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'Tales from the Crypt' nostalgia recap: Dying (and dying) for money

Season 1 | Episode 3 | “Dig That Cat … He’s Real Gone” | Aired June 10, 1989

This week’s Tales from the Crypt episode is helmed by another one of the show’s producers and crazy-famous directors (à la last week’s Robert Zemeckis): Mr. Richard Donner (the Lethal Weapon franchise, Scrooged, Superman (’78)). Originating in Haunt of Fear #21, this is a fun little tail—I mean, tale about a man who acquires a remarkable, feline gift. Added bonus: social commentary and a twist ending.

After the Crypt Keeper’s intro, we open on present day—a carnival scene where we meet the master of ceremonies, Barker (Robert Wuhl, Arli$$). He promises an astonishing show featuring Ulric the Undying (Joe Pantoliano, The Sopranos)—the man who dies, only to resurrect again!

During the act, Ulric is buried alive in a coffin. It’s a death sentence (obviously), but when they unearth him the next day, he’ll breathe again. That’s the plan. But while Ulric waits for morning, so do we. Never fear: He looks directly into the camera and tells us his story.

It begins in a dark alley—and Ulric is a drunkard living on the streets. He’s approached by Dr. Emil Manfred (Gustav Vintas) who offers him the opportunity of a lifetime (or nine lifetimes, perhaps).

Tales from the Crypt - Dig That Cat

Manfred takes Ulric back to his lab and performs a lucrative medical experiment—transferring the magical nine-lives gland of a cat into Ulric’s brain. The poor kitty dies, but Ulric survives to live (and die) again. Of course, to prove his newly attained gift, the good doctor shoots Ulric in the head. He dies—and returns to life. Eight lives left.

Just as Ulric is about to get paid, Manfred suggests they work together to make a fortune. Hence, a sideshow act is formed! Ulric will be able to buy all the booze he wants, and Manfred can further his scientific research.

First Act: Drowning in a tank of water! Ulric is nervous. Just as he is submerged, showgirl Coralee (Kathleen York, The Client List) asks Ulric out for a dinner date (after he comes back to life, of course).

Tales from the Crypt - Dig That Cat

Time passes and Ulric is declared “deader than a opossum on an interstate.” Showman Barker is excited and declares Ulric’s resurrection—but he hasn’t come back just yet. The crowd begins to dwindle … then Ulric breathes life again! The act is a huge success.

Second Act: A hanging! Ulric dies and lives again—all while, ahem, furthering his relations with Coralee.
The money’s rolling in—but it’s not enough for Ulric. He plans a drive with Manfred on a dark and stormy night. And at just the right moment, he floors the gas and crashes the car. Both men die. Only one comes back.

Third Act: Electrocution! Ulric dedicates his act to the late Dr. Manfred as a little old lady from the audience is selected to flip the switch. Oh, and it’s a violent one. So much so, in fact, that Ulric is brought to the morgue to be embalmed. Thankfully, Coralee arrives just in time.

Fourth Act: Death by crossbow! The show’s hype is building, and people are eager to watch a man die—so, why not offer a regular Joe off the street the chance to do the deed? But it’ll cost you BIG bucks. After all, “What’s a thousand dollars when you get to kill a human being?”

After a couple failed attempts from patrons (one being Michael Bower, aka Donkeylips from Salute Your Shorts), an archery champ enters the game and wins. It may have cost him oodles of cash, but he does get to keep the bloody arrow as a souvenir.

After paying off a disbelieving cop to help her move Ulric’s dead body, Coralee gets greedy. Once Ulric revives, she stabs him (taking another life), steals his money, and bolts.

Let’s see—that leaves two lives left, correct? One for final death and one for a final show. And this time, Ulric wants all of the profits. Because he’s the main draw for the carnival, Barker agrees to the arrangement.

Fifth Act: Buried alive! And here we are, back at the beginning. Ulric’s entombed, waiting for his final death and resurrection. He reminisces about his adventures, the initial laboratory experiment, and the poor kitty that had to die for him to—wait a minute—that cat died! So, Ulric only had eight lives!

As Ulric screams from six feet under, a couple workers finish burying the coffin.

And as if honoring his fallen brother, a black cat jumps onto Ulric’s grave. Justice is served. Meow.

Tales from the Crypt - Dig That Cat

Crypt Keeper Final Thoughts: “Alas, poor Ulric, missed a bet. Though Dying for Dollars could have been a popular game show. They could have put it between Wheel of Misfortune and The Newlydead Game. Unless they buried it in the wrong time slot!”

Fun Facts: Richard Donner had previously directed Joe Pantoliano in 1985’s The Goonies. Also, the cop that Coralee pays off plays the sheriff in The Goonies. So—cops and a Fratelli brother together again!

Notable Quote: “This whole dying thing is taking years off my life.” –Ulric