Tales from the Darkside: The Movie A Masterpiece 25 Years Later

Tales from the Darkside: The Movie A Masterpiece 25 Years Later

Back on May 4th of 1990 one of the best examples of a Horror anthology full-length feature film was unleashed with Tale from the Darkside: The Movie. Spawning from the executive produced George Romero (Night of the Living Dead 1968, Dawn of the Dead 1978) television series, which aired between 1983 and 1988, this particular style of film was not very common in the genre besides perhaps 1982’s Creepshow and 1987’s Creepshow 2. Now all these years following it’s release, Tales from the Darkside: The Movie is still a compelling one in Horror film history.

Directed by John Harrison (Effects 1980, Dinosaur 2000), and produced by Mitchell Galin (Pet Sematary 1989, The Stand TV Mini-Series 1994) along with Richard P. Rubinstein (Martin 1977, Creepshow 1982), the screenplay was written by Michael McDowell (Beetlejuice 1988, Thinner 1996) for Paramount Pictures along with the segment Cat From Hell written by Stephen King and screenplay by Mr. Romero. The film centers around Timmy (Matthew Lawrence: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles 1987, Mrs. Doubtfire 1993), who is held captive in a dark cellar-like pantry by an All-American housewife, the Leave It to Beaver-esque Betty (Debbie Harry of the band Blondie), who is throwing a party, and needs to start making the main course.  Timmy has a book, Tales from the Darkside, with which he hopes to stall Betty from deciding his fate, promising her that a love story she will love awaits within the volume.

Still from Tales from the Darkside: The Movie
Still from Tales from the Darkside: The Movie

Directed by McDowell, the first story, Lot 249, is a take on Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story, Lot No. 249. This noir-ish/revenge story  revolves around graduate student Bellingham (Steve Buscemi: The Way It Is 1985, Reservoir Dogs 1992), who lives in an old Victorian-like house, has been framed for stealing by classmates, Susan (Julianne Moore: The Hand that Rock the Cradle 1992, Boogie Nights 1997) and Lee (Robert Sedgwick: Die Hard with a Vengeance 1995, Loverboy 2005), so they can win a scholarship.  Bent on revenge, Bellingham uses his new acquisition to exact bloody revenge.  This short also features Christian Slater (The Legend of Billie Jean 1985, Heathers 1989) as Bellingham’s housemate and  Susan’s equally vengeful brother, as well as Michael Deak (Ghoulies II 1988, Return of the Living Dead III 1993) as Bellingham’s acquisition.

Still from Tales from the Darkside: The Movie

When Timmy finishes the story, Betty denies its being at all a tale of love, and that it is getting late for dinner , but Timmy insists on another story and quickly flips to one and starts reading. In this way the film heightens tension and draws the audience down two paths; that of the stories and the thrilling drama going on around them.

Romero story appears in second short, the aforementioned Cat From Hell, from the source material of the same name from Stephen King. Cat From Hell starts with Hitman Halston (David Johansen aka Buster Poindexter: Scrooged 1988, Mr. Nanny 1993) getting hired for 100 Gs by old wealthy, disabled Drogan (William Hickey: Prizzi’s Honor 1985, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation 1989) to kill the black cat he says killed his sister, Amanda (Dolores Sutton: The Trouble with Angels 1966, Where Angels, Go, Trouble Follows 1968), her friend, Carolyn (Alice Drummond: Where’s Poppa? 1970, Ghostbusters 1984), and family butler, Richard Gage (Mark Margolis: The Opening of Misty Beethoven 1976, Scarface 1983), and he is next, because of past transgressions.

Still from Tales from the Darkside: The Movie
Still from Tales from the Darkside: The Movie

Timmy finishes reading. Again, Betty is not impressed, but Timmy insists on one last story.

The last story, Lover’s Vow, was again directed by Michael McDowell using Lafcadio Hearn’s version of a spirit or yōkai from Japanese lore. After being dropped by his agent, Wyatt (Robert Klein: Boomerang 1976, Hooper 1978) and seeing his friend, Jer’s (Ashton Wise: V series 1985, In the Line of Duty: The F.B.I. Murders 1988) gruesome murder, Preston’s (James Remar: On the Yard 1978, X-Men: First Class 2011) depressed, but a chance meeting with a intriguing woman (Rae Dawn Chong: Stony Island 1978, The Visit 2000) turns his life around; however, he has a secret he must keep at all costs.  Philip Lenkowsky (Amadeus 1984, Man on the Moon 1999) makes a showing as Maddox , Preston and Jer’s acquaintance and bar patron.

Still from Tales from the Darkside: The Movie
Still from Tales from the Darkside: The Movie

Betty likes the last story even though it did not have a happy ending; yet, insists dinner still needs to be made. Timmy insists he has yet another for her with a happy ending. She insists there are no more, but Timmy begins anyway.

Tales from the Darkside: The Movie’s characters are quirky within the shorts, even shady, regardless of whether they are supposed to be good or bad.  This ambiguity keeps the viewer on their toes while the wraparound characters are more cut and dry, so the viewer genuinely roots for Timmy’s escape from the pantry, which gives off the feeling of death with its cobbled walls instead of shelf-papered.  This holds true for the shorts’ settings, which are dark, gritty, and claustrophobic, giving an uneasy feeling.  The pacing of the movie as a whole gives an uneasy urgency.

As mentioned, Tales from the Darkside: The Movie spawned from the television series of the same name, using the same format: suspenseful, twisty shorts that build on each other to a breath-catching ending. The Tales from the Darkside series was originally thought of as a Creepshow series based on the 1982 and 1987 George Romero directed Creepshow and George Romero written Creepshow 2, but Galin and Rubinstein had to change the name, because of Creepshow rights holders calling foul. Thus, the Tales from the Darkside series was born using the same format as Creepshow, and from it, the movie, mixing interesting characters against noir-ish settings and slow-burn pacing. Thumbing their noses at the rights holders, the Tales from the Darkside series and Tales from the Darkside: The Movie used many from the Creepshow crew. Because of these similarities, to this day, Tales from the Darkside: The Movie’s considered the true Creepshow 3 by those in the know. Notwithstanding issues over name, Tales from the Darkside: The Movie did pretty good box office-wise, bringing in $16.3 mill on a $3.5 mill budget, proving profitable. Still, a proposed sequel never materialized. However, Tales from the Darkside: The Movie came a few months before the USA release of Romero and Dario Argento’s Two Evil Eyes and amidst HBO’s Tales From the Crypt series reign of dominance. It also paved the way for current Horror Anthology films like The ABC’s of Death and V/H/S franchises and the Darknet TV series. With all that said, it most importantly introduced a new generation to modernized versions of the classics, Hansel and Gretel (Timmy’s story), Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lot No. 249, Stephen King’s Cat from Hell, and Japanese lore. Fans can also look forward to more Tales from the Darkside, because, as of May, a revival/remake of the series was being shopped around to television stations in hopes of another twenty-five years of tales from the dark side.

Paramount Pictures

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Jason Rhode
[email protected]

Jason, a Horror and Children Story writer and artist specializing in alternative art, was adopted from the Bronx, NY, and currently lives in Midland, TX with his wife, Joey, and their two dogs, Chewy and Hollywood.

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