Ice cream salesmen can be creepy. We covered that some in our examination of the cult classic Ice Cream Man. It’s a man going around offering treats to neighborhood children… the horror kind of writes itself.
So it isn’t that suprising that everyone’s favorite 90s horror TV show Tales from the Crypt introduced an ice cream man into one of its stories. And it just so happens to be one of the best Tales from the Crypt episodes, one that comes from Season 5, Episode 5 of the classic anthology series.
It has what many of the best have: memorable characters, thriller-like plotting, and the twist ending that maybe you guessed or maybe it came out of nowhere for you. This is “People Who Live in Brass Hearses”.
The Story of Tales from the Crypt‘s People Who Live in Brass Hearses
The first and one of the best features of “People Who Live in Brass Hearses” is the DeLuca brothers, played by two actors at the top of their game: Bill Paxton and Brad Dourif. Dourif is playing a slow-witted follower to his brother, in some ways a variation of his role in One Flew Over the Cookoo’s Nest… incidentally who is dealing with a brother that is more like Dourif’s role as Charles Lee Ray (Chucky) in Child’s Play.
Bill Paxton’s Billy Deluca is the brains of the two. And he has a robbery job all planned out. He is clearly the one that is ready to get his hands dirty, while Dourif’s Virgil Deluca is expected to mess it up or chicken out. The job? Stealing from the ice cream man, played by the accomplished character actor Michael Lerner.
This ice cream robbery works because it is full of colorful characters and several interesting twists. The focus is on the ice cream man, a seemingly talented ventriloquist with a dark side. Not surprising that the Deluca brothers have in mind stealing from him.
As for the robbery. Billy has a very specific timeframe in which they can steal the money from the ice cream man. In the middle is Lainie Kazan as Mrs. Grafungar, whose office they need to steal from. When things don’t go as planned, it isn’t Billy who takes a violent turn, but rather Virgil. He suddenly kills Mrs. Grafungar and complicates the entire plan.
They are nearly caught, with a tension-filled, bloody scene that is very Tales from the Crypt.
And not surprisingly, Virgil messed up and they can’t actually get to the money. And thus, the story is propelled to the home of the ice cream man.
At this point it is a wonder just where this twisted tale is headed. As the ice cream man shows up mid-robbery and guns are fired, the full twist is revealed.
This ice cream is more than just a ventriloquist, with a man dangling on his hand. He is a full siamese twin, with two full-sized men joined by the hip. They killed one, but they didn’t kill the other. Which is their downturn. With the end, we have a gross, comic end that only a great Tales from the Crypt episode can accomplish.
Both ventriloquists (Season 2, Episode 10) and siamese twins (Season 2, Episode 7) are done in other episodes. So they are common avenues for horror.
One might think they are just the same writers diving into the same well multiple times. But I think exploring these “mirror” and “puppet” themes can bring a lot of meaning to the scary stories found in the series.
Finding Meanings Behind the Tale
Going back over the episode, we find there are PUPPETS and MIRRORS everywhere.
— FOUNDATIONS OF HORROR —
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Virgil is merely a puppet of Billy. Doing his bidding. Which comes to bite him in the end, as Virgil suddenly becomes deadly out of seemingly nowhere. So it develops this idea that the tables can turn quickly in these dynamics.
The ice cream man has a puppet on his hand, but also turns out to be a puppet himself at any given time.
And then we come to the MIRRORS. Do you know how many mirrors appear in this episode? A lot.
What is being explored is brothers or twins being the mirrors of each other. Billy and Virgil are different sides of the same coin. The ice cream man reveals to be two-side as well. The mirrors appearing over and over again is both foreshadowing as well as interestingly tackling the them found in the story.
The Comic Basis of People Who Live in Brass Hearses
One of the things that isn’t often talked about is Tales from the Crypt‘s use of titles, and specifically, how the episodes almost always keep the same title as the original comic book story. Most of the time the title fits and no one notices. In the case of People Who Live in Brass Hearses, the unusual title doesn’t match the story very well. Which of course, alludes to the main difference between show adaptation and comic book versions.
In the comic book, it’s not an ice cream salesman. It’s an old-school hearse wagon driver. “People Who Live in Brass Hearses” was featured in The Vault of Horror #27 in 1952. And although key plot points in the original comic book story are the same as the later TV adaptation, there are certainly a lot of differences.
It is a hearse driver, not an ice cream truck. Which is understandable if the TV show wanted to keep it to modern times. Not a lot of horse-drawn hearses on the streets anymore. And the story of the brothers and the robbery in the Tales from the Crypt TV adaptation is much more developed. This is common. The comic book pages can do many things, but developing characters as much as a half-hour show with quality actors playing the parts, it’s quite difficult to compete.
What the comic book version and TV show do certainly share is that twist ending. Very similar.
Last Updated on April 19, 2022.