By: Billy Cross
Vividly, I remember growing up sneaking peeks at episodes of Tales From the Crypt on late night HBO. The excitement knowing I was breaking the rules exceeded the actual act of watching it. It was like slipping into a bar with a fake ID. I can’t recall any specific episodes, but what burned into my memory was the intro – the gate swinging open, the theme, and the virtual-tour-like track through the house, down into the depths, finally revealing the Crypt Keeper laughing maniacally before green ooze filled the screen. As a kid, I thought, “This is for adults? There’s a puppet!” But the mood was set. The next half-hour belonged to horror, camp, and terrible puns. A clever anthology show ties all the disparate stories together with a mood-setting intro; just check out The Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, heck, even Are You Afraid of the Dark? They signal just what you’re jumping into.
Writer/director T.L. Green aims to channel the mood of a late night anthology show with an independently produced web series known as The Back Pages. We are introduced to the show inside a bookstore. It has got to be around 4 in the morning when a woman walks in to peruse the shelves. Eventually, she picks up an ominous-looking book, sits down with it, and cracks it open only to discover herself in the pages. From there the camera quickly tracks out to reveal the title in neon. The whole thing is a bit vague, and lacks agency, but it informs what you need to know: weird shit is going to happen.
And weird shit does happen. Whether or not you enjoy the weird shit entirely depends on your capacity for cheap genre thrills. And there are plenty. The show’s silver bullet is its reliance on twists, none of them particularly exciting. There’s either a mysterious man, or a mysterious girl, or another mysterious girl and so on. (Seriously, there’s 3 episodes of mysterious girls.) Ideas come off as the sort of thing you would pitch to your buddies after a few drinks.
From the production side of things, the challenge of a small budget is legit. The real magic is how you stretch the dollar. Different genres/settings command a hefty chunk of budget I imagine, with detailed sets, props, costume, and makeup for each episode. The setting of the first episode, Dust to Dust, is particularly striking given that it takes place on Mars. The exteriors and lighting do a fine job of evoking the red planet. And that quality is consistent throughout, despite the constraints.
It’s a rough debut, but I’m curious to see what Green whips up next, whether it’s a season 2 or something else entirely. Besides, you can’t get better at something if you don’t do it. If you’re still curious to see what’s up with The Back Pages, be sure to check it out on Amazon screaming. (That’s a Crypt Keeper flourish right there.)