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`TALES FROM THE CRYPT' IS WICKEDLY FUNNY

A couple of made-for-cable exclusives are available to HBO subscribers this weekend - the movie "Without Warning: The James Brady Story" and the anthology series "Tales From the Crypt."

But while the latter remains wickedly funny, the former is sadly disappointing.- "Without Warning" (Sunday, 9 p.m., HBO) isn't terrible, it just doesn't come anywhere near to living up to its potential.

It's based on a compelling story - presidential press secretary James Brady's wounding during the 1981 assassination attempt on President Reagan, his slow, torturous battle for partial recovery and his wife's awakening as a gun-control activist.

But despite the subject matter, the HBO production isn't as good as a lot of made-for-TV movies on the broadcast networks. (One obvious difference here is that "Without Warning" is full of R-rated language.)

Among the best things about "Without Warning" is that Brady is not portrayed as some kind of saintly hero. He's seen as a sometimes obnoxious, tactless and difficult, as well as a loving husband and strong-willed survivor. Beau Bridges, despite some silly looking stomach padding, does some of his best work.

And Joan Allen is terrific as Sarah Brady, a woman who hears over the television that her husband is dead, then struggles through his recovery, then works to promote gun control.

But the film falls oddly flat. Perhaps because the actual events were so riveting, the recreations seem trite.

The best moments in "Without Warning" come at the end - with a newsclip of James and Sarah Brady testifying before Congress about the Brady bill.

This is about real drama - and humor - the film was unable to capture.

- "Tales From the Crypt" (Saturday, 11 p.m., HBO) is campy, funny and occasionally engrossing - not to mention occasionally gross.

There are an awful lot of talented people here having a lot of fun doing the sort of horror stories you may have read as a kid. Sort of a cross between "The Twilight Zone" and a Stephen King novel.

The anthology series returns with three stories:

- "Loved to Death" features Andrew McCarthy as a neophyte scriptwriter who falls in love with a self-centered, generally bad-tempered actress (Mariel Hemingway). She won't give him the time of day until he slips her a love potion - and then she "loves him to death."

- "Carrion Death" stars Kyle MacLachlan ("Twin Peaks") as an escaped murderer trying to make his way across the desert to Mexico, pursued by a cop and a vulture. Not to give away who the main course is, the vulture eats lunch in the episodes final, extremely grotesque and graphic scene.

- "The Trap" stars Bruce McGill ("Animal House" as a broken-down loser who decides to fake his own death with the help of his coroner brother (Bruno Kirby of "City Slickers") to collect the insurance money. But his brother and his wife (Teri Garr) have other ideas. This episode marks the directing debut of Michael J. Fox, who also plays a small role in the tale.

Be warned, if "Tales" were released to theaters it would carry an R-rating for brief nudity, very strong language and graphic violence.

But if you're in the mood for this sort of thing, "Tales" is a hoot.