Quantcast John Kassir interview - The Cryptkeeper from TALES FROM THER CRYPT

John Kassir
The Cryptkeeper!!!

Hello, kiddies! For 7 seasons, 3 feature films and an animated series John Kassir voiced that grinning ghoul The Crypt Keeper on HBO 's Tales From The Crypt . Icons recently participated in a roundtable discussion with John just as the 7th season of Tales was released on DVD (it’s available now). During the Crypt years, John worked with some of the most talented actors and directors in Hollywood and more directly with many of the most important effects artists in the business. Without Johns dead-on performance its no doubt that The Crypt Keeper would never have become as widely recognized a horror and worldwide pop culture icon. - By Mike C. - 12/07

Click HERE for a special greeting for ICONS readers from the Cryptkeeper!!!

IOF: Did you ever get to work with the directors on the wraparounds?

John Kassir: Yes, occasionally we got to, there were certain episodes. Kevin Yagher directed most of the wraparounds which was of course a lot of fun. Most of them were written after they started working the episodes, and sometimes the directors would come and talk to us about what they wanted in terms of the episode. I would improvise along with everything that was written. There were a few times when we'd go down to the set, such as when Arnold Schwarzenegger directed an episode. I would normally record the voice first and the puppeteers would choreograph to the voice, similar to doing a rock video or something like that. But if you wanted a conversation with another person on screen they would have me off-camera talking directly to them so we could get better timing and add to the fun.

IOF: With all the horror icons from the 80's and 90's being remade with big budgets, do you see them taking the Tales From The Crypt franchise and doing something really bad with that?

JK: The partners which were Joel Silver and Robert Zemeckis, all these different people that were involved in this really were passionate about it. They wanted it done right. Of course, it was also a playground, you know bringing in great directors and great actors, but they were even careful about who they selected for that. They wanted this show to have somebody who really knew it. I grew up on Tales From The Crypt comic books, so this was a dream come true. I thought it was just going to be something for just freaks like myself, but it turned out to be something people really enjoyed. I still have people in their 20s and 30s coming up and saying to me, “This was the only show my parents would watch with me as a family”. So I can't imagine them in any way, shape, or form taking the franchise that they paid a lot of money for and destroying it somehow. I would be less surprised to see the franchise come back as a series again the way that Twilight Zone or Outer Limits came back. With new directors and stars from today. I would see that happening above and beyond anything else.
IOF: You said you grew up with EC Comics, so what kind of horror did you grow up with? Have you always been a horror fan?

JK: Oh, I've always loved horror. I used to rush home from school because while my mother was making dinner, back in Baltimore, they used have the “Twilight Movie”. A lot of days they would have these horror movies, especially the Universal classics.
I mean, even today “Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein” is one of my favorite movies ever. Then of course I liked the original Wolf Man, and would collect the models. I had a whole set of them. Tales From The Crypt comic books was something, obviously, back then mothers were outspoken about how they thought comics were causing juvenile delinquency. It was highly politically incorrect back then, even more than it is today. But I loved those comic books and saw the humor in them. So when I auditioned for Tales From The Crypt I just thought it was an amazing opportunity. I didn't know it was going to end up being so widespread.

IOF: Where did you find the voice of “The Crypt Keeper”, what was behind the process of developing him, was it the same voice you'd auditioned with?

Yea, the way you hear it today is pretty much how I auditioned. The auditions were kind of exclusive. I'd come off of being a popular stand-up after winning Star Search, and it was known that I did a lot of characters in my act. They were looking for somebody who was a combination actor/stand-up/voice over artist. I've always have described him as being a cross between Alfred Hitchcock, Henny Youngman and Margaret Hamilton. They had the auditions, and I think there was only 10 of us at the most, and we were invited down to Kevin Yagher's studio. Kevin was creating the look of the creature, as most of you probably know he always created Chucky and Freddy Kruger.
The Cryptkeeper had gone through all these generations of looks. Some had noses, some had teeth, but what you see today is what he settled upon when I went to read for him. I took a look at him, and there he was with his nose rotting off, and these gleeful mad eyes, holes in his throat. I had some copy and I improvised off of it and I said, “Be careful what you AX for, you may get it”. The next day he brought me in to do it for Richard Donner and Joel Silver and they loved it. Of course, once we started shooting the episodes, if you listen to the very first season, the puppet was their first generation mechanically, so we had to slow it down and make him more ominous.

IOF: Do you have a favorite Tales From The Crypt episode?

JK: The last season was one of my favorite seasons, the 7th season. Just based on the fact they were trying do something a little different with it. Originally the season before was supposed to be the last season. The last episode of the 6th season starred yours truly and it went along with Priscilla Presley, Lou Diamond Phillips and Rory Calhoun. It was a great episode, I play this nasty flim-flam audience, and of course at the end the Crypt Keeper is watching the screening going, “You know I liked the other actors but this one's a real Robert Deadford.” So that was a real fun episode for me.
One of my other favorite episodes was the Walter Hill episode, one of the first few episodes, called “A Man Called Death” which had William Sadler as an executioner who loses his job and goes around killing people who deserve it. In the end he gets caught and fried in the electric chair. This last season when we got picked up they tried to breathe some life into the show and take it to London, to give a different feel. It was exciting. Some of the actors that were on the 7th season were Ewan McGregor, Eddie Izzard, Daniel Craig, and all these other people who were not well known in the states. They were already talented actors who had started their careers in London. Very few of them had been introduced yet to the United States, it was great to see that transition take place.
IOF: Does your wife Julie share your enthusiasm for horror?

JK: Yea, well obviously she's done a lot of it, so yea. She's always working on that stuff, she enjoys it, especially the fans. We're very lucky to be in at different times in that genre where the fan base is so loyal to it, to the type of work that you're doing. You know, I enjoy sci-fi too, but I don't enjoy doing it as much as horror. Horror just seems to have that kind of different edge to it. It's certainly been good to her. She's a talented actress and has had widespread appeal a lot of great genres, certainly with Buffy and Angel. The situations are fantastical which is a lot of fun to do.

IOF: I noticed that on the first three seasons on DVD you did all new Crypt Keeper introductions, but you haven't done that since. What was the reason behind that?

JK: I'm sure it probably just had to do with time, or that they were trying to do something to have more variety to it. Like this one we have a narrated virtual comic book. I think they were just trying to do something different because maybe they thought that “Been there, done that”. A lot of times they decide to do these things at the last minute. All of sudden somebody goes, “Hey we really want to get this out by such and such time”, and they don't have as much time to put it together. The Tales From The Crypt episodes are obviously the most important thing on the DVDs. I mean two generations of people have only gotten to see it once it came to network television, on Fox or Sci-Fi, so they've never seen the unedited versions of it. So I imagine a lot of it had to do with those elements. I think mainly they were looking for some variety, not to overload the DVD.

IOF: I still think that Christmas album you did was a classic, with songs like “Deck The Halls With Parts of Charlie” and all that stuff, I love that. Can you talk a little bit about that since Christmas is coming up?

JK: I love that album, I think it's, out of everything that they've made, other than the episodes themselves, I thought that was the finest product that they made. I thought that the guy who wrote the music and the guy who wrote the lyrics did such a great time. And we had so much fun recording it. We could cut loose on that too. My father-in-law used to play that in surgery, he was a surgeon, and he would play it while doing surgery. I'm not sure I'd want somebody performing surgery on me while he was singing “Deck The Halls With Parts of Charlie”, but you know, I just thought it was really a great album.
When I showed up they already had the musical tracks down so that all I had to do was my performance. I've actually been kind of disappointed that they don't do a widespread release of it. I'm sure it's still available online or whatever, but it was like the perfect stocking stuffing. It was one of those things that if you were on the checkout line you'd grab it and get a couple. I can't tell you how many people have told me they enjoyed that particular Christmas album. I just thought it was funny and clever. It's such a great holiday to make fun of. You know the first episode itself was a Christmas episode where a demented Santa Claus comes to kill people, so I just though it was perfect kind of item. I'd like to see it have a reemergence. I think Dr. Demento plays it every year when he plays Christmas stuff.

IOF: What are you biggest fears?

JK: Oh gosh, let me see. My biggest fear...yea...you know, heights unnerve me. Although I did go skydiving once. I did a tandem sky-dive and I had to use a reserve shoot on my first sky dive (and I might say my last sky dive). The first shoots center panel came loose. Someone was trying to tell me skydiving wasn't for me. I guess in terms of fear, I'm not afraid of death. I don't think we're afraid of death so much as we are not accomplishing what we want to accomplish. Large crowds of people scare me, I love going to places like Disneyland, but not if it's crowded. I guess I have a fear of being trampled by large crowds of people.

IOF: So what happened with the 3rd Tales from the Crypt feature film, “Ritual”?

JK: I don't know exactly what happened to “Ritual” in terms of its release. I think that what happened was that it was supposed to be released with Miramax and when the guys there left it was part of the library that was meant to be released. Since other people took over it didn't get out. They took that movie along with others in the library and a lot of others just ended up coming out through a video release. It was no reflection on the movie itself.

IOF: Was there ever talk of giving the Crypt Keeper his own show?

JK: Oh yea, there was, of course, the cartoon which was fun. I kept telling them to do a live action show for the kids in the vein of “Goosebumps”. Prior to “Goosebumps” coming out they thought it wasn't appropriate for kids of that age. Nobody died in the cartoon, kids would learn their moral and they would move on. Of course we could have done that live action too, and you would think with the success of “Goosebumps” that would have been a great opportunity. They have very often talked about doing some kind of horror talk show with the Crypt Keeper as the host. Obviously it's a little difficult doing the puppetry and the voice at the same time, but with my history as a stand up comedian it wouldn't be too difficult. No disrespect to Johnny Carson. I know they have been talking for many years to try to get together a horror channel, but they're always so hush-hush about it. Of course that would open the door to having something like that. You know the Crypt Keeper was on Jay Leno, we've done that thing before, it's just about finding the right market for that. Although there's a widespread market for horror something like a talk show..., you know.

IOF: I would feel remiss if I didn't ask you a question, outside of “Tales”, about a certain commercial you did back in the 80's for “The Legend of Zelda”. How many people have asked you questions about that?

JK: Very rarely do I get asked, a few people at signings have brought the actual game with them. That commercial was a trip, that was the first game of its kind to come to the United States. That was an amazing game with all the different tiers you could go into. The commercial, I had no idea that being cast was going to be such a big deal. They were like “Ok this is the game, and you're going to be the guy who is stuck in the game. We're going to do a take on Eraserhead and your hair is going to be stuck up”

So I was like that sounded really cool, and I was still playing in comedy clubs. That morning my alarm clock didn't go off. I came in like maybe a half hour later and the director was furious. She thought maybe I was one of those actors that just showed up whenever I wanted. I was unshaved because I just wanted to get there on time. They just threw me in the clothes, unshaved, which kind of added to the look of the whole thing.

Of course as soon as we started shooting everybody started to relax and the director just cut me loose and I improvised. I mean, they told me what they wanted me to say. They would put the cameras staring up at the ceiling and I would run around saying all this stuff. Then they showed me a piece of the game and I would imitate it and they cut it all together. Then it was over, I mean I showed up at 9 and it was over by 12. I just thought it came out great, one of the most fun commercials ever. And there's been a resurgence for it, it showed up at YouTube and people showing up with the game after all these years. Long time ago... And hey, I look the same there guys. Ok, maybe a little less hair sticking up!

Original LEGEND OF ZELDA Commercial!

Special thanks to Anna Wu!

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