"A shocking experience! When the death penalty is abolished, a penitentiary executioner turns freelance electrocutioner. But fate may pull a switch on this man who loves to throw the switch."
- -- DVD description for the episode
The Man Who Was Death is the first episode of the first season of Tales of the Crypt and the first episode overall. It was released on June 10th, 1989 alongside "And All Through the House".
It is the series premiere.
After working for two years in the electric workshop of a penitentiary, the electrician Niles Talbot (William Sadler) has been promoted to executioner, operating an electric chair, and he appreciates his job. When the death penalty is abolished in his state, Niles loses his job. But he decides to become a vigilante, punishing criminals that are released by justice system. Until the day that the death penalty is implemented again in the state.
The episode starts with a close up of Charles Ledbetter, a prisoner who is about to be executed. Niles Talbot explains that a few years back, Ledbetter was thinking about the pay raise he was refused while drinking vodka at lunch, since he worked at his job for over 7 years and didn't have much to show for it. In a fit of drunken rage, Ledbetter took a .45 from the glove compartment of his car and used it to kill his boss, Joe Saylor, and a secretary in the process. It is now the night of his execution, and as Ledbetter is being brought to the electric chair, he is screaming "Wait a minute! Just...wait a minute! He's gonna call! The governor's gonna call! He's gonna get me to stay! Yes, he will! No, no! The governor's gonna call! He's got to! He's got to!" At the order of the warden, Niles threw the switch, and Ledbetter was executed.
He seems to take joy in his job. Niles says that he's a country boy, but he loves the city. In the beginning of his adult years he was an electrician and got hired by the prison repairing the power generators, and a few years later, he became the new executioner. Niles claims he's likes electricity because "It's dependable. You can trust it." In execution, he doesn't believe in using gas chambers or lethal injections like they do in a lot of other states, claiming that's a method to kill rabid or terminally ill animals like dogs or cats, not for a man. For a man, in his case, it had to be the electric chair. He even knows that some myths of the electric chair weren't true, like black blood coming out of someone's mouth or someone foaming at the mouth. However some heads were known to smoke afterwards.
That night, Niles goes into a diner for a cheese sandwich and coffee when he sees the news report about an argument to ban the death penalty. Some say if banned, it will increase the crime rate, and cause overcrowding in the prisons, and some say that execution still qualified as murder. The next day, the death penalty is banned, and Niles is fired as the executioner. He can't get his old job as the electrician back either, because he trained someone to take over the job before he was reassigned, and the warden thought it would be for the best because the prisoners know he is the man who executed prisoners. Niles assures him that if anyone in the prison gets out of line, he can handle everything. The warden still can't have this because of the rules, even though he sees Niles as a dear friend. The next day, a biker named Jimmy Flood is on trial for murder. He is found guilty, but is acquitted because the arrest warrant was not worded correctly. Niles is in his garage after court, saying "I got nothin' special against bikers. Hell, I used to own a hog myself once upon a time. Bikers believe in freedom. They don't want nobody to lean on 'em and they don't give a good goddamn what polite society thinks of 'em. You see, they figure they're throwbacks to real Americans. You know, what the country was all about before it all went to hell with big-city lawyers and computers, corporations, timeclocks and what all? There's a lot to be said for that. Those ain't bad ideas. But this biker, Jimmy Flood, now he went way outta line, and he oughta pay."
That night, Jimmy Flood is driving by on his bike and tries to break into a fenced property, but is killed in the process, because Niles hooked up the metal gate with electric wires, which everyone believes was caused by a fallen phone wire. At the next trial, Theodor Carne and Cynthia Baldwin are on trial for murder in the first degree, and were both found not guilty. Niles said Carne was cheating on his wife with Cynthia and divorce was out of the question, considering the fact that his wife has full control of the money, so he and Cynthia arranged the murder. Niles later goes to their home and uses their hot tub to electrocute them. After a failed attempt on a hooker's life he is busted for his crimes, and the death penalty is reintroduced, with Niles as the next victim. His last words were "It's my job. That's why I did it, 'cause it's my job. If a man ain't good at his job, then what the hell is he good for? What's anything good for?" As he was executed his final thoughts were "I didn't want no haircut. They said that was a mistake 'cause my head might catch on fire from the electricity when they juice me. I told them 'Don't worry, the governor gonna call'."
Opening Segment Edit
"Aww, poor little fellas. When I think of their childhood, all those cute little maggots hahahahaha. Our story is about a man with nobler ambitions. He likes to kill human pests and he does it in front of an audience. Now that's entertainment hahahaha. So hang onto your hats kiddies, this one's a real shocker."
Closing Segment Edit"Gad, what a revolting development. And what a switch for poor Talbot. It just goes to show what happens when you get too caught up in your work. Don't worry though, I'm sure he never knew "watt" hit him. So remember boys and girls, safety first!"
- This episode is available on the Tales from the Crypt: The Complete First Season DVD.
- This episode aired on the same night as "And All Through the House".
- Actor Raymond O'Connor's name is misspelled as Raymond O'Conner in this episode.
- Actress Jennifer Evans is credited as M. Jennifer Evans.
- William Sadler initially auditioned for the role of the detective who arrests Niles Talbot but asked at his audition about auditioning to play Talbot. The casting director informed Sadler that they sought Christopher Walken or John Malkovich for the role. Nevertheless, Sadler was allowed to audition and was eventually cast as Talbot.
- Walter Hill agreed to give William Sadler the lead only if he vowed to perform it exactly as he had for the audition.