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RUNNING TIME: 432 minutes
– Bonus episodes, “Akhbar’s Daughter” and “Attic Suite”
It’s just like The Twilight Zone only darker…and sidier.
This anthology television show was produced by horror icon George Romero in the wake of the success of his Creepshow and ran from 1983 to 1988. Each episode was a self-contained short story, ranging from horror to sci-fi, fantasy and black comedy.
I’m old enough to have watched Tales From The Darkside back in the day when it was on. It was usually on late at night and to a kid, it made for some fairly scary viewing from what I remember. Darkside tends to get lost in the shuffle of other anthology shows like The
Twilight Zone, Amazing Stories, Tales From the Crypt and The Outer
Limits, but it had its own distinctive style. The
show usually featured a small budget and limited settings. One of the signature pieces of the show though, was its uber-creepy opening credits sequence. Think Twin Peaks’ opening with a funeral dirge.
This simultaneously terrifies me and makes me hungry for barbecue.
Watching it now, after so many years, though, I find that many of the episodes just don’t hold up that well. The limited budget, which gave many of the installments a claustrophobic feeling, now just remind that the show never had a lot to work with production-wise. Many of the episodes never had more than a couple of sets and the show has the look and feel of a videotaped stage production. Even though the episodes have undoubtedly been restored, they still don’t look that great. It’s really saying something for the production value when episodes of the original Twilight Zone, done some 25 years prior to this, look infinitely better.
As for the episodes, there are a couple in this final season that stand out, but for the most part, the scary ain’t that scary and the funny ain’t that funny. For instance, the first episode of the season, “Beetles,” which features a greedy collector, a mummy and a curse of beetles, falls flat and pales to Romero’s own cockroach tale in Creepshow, “They’re Creeping Up On You.” “The Spirit Photographer,” where a man is trying to get a clear photograph of of a spirit by using a “spirit attractor” is hackneyed and un-engaging. “The Grave Robber” features an archaeologist and his female assistant who get stuck in a tomb with a vengeful mummy (Arnold Stang) who plays them some strip poker to determine if he kills the intruders or not. It’s labored and wholly unfunny.
The budget for the episode featuring The Thing needed to be a tad bit more…
“The Deal” features a failed writer (Bradley Whitford), who makes a deal with the devil for success. Faust it is not. “Do Not Open This Box” is an installment directed by Jodie Foster and has an old inventor whose nagging wife disregards the warning on a box that’s delivered to them by mistake. Compared to “The Box” installment of the ’80s Twlilight Zone, it comes up short…way short. “The Moth” stars Debbie Harry, who also starred in Tales From The Darkside: The Movie, as a witchcraft-practicing Southern belle who tries to reclaim her soul, which has taken the form of a moth, and her mother’s efforts to stop her. It’s not bad, but not that great either. Darkside is also notable for having Tom Savini work on a few episodes.
There are some notable episodes, however. “Sorry Right Number” was written by Stephen King, which he later included in Nightmares and Dreamscapes. It features a mother and wife of a horror novelist who receives a disturbing call she’s convinced is from a family member. “The Cutty Black Sow” is adapted from a story by Thomas F. Monteleone (his Borderlands horror collection of books was fantastic) and centers on a boy who tries to prevent his grandmother’s premonition of a Celtic demon who steals souls of those who die on All Hallow’s Eve. Genuinely disturbing climax to that one. “The Yattering and Jack” is written by Clive Barker and focuses on a diminutive demon who’s trying to corrupt a virtuous man who refuses to believe he exists. The most interesting thing in that episode was that they filmed Beelzebub lighting a bit of flashpaper backwards. Needless to say, it wasn’t very good.
Hands down the scariest image of the entire season.
There’s some nostalgia to be had with this show, but those new to it might be turned off by the production value and certainly by its frequently outright bad episodes. There are the few good episodes, but they’re outnumbered by the lackluster ones. I believe Tales From the Darkside is currently played on Chiller. You’d do better to just catch them there unless you’re a die hard fan of the series.
As mentioned, the look and transfer of the episodes is slightly better than a bad VHS copy. The audio is fine in mono, with English subtitles. The only special features are two extra episodes from the production company behind Tales From the Darkside titled “Akhbar’s Daughter” and “Attic Suite.”
Nice to see Mr. Welles was still getting some work…