Scream Factory is set to release the fearsome feature version of beloved arcane anthology program Tales From the Darkside, and I have had a chance to feast my eerie eyeballs upon it. So as I literally always do, here’s a revoltin’ review!
Tales From the Darkside begins with it’s wrap-around segment; the story of a nice, upper-class type dame named Betty (Debbie Harry… yup, good ol’ Blondie!) who just so happens to have a kid (Matthew Lawrence… who has been in tons of things, the best in my opinion being Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad… I loved that fuckin’ goofy shit so damn much!) locked in a cage… a kid she intends on cooking and eating!
He manages to buy sometime however as he offers to read some yarns from the eponymous book…
The first story we are presented with is Lot 249, which refers to a strange delivery received by Edward Bellingham (Steve Buscemi)… a brainiac who has been cock-blocked from a huge scholarship by rich-ass students Susan (Julianne Moore), and Lee (Robert Sedgwick).
So Ed is none-too-pleased with Sue-Sue and L-man to say the least, so naturally he pops open 249 and uses it’s contents, a mummy (played to putrid perfection by Michael Deak) with a resurrection scroll in it’s belly, to put a murder on that dumb-ass duo… unless Susan’s brother Andy (Christian Slater) can save the day!
Now this is the way to start your anthology flick proper! Lot 249 is a compact lil’ E.C. horror comics style supernatural revenge tale featuring a horror icon, the living mummy, to suspense-filled, eerie effect! Speaking of that monstrous menace, the creature is brought to life via a rather kick-ass practical suit, so that’s another plus in the ol’ creepy column!
Also impressive is the cast assembled; Slater, Buscemi, Moore… all great performers one and all, and the story by Michael McDowell (adapted from a tale by Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle) is a thrilling, at times darkly humorous, bit of monster-based madness!
Not to tip my hat too soon, but Lot 249 is by far my favorite segment in this fright flick…
Back to our pint-sized prisoner who next selects:
Cat From Hell; which concerns wheelchair-bound old man Drogan (William Hickey the original Andre Toulon himself!) who hires professional hitman Halston (David Johansen of New York Dolls fame) for the seemingly ridiculous task of killing a black cat that resides in his home.
Of course this being a terror tale, that cat has managed to have a knack of murdering all-those around Drogan, and is more than likely a vengeful supernatural avatar of destruction sent to make the old man pay for his crimes against pussy… like the killing of thousands of cats via his company’s product testing!
I’m not going to mince words… this segment is exactly why this film is considered to be the true Creepshow 3 by devious devotees of that sinister series! Why is that you may ask, well with it’s screenplay written by none other than Creepshow helmer George A. Romero (you know who he is, I’m not going to insult you lot here) adapting a story by Stephen King (ditto), it’s reliance on Poe by way of a comic book (get used to that boils n’ ghouls), and smattering of colored gels (utilized here for flashback sequences) this li’ segment could easily be inserted into the first film (and more than easily into the second)… so if you love Creepshow, this will make it worth purchasing this Blu alone!
As in the above segment we also get solid performances from our leads (you can’t go wrong with the manic, off-kilter energy both Johansen and Hickey posses), and the effects are gooey, gross, and do their best to make the rather diminutive cat selected to play the feline lead seem terrifying (though Johansens ‘swing for the cheap seats’ theatrics manage to do some heavy lifting there as well).
It’s almost dinner time, but we get one more yarn:
Lover’s Vow (written by Lot 249 scribe McDowell); the chronicle of down-on-his luck artist Preston (The Warriors‘ James Remar), who after a drunken pity party witnesses a gargoyle like creature commit a murder.
The beast makes Preston promise to never reveal what he saw that night, and soon the artist finds himself in the loving arms of a beautiful stranger named Carola (Rae Dawn Chong)… hmmm…
Anyway, Preston keeps his vow and finds great success in both his career and home life… but will his lips remained sealed forever?
I remember upon first seeing Tales From the Darkside, this was the segment I was most hyped to see thanks for to that gargoyle appearing on the cover of Fangoria, and make no mistake; it’s a wonderful, practically realized monster suit and definitely the effects highlight of the film (especially the third act transformation sequence)… but all these years later, it’s my least favorite of the trio of tales presented.
That isn’t to say the piece is bad, but it replaces the eeriness of the first chapter, and dizzy nonsense of the second with a rather dour, slowly paced yarn filled with a tad too much drama for it’s own good. It’s definitely the odd-man-out tonally… though the performance of Remar is suitably strung-out, and Chong is not without charm.
With the first two segments being incredibly close to what one would expect from a Creepshow sequel (namely E.C. horror comics brought to life), and the third doing it’s own, strangely gravitas packed take on the legend of Japan’s Yuki-onna, Tales From the Darkside doesn’t have the same vibe as the television show it takes it’s name from (which had a more bizarre, sometimes lighthearted approach), but that actually doesn’t work against the film, mainly because the material that is presented is so damn strong on it’s own… and the quality of acting and effects doesn’t hurt any either!
Now, I’d recommend you fiends to pick this film up on it’s own merits, but this Blu-ray release comes with it’s fair share of special features! First up we get two audio commentaries; one a lively new conversation with Co-Producer David R. Kappes that provides details of the film’s production along with tales from throughout Kappes’ career (which included working on the mega-shitty Jaws 3), and the other an archival chat with Director John Harrison And Co-Screenwriter George A. Romero that plays out like two old friends shootin’ the shit… which it is, just more Tales From the Darkside oriented ‘natch!
Also included are: a brand new, six chapter, feature length documentary that exhaustively covers every aspect of the film’s creation in detail (and makes this release of the film the one to get in my not-so-humble opinion), followed by the film’s theatrical trailer, TV and radio spots, galleries for stills and behind-the-scenes images, and a compilation of behind-the-scenes footage.
So all in all, Tales From the Darkside is a fine fright flick indeed… and with it’s blend of frights and dark humor it will fit right in with a creepy collection that features the Creepshow films, Cat’s Eye (another King heavy anthology), and Twilight Zone: The Movie!