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Tales From the Crypt director Tom Holland on finding Brad Pitt and the appeal of 'Four-Sided Triangle'
If you were into horror in the late '80s and early '90s, you definitely remember Tales From the Crypt, HBO’s seminal horror anthology that boasted 93 episodes over seven years of pulp comics-inspired sordid tales, loosely tied together by a maniacal puppet Crypt Keeper emcee. But while many of those episodes may have come and gone, there’s likely at least one that stands out in the ol' memory banks: “Four-Sided Triangle.”
Calling it a “perfect horror short,” SYFY WIRE’S FANGRRLS recently delved into why everyone remembers the Patricia Arquette-starring episode, but while making a sound argument that it managed to raise the creep factor of scarecrows while also giving agency to the female lead, they didn’t do it quite as succinctly as writer/director Tom Holland (Fright Night, Child’s Play), who got right down to the bottom of its memorability when we spoke to him recently on the occasion of Fright Night’s 35 anniversary.
“Why? Well, because it was that moment, oh God, I’m saying the wrong things,” Holland tells SYFY WIRE when asked why everyone remembers the 1990 episode, “…at that moment in time she was incredibly hot, OK?”
If you saw it, you obviously recall, but the episode finds Arquette playing Mary Jo, a “nubile young woman who helps out with the chores” (per the IMDb logline) around the farm owned by creepy old George (Chelcie Ross) and his cane-wielding wife, Luisa (Susan Blommaert). Lust-filled George tries to have his way with egg-collecting, cow-milking Mary Jo, which, after much horrific struggle, leads to her falling into the arms of another man, who just happens to be a scarecrow.
Essentially, though, those are just story beats, as Holland says “Four-Sided Triangle” is ultimately about something far simpler: “The ‘Four-Sided Triangle’ is about lust, and what happens if you let it get the better of you,” Holland says.
“It’s very effective, OK? And it has a gut punch in terms of terror, but it’s also about lust, and we also understand that. You know, when he looks into that chicken coop ... it’s a Psycho moment ... and he looks through the hole in the wall, and he sees her picking up the eggs, I mean, she is steaming,” says Holland, who knows a thing or two about Psycho, having written 1983’s tough-to-crack sequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s horror bedrock. “Lust can lead you astray, is one way of putting it.”
Certainly, that simple premise helped, but Holland also credits the team around him for making such memorable TV.
“The actors were excellent. Everything worked,” Holland says. “The truth is, you never know. All you do is, you try your best. And I keep saying, you need a little bit of luck; you need the lord smiling down on you when you’re creating it. And it’s trying to get everybody to pull together in the same direction, not only the crew, but the cast also. And I’ve been blessed that it’s happened to me a few times … it’s gone the other way a few times too. But I think that’s why ‘Four-Sided Triangle’ [worked].”
Though Holland thinks the episode is the “best” of the bunch, it wasn’t the only time he got lucky while directing a TFTC segment, although on “King of the Road” it was Brad Pitt doing the heavenly grinning.
“It’s not as effective as ‘Four-Sided Triangle’ is, but you could see a movie star booming. You could see the beginning of it. It’s in the smile,” Holland says.
The 1992 episode features young Pitt as bad boy Billy, a ulteriorly motivated hot-rodder with an affinity for blinking skulls, who comes to Sheriff Garrett’s (Raymond J. Barry) small town to ostensibly date his daughter (Michelle Bronson), stir up the lawman’s unlawful drag racing past, and then race him to the death.
Though Pitt had nabbed a few parts by then, Holland immediately saw much more potential.
“Here’s a story for you ... I thought Brad Pitt was so terrific in that, and this is before he was Brad Pitt, and I went out and tried to get him an agent, and I couldn’t get him an agent!” Holland says. “It’s true. It’s true! Well, he smiled, [it’s] all he had to do ... and when he smiled, I said, ‘Well that’s a movie star.’ And I said, ‘Light him as well as the girl.’ I mean, he was as beautiful as she was.”
Beautiful Pitt wasn’t the only part of the episode to accomplish big things, as it also featured some all-star exec producers, including Richard Donner, Walter Hill, Joel Silver, and Robert Zemeckis. And not for nothing, but the great Warren Zevon did the music for it too.
Just some of the important names that Holland has worked with along the twisty roads of producing hit horror over the past six decades or so.
“Anyway, I’ve just been very, very lucky. I think I’ve been very lucky. I’ve been lucky with my actors, with a lot of people ... composers, cinematographers ...” Holland says.
To hear more about another prime example of such luck, check out all the great stories he told us about Fright Night coming together, as well as his tease for the sequel script he’s writing.