Three's a charm for HBO's 'Tales'


When some of us were adolescents, it was creepy fun to say, "oooh, really gross!" while reading a copy of the comic book "Tales From the Crypt." Remember? Bloody drawings, murderous plots and mild eroticism were all part of the mix.

Apparently, the same formula still works in today's equivalent of the comic book, for "Tales From the Crypt" returns for a third season tomorrow on the HBO premium cable network.

But now it's really gross!

The trilogy of half-hour tales (at 10 p.m.) marking the season debut makes the E.C. Comics of the '50s seem tame by comparison, although the stories are actually lifted from the pulp magazines.

Just in these three tales, for example, we see nudity (briefly, of Mariel Hemingway), hacked-off limbs, plucked out eyes, an electrocution, and sex on top of a coffin, inside of which a man is about to be cremated alive. Oh, and the level of nasty, gratuitous language is thoroughly modern, too.

If you can get past the icky stuff, however, know that there is also a quite cleverly written level of black, black humor of the type most closely associated with the more refined Alfred Hitchcock.

Another aspect of the apparent appeal of "Tales From the Crypt" is the participation of relatively big-name stars, such as Hemingway. She is in a story called "Loved to Death," with Andrew McCarthy and David Hemmings. (There's a blast from the past; how many readers remember "Blowup?").

Kyle ("Twin Peaks") MacLachlan is in the subtle tale "Carrion Death," and Michael J. Fox not only directed but also has a brief appearance in the final piece, "The Trap." Also in that one is the always likable Teri Garr (with lesser lights Bruno Kirby and Bruce McGill).

* Elsewhere on The Weekend Watch:

A DISNEY DEAL -- Usually a premium service, cable's Disney Channel has a free weekend under way (on participating systems; check your local carrier) in hopes of luring subscribers. It runs through Sunday, and among the attractions is a broadcast of a "Highwaymen, Live!" concert at 9 p.m. Sunday with Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson.

A FOX FEST -- The Fox network (Channel 45 here) also has a big pop music concert on Sunday. Cher hosts "Backstage Pass to Summer" at 9:30 p.m.

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