Monday, January 28, 2013

Film review: Tales From the Darkside: The Movie

When it comes to horror anthologies, it's tough to live up to the standards set by THE TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE or CREEPSHOW. As I found out when watching recent anthology V/H/S, an uneven selection of segments can create a poor viewing experience, no matter how good even one of them may be.  In the case of TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: THE MOVIE, the stories again vary in their effectiveness but not in as extreme a way as V/H/S. There is still a uniting theme and visual quality due to the single director that ties the entire film together.

The wrap-around in TALES is a modern version of "Hansel & Gretel" crossed with "Arabian Nights" starring Deborah Harry of Blondie as Betty, the hostess of a dinner party in which Timmy, played by a young Matthew Lawrence, will be served as the main course. Before she can begin preparing him for the oven, he uses the lure of a story from a book bearing the film's title to stall Betty. The fairy tale feel permeates the three stories, which feature fantastic creatures and the punishment of broken promises, ill will, cheating and trickery.

There are many wonderful actors and writers involved in the film. The first segment, "Lot 249," is about a college student who uses a mummy to get revenge on fellow classmates who cheated him out of a fellowship. It's based on an Arthur Conan Doyle story and adapted by Michael McDowell, who worked on BEETLEJUICE and THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. It stars actors like Christian Slater, Julianne Moore and Steve Buscemi.

The second segment, "Cat From Hell," was adapted from a Stephen King story by NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD writer/director George Romero. This tale stars New York Doll turned actor David Johansen as a hit man hired to rid William Hickey of the titular cat who just couldn't stay away until it had killed every last person in the house that took him in.

The final segment, and the story that I personally felt made the anthology a little wobbly, is "Lover's Vow," also written by Michael McDowell. It features down-on-his-luck artist Preston played by James Remar, who I at least best remember from MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNIHILATION (which shows how far my tolerance for bad films can stretch), but was also recently in DJANGO UNCHAINED. In exchange for his life, he makes a promise to a winged demon. Afterwards, Preston conveniently meets and marries Carola, played by Rae Dawn Chong, who helps him achieve great success with his work but is a constant reminder of the secret that eats away at him.

One of the highlights of TALES is their use of great practical effects and puppetry to achieve things that these days, might be left to CGI. Those kinds of effects can make a big difference in the feel of a film, and I appreciate it much more now than I did any of the other times I've seen TALES.

It may be lacking the humor and wit that other horror anthologies have, but it's still a fun little collection of stories. It's hard to be as good as TWILIGHT ZONE or CREEPSHOW, but TALES is moderately successful for what it is and that's enough for me to enjoy it.

Tales from the Darkside: The Movie via Rotten Tomatoes
Full cast and crew via
20 Awesome Horror Anthology Movies via Topless Robot
Round the Red Lamp: Lot 249 by Arthur Conan Doyle via Page By Page Books
Cat from Hell via Stephen King Wiki

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