Home Video Hovel: Tales from the Darkside, by David Bax
As a television series, Tales from the Darkside never gained the more prestigious reputation of The Twilight Zone or even The Outer Limits. But for 90 syndicated episodes in the 1980s, often aired in the middle of the night, it more than made an impression on those who discovered it with its low budget quirks and its willingness to embrace weirder forms of horror, often crossing the threshold into comedy. When it came to 1990’s slightly better funded theatrical feature version (out now on Blu-ray from Scream Factory), that oddball spirit was thankfully not lost in the transition. Even with an impressive cast of New York cool kids, from Debbie Harry to Steve Buscemi to David Johansen, and effects by Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger, the movie’s tongue is generally found planted in its cheek; it’s hard not to laugh, for instance, when a friendly neighbor calls out to Harry’s perfect suburban housewife, “See you in the choir on Sunday!”
Harry is the star of the connective story in between Tales from the Darkside‘s anthology segements. Behind the facade of her picturesque domicile, she prepares to cook and eat a small boy, who tells her stories to delay his own demise. In the first, adapted from Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Lot No. 249,” Buscemi’s bookish grad student trains a mummy to take out his frustrations on the campus popular squad, including Julianne Moore and Christian Slater. Next, a Stephen King short story called “The Cat from Hell” is adapted by George Romero himself. William Hickey’s homebound pharmaceutical magnate hires a mob hitman (Johansen) to take out the black cat he’s convinced is responsible for the deaths of those around him (including characters played by Alice Drummond and Mark Margolis). Finally, a story from Japanese folklore is relocated in modern day New York City when a struggling artist (James Remar), about to be dropped by his agent (Robert Klein, the coolest kid of all), has a supernatural encounter that leads to fame, riches and a beautiful wife (Rae Dawn Chong). All of it is directed by John Harrison, who was a mainstay of the series and had tackled a King short story before with, “Sorry, Right Number.”
All three stories are well-realized and fun, with a knowing use of wipe transitions and other gleefully arch visual tricks; only the wraparound threatens to become a little too self-aware. But “Cat from Hell” is probably the best, or at least the most indicative of what the Tales from the Darkside property represents. Buster Poindexter tearing apart an old spooky mansion trying to kill an evil cat is an undeniably comical set-up but Harrison manages to produce as many honest to God scares as he does belly laughs.
KNB EFX deserve more than a little credit for the movie’s fright factor. From truly gross sequences (we eventually learn the decrepit old billionaire wasn’t wrong to fear that cat) to creatures like the one in the final chapter that are just damned impressive to look at, the effects make Tales from the Darkside a cut above the cult favorite series.
Scream Factory’s presentation appears to be a testament to the worth of a competently done mastering job from an existing HD or 2K source. Basically, there doesn’t appear to have been a new scan made but the light and color are full of clarity and texture (though a bit of film dirt remains). The audio is 5.1 and sounds good.
Special features include a new commentary by producer David R. Kappes; a new feature length making-of documentary; and an existing commentary by Harrison and Romero.