Director: Stephen Hopkins
Writer: Jim Birge
Cast: Beau Bridges, Tony Goldwyn, Tom Wright, John Kassir, Lucinda Weist, Peter Schuck, Hugh Holub, and Tina Bockrath
Composer: Alan Silvestri
Air Date: 6/19/1991
Following a birthday prank gone horribly wrong, Dr. Martin Fairbanks (Beau Bridges) is forced to abandon a promising career as a surgeon. Maintaining his theory that human brain activity persists long after death, Martin decides to test an experimental serum on his brother Carl (Tony Goldwyn)—the one responsible for said birthday prank.
The quintessential Tales from the Crypt episode, “Abra Cadaver” should be commended for complementing ghoulish camp with tragic undertones. Especially notable are any POV shots employed by director Stephen Hopkins, which make credible the concept of a man retaining sensory perception while clinically dead.
By showcasing black-and-white cinematography in a morgue setting, the opening scene in “Abra Cadaver” emulates the schlocky atmosphere of a B-grade living-dead feature from the 1960s. Hopkins’ use of misdirection reaches a climactic point when Paula (Tina Bockrath), later revealed to be Carl’s girlfriend, springs from an autopsy table as if preparing to devour Martin alive—an effective red herring that sets in motion a more disturbing and unpredictable conflict than what many would expect of typical zombie fare.
Also praiseworthy, a skin-crawling performance from Beau Bridges works to accentuate the claustrophobic nature of Carl’s predicament. Notably, Martin derives a tremendous amount of pleasure from taunting and humiliating his supposedly deceased brother (e.g. blowing smoke in Carl’s face while cracking jokes of a morbid variety), thereby prompting a sympathetic audience reaction for Carl—a crude, lackadaisical, and otherwise thoroughly unlikable character.
Though somewhat cartoonish, “Abra Cadaver” teaches an important lesson about the dangers of taking a practical joke too far.
Occasionally “stiff” dialogue aside, “Abra Cadaver” puts a cruel but memorable spin on the mad scientist trope. Tales from the Crypt enthusiasts are therefore advised to view this episode, the black humor of which will undoubtedly appeal to fans of the horror/comedy crossover genre.
Overall Quality: 9/10
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