DW Retro Review: Tales From The Darkside: The Movie (1990)



Tales from the Darkside the television program, was probably a young Mister Joshua's first real exposure to horror. See I grew up in a fairly religious household, sure I was able to watch Ghostbusters and The Goonies but Gremlins was pushing in on the acceptable scale. There was one little exception to that rule, for some reason we were allowed to gather around the television to watch a nifty little program that ran on channel 11 here in NY - Tales From The Darkside. Running from 1983 to 1988, Darkside had a decidedly more horrific bent than it's sister programs like The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone. Part of that can be contributed to the fact that starting with the second season the series was executive produced by none other than George A. Romero, the man behind Night of the Living Dead, Martin, and of course, Creepshow. Which puts Tales from the Darkside - the film, in a weird place.It's not Creepshow 3 (that's an abortion that even I won't review and I reviewed Hellraiser:Revelations) but yet, it is, in a spiritual sense at least, Creepshow 3. Both properties share executive producers, both have stories by Stephen King, and both are pretty damn good. But enough of the history lesson...let's get to the good stuff.

We start, where all great anthologies start, with the wraparound segment. Blondie herself, Debbie Harry is a witch, but instead of a heart of glass (see what I did there) she has a taste for children. Luckily, she just happens to have a child trapped in her kitchen. Said child, Mathew Lawrence, seeks to delay his consumption by reading some terrifying tales of terror to distract her, at least that's his plan, he's like 10 what do you expect?

Segment 1: Lot 249. Steve Buscemi is college student Edward Bellingaham, who was just screwed out of a fellowship by the evil Susan (Julianne Moore) and her boyfriend Lee (Robert Sedgewick).To get revenge for their malfeasance he purchases a mummy, the titular Lot 249, along with the ancient curse that makes it rather murderous. After showing the mummy to his friend/Karens' brother Andy (Christian Slater) he recites the curse and it's full on mummy murdering time! Lot 249 feels like a segment from the Tales From The Darkside televisions show with the third act truncated to fit the shorter segment format. At least that's how it felt. Slater, Buscemi and co do a fine job with what they are given, but this is one of those times where the names take away from the product. Now to be fair, Slater was a pretty big star in 1990 with Gleaming The Cube, The Name of The Rose, and Heathers, all under his belt, but Buscemi and Moore were neophytes compared to what they are now. But that being said, seeing Amber Waves and Mr. Pink jaw back and forth regarding college fellowships is a little too surreal for a horror short. Still, it's an acceptable first entry in the anthology. Nothing brilliant, although the gore is pretty good and the mummy looks amazing, and nothing is egregious. The third act is rushed, but overall a good entry.

Segment 2: Cat From Hell. William Hickey (Carlton Blanchard from 'Wings') has a serious issue with his cat. See, the cat likes to kill people, so he decides to hire a hitman (David Johansen) to "rub out" the cat as they say. As much as I hate cats...this might be a little extreme (a little). But as Hickey's Drogon tells it, this cat might just deserve it. Now if you know me or have read any on my reviews, you know i subscribe to the "less is more" quality of writing. Too many characters can spoil a good thing. Cat From Hell keeps it's cast to a minimum. Truthfully it's Johnson acting against a mischievous cat for most of the second act - and there is nothing wrong with that. I mentioned above that Tales Fro The Darkside - The Film is a weird kissing cousin of the Creepshow series. This story was originally written by Stephen King for Creepshow 2, but budget constraints forced it to be bumped (who says I don't bring the knowledge). And while it would have been a pretty good addition to Creepshow 2, when compared to the other stories here, it falls a little flat. In short, while Johanson is very good (if not a little over the top) the story is just too long. It's probably only 20 minutes, but you feel every single minute of it. Again, really cool special effects - cat lovers beware, but as an entry into this anthology it's the worst.

Segment 3: Lover's Vow. Dexter's Dad, James Remar is Preston an artist who has just been dumped by his agent. He ties one on and as he stumbles out of the bar with his bar tender friend they are attacked by a a mysterious Gremlin-like creature. The creature kills his friend and saves Prestons' life in return for Preston never saying anything about the creature. On his walk home that night, Preston runs into Carola (Rae Dawn Chong) they fall madly in love with each other and everything starts coming up Milhouse, er, Preston. His art starts to sell. He and Carola get married...and time jumps 10 years ahead. Everything is still coming up Preston, but he struggles with the one thing he keeps from Carola. Lover's Vow is the best entry in the film. It has the "classic" Twilight Zone twist, keeping the darkness in even the happiest of moments. The creature looks a bit  hokey, but the killing is pretty damn cool. If there is one thing that this film has going for it's that as a whole, the effects, although sparse are very well done. Good work by Remar here, his hair seems to be inbusiness for itself at times, but his performance is fine.

The film concludes with a final wrap around segment (there were shorter parts in between the stories, but they are basically just Lawrence begging to read more) where Lawrence outsmarts Blondie and shoves her into the largest oven ever. Good defeats evil and we all go home happy.

Tales From The Darkside - The Film is a pretty good entry in to the plethora of other horror anthologies bouncing around the interwebs or on your Netflix. As Creepshow 3 it would have certainly been a worthy successor to the other two Creepshows. The film benefits by having some really good actors who are clearly not just here for the paycheck, and the fact that there are only three stories rather than trying to cram 5 or so shorts into an hour and a half. The stories are given a chance to develop, to the detriment of the second story, which drags. The first story feels a bit rushed. But like Goldilocks and the Three Bears - the third one is just right. My only real disappointment stems from the lack of the original television shows opening, which used to scare the crap out of me as a child.

***1/2 stars out of *****

AS always thanks for reading and "enjoy every sandwich"

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