Tales from the Crypt – a Mechanical Mastery

INTRODUCING THE CRYPT KEEPER

One of the all-time mind-blowing puppets on TV has to be the Crypt Keeper. Five men were responsible for his creation, all of them big-time producers and directors:

  1. Richard Donner
  2. Joel Silver
  3. Robert Zemeckis
  4. Walter Hill
  5. David Giler

A 6th man, Kevin Yagher, was in charge of CK’s production. He designed Chucky and seemed like a natural choice for designing CK.  The original mock-ups looked much like the character from the comics.  The team took out parts–hair, lips, eyelids–until he looked like clay_conceptthe final CK with a nose.  They went through 6 or 7 noses, until they finally realized that he didn’t need one. The Crypt Keeper was made with a foam rubber that, true to form, rotted very quickly.  HBO runs short seasons, so CK worked for a couple of months each year, then during the rest of the year, a team would clean him up and remake his soft parts.  Essentially, the audience saw a different Crypt Keeper each season.

THE VOICE
John Kassir
was cast for the voice.  The voice he chose was a mix of Hitchcock, Rod Serling, and the Wicked Witch of the West.  In the early episodes, CK is quite raspy.  He didn’t develop his shrill tone until late in the first season, a voice that was hard on Kassir’s vocal chords. CK kept his robes for the first two seasons.  In the third season, he became more playful.  He was often in costume, and his humor was cheekier.  When dressed as a famous actor or character, Kassir voiced the Crypt Keeper imitating another person. All of the puppeteers who worked CK, had to lip sync the puppet to a prerecording of Kassir’s voice work.

THE MOVEMENTS
CK was built by a team of 8 people and it took 6 people to operate him.  Seated below CK, a puppeteer puppet_riggingoperated the head and body.  Seated behind him, another man operated the arms and hands.  The arms were done Henson-style, half arms with straps that attached to the puppeteer’s hands.  In scenes where the legs were visible, a third puppeteer was seated below and toward the front of CK. Four puppeteers worked the face, which was controlled with 27 servo motors.  Crypt Keeper’s head weighed a tonne.    A device was strapped to the puppeteer who worked CK’s jaw and mouth. Whenever this person moved his mouth, CK imitated him. The same puppeteer worked a four-stick console that operated four points on the puppet’s mouth.

Another person worked the corners of the mouth, making the puppet smile and moving on sounds that caused the corners to pull back, for instance, the letters E, B, and T.  The servo motors weren’t powerful enough to pull the corners of the mouth into a smile, so these were operated manually using ten-foot cables. Another puppeteer operated the cheeks and nostrils with four joysticks, and finally the 6th operated the eyes and eyelids. They must have been sweating by the end of several filmings…all in a day’s work, I suppose. CK and his stories emulated Hitchcock’s series. The 25 minutes masterpiece of suspense that bore an unexpected ending made the CK’s series a hit.

Unlike the Hitchcock series however, CK was one of the few series free from censorship and, as a result, the series contained graphic humviolence, profanity, gore, nudity and sexual situations.  Add the gruesome-looking puppet with the spine-chilling voice, and thousands of viewers were hooked on the Crypt. Another unique effect was the insertion of deceased actors into episodes via computer digital animation. The  episode You, Murderer” (1995) is a noteworthy example; Alfred Hitchcock appeared in a cameo at the beginning of the episode, and Humphrey Bogart played the starring role for this story. At the start of the show, CK imitates Forrest Gump, dressed to kill (pardon the pun).

An incredible list of living guest stars made their way into the series:

  1. Demi Moore
  2. Brooke Shields
  3. Dan Akroyd
  4. Kirk Douglas
  5. Whoopi Goldberg
  6. Teri Hatcher
  7. Bill Paxton
  8. Meat Loaf and Christopher Reeve
  9. Slash
  10. Martin Sheen
  11. Iggy Pop
  12. Adam Ant
  13. Brad Pitt
  14. Joe Pesci
  15. Don Rickles and Bobcat Goldthwaite

and many famous, and living, others. After the show was cancelled (what`s up with that), our ghoulish fiend, oops, friend, was left to rot into a nasty heap of foam rubber, cables, and various metal mechanisms.  A fitting end for a fabulous fiend.