Review Date: October 11, 2001
Released by: Paramount
Release date: 9/25/2001
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
"Man lives in the sunlit world of what he believed to be reality. BUT there is, unseen by most, an underworld, a place that is just as real but not as brightly lit...DARKSIDE. (cue ominous music)".
So began a typical episode of Tales from the Darkside
, one of my more beloved bits of eighties nostalgia. The horror anthology series was the brainchild of executive producers George A. Romero and Richard P. Rubinstein and had a successful four-season run from October 1983 to July 1988. The stories, which were almost exclusively horror (unlike other anthology series that dabbled in various genres), were usually mildly scary, creative vignettes adapted from short stories or penned by well-known writers such as Stephen King. During Tales from the Darkside's
run, Romero and Rubinstein employed a plethora of talented actors and directors who helped give each episode a fresh spin on archetypical horror themes. When Tales from the Darkside
was put to rest, horror fans knew it would not stay put in its grave. As is the case with most horror throughout the ages, the resurrection of the dead is inevitable - hence the 1990 feature film, Tales from the Darkside
: The Movie.
All anthology movies must have a wraparound story. Tales from the Darkside
: The Movie boasts a good one: a pretty neighborhood witch (Debbie Harry) is busy planning a dinner party for her friends, with her imprisoned paperboy (Matthew Lawrence) as the main course. In order to stave off his impending evisceration, the boy keeps the Blondie - er, the witch -in "Rapture" (okay, I'll stop) by telling her stories from a book that she has given him to read in his hellish waiting room.
The first story is titled "Lot 249" and is loosely adapted from a short story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Lot 249 is actually a perfectly embalmed and gift-wrapped mummy complete with sarcophagus that has been re-routed from its University museum destination by a bitter outcast archaeology student, Edward Bellingham (Steve Buscemi). Bellingham opens up the mummy with the help of a fellow student, Andy (Christian Slater) and happens upon an ancient scroll whose hieroglyphic text contains a passage intended to resurrect the bandaged one.
Through some confusing exposition, we find out that two of Bellingham's peers (Julianne Moore and Robert Sedgewick) are the objects of his intense hatred because of some set-up that I won't bother delving into details over. The mummy from Lot 249 becomes a tool for Bellingham's retribution; it lumbers to the victim's homes and does away with them in ways familiar to his ancient Egyptian culture and the students studying it (e.g. Removing Brains via Nostrils 101). But one of the victims just happened to be Andy's sister and he is smart enough to connect her murder with Bellingham and his mummy thug. He disposes of the mummy way too easily (with an electric knife!) and burns the ancient resurrection scroll. But alas, it is the wrong scroll. Cheesy twist ending ensues.
"Cat From Hell" is based on a short story by Stephen King. It tells the tale of Drogan (William Hickey), a crotchety old wheelchair-bound millionaire living alone in a poorly lit mansion after his entire family and staff perishes. Drogan hires professional killer Halston (David Johansen) to make a hit on the perpetrator of his family's demise - a cute black cat wandering around the grounds. Drogan's wealth comes from pharmaceuticals, and a story is relayed about how his company's most popular painkiller was tested on - and resulted in the deaths of - thousands of cats. He feels this persistent puss was sent from some animal underworld to kill him as punishment. At first, Halston thinks it's a joke, but Drogan insists: kill the cat before it kills him.
The cat proves to be the most difficult hit of Halston's career - in fact, it's nearly impossible to kill even with his high-tech arsenal. Halston soon comes to believe that Drogan's paranoia about the cat is dead on. This feline angel of death will not stop until it escorts the source of its comrades suffering straight to hell.
The final story, called "Lover's Vow" is the most emotional and darkly moving story offered in this compilation. James Preston (James Remar) is a starving artist who has just been dropped by both his gallery and his agent. He spends the night drinking away his sorrow in the local dive and is escorted out at closing time by the proprietor. Once out in the alley, Preston witnesses the bartender's horrific beheading murder by a gargoyle. The gargoyle spies Preston, but agrees to let him live if he promises NEVER to tell anyone about what he has seen.
Moments later, Preston runs into a woman named Carola (Rae Dawn Chong) and, concerned for her safety, invites her to take shelter in his nearby apartment. The attraction between the two is immediate and intense and a solid, loving relationship grows out of it. Carola is able to get Preston a showing at a prestigious Greenwich Village art gallery through a "friend of a friend" connection and his popularity soars. Marriage and family soon follow for the happy, successful couple.
Fast forward ten years. Preston and Carola get a babysitter for their two young children and go out to celebrate the anniversary of the night they first met. Preston chooses that time to prove his intense love for Carola by sharing his biggest secret with her - the truth about what he saw the night they collided in that dark alley. His revelation was truly a sincere gesture of his love, trust and commitment and actually comes off as being very sweet. He should have just kept his mouth shut and bought her a bracelet.
One of the reasons Creepshow
worked so well is because its foundation was a tribute to EC Comics popular in the 1950s. Therefore, it was to be expected that stories were a bit over the top and filled with black humor. Expository shortcomings and far-fetched endings were easily forgiven as characteristics of the garish comic book genre. Tales - The Movie had all the features of Creepshow
without the source material to back it up. Maybe I'm mistaken, but the television series always came across to me as intending to be straight horror. Sure, comedy was inevitable and sometimes even intended, but the primary goal of the stories was to scare. They were meant to cause shivers, not giggles. In the case of the film, all the stories with the exception of "Lover's Vow" elicited an unintentional chuckle. I'm not sure whether or not it was intentional, but if the movie truly meant to capture the ambiance of the TV show, I feel the stories should have been a bit more chilling.
My opinion of Tales - The Movie is ambiguous. I can find good and bad things to say about almost every aspect of the film. The stories were far from scary - but they were creative and entertaining, especially the wraparound story, which was a downright clever modern fairy tale. The simply awful roadkill cat-attacking-face sequences in the otherwise good "Cat From Hell" were on par with the killer kitties in The Corpse Grinders
. But on the same note, KNB's mummy and gargoyle makeup effects were outstanding and worthy of Oscar-winner Dick Smith's consultation credit.
I think the most disappointing facet of Tales - The Movie was its tenuous relationship to the original series we all knew and loved. To the lay viewer, this comes across as just another horror anthology with the title being the only connection between the parent show and its spawn. No spooky music, no sinister narration. The score only slightly resembles the eerie plucked monotone theme from the TV show. In fact, it is sprightly and gay at times rather than ghostly, befitting an Arnold Schwarzenegger comedy more than a horror movie.
Tales from the Darkside
: The Movie is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture is nice, but not as sharp or crisp as I would have liked. Flesh tones are good and colors are fairly bright and reproduced well. Blacks are solid and grain is only slightly noticeable. There are lots of dark scenes throughout the film from the dim foyers and passageways of Drogan's mansion to the nocturnal New York cityscape - all display fairly good detail in poor lighting. Overall, I think this DVD looks nice, but just a bit more tweaking and tidying would have made it perfect. I'm a stickler for super crisp pictures. As it stands, it looks like a really high-quality VHS tape.
Viewers have two English-language sound options on this disc: Dolby Digital 5.1 or regular Dolby Surround. The 5.1 track is good but disappointing. It possesses good, clean sound that is well balanced but without a lot of depth. Rear speakers are minimally utilized; I was expecting them to get a little bit more of a workout. Instead, ambient sounds are transferred mainly to the front speakers where they share sound space with music and other more prominent sound effects. I expected just a little bit more from a digitally enhanced sound track. Just keep reminding yourself that, when a film wasn't originally created with digital sound, it is unlikely to sound as great as other, newer discs, even after a digital workup.
Tales from the Darkside
: The Movie is average in the supplement department. There is, of course, the obligatory original theatrical trailer. Also included is a running commentary by George Romero and director John Harrison. Besides the confusion of both men having nearly identical voices, their observations are very interesting and humorous with a minimum of drawn-out pauses. They have captivating things to say about their cast, especially since many of them (Steve Buscemi, Christian Slater, Julianne Moore) were relative unknowns at the time of the film's release. They also go into extensive detail about what makes a horror anthology work - chiefly, in their opinions, black humor (maybe I'm wrong - perhaps the stories weren't meant to be scary!). Comparisons to Creepshow
are abundant, just proving how much the filmmakers borrowed from Romero's earlier success and how the Tales from the Darkside
television roots are virtually ignored.
In spite of its faults, I still found myself liking this movie, although not as a companion piece to the Tales from the Darkside
television series. Perhaps I enjoyed the series so much because I tend to like any and all anthologies. Surfing mindlessly through 200 lackluster channels and stumbling upon a short horror story is like finding ten dollars in the pocket of a coat you wore last winter. It's unexpected and the story is almost always a complete surprise. It is different than deliberately throwing a DVD in the player and knowing what you're going to get (even if you've never seen the movie, you can just read the back cover for a summary). I did not derive the same amount of pleasure from Tales: The Movie as I did Tales the series. I knew what to expect and there was nothing in the movie to remind me of its roots that I was so fond of. But as a standalone film, it is an enjoyable entry in the horror anthology category.
Movie - B-
Image Quality - B-
Sound - C+
Supplements - B-
- Running Time - 1 hour 33 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- 13 Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Surround
- French 2.0 mono
- Subtitles: English
- Original theatrical trailer
- Commentary by director John Harrison and screenwriter George Romero