Voice Actor John Kassir tells you everything you've ever wanted to know about this character
As the voice of the Crypt Keeper from the legendary horror anthology show Tales from the Crypt, John Kassir certainly made a name for himself. Before each episode he would set the stage for the terror (often mixed with comedy) that would follow. Then once the tale had played itself out (oftentimes with moral and gruesome consequences), the Crypt Keeper would reappear to put everything in perspective. On the eve of the release of Tales from the Crypt: The Complete Seventh Season, we had a chance to sit down in a conference call with Kassir as he talked (oftentimes lapsing into the Crypt Keeper voice) about this iconic role that he created.
Did you ever work with any of the directors on the intros to the episodes?
John Kassir: Yeah, occasionally we got to. Kevin Yagher directed most of the rap-arounds which was a lot of fun. Most of them were written after they had started working on the episode so they got a real feel for the episode. Sometimes the directors would come in and talk to us about what they wanted; in terms of the episode. They would give us an idea of the information that was brought across, aside from the fun that we were having. There were a few times when you would go down to the set when there would be other people on the set. Like when Arnold Schwarzenegger directed one of them it was also in the rap-around. Rather than have him play to playback, I would record the voice first and then the puppeteers could choreograph the voice. In order to have a conversation with the other person on screen, they might have me off camera talking to them directly so that we could add more timing and that kind of fun.
This question is for the Crypt Keeper... what have you been doing for money since the show went off the air?
John Kassir/Crypt Keeper: Oh, I had a lot stashed away. Don't believe them, you can take it with you! (Laughs) I've been doing everything from beer commercials to working at theme parks. Now that my Season 7 of the DVD Box Set is coming by, I have my royalties to live through my death with.
Do you have a favorite episode from Tales from the Crypt?
John Kassir: There's a lot of great ones. This last season was one of my favorite seasons, the Seventh Season, just based on the fact that they were trying to do something a little different with it. Originally, the season before was supposed to be last season. The last episode of the Sixth Season starred yours truly along with Priscilla Presley, Lou Diamond Phillips, Rory Calhoun, Alan Ruck. It was a great episode and I played this nasty, flimflam artist. In the end the Crypt Keeper is watching me on the screen going, (in the Crypt Keeper voice) "You know, I like the other actors cut this one is a real Gorey Cooper! That laugh, I knew I recognized that laugh." (Back to normal voice) That was kind of like a real fun episode for me.
One of my other favorite episodes was directed by Walter Hill which was one of the very first episodes it's called, "A Man Called Death." It had William Sadler as an executioner in prison and they abolished the death sentence. So he goes around killing people that deserved it. He ends up getting caught and getting fried in the end. The Crypt Keeper is sitting in the chair at the end and frying himself and getting off on it. I just thought it was perfect, Crypt Keeper, fodder, you know?
When it got picked up for a Seventh Season because if its popularity they decided to (in the Crypt Keeper voice) breath some life into the show. (Back to normal voice) They decided to take it to London and give a different kind of feel to it. It's exciting, the actors who were in the Seventh Season where Ewan McGregor and Eddie Izzard and Daniel Craig and Natasha Richardson and all these people, were not really known here in the states. They were obviously talented actors having careers in London. Very few of them had been introduced at all in the United States. So it was kind of an exciting time to see that transition take place.
On the first three Tales from the Crypt Seasons on DVD, you did all new introductions but you haven't done them since. What is the reason behind that?
John Kassir: You mean just at the top of the DVD?
Yeah, there were new ones on there that weren't on TV.
John Kassir: I'm sure it probably just had to do with time. Or, that they were trying to do something that had more of a variety to it. Like this one we have a narrated, virtual comic book. I think that they were just trying to do something different. Maybe they thought they'd been there done that kind of thing. A lot of times they decide to do these things last minute. It's like somebody says, "We gotta get it out by such and such a time." And they just don't have the time to put it together as quickly as they would like to. The Tales from the Crypt episodes are obviously the most important thing on the DVDs. A lot of people didn't get to see these DVDs in full form. Two generations of people only got to see it once it came to network television on Fox or Sci-Fi Network or that kind of thing. So they'd never seen the unedited versions of it. I imagine that a lot of it had to do with those elements.
Was there ever talk of having the Crypt Keeper do his own show?
John Kassir: Yeah, well there was the cartoon, which was fun. I kept telling them to do a live action show for the kids. In the vein of Goosebumps and that kind of a thing. Prior to Goosebumps coming out they thought that it wasn't appropriate for kids that age. With the success of Goosebumps you would have thought that would have been a great opportunity for it. You also have the game show. They had very often talked about doing some kind of horror, talk show with the Crypt Keeper as the host. That's something that's a little difficult, doing the puppetry and the voice at the same time is a little difficult, but with my history as a stand-up comedian and stuff like that it wouldn't be difficult to be a dead, Johnny Carson if you will. No disrespect to Johnny Carson.
I know that they had been talking for many years now about trying to get together their own horror channel. So I would hope that one day they will. Everybody's so hush-hush about it. I'd love to see it happen sometime soon. Of course, it would open the door to have something where the Crypt Keeper came out as himself. He was on Jay Leno on Halloween. We've done that kind of thing... it just really has to do with finding the right market for it. Although there's a widespread market for horror, would you do a sitcom with The Crypt Keeper? No. (Laughs; in Crypt Keeper voice) "Make room for Deady," (Back to normal voice) I don't know. Of course Tales from the Crypt was the perfect set-up for it.
Could you talk about the commercial you did in the 1980s for The Legend of Zelda?
John Kassir: Very rarely do I get asked questions about it. A few people at signings or that kind of thing have brought the actual game with them. I did have a fan pass on, it's on You Tube now... which I thought was kind of funny. That commercial was a trip because that was the first game of it's kind that came to the United States. It was already popular in Japan with that 8-track sized cassette. That's how long ago it was. That was an amazing game. With all the tiers and everything like that, the different tiers that you could go into and different aspects of it. I had no idea that being cast in that commercial was going to be such a big deal.
They were like, "This is this game it's called The Legend of Zelda and you're going to be the guy that's stuck in the game. We're gonna do a take off on Eraserhead and your hair's gonna be sticking straight up." I was like that sounds really cool. I had been at a comedy club working late the night before and I'm never late to anything. That morning my alarm clock didn't go off. I came in maybe a half an hour late or something like that. I showed up to the set and the director was furious. He thought I was one of those actors that just showed up whenever they wanted. He was like, "Get in there!" I was unshaved because I just wanted to get there on time. Literally, they threw me into the clothes, I was partially unshaven which added to the look of the whole thing.
As soon as we started shooting everything relaxed and the director cut me loose and I just improvised. They told me what they wanted me to say, the camera was sticking straight up toward the ceiling. I had to run around in circles and do all this different stuff. They'd show me bits of the game and I would imitate bits of the game. They cut it all together and it's what you saw. We started at 9 and we were done at 12. In the commercial world that's no time at all. I just thought it came out great.
Tales from the Crypt: The Complete Seventh Season comes to DVD on October 23 from Warner Home Video.