Tales from the Crypt: SE 1, EP 1: “The Man Who Was Death” – 6
Director – Walter Hill
Cast – William Sadler, J.W. Smith, Roy Brocksmith, David Wohl, Gerrit Graham, Dani Minnick
Release Year – 1989
Reviewed by John of the Dead
The initial episode of the famed series, this is not the best the show had to offer but it definitely set the tone for the many episodes that would eventually follow. William Sadler (who would eventually star in Tales from the Crypt: Demon Night) stars as Niles Talbot, a state-employed executioner who really loves his job. Frying inmates who fail to receive pardons from the governor has become Talbot’s specialty, but when the death penalty is abolished his passion and his career come to a screeching halt. Now unemployed and unsure of what to do with himself, Niles finds a new calling in life when a murderer is freed due to a clerical error…and he takes it upon himself to make sure that justice is served.
The Warriors creature Walter Hill writes and directs this piece, and I enjoyed how simple but effective his story was. The opening sequence is horrific as we watch Niles callously execute a man who truly fears his impending death. I really liked how Niles found a way to satisfy his needs by delivering vigilante justice to a freed murderer, and he did so in an electrifying fashion that resembled his former career. The horror was definitely better early on and eventually faded a little lower than I would have liked, and (spoiler) Niles only kills one person during the vigilante scenes. Had we been given more horror then I surely would have given this a higher rating, but it still succeeded in getting the job done and setting the tone for the remainder of the series.
Overall, “The Man Who Was Death” is a nice start to the series that provides good horror early on but sadly declines a bit as the film goes on. The story is sweet overall and gives me a tale I have never seen before, and complimented with Hill’s direction it makes for a worthy 30 minutes of your time.