Good morning boils and ghouls, it’s time for the 18th victim to tell his tale of what happened when he watched an episode of Tales From the Crypt. This time it’s Tony Cogan from Coog’s Reviews where tackles most of the new releases coming out in theaters each week. He’s taking a look at one of the most unique Tales From the Crypt episodes, it’s the only one that’s an hour long instead of the usual 30 minutes as it was one of three originally intended for a movie anthology spinoff. There’s little to no humor in this one outside of the Cryptkeeper’s introduction but it’s one of the all time best episodes of the series about a World War I soldier turning Yellow.
When the Tales From The Crypt blogathon was announced, there was only one episode that I wanted to cover. Sure it doesn’t have the over the top gore, black comedy and insane tone as other episodes, but as a piece of horror television, this is easily one of the most horrific, mainly due to the subject matter, that being World War One, a subject that is incredibly relevant due to it currently being the 100th Anniversary of World War One. There have been many pieces of media about World War One which have grasped my attention, from the serious dramas of All Quiet on the Western Front and Joyeux Noel, incredible plays such as War Horse, and the more comedic takes seen in Horrible Histories and Blackadder Goes Forth, which I consider to be some of the more important and accurate representations of the war. The scale of the war and the death, with those who died being called the Lost Generation, also makes it ripe for a horror TV show as, whilst it doesn’t fit the traditional remit of Tales From The Crypt, it is the truest horror that was represented.
The plot of the episode focuses on a soldier, Martin Kalthrob, in the trenches during the final year of the First World War who is terrified of being there. It’s clear that he doesn’t have the courage to fight and wants to leave the war altogether. However, the general of the troop, who also happens to be the father of the soldier, refuses to allow him to leave, but instead offers him a transfer to the rear, away from the fighting, if he leads a patrol to fix broken communication lines. During the mission, Kalthrob panics after seeing a German patrol nearby and doesn’t alert the other men on the mission to save himself, leading to their deaths. As a result of this, he’s court marshalled for cowardice, with his father as the judge, with a death sentence waiting if he’s found guilty. For a show like Tales From The Crypt, making the decision to focus on the person who doesn’t want to fight in a war as horrific as World War One was the best course of action they could have made. This way, they allowed the fear of the war to fully seep into the mind of the audience, which does serve to make this the most horrific episode of the show. The elements of the plot regarding the court martial meanwhile bear more than a passing resemblance to Paths of Glory, which, due to the casting of Kirk Douglas, feels like an intentional tribute and this episode works as a great companion piece to Paths of Glory. Throughout the whole episode, we want the general to grant leniency to his son but we know that the systems in play during the war, where the generals don’t understand the plight of the soldiers but, at the same time, we know that people died because of the inaction of Kalthrob and he does deserve to face some action for his crime. It’s also clear that Kalthrob never wanted to be in the army in the first place, only joining to please his father and the way the film shows how the father-son relationship is both a blessing and a curse for the Kalthrob’s is incredible.
Another thing that makes the episode work as well as it does is the twist ending where the General tricks his son into accepting death with courage by making him think that the guns will be empty, which is probably the darkest ending I’ve seen in an episode of this show but really fits with the atmosphere of the whole episode.
The acting meanwhile is top notch. Eric Douglas as Kalthrob gives a great performance, brilliantly showing the fear that his character is feeling over having to fight in the war, especially during the mission, and when he gets back he brilliantly shows the survival instincts he does have in trying to make it look like it wasn’t his fault. The casting of Kirk Douglas adds his performance as the general extra weight than in normally would due to Eric Douglas being Kirk Douglas’ son, which makes the whole father-son dynamic resonate even more than it normally would, aided by Kirk Douglas’ excellent performance, expertly showing that, whilst he wants to save his son, his honour as a general would be risked if he didn’t enact the sentence, which makes for a great role reversal from his performance in Paths of Glory, with his performance at the end of the episode being one of the most haunting I’ve seen on TV. Dan Ackroyd and Lance Henriksen as Captain Milligan and Sergeant Ripper respectively are great, with Ackroyd giving a great, understated performance and Henriksen showing the plight of the people in the trenches, the anger they feel over being left behind and the adrenaline he feels in the heat of battle, best seen at the start of the episode.
Speaking of which, the technical aspects of the episode, particularly the direction of the warfare is excellent, as is to be expected of Robert Zemeckis. This side of the episode is where the horror elements truly come into play, with the direction of the battle scenes being filled with the horror of war, showing all the death and destruction the war caused. This is best seen in the mission, with the imagery in that scene regarding what Kalthrob is seeing being genuinely horrific. This gives Yellow a sense of true horror that other episodes of Tales From The Crypt lack and this helps make it my favourite episode.
Overall, whilst Yellow isn’t the episode that best exemplifies the style of Tales From The Crypt (episodes like Cutting Cards or Ventriloquist Dummy do that better) it is the episode that is the most horrific. The setting of the First World War is perfect for a horror TV show and the focus of the episode on the person who doesn’t want to fight helps to permeate a horrific atmosphere throughout the entire episode leading to one of the darkest, most depressing endings that the show has to offer. Out of the episodes I’ve seen, this is easily my favourite episode of Tales From The Crypt and it may be one of the best pieces of television ever produced.
My Rating: 5/5