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Tales from the Crypt

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Back for a second season of horror stories adapted from the old EC Comics, Tales from the Crypt has become gratifyingly nasty and unsettling.

The anthology starts off with ”Dead Right,” starring Demi Moore as a ’50s slattern looking for a rich husband. A gypsy tells her to marry a grotesquely obese, deformed man (Jeffrey Tambor, terrific under pounds of makeup) because he’ll soon come into a fortune. She gets a lot of money, all right, but well, I’m not giving away any endings here, though I will say that she winds up on the receiving end of a stabbing that will remind movie fans of Psycho. In the best sense, to be sure.

As directed by Howard Deutch, Moore gives her best performance to date as a profoundly cynical, unlucky woman. Deutch has turned ”Dead Right” into the TV version of hard-boiled novelist Jim Thompson’s mean little books. The most notable things about the second story, ”The Switch,” are that it features a good performance by William Hickey as an old man who trades in his body for a younger one, and that this trite fable about beauty being only skin deep was directed by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The best comes last: Walter Hill’s ”Cutting Cards” is a delirious summation of this director’s macho code of ethics. Hill (48HRS., Johnny Handsome) has made a short thriller that’s a comic haiku about violence. Two gamblers (Lance Henriksen and Kevin Tighe) give new meaning to the term ”up the ante” when the stakes to their ongoing poker game are reduced to a simple bet: Lose a hand, lose a finger. Thwack! goes the meat cleaver, again and again, as Hill’s characters spout some of the finest, loopiest tough-guy dialogue I’ve ever heard.

Tasteless, witty, and very well made, Tales from the Crypt is off to a good start. A-