Paramount // 1985 // 515 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // October 27th, 2009
Until next time...try to enjoy the daylight.
The '80s saw a wave of syndicated horror anthology series, including Monsters, Freddy's Nightmares, The Twilight Zone (which started its run on CBS but finished up on syndication), and Tales From the Darkside. The last one was produced by George A. Romero. Tales From the Darkside ran in syndication for four years and later spawned a movie called, appropriately enough, Tales From the Darkside: The Movie.
This set gives us all 24 episodes from Tales From the Darkside: The Second Season.
* "The Impressionist"
Chuck McCann plays a celebrity impersonator called on by the government to try to communicate with an alien.
Bill Macy (Maude) as a stressed-out businessman who has a device implanted that won't let him die.
* "Ring Around the Redhead"
An amateur scientist (John Hurt) discovers a beautiful girl from another world.
* "Parlour Floor Front"
A yuppie couple try to evict a voodoo-practicing tenant (Adolph Cesar).
* "Halloween Candy"
A nasty old man gets tricks when he refuses to give out treats on Halloween. Directed by Tom Savini.
* "The Satanic Piano"
A composer (Michael Warren, Hill Street Blues) finds a cure for his writer's block in the form of a strange new instrument.
* "The Devil's Advocate"
Jerry Stiller stars as a vile talk radio host. Written by George Romero.
* "Distant Signals"
A man approaches the writer and the star (Darren McGavin, The Night Stalker) of an old TV series about reviving the program so it can have a proper final episode.
* "The Trouble with Mary Jane"
A pair of phony spiritualists (Lawrence Tierney, Phyllis Diller) contends with a possessed girl.
* "Ursa Minor"
A little girl's Teddy Bear is evil -- or is it?
* "Effect and Cause"
A woman finds herself living in reverse.
* "Monsters in My Room"
A little boy (Seth Green) believes his room is haunted.
* "Comet Watch"
A man waiting to view Halley's Comet gets a surprise.
* "Dream Girl"
Members of a theater company find themselves trapped in a bizarre, alternate universe.
* "A New Lease on Life"
A man can't understand why the rent on his luxury apartment is so cheap.
* "Printer's Devil"
A writer turns to magic to jumpstart his career.
* "The Shrine"
A woman (Lorna Luft) must compete with her younger self for the affection of her mother.
* "The Old Soft Shoe"
A salesman has a bizarre encounter with a mysterious woman in a rundown motel. With Paul Dooley and beloved character actor John Fiedler.
* "The Last Car"
A college girl finds herself on a terrifying train ride.
* "A Choice of Dreams"
A dying gangster (Abe Vigoda) finds a way to make his final days less unpleasant. Written by James Houghton, son of Twilight Zone scribe Buck.
* "Strange Love"
Marcia Cross as the sexy undead.
* "The Unhappy Medium"
The family of a deceased televangelist searches for his will.
* "Fear of Floating"
A man who can float in the air seeks refuge at a military recruiting station.
* "The Casavin Curse"
A young woman believes she has killed her lover because of a family curse.
I have to admit, I'd never paid much attention to Tales From the Darkside. It's been running on some station or another since 1984, and I've caught an episode here and there, but I always considered it filler TV, something to watch while waiting for another program. I never really found it scary, and the few episodes I did catch were hampered by kind of lame dialogue and set ups and mediocre performances.
I was pleasantly surprised, then, by the quality of the shows on this set. The first few didn't do much for me, with "Ring Around the Redhead" coming off as a bit annoying and not very well-thought out, but there are several very strong episodes here. "Parlour Front Floor" benefits from a twisty script and a terrific performance by Adolph Cesar. "Halloween Candy" is nastily clever. While it's a bit on the silly side, "The Trouble with Mary Jane" gives us the chance to see old pros Phyllis Diller (thankfully subdued) and Lawrence Tierney at work. "Monsters in My Room" is actually pretty scary, and a really young Seth Green is very good. "The Old Soft Shoe" is clearly inspired by an old campfire-style ghost story and works well thanks to Dooley and Fiedler. "Dream Girl" is an interesting premise that's not executed all that well, "The Last Car" builds suspense but doesn't really go anywhere, but "Printer's Devil" plays the selling-your-soul-for-success conceit for some welcome black humor. "The Shrine" features a strong performance from Lorna Luft and a script that's reminiscent of The Twilight Zone, Abe Vigoda does fine work in "A Choice of Dreams," and "The Casavin Curse" is a neat and surprising little take on a classic horror film of the '40s.
For me, the best episode on this set is "Distance Signals," a charming and quirky tale of lost chances and the enduring power of fandom. The great Darren McGavin offers a truly touching performance as a has-been actor who finds himself getting an inexplicable second shot, and Lenny von Dohlen is a nicely offbeat one as a mysterious character with unlimited resources and a childlike eagerness to see a long-ago cancelled TV show get an appropriate send-off. McGavin's final speech, in which he speculates about what we've just seen, moves this into the realm of modern fairy tale.
Paramount's work here is pretty standard: full-frame transfers with little or no remastering, mono soundtrack, and a single extra: an interview with George Romero about "The Devil's Advocate," the lone episode on this set that he wrote.
Tales From the Darkside is never especially frightening, and it doesn't have that stay-with-you effect that the best episodes of anthologies past did. Its special effects are on a par with a Bewitched episode, and many of the denouements are either obvious early on or so muddled as to make no sense at all. Still, it's fun, quirky, and sometimes very good TV. Worth checking out.
Review content copyright © 2009 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 515 Minutes
Release Year: 1985
MPAA Rating: Not Rated