Paramount // 1990 // 93 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // October 5th, 2001
From Stephen King, Michael McDowell, George A. Romero, and Arthur Conan Doyle comes an all-star horror anthology packed with fun and fright!
In the 1980s and 1990s there seemed to be a big boost in movies that featured multiple short stories in one full length film. Movies like Creepshow and Creepshow 2 and the TV series Tales From The Crypt all exploited chilling terror mixed with devilish humor. In 1990, the classic TV series Tales From The Darkside was produced into a feature film starring the talents of Christian Slater (Heathers), Julianne Moore (Boogie Nights), Steve Buscemi (Reservoir Dogs), William Hickey (National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation) and Deborah Harry (the rock group Blondie). Paramount gives you the willies with this first ever widescreen edition of Tales From The Darkside: The Movie!
Tales From The Darkside: The Movie is made up of three short stories and one wraparound story involving a malevolent housewife (Harry) planning on cooking up a scrumptious dinner by using a captured little boy (Matthew Lawrence) as the main course. To stall for time the boy reads the woman stories out of an old book aptly titled "Tales From The Darkside."
"Lot 249" is about a nerdy college student named Bellingham (Buscemi) who receives a deadly mummy that starts to have a taste for human blood. When some snotty students (including Slater and Moore) give Bellingham a hard time, the mummy comes to life with horrific results.
"Cat From Hell" features William Hickey as a wheelchair bound rich fart who hires a professional killer (David Johansen, Scrooged) to kill a cat that seems to be taking out the houseguests one by one. As the hired killer discovers, this is one pussy that's not going down without a fight.
In "Lover's Vow" a stone gargoyle comes to life and gives a struggling artist a chilling choice: a gruesome death or the promise to never speak of the gargoyle's existence. Years later the artist with his family thinks he's finally safe...but a fatal error in judgment may seal his doom!
One of my strongest childhood recollections is watching the TV show Tales From The Darkside in the middle of Indiana at my grandparents' farmhouse. To be honest, I can't really recall one episode of the show, but I do remember the eerie black and white opening that started off the program. My grandmother loved the show, and looking back this may have been my first entrance into the world of cinematic horror. The show obviously scared somebody out there, as it became this feature length film in 1990.
Tales From The Darkside: The Movie is a decently constructed horror film, but never rises to become anything more than what it really is: set pieces for splatter. The stories are engaging enough, but none of them have any fantastic twits or turns that make them out-of-the-ordinary. The Stephen King story "Cat From Hell" (screenplay by George A. Romero) is the best of the lot, featuring a very fun performance by David "Buster Poindexter" Johansen and the aging William Hickey. The final scene with the murderous cat may be a bit unrealistic, but it does have a goofily nauseating charm to it. The weakest of the stories is "Lover's Vow," a darkly romantic tale that never really goes anywhere interesting. A neat looking gargoyle shows up, then disappears as we watch the romantic love unfold between two blasé stock characters. The other two stories (the wrap-around story and "Lot 249") are mildly interesting, and the performances are usually well executed. Christian Slater is always amusing to watch, and Steve Buscemi plays the slimy nerd character that audiences have come to know and love. I don't recall seeing Debbie Harry in many other movies, but here she shows that she not only can sing but is also able to act her way out of a paper bag (though just barely). Throw in one of the Lawrence brothers (Matthew) and comedian Robert Klein and you've got yourself one weird cornucopia of a cast.
I'm really at a loss of anything more to say about this movie. There are some genuinely creepy special effects, but nothing that qualifies as outstanding. I think it's safe to say that Creepshow got to this idea first, and really did it better. Maybe if Tales From The Darkside: The Movie had included some extra levity it might have turned out better. As it stands, the film is just slightly above mundane and should provide audiences with some decent, if bland, frights.
Tales From The Darkside: The Movie is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and is not in the best of shape. Unfortunately, the picture suffers from some heavy grain and a bit of pixilation during some scenes. While the colors were generally bright and natural, the black levels tended to be a bit gray with a very washed out look. Since Tales From The Darkside: The Movie is only eleven years old I'd have liked to have reported that this is a fine looking transfer. Sadly, Tales From The Darkside: The Movie suffers from imperfections that make it an only average transfer, if even that.
Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, as well as Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround. While both of these tracks display distortion free dialogue, effects and music, overall there seems to be a lack of depth in both tracks. Certainly the 5.1 sounds better than the 2.0 track, but there are many missed opportunities for some genuine directional use. Also included on this disc is a French Dolby 2.0 Surround track as well as English subtitles.
The best thing about this edition is the fact that Paramount has decided to include a commentary track by writer George A. Romero (Night Of The Living Dead) and director John Harrison. The track surely will delight horror fans as both men discuss some behind-the-scenes stories about the making of the film, and how certain effects were accomplished. While there tended to be a few silent gaps in the track, overall it's a nice companion piece to have with the film. Also included on this disc is an anamorphic theatrical trailer for Tales From The Darkside: The Movie.
Fans of the TV series will surely be interested in seeing just what this movie is all about. I don't recall much about the series, but I'm assuming that this movie basically takes the name of the show in the attempt to just throw together some scary stories by some top-notch talent. The movie is not particularly scary or funny, but it is entertaining, which is more than I can say for some of the more recent entries into the genre (Urban Legends, I Know What You Did Last Summer, etcetera). With fun performances and some outrageous effects, Tales From The Darkside: The Movie should make for a few hours of decent entertainment. This DVD doesn't sport the best video and audio components, but the commentary track is well worth your time.
Tales From The Darkside: The Movie is barely free to go, though Paramount is slapped on the wrists for an only mediocre transfer and soundtrack.
Review content copyright © 2001 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Theatrical Trailer