Synopsis: From Stephen King (Pet Sematary), Michael McDowell (Beetlejuice), George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead) and Arthur Conan Doyle (creator of Sherlock Holmes), comes Tales From The Darkside: The Movie, an all-star horror anthology packed with fun and fright.
The Wraparound Story concerns a little boy who spins all the tales… to distract a modern-day witch who wants to pop him in the oven! In Lot 249, a malevolent mummy gives new meaning to “final exams” when he awakens to wreak revenge on unsuspecting student bodies. A furry black kitty is really the Cat From Hell, and a Lover’s Vow brings a stone gargoyle to murderous life.
eyelights: Debbie Harry. its delicate blend of subtle humour and gory horror.
eyesores: the poor effects. the mildly campy performances.
“You promised you’d never tell!”
‘Tales from the Darkside: The Movie’ is an anthology film that was released in 1990. Some claim that it was originally conceived as the third in a ‘Creepshow‘ trilogy, though it’s unsubstantiated. This may be due to Stephen King and George Romero’s involvement via the second of the three stories, “Cat from Hell”, which they wrote and which had been slated for ‘Creepshow 2‘ but was dropped due to budget cuts.
The picture consists of a wrap-around story and three shorts:
A woman is coming home from shopping in a small town. She’s friendly, greeting people (and vice versa) along the way, as she drives by. But she has a secret, hidden in a cell behind a door in her kitchen: a preteen boy; she’s hosting a dinner and he’ll be the main course. Naturally, he tries to stall her, and does so by recounting some of the stories he read from a book she left in the cell for him: Tales from the Darkside.
1. Lot 249: Andy and his best friend Lee go to an upscale college. Lee is a wealthy, entitled type who just landed a scholarship – with the help of Andy’s unethical sister, Susan, his girlfriend. Andy’s neighbour, Edward, is a history buff who collects all sorts of curiosa and who was cheated out of the scholarship after being framed for something he didn’t do. He knows that Lee is behind it, and it doesn’t help that he will use the scholarship money to buy a Porsche. Lot 249, his latest collectible, contains a mummy, and with it: a scroll. When Edward reads it, it awakens the dormant Egyptian. It’s alive! And guess where it’s headed?
This one’s fun, because it’s slightly campy. The story could have been told seriously, maybe if Hammer Films had tackled it, for instance, but it wouldn’t have worked in a modern setting. Beyond the slightly cartoony performances, courtesy of Christian Slater and Robert Sedgwick (as Andy and Lee), and the music (which is ripped off from ‘Psycho‘), it goes for broke when Andy decides to take the mummy apart with an electric carving knife. The tone is uneven, however, because Steve Buscemi plays it fairly straight as Edward, so it clashes between the camp and the seriousness. Still, it’s a satisfying story in the way that only revenge stories can be.
2. Cat from Hell: A hitman is summoned by a wealthy old man to his empty mansion on a cold, dark night. Drogan tells Halston about an evil black cat that has been living in the house and has so far killed its three other occupants. He wants the cat done away with before it can get him too. Halston is incredulous, thinking that the old man is senile, but accepts the gig thinking it’ll be an easy 100 grand.
Too bad he underestimated his adversary!
This one’s simple but it’s a hoot: it’s essentially a cat-and-mouse game, with the tables turned on the hunter. I really liked David Johansen as the hitman, though he was dressed up too slick for my taste, and William Hickey was perfectly ratchety as his wheelchair-bound employer. It also looks really good, shot in shadows in this beautiful, huge mansion. The only thing that mars it for me are the ridiculous kills.
3. Lover’s Vow: A down-on-his-luck artist gets drunk in a bar one night after having lost everything. On their way out the back at the end of the night, the bartender gets slaughtered by a demon. Desperate to avoid the same fate, Preston begs for his life, and the demon agrees. On one condition: he may never tell another soul about what happened that night.
Naturally, he accepts that bargain.
His life is forever changed after that moment. Later that night, he meets a lovely young woman, they fall in love, she becomes the mother of his two children. Not only that, but his career takes off, partly with her help. Ten years after this turning point in his life, he decides to tell his partner his one and only secret, forgetting his vow. But the consequences are damning.
This one was based on a traditional japanese ghost story, so it was pretty familiar, but I enjoyed its adaptation. It’s not nearly as scary or campy as the other ones, however, which kind of skews the balance. It’s more dramatic and romantic in tone. But the punchline is terrific, even if the demon puppets and practical effects aren’t particularly convincing. It’s a great tale.
The wrap-around story continued between each tale, as the boy tries to stall further, enrapturing the woman with his bone-chilling tales. It then concluded the piece nicely with a final confrontation between the cook and her captive, leaving us with no possibility of a further tale, let alone a sequel. But it was a fitting end to that story, and it’s certainly satisfying for those who were rooting for the good guy.
Or was that the bad guy…?
Though her acting chops aren’t stellar, Debbie Harry is delicious fun as the woman, who it is suggested may be a witch. She takes the role seriously but never stops enjoying herself as she prepares for the roast. Matthew Lawrence, however, who plays the unlucky paperboy, isn’t good. Of course, this is typical of actors his age, and it doesn’t deter from the film’s simple but delightfully twisted wrap-around.
Still, all told, though it may be dated, and though it’s a bit uneven, ‘Tales from the Darkside: The Movie’ is a fairly enjoyable anthology. They’re usually hit and miss, but this one offers three fairly good stories. What weakens them is the cheapness of the effects and its mild campiness, which strip away the potential terror and elicits laughs instead. Perhaps it was intentional, but I would have avoided that.
Still, it’s a ghastly good time.
Dates of viewings: Aug 30+Sep 1, 2016