Director: Howard Deutch
Writer: Fred Dekker
Cast: John Kassir, Lea Thompson, Britt Leach, Brett Cullen, Pamella D’Pella, G. Smokey Campbell, Burke Byrnes, Matthew Faison, Pamela Gordon, Pamela West, and Barry Thompson
Composer: Jay Ferguson
Air Date: 6/14/1989
A pawnbroker (Britt Leach) offers Sylvia Vane (Lea Thompson), a fortune-hunting prostitute, ten thousand dollars in exchange for her beauty—a proposal that Sylvia accepts without hesitation. After spending the money on fancy clothes, Sylvia seduces Ronnie Price (Brett Cullen)—a handsome, affluent young man—and later marries him, providing the former streetwalker with the life of her dreams. When wrinkles begin appearing on her face, however, Sylvia regrets not taking seriously her agreement with the pawnbroker.
Operating on the flawed premise that a gum-chewing, lip-smacking prostitute could pass for the perfect woman, “Only Sin Deep” forgoes a realistic approach to character development. That being said, the creepy, suspenseful tone of Sylvia’s interactions with the pawnbroker—a ghoulish man hiding an awful secret—will appeal to Tales from the Crypt enthusiasts for obvious reasons.
Though somewhat light on traditional horror elements, “Only Sin Deep” benefits from the skin-crawling manner and appearance of Britt Leach’s character—a mysterious, malevolent pawnshop owner who wishes nothing more than to restore the beauty of his “wife” (revealed to be a rotting corpse kept alive only by the pawnbroker’s memory of her).
Also terrific are the make-up effects applied to Lea Thompson’s face, which, when coupled with the mortified reactions of Sylvia, strengthen the credibility of writer Fred Dekker’s narrative concept (i.e. a twenty-one-year-old woman aging five decades in less than four months).
By portraying Sylvia as a vicious and calculating (if not overly intelligent) psychopath willing to commit murder, extortion, and any crime necessary to meet her selfish needs, Thompson (known for playing Lorraine McFly in the Back to the Future trilogy) will elicit contempt from viewers of a sensitive nature—likely the intended outcome of her performance. Nevertheless, Sylvia fails to embody the characteristic charm of a female gold digger, prompting one to question why Ronnie—undoubtedly a man with many options—would tolerate the behavior of an abusive, obnoxious, foul-mouthed party guest; let alone invite such an ill-bred woman to share in his luxurious lifestyle.
“Only Sin Deep” contains a thoughtful, albeit not exceptionally profound, message about the dangers of relying solely upon superficial devices (e.g. make-up, attractive clothing items, etc.) while attempting to advance in life. Specifically, a primary focus on external beauty prevents Sylvia from developing a decent work ethic, thereby resulting in a terrible predicament for her—a commentary on the pitfalls of a shallow, self-centered worldview.
The first of many Tales from the Crypt offerings to employ the gold-digger trope, “Only Sin Deep” should be requisite viewing for fans of this series. Especially worth praising is the final twist featured in this episode, which will no doubt satisfy those with a compelling sense of justice.
Overall Quality: 7/10
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