[Blu-ray Review] Scream Factory's 'Tales from the Darkside' Collector's Edition Tells Fascinating Tales Behind the Terror
When it comes to the Creepshow franchise, many fans like to pretend like Creepshow 3 never happened…
…Unless of course you’re talking about the Tales from the Darkside movie, known in many circles as the “unofficial Creepshow 3”, largely because of George A. Romero and Stephen King’s involvement. Now there’s a great anthology horror film! One that is receiving a collector’s edition Blu-ray from Scream Factory this week.
Based on the anthology horror show created by Romero in 1983 which ran until 1988, Tales from the Darkside: The Movie adapts the anthology horror format to screen, opening with young boy Timmy (Matthew Lawrence), who has been kidnapped by a witch (Debbie Harry) that plans on turning him into a Timmy platter for a party later. In order to buy some time and distract her, Timmy tells three stories, each of which contains all of the blood, fun and eye-popping terror you could ever want!
At its core, Tales from the Darkside is all about the love of stories and storytelling. The film also featured a relatively young, inexperienced crew and marked a big break for many of them, and their hard work and passion oozes throughout.
Romero originally conceived the Tales from the Darkside series as an “incubator” for talent that he knew, according to the brand-new documentary on the Blu-ray, Tales Behind The Darkside: The Making Of Four Ghoulish Fables (a six-part doc documenting the series from creation to reception), a mindset which was carried over to the film. Director John Harrison got his first gig directing numerous episodes of the Tales from the Darkside show, and this was his first theatrical feature project. Writer Michael McDowell, who wrote two of the three stories, had also written a handful of Darkside episodes. All in all, the film was like one big creepy family reunion from the show.
After we meet our homicidal Betty Crocker witch and her soon to be human bun in the oven, Timmy begins the first tale, “Lot 249”, based on the short story by Arthur Conan Doyle. With a style inspired by 40s adventure movies, this segment is a classic tale of revenge following university student Bellingham (Steve Buscemi), who decides to resurrect a dusty old mummy in order to get vengeance on a cast of characters that includes freaking Christian Slater and Julianne Moore, making her very first theatrical appearance! “Bellingham’s a loser. He can’t do anything,” says Moore with a spiteful hiss that makes her shine in this role. Oh really? Bellingham and his crusty mummy say differently, Miss Moore!
Harrison claims that he wanted each segment to be more about the story itself and classical storytelling, but despite that, each segment of Tales from the Darkside is loaded with gore, done by the effects team KNB, who were relatively new at the time as well, with this being one of their first big gigs. And they killed it! “Lot 249”, for example, involves a scene with the mummy performing a live embalming and pulling the brains out of some asshole’s nostrils. My disturbed nose senses are tingling just thinking about it.
The true tour de force as far as the gore goes though comes in the second segment, “Cat from Hell”, the only story in the film written by Romero himself, and one that was originally supposed to appear in Creepshow 2. The story incorporates much of Romero’s common themes of the poor vs the rich, focusing on problem fixer Halston (David Johansen) who claims “for me, it’s nothing but the best, all the time,” and is hired by corrupt, rich drug manufacturer Drogan (played by the always fun to watch William Hickey), to perform a little assassination. To the shock of Halston, Drogan wants him to kill a cat living in the house, a cat which he claims is pissed about the thousands of cats he murdered in his drug trials.
Personally, I’m team cat on this one.
That said, this cat is the freaking devil! “Cat from Hell’ is an apt title, as the three cats used were as much of monsters on screen as they apparently were off screen (there is no love lost for the cats from the crew in the documentary). Said cats—and KNB—are also responsible for one of the most nightmarish images to ever involve a cat on screen that gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “fur ball”, and puts the gory nature of Tales on full display, a moment which producer David R. Kappes claims is too “over-the-top” in the new commentary, to which I say, the gorier, the better!
In “Lover’s Vow”, down on his luck Preston (James Remar), witnesses the murder of a man at the hands of a gargoyle, which then promises not to kill him and make his dreams come true, as long as he never tells anyone about it. Later, he meets Carola (Rae Dawn Chong). They fall in love. Preston becomes surprisingly successful. And…well, you can probably guess where it goes from there. Secrets are hard!
Whenever anyone talks about the Tales from the Darkside movie, “Lover’s Vow” is generally the one that comes up. Chong and Remar are both at the top of their game, presenting unbearably tragic depths of human emotion (Remar was a recently recovered alcoholic, and he brings the pain he had been through in this flick). The segment also features the main highlight of the film, an astonishing gargoyle designed by KNB that was so impressive, along with KNB’s other work, that Dick Smith, who was originally brought on as a consultant and was fighting to split the FX work between segments with KNB, took one look and asked “what do you guys need me for?” Or so the story goes.
The Tales from the Darkside movie isn’t mentioned as much in horror anthology circles as Creepshow, or even the more recent Trick r’ Treat, but it should be, because it’s a prime example of how anthology horror should be done, with performances, effects, and a gothic atmosphere that is unmatched by many others in the sub-genre.
As for the Blu-ray, the transfer is not some of Scream Factory’s best work, but it’s the special features that make this disc an instant buy for any fan of the film. One in particular being the all new, feature-length documentary exploring each segment, as well as the developmental process and the initial reception. While there’s not a lot here that’s going to blow your head off, there is a ton of discussion on the practical effects work and behind the scenes footage of how many of these effects worked, which is well worth the admission fee. Though Remar and Chong provide some great discussion on their roles, it would’ve been nice to see more commentary from other stars. Moore is supposedly very proud of this film, and who doesn’t want to hear a star like her talk about having flowers shoved into her abdomen, but fine, whatever, it’s cool Scream Factory. She probably cost the painful amount equivalent to being embalmed alive, so I get it.
Still, complete with a lively new commentary from co-producer David R. Kappes and other treats like behind the scenes footage and stills, Scream Factory’s Tales from the Darkside collector’s edition is the cat from hell’s meow.
Scream Factory releases the Tales from the Darkside: The Movie collector's edition on August 25th. Check out the special features below and pre-order the disc here!
By Matt Konopka
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