Main cast: Ernie Hudson (Zambini), Joan Chen (Connie), John Laughlin (Johnny), Phil Fondacaro (Emmet), and John Kassir (The Crypt Keeper)
Director: Rodman Flender
The “Who is in a Tales from the Crypt episode?” parade continues as we now have Ernie Hudson – the black Ghostbuster – and Joan Chen show up to play in Food for Thought, along with Phil Fondacaro and – try not to blink of you will miss him playing a contortionist – Doug Jones. Okay, these people all probably need the paycheck at that time, but the episode itself is more bewildering than the reasons why these people will subject themselves to playing in the same ballpark as a puppet ghoul.
We now focus on a circus belonging to the dwarf ringmaster Emmet. Along with the usual Siamese twins, fire eaters, and what not, we have Zambini and his wife Connie. Connie, as “Sultana”, will read the mind of “The Great Zambini”, and their show is one of the main reasons why the audience flock to the circus every evening. There is trouble among the happy household, however: Connie was picked off the streets by Zambini, who then exploits her mind-reading abilities even as he terrorizes and even beats her up when he’s not forcing her to perform sexual stunts on him against her will.
Apparently Zambini’s mind has some hold over her, forcing her to do things as per his commands if he so wishes. However, while she can read his mind, he can’t read hers, much to his frustration. It’s a good thing that her mind is closed off to him, though, as Connie is carrying on a flirtation on the side with fire eater and gorilla tamer Johnny. Their flirtation deepens into something more even as Zambini becomes more abusive. Those two plot to run away together… just as Zambini suddenly becomes able to read Connie’s mind and, oops, now he knows.
I have watched Food for Thought five times just to see whether I can tie up together the events that led to the deliciously gory finale. Perhaps that is the biggest flaw of this episode: at the first or even second viewing, this episode seems to be a string of events that just happen to collide and intersect. Zambini is deliciously mean and nasty, although his fidelity to the greedy, lazy, abusive black man stereotype may make some viewers feel tad uncomfortable today. And yet, things just seem to happen to him. Or so it seems. I think I have an idea of what happens in the last third or so of the episode after a few watchings.
Zambini isn’t reading Connie’s mind all along – he’s reading the mind of Johnny’s gorilla Nobanga. Somehow, those two have some kind of telepathic bond that he is not aware of. Nobanga is devoted to her tamer because he is the only person who treats her with affection, and hence, she gets jealous when she sees Johnny and Connie together. Echoes of Connie’s love words to Johnny play out in her mind as she furiously plays over and over the couple’s affectionate moments, which is how Zambini ends up thinking that he is reading “Connie” instead. So, when Zambini kills Johnny in front of Nobanga, and he then summons Connie to his side, it is Nobanga who answers and ends up killing that man in such a fun way.
That’s my interpretation anyway, and I’ve seen a few different ones. At any rate, this one has some campy moments – and a head-scratching scene of gratuitous female nudity that is included just because – but on the whole, it would have been forgettable were not for the denouement. Maybe next time they shouldn’t try too hard to be complex in this show.