The Movie Night Diaries: Tales from the Darkside: The Movie
The Movie Night Diaries at Where the Long Tail Ends has a look at the 1990 horror anthology, Tales from the Darkside: The Movie. Tales from the Darkside: The Movie is based on the television program of the same name. It features three horror vignettes and one wraparound tale, each featuring familiar faces like Deborah Harry, David Johansen, Rae Dawn Chong, Steve Buscemi, and Christian Slater. The film is directed by James Harrison (aka James Sutherland), a director of several episodes of the original series.
It’s horror anthology time once again at The Movie Night Diaries, so set up your MovieBox for scares as I follow up my last entry on Creepshow 2 with a look at Tales from the Darkside: The Movie. Tales, as I will call it from now on for the sake of brevity, begins as a story of a little boy (played by Matthew Lawrence of Mrs. Doubtfire and Boy Meets World) being kept in a pantry-turned-prison cell as he waits to be prepared for dinner by an odd woman played by Deborah Harry. Harry’s character is lulled, Szeherezade-style, by the young boy’s efforts to tell her stories from a book called Tales from the Darkside. That is the film’s central conceit as the wraparound story begins and the little boy, in turn, tells the woman three ghastly tales of the violent and supernatural. As each tale ends, he is forced to continue with another, until he is finally able to attempt an escape.
The first story, “Lot 249”, concerns a shy, reserved college student (Steve Buscemi) who’s been swindled by fellows students Lee and Susan (Robert Sedgwick and Julianne Moore) out of a grant that rightfully should be his. Enter an ancient Egyptian artifact, a scroll of arcane dark rites, and sympathetic friend Andy (Christian Slater), and you’ve got the makings of a supernatural short that, sadly, borders on the humdrum. “Lot 249” is based on a story by Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle, and plays like the sort of old E.C. comics yarn that the Creepshow films paid such loving homage to. “Lot 249” is a brisk revenge story that should prove enjoyable to fans of horror, but might prove a bit of a snoozer to their dates.
Up next is “Cat From Hell,” based on a Stephen King story and adapted for the screen by George A. Romero. The duo that brought us the Creepshow films comes through with a delightfully gory horror short about an old man who’s hired a hit-man (David Johansen of New York Dolls and Buster Poindexter fame) to snuff out a black cat that’s been terrorizing his family. The old man, played by the instantly recognizable William Hickey, is a pharmaceuticals baron who fears that the cat is hell-bent on revenge for the number of feline lives lost during the research and development phase of his company’s wonder drug. Of the three shorts, this one feels the most like a missing entry from the Creepshow films; it’s shot in a comic-book style of contrasting shade and color as the old man recounts the horror dealt by the cat and as Johansen’s hit-man pursues the unhappy puss throughout the family’s decaying mansion.
Last is “Lover’s Vow” with Rae Dawn Chong and James Remar. Penned by Michael McDowell of Beetlejuice fame, “Lover’s Vow” tells the story of starving New York artist Preston (Remar) and the frightening secret he must keep about the night he witnessed the death of a local barkeep. Remar and Chong (as the beautiful Carola) have real chemistry, and this third short (which plays like the longest of the three) is a showcase for both. Preston and Carola soon find a love that must endure the dark secret at the heart of their relationship. “Lover’s Vow” also features Robert Klein as Preston’s agent, Wyatt.
According to discussion on Imdb, there was some wrangling between the joint copyright holders of the original Creepshow films that resulted in the series Tales from the Darkside rather than a planned Creepshow for television. Because of this, and because of Tales’s King/Romero connection, it has often been said that Tales is rightfully thought of as the original follow-up to the two Creepshow films. However, this is only partly correct as only the “Cat from Hell” segment feels like an installment of the Creepshow series, while the other two shorts play much more like an episode of the original Tales from the Darkside series. Tales from the Darkside: The Movie features a finely curated quartet of horror stories that makes it a fine entry in its own right in the roll call of horror anthology films.