Abra Cadaver (3.4)
“Oh God! I’m being peeled!”
WHAT IS IT?
After a prank costs him his career, a failed surgeon gets revenge on his brother.
Beau Bridges (“The Other Bridges Brother”), who probably holds record for most TV movie starring roles carries this one with some help from Tony Goldwyn. Goldwyn played the villian from Ghost, the villian in The 6th Day, and was impaled by the villian in Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (who at that point had become an anti-hero, but I’m digressing). The episode was directed by Stephen Hopkins, director of the suprisingly decent Predator 2 and the unsurprisingly terrible Lost In Space. It was penned by Jim Birge, who never wrote anything else again.
HOW IS IT?
Pretty good, actually! It’s a pretty gimmicky episode and light on story but it stays afloat from the good performances and a well-modulated tone that never strays too far into the realm of the wacky. The episode opens, in stylish (and pointless!) black and white, with brothers Dr. Martin Fairbanks (Beau Bridges) and Dr. Carl Fairbanks (Tony Goldwyn) at a morgue bickering about brain death, as doctors are wont to do. They’re ostensibly there because Carl (the “evil” brother, AKA the one with a sense of humor) needs some extra-curricular anatomy help from Martin (the “good” brother, AKA the studious wet blanket). But when a female corpse Carl was fondling springs to life and attacks Martin, it becomes clear that this isn’t Re-Animator, but rather a prank. In fact, it’s Carl’s way of throwing a surprise party for Martin’s birthday, which might even seem like a fun idea until you realize that they’re having a birthday party in a goddamned morgue. Nearly a full minute after the reveal, Martin starts to suffer from what must be one of the most delayed heart attacks in film history. My guess is that the prank scared him, but it was the social anxiety of being the center of attention at a party that did him in for good.
We flash forward a number of years later, into a land of color, and things have changed drastically for the Fairbanks brothers. Carl is now the respected chief doctor and surgeon (you can tell because his hair is combed) while Martin toils away in the University basement like a mad scientist (messy hair). It would seem that the heart attack caused Martin a permanent hemiparesis, ruining his career as a surgeon and forcing him into the field of research, on Carl’s dime. The simmering tension between the two reaches a boil when, over a glass of scotch, Martin reveals that his money has been going towards studying Haitian voodoo magic, in an attempt to conquer brain death. Carl starts to freak out but is interrupted by the poison Martin slipped into his drink. Before Carl dies, Martin injects him with some of Herbert West’s Re-Animator serum (seriously, it’s even glowing green) and wishes him sweet dreams. Where as pretty much any other Crypt actor thus far would see a mad scientist character as a chance to act crazy, Beau Bridges goes the other way, giving Martin an eerie calm as he murders his brother. Both actors, in fact, play the tension between them quieter than you’d expect from this show, and as a result you really buy them and their relationship.
But their compelling sibling rivalry, and the plot, take a backseat for the meat of the episode, which plays more like an film adaptation of Tragic Sam than anything. Utilizing mostly first-person camerawork, accompanied by Carl’s panicked interior monologue (proving Martin’s theory that the brain is active after death), we follow Carl’s body through the morgue and all the gruesome things that go with it. It’s pure style over substance, more like a macabre “ride” you’d find at a death-themed amusement park (“The Mortalest Place On Earth!”) than a story, but it’s pretty fun regardless. There’s lots of effective use of the power of suggestion; scenes like his blood being drained or being hung on a meat hook in a storage locker are actually really creepy and cringe worthy. But what holds the whole segment together is Beau Bridges, hamming it up as Martin (and his Haitian stereotype assistant, Mitch) sneers at his brother’s dead body and taunts it, revelling in his revenge. Mitch even plays with his body, after being taken down from the meathook the next day, like he’s Bernie or something.
But after Martin scalps him, demonstrating cranial surgery to a class of eager students, Carl leaps off the operating screaming, which isn’t a thing the dead generally do. It was an elaborate prank all along! He wasn’t really scalped, his blood wasn’t really drained, the Haitian assistant isn’t actually even Haitian! In reality the whole thing was a demonstration of his new wonder drug, Suspensor, which preserves brain function in the event of heart failure. It’s a fine prank the shock of it all gives Carl the same kind of absurdly delayed heart-attack that nearly did his brother in all those years ago. They try to bring him back to life with the Suspensor again but it apparently fails this time (no explanation is given on that one), leaving Carl to witness (and feel) his own autopsy. It’s kind of a silly ending, but this show has never been great at sticking the last 30 seconds of any given episode.
DOES IT HATE WOMEN?
You could say the way Carl casually uses his nude girlfriend as a prop is demeaning, but you could pull something reaching that far. This episode is Double-X chromosome approved.
ALSO WORTH NOTING:
*The opening scene plays out without music, which is super unusual for this show, who’s music errs on the side of irritating 98% of the time.
*Here’s a movie rule for you. If there’s a coroner character in a horror movie, he will show his nonchalance one of two ways: 1. He will be eating a sandwich. 2. He will make lewd comments about female corpses. The nonchalant coroner is one of the most dependable movie tropes there is.
*I really like how they tweaked the phoney Caribbean accents that were so popular in Hollywood at the time. Especially funny because the actor who played Mitch (Tom Wright) went on to star in Weekend At Bernies 2 as that same kind of character.
WORST CRYPT KEEPER JOKE:
“Wanna play doctor? Then open your mouth and say ‘AAAAAAARRRRRRGHHHHHHHH!'”
Personally, I find Beau Bridges to be an unappealing actor, and even though I tend to appreciate a subtle approach on Crypt, in this case, I wish he’d hammed it up with a bit more relish. It’s fun to see Crypt playing around with format, and plotless as it is, it’s got enough gimmickry to entertain for the scant half hour. At the end of the day though, all it does have to offer is that gimmickry, and a lot of close-ups of Bridges being smug and insufferable, so it’s a mid-tier effort. I do like the B&W opening though, even if I have a hard time imagining anyone would go for it, especially the nude fondled girlfriend.