As most horror sites, including ours, have made it a point to mention this past week, the late Bill Paxton gave so much to the horror genre over the years. He starred in my favorite horror sequel (Aliens), my favorite vampire film (Near Dark), and even my favorite episode of HBO’s “Tales from the Crypt,” which just goes to show much of a mark he made on both horror and the entertainment industry at large. Like many of his fans, I’ve spent much of this week revisiting Paxton’s work, and today I carved out some time for my all-time favorite “Tales” episode.
Episode 5 of Season 5, titled ‘People Who Live in Brass Hearses,‘ was penned by the late Scott Nimerfro (“Hannibal”) and directed by Russel Mulcahy (Resident Evil: Extinction), and it originally aired on October 13th, 1993. An adaptation of a tale from the Vault of Horror comic book series, the episode starred the dream team of Bill Paxton and Brad “Chucky” Dourif; Paxton played the role of Billy, an ex-con/former ice cream man with a serious butter fetish, and Dourif co-starred as Virgil, the little brother who does whatever his big brother says.
The two down-on-their-luck brothers, who don’t have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out, plan to rob an ice cream warehouse together; not only do they need the money, but Billy wants to get revenge on ice cream man Mr. Byrd, who was responsible for him being locked up for two years. Billy was stealing from the company, you see, and the kind Mr. Byrd turned him in.
Naturally, things go horribly wrong at the warehouse, mostly thanks to Virgil’s ineptitude. Virgil and Billy brutally murder a warehouse worker and Mr. Byrd escapes, so they come up with an alternate plan: they’re going to break into Byrd’s house and steal his ice cream money. Of course, this being “Tales from the Crypt” and all, there’s a twist. And it’s a fun one.
At Byrd’s house, trigger-happy Virgil once again screws up, blowing the ice cream man’s head off with a shotgun. The twist? They only killed half of Mr. Byrd. As it turns out, Byrd and his Siamese twin brother are attached at the rear-end, and the unlucky brothers who decided to mess with them soon realize that the half of Byrd they killed was actually, well, his good side.
The evil twin lays waste to Billy and Virgil, then resumes his duties as the town’s (not-so-friendly) ice cream man. His brother’s rotting corpse is still attached. And the ice cream is 1/2 off.
A favorite since the first time I saw it as a kid (I’ve never looked at butter the same way again since seeing Paxton take a huge bite out of an entire stick), ‘People Who Live in Brass Hearses’ holds up to this day as one of the show’s most wildly entertaining outings. Driven by great performances from Paxton and Dourif, as well as Michael Lerner in the dual role of Mr. Byrd, the episode highlights everything I personally love about “Tales from the Crypt.” It’s funny, it’s gory, it’s wacky as can be, and it’s got one hell of a twist. It’s “Tales” perfection, as far as I’m concerned.
Looking back through the Bloody archives, Daniel Kurland put it in the #2 spot on last year’s list of the 15 best “Tales from the Crypt” episodes of all time. But for me, it’s #1.
You can watch ‘People Who Live in Brass Hearses’ below.