He’s someone just as busy as I am with two podcasts and his own blog all hosted over at Forgotten Films and he also covered the entire series of the 1980’s Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends and has moved onto the Adam West ’66 Batman. Today he is looking at one of my favorite episodes from season 4 involving a marionette puppeteer past his prime, Strung Along.
For over 20 years now I’ve had the pleasure of being a professional puppeteer. When people ask me what I do for a living, that’s what I tell them. After the confusion wears off, they’re usually quite intrigued by what I do. I mean, it’s fair to say that most people probably don’t know any puppeteers in their regular everyday lives. You don’t tend to see too many movies or TV shows that are about puppeteers, either. Where we do see puppeteers pop up in media from time to time is in horror stories about evil puppets. So, I guess it’s fitting that the episode of Tales from the Crypt I’m reviewing is an evil puppet episode. From Season 4 of the series it’s Strung Along.
Our story concerns an aging puppeteer, Joseph Renfield (Donald O’Connor), who once performed his marionettes on a popular kids show during the golden age of television. He has a large house and an attractive young wife, Ellen (Patricia Charbonneau), however he spends most of his time hidden away in his workshop making puppets that he never finishes. He’s depressed, he has heart issues, and has very little contact with others…that is except for his puppet clown, Koko. The puppeteer often hears Koko’s voice talking to him and at times carries on conversations with the puppet.
When word comes that Joseph has been invited to do his act on a special about television’s golden age, the old man has a new streak of energy. However, he admits that he cannot do the act on his own. He’ll need an assistant. Ellen brings in a friend of a friend from her acting class, a young man named David (Zach Galligan). David has had some experience with animatronic puppets, but never marionettes. He is anxious to learn, however.
Joseph and David end up making a great team, but Ellen doesn’t seem to like him, especially when David discovers that she is cheating on Joseph. Of course, he tells the old man which sends him into a night of vodka-fueled depression. Then, suddenly, Joseph hears Ellen’s screams upstairs. He stumbles upstairs where he finds her bloody on the floor with Koko, the puppet, stabbing her repeatedly. The shock causes the old man to suffer a heart attack and die. It turns out, though, that the puppet is just one of David’s animatronics. In fact, David is actually Rick, the man Ellen’s been sleeping with, and this was just a plot to cause Joseph’s death so that the cheating couple could run off with his money. However, they don’t realize that the real Koko has been watching, preparing to take his revenge on these two. The episode ends with Ellen and Rick slashed and strung up like puppets when the police arrive. As for Koko, he sits above them in the place of the puppeteer…but now he has Joseph’s face.
First of all, I’ve gotta say that it was great to see Donald O’Connor as the aging puppeteer. In my book, Singin’ in the Rain is one of the greatest movies ever made, and a big part of what makes the film great is O’Connor. With that film I always think of O’Connor’s wide smile and “golly, gosh, gee-wilikers” kind expression…it perfectly fits being a TV kids show host. But then he has to take that usually jovial demeanor and then turn it into a character that is struggling with depression, seeing his art form replaced by technology, and hearing his puppets start to talk to him. O’Connor does a very nice job with the role.
Zach Galligan’s task in this episode is actually somewhat similar in nature. Galligan is best known for being the lead in Gremlins, which is also a very likeable wide-eyed gee-wilikers kind of character. Though we always have to hate him on a certain level because he gets to kiss Phoebe Cates and we hate anyone who ends up with Miss Cates (curse you Kevin Kline). Anyhow, Galligan starts off in much the same vein as his Gremlins role, but when he switches to a more villainous part as the episode reaches its climax he’s actually quite effective. As for our female lead, Patricia Charbonneau, she does a decent job, though the script is a bit deficient when it comes to her character. I would’ve liked to see a bit more scheming from her character that I think would’ve made the finale have a bit more impact.
As for the evil puppet angle, I think this episode had the right approach to this often used device. It’s so easy to go over-the-top when it comes to creepy looking puppets. Think like the ventriloquist dummy version of Anthony Hopkins from the film Magic….egads! The look of Koko is believable for a character from a kids TV show. What makes him creepy is the atmosphere and the progression of the story. Anybody can make an ugly puppet.
On a whole this is a very satisfying episode. It’s got a simple story and it’s not as bloody or graphic as some. It actually wouldn’t seem out-of-place were it to have been an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. As evil puppet stories go, this one is pretty original.