Main cast: Christopher Reeve (Fred), Bess Armstrong (Erma), Art LaFleur (Phil Farley), Meat Loaf (Chumley), Judd Nelson (Gaston), and John Kassir (The Crypt Keeper)
Director: Gilbert Adler
Every self-proclaimed horror anthology TV series inevitably showcases a human cannibalism story, and What’s Cookin’ is the obligatory human cuisine entry in the Tales from the Crypt series. It only takes them four seasons, although to be fair we had some hungry ghouls and zombies here and then in previous seasons that chowed on humans too.
Fred and Erma own a failing restaurant business. Perhaps having a menu comprising only dishes made from squid is not the best idea. Erma knows it, but Fred is determined to stick to the plan, believing that what worked for Colonel Sanders would eventually work for them. Bess wishes that she can take the meat cleaver to the back of his head, but oh well. Meanwhile, their landlord Chumley is threatening to throw them out. A smart-ass drifter Gaston offers to sell them a special recipe for barbecue, but Fred prefers that he cleans the restaurant like he’s paid to do.
When Chumley and Fred have a public altercation, Gaston seizes the advantage. The next day, Chumley vanishes, and Gaston shows up offering “fresh steak” to Erma. Erma cooks them and offers some to the local cop who is like MMM-HMM YUMMY. The smell of the steak cooking attracts passers-by to come in and ask for some too. Business soon picks up, and Fred soon discovers that Gaston’s “meat” is actually… Chumley! As business picks up and people clamor to eat the “steak”, Gaston begins blackmailing Fred for half the profits. Meanwhile, he also begins making a play at Erma, who is very fed up with Fred’s stubbornness. Will Gaston succeed in getting the money and the woman, or will Fred eventually gain the upper hand?
What’s amusing about this episode is seeing Christopher Reeve, who is most well known for playing Superman of course, playing a more morally ambiguous man here. His Fred isn’t simply good or bad – he’s self-absorbed, unable to deviate from a course once he’s set his mind to it, and he knows it. At one point, he actually tells Erma that he understands if she wants to leave him – he just can’t change his mind or course correct once he’s on a path. This is a trait that would soon lead to Gaston’s downfall, as that man soon learns, heh. Erma is already on the crazy side, as seen with her lifting of the cleaver to her husband, and to be fair, Fred also has temper issues. Gaston is up against the good guys here, and in the end, it’s all about which dog ends up owning the manger.
Judd Nelson is playing the same guy in The Breakfast Club here, only with even loss moral compass, and I have to admit: I like.
I like What’s Cookin’ – it has enough humor and dark moments all balanced up, and some of the gorier scenes look amazingly real. But the denouement is predictable – we all know someone is going to get cooked – and I can’t help comparing it rather unfavorably to my all-time favorite human cannibalism episode in an anthology series, Speciality of the House from Alfred Hitchcock Presents… back in 1955. Still, it’s a solid episode all around, and so much better than the last few episodes.