16th Mar2013

‘Tales From the Crypt 2×03: Cutting Cards’ Review

by Nathan Smith

‘Cutting Cards’ may be one of the best episodes of Tales from the Crypt out there. It’s not necessarily horror but still has overtones of it, especially in the last third. Overall, it’s just a pitch black comedy in the guise of two-hander (fitting words for how the episode ends, eh?) between two titans of character acting just knocking out some damn fine performances.

It’s a simple story, two gamblers Reno and Forney keep competing against each other like rabid gamblers, and they won’t stop at all, no matter what the game or no matter what the odds are. And the gamut is pretty much run throughout the episode from Russian roulette to the most ominous sounding game, “chop poker.” But the reason it all works is because both men are so well-rounded, they have a past that causes them to hate each other with a bone-resounding passion. I mean, the squabbling they do throughout the episode is hilarious and both Kevin Tighe and Lance Henriksen sell it with their strong performances. But the best part may come during the Russian roulette part of the episode, when some loudmouth lout pulls in mistaking both men for valets and asks them to park his car. Forney points the gun at the driver and refers to Reno as his friend. That’s hilarious because they are friends and yet can’t stop raking each other over the coals and trying up the ante to prove which one is the luckier of the two men.

The direction by Walter Hill is where the power of the piece comes from. Sure, the episode doesn’t sound like a Tales from the Crypt episode, but it sure looks like one. The colors just blast out of the screen, it feels like a comic one hundred percent. Hill even used the original comic for storyboards in planning the direction of the episode, and the final shot of the two armless men mimics the comic.

The ending is earned rather than some pitch-black drop into viciousness that most episodes take where the deserving party gets his or hers. No, the end is earned throughout the last act game of “chop poker.” It builds and builds (and the quick cuts between well, cuts are great. The sounds of cards shuffling gives it that click) until the hilarious cut where both men sit with stumps instead of arms, playing a game of checkers and still as irritated as all get out with each other. Even if the last act delves deeper into mean-spiritedness, the final cutaway to see these two imbiciles with no arms is just funny. It should be dark but because the characters are built up to be the men that don’t back down, the mere fact they don’t have arms is the pitch perfect puncutation to an amazing episode.

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