John Kassir ('Tales From The Crypt')
'Tales From The Cryptkeeper!'
The Cryptkeeper is back with the final scare of the gory and frightening 'Tales from The Crypt: The Complete Seventh Season' from Warner Home Video on DVD October 23, 2007.
Turn out the fright, the party’s over as they say all ghoul things must come to an end. But first let the ghoul times roll one gleeful last time with these 13 terrorific tales based on those classic moldy-but-goodie horror comics from back when.
Originally airing on HBO, the successful 'Tales from the Crypt' generated a Saturday morning cartoon, game show on CBS and two feature films (Demon Knight and Bordello of Blood), in addition to syndicated broadcasts on Fox, Sci-Fi Channel and AMC.
Chatting recently to the voice of the Cryptkeeper himself, John Kassir I first wondered how he had originally got the call for such a weird, yet wonderful job? John Kassir - "It's funny because when I first went in to audition for it they didn't have very many people come audition. They were actually looking for a combination of an actor, a voiceover artist, and comedian to play the part. So, I went down to Kevin Yeager's studio - who's the creature maker for Chucky and who created the look for Freddy Krueger - and I walk in and there's all these different creatures hanging on the wall. And, of course they're creating the look for the Cryptkeeper. So I got this sense of what he looked like then."
"And originally, if you look at the first season it's the voice that I auditioned for that you hear now. It has the comic timing to it and they loved it. And so a day later I went in and did it for Joel Silver and Richard Donner and they loved it too. And I got hired. But, when we started shooting the first season the puppet - because when you first start a show they don't usually give them the same budget to work with until the show becomes successful - although it looked the same had less motors and such inside of it. So its mouth moved a lot slower. So if you look at the first season the voice is [in character] more ... ominous ... and ... slower [out of character] ."
"So, once the show got picked up for the second season we got to plug in some extra money into making the Cryptkeeper work faster and cleaner. We were able fill more into the comic timing that you hear today. So, it was a lot of fun to have him evolve and of course once they saw that I did all these kinds of impersonations and stuff they started doing the Cryptkeeper as Marlon Brando and people like that."
With Warner Bros. having now employed you as the voice of the puppet, had they modeled any of the Cryptkeeper's facial features on you also?! "I sure hope not," he laughs. "For one thing he's got blue eyes and I've got brown eyes. But the puppeteers would watch some of my movements and some of the physicality of what I was doing. But the actual look of the puppet has remained exactly what Kevin had originally designed. They went through a lot of different formations for it. I got to see different stages of what he had looked like up to the one that you see now."
"But ultimately from when I walked in the Cryptkeeper you see today is pretty much what he had carved and created, and what everybody had agreed upon as the look of the puppet. I mean there were times when he had a nose and then no nose. And so if he's rotted in this place do we see teeth here? Is the throat open? But no, my looks cannot take credit for the Cryptkeeper's debonair look, thank God."
Just how long did it used to take to record your wraparound and did you watch any of the episode footage as you were doing it? "Normally I would record the voice first. We would go into a studio and they would have been have been working on the episode, to get a feel for the episode, and then they would write the wraparound - which was the part that the Cryptkeeper did - around the feel of the show."
"We had a lot of very prestigious directors attached to this show and so each one wanted to bring some fun in. It was kinda like a playground for all these famous people. I know Frankenheimer did some episodes, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Hanks, Michael J. Fox, and Michael Keaton also all came in and directed some of these episodes. And so each one had a different feel for what they wanted. Kevin Yeager, besides creating the creature actually directed all the wraparounds in the studio. So we would record and we'd get all our laughs out and make everything all funny and creepy and all that stuff. And sometimes they might be working on two episodes at a time so I might actually go into the studio for a while."
"But I normally wouldn't work for more than four hours, just because of the type of voice that it is. It's kind of grueling ... well, it used to be kind of grueling, but I've kinda gotten used to it over the years. Then you'd take that recording and go rehearse with the puppeteers so that they became very familiar with it and make their movements along with it. Then they'd do playbacks like a rock video where the people would lip sync to the music. But here the puppet would lip sync to the different recordings that I'd done for the Cryptkeeper."
"Sometimes if the Cryptkeeper was talking to somebody on the set like Whoopi Goldberg and Arnold Schwarzenegger, they might have me come down to be the live person so that they wouldn't have to play off a stiff recording. To enable a more playfulness between the characters which was kind of fun."
"There were even a couple of times where we did live performances where it would be an awards show. I would be sitting off camera and they would be interviewing the puppet, but I would be answering the questions. And the puppeteers would follow my voice. That's just how good they became at working together. So, that was kind of fun and exciting to bring the Crypt Keeper alive right there on the spot."
Do you have a favorite wraparound that you performed and for what reason? "There was an episode that I was in called 'Oil's Well That Ends Well.' It's interesting because this last season was originally not supposed to be the last season. They had just finished the sixth season and its last episode was called 'Oil's Well That Ends Well.' And rather like a Hitchockian kinda moment they put me in the episode as playing this demented con man. And in the end of the wraparound the Cryptkeeper's watching and he's like, [in character] 'You know, all the actors were good. But there's something special about this one. He's a regular Gory Cooper, a Robert Deadford'!" [out of character] "And he just keeps going on and on about me." [in character] "And that laugh, I knew there was something about him that I liked." [out of character] "So, here's the Cryptkeeper talking about me and pointing at me on the screen. So that was always one of my favorites."
"And for this seventh season, and with the show still being so popular, they got an offer to go do them all in London, England. So this last season seven had all these wonderful British actors in them - or whatever American actors happened to be in London shooting at the time. So, that was a neat kind of a thing. And they made the feel of the episodes have this British kinda classical feel to them. Nobody knew who Ewan McGregor was, or Daniel Craig or any of these other actors that were in this show - before they all became well known to Americans, of course."
"One of my other favorite wraparounds was one of the very first episodes directed by Walter Hill called 'A Man Called Death.' It had William Sadler playing an executioner in the prison and he winds up becoming a vigilante because they get rid of the death penalty. And he, of course, winds up getting caught and they reinstate the death penalty and he gets electrocuted in the end," he laughs. "And so we come back to the Cryptkeeper and he's sitting in an electric chair, electrocuting himself and getting off on it," he laughs again. "That was just one of my favorites as it was just so classically the Cryptkeeper. That was also one of the first ones where we had made it all out comical."
Were you sad when the end came for 'Tales From The Crypt' and you had to finally put the Cryptkeeper to rest? "You know, now that it's over it just doesn't take up nearly as much of my time. But I've been lucky as an actor to have done work on the stage and screen, and more as a voiceover artist. Right now I'm doing a musical on stage at the Lincoln center. So, having a career is a good thing, but having a character to do like the Cryptkeeper was like having a dream come true. So in terms of not doing any more episodes we do still around Halloween wind up doing a lot of things with the Cryptkeeper. But yes, I do miss doing that show as it was fun to be a part of."
"But I wouldn't be surprised if down the road somebody wanted to franchise it again and they came in with some of those new, fresh directors and these stars of today. Then they could do some more episodes with the franchise the way that they revived the Twilight Zone. I would also hope that they would want me to do the Cryptkeeper once again."
This final seventh season DVD box set also has a Virtual Comic Book; an Adaptation of a comic book that inspired the “A Fatal Caper” episode which has been narrated by your good self! "Oh yeah. They kinda let me loose on that one. Coming back full circle to the comic books was a real pleasure for me because I remember all those comic books. There was so many of them. I think that between Tales From The Crypt, Twisted Tales, and Tales From The Vault, they had many, many stories to tell. I think sooner or later it would be fun to do a whole series of virtual comic books. They're certainly a great feature to have on the DVD. The fun thing about is it that they let me do a lot of the other voices too."
Is it true that you once won $100,000 on Star Search - beating out both Rosie O'Donnell and Sinbad?! "Yes, that's totally true," he laughs. "I was in New York doing a musical called 'Three Guys Naked From The Waist Down' about stand up comedians. And although I'd done street performing and sketch comedy and that kind of thing, I actually hadn't worked as a standup comedian. But here I had now landed this role playing a comedian so I had to create some of my own stage material. And Star Search had seen me playing this part on stage and asked me to be on the show. I was like, 'I'm not really standup comedian. I'm just playing a standup comedian.' And they said, 'Well, you could win $100,000.' And I went, 'Crap, I'll do it! I'm making $900 a week here Off Broadway'."
"So, I went on the show and did some sketch comedy. Each week I'd write my two and a half minutes and I'd write my material based on different characters. And I just kept winning and ended up in the semi-finals beating Rosie O'Donnell ... and then in the finals winning over Sinbad! Then all of a sudden I had a career as a standup comedian and they started booking me on the road opening for The Temptations, The Four Tops, Lou Rawls, Richard Belzer, and Tom Jones. All these people I was opening on the road for them and I had no act," he laughs. "So I had put together a twenty minute act. And so from there I went on to working as a headliner in a club. And that's how I wound up getting the Cryptkeeper. Because I would do all these characters in my act and all these different voices and tell these funny stories."
What was your first big purchase item with all that cash? "Well, since I'd moved from New York to L.A. and I had no car I went out and priced Porsches," he laughs. "But then I was like, I don't want to spend the whole paycheck on a car," he laughs again. "I think I ended up buying myself a Toyota, but it was a sporty one."
Is it hard as an actor to find yourself doing more and more voiceover work as opposed to physical acting? "I'm actually very lucky to be part of a fraternity of voiceover actors. It's a very competitive field and there aren't very many actors that get a chance to do it. Once you're established as a voiceover actor there's no reason for them to go elsewhere. Because when you do so many voices they use the same people a lot."
"And as an actor the older you get the more you become a character actor. I mean, I've always been kind of a character actor, but having won Star Search I probably got the chance to do more lead characters than I had expected to do. I had always pined to be this character actor that got to play so many different roles. I imagined myself like an Ian Holm, who got to play all kinds of really great character roles. And I have gotten to play some great character roles, but as you know character actors don't usually get big, fact paychecks. So having the opportunity to not only have the fun to do voiceovers with the opportunity to have the steady work of the voiceovers, is certainly a privilege in my work. So I really can't complain."
"To have a character become as famous as the Cryptkeeper sometimes you're like, 'This character is more famous than I am," he laughs. "But it's kind of like what I set out to do in the first place. I set out to be able to play parts that became famous more than I set out to make myself famous. Certainly the idea of fame in our business becomes essential on some level, because the people with the most notoriety get the best parts."
Please tell me more about your new movie, 'Channels' "Oh yes, 'Channels' is a recent independent move that I did. I'm sure it'll play the Festival circuit. It's already won a few awards, but I wouldn't expect to see it on a wide screen release any time soon. Just because it is that kind of very intimate material that you can only do on a small budget. Because as we know these days, art and commerce have always been at odds and these days commerce is kinda kickin' art's ass," he laughs.
[In character] "Well creeps, this is my final installment of the hit HBO series, 'Tales From The Crypt.' And although I'll never die, and the show has past our deadtime, never say die. Never, say, ... die!" he says, following it up with the Cryptkeeper's trademark ghoulish laugh!
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
'Tales from The Crypt: The Complete Seventh Season' DVD Purchase Link
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