Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990)

Every horror anthology TV show should have its place in the silver screen sun, so the movie gods gifted us with this one, directed by John Harrison. In the framing story, a witch (Debbie Harry with line delivery that makes me cringe) is just about to bake a little boy (Matthew Lawrence, whose line delivery is not much better than Harry’s, but what the heck, he’s a kid). To distract her, little Timmy tells her stories from her favourite book – obviously called “Tales from the Darkside”.

The first of the stories turns Arthur Conan Doyle’s seminal mummy tale “Lot 249” into an EC revenge story. It’s an effective one at that, seeing as it is paced very sprightly (nothing kills EC style horror easier than dragging), does feature a cool looking mummy murdering its victims by bad imitations of the mummification process, and confuses the viewer with what to today’s eyes looks like a preposterous cast for the sort of thing it is – Christian Slater (!), Steve Buscemi (!!), and Julianne Moore (!!!).

The second tale is a (George Romero-penned) adaptation of Steven King’s “Cat from Hell”. An old rich man (William Hickey) hires a professional killer (David Johansen, because someone involved here apparently did like his New York New Wave and Punk scene) to get rid of the cat that killed all of his relatives. At first, the segment mostly recommends itself through the cool and stylish way its (blueish) flashbacks to the cat’s killing spree and the old man relating it flow into each other, but soon, we not just start off on the duel between the killer and a rather small and cute black cat but can also enjoy a hilarious scenes of an obviously fake cat imitating the face hugger from Alien to smother someone before the segment finishes on a special effects bit that is as gruesome as it is absurd – and it’s very, very absurd.

Last but not least, the film comes to “Lover’s Vow”, a segment that doesn’t directly adapt a literary source but places a variation of the traditional tale wherein a man encounters a supernatural creature, is spared his life in exchange for never telling of his encounter to anyone, and then unwittingly marries the supernatural creature in female form in contemporary New York. Usually, they’ll have children, but in the end, the man will tell his wife of the supernatural encounter in the end, most often losing her and only getting away with his life because the wife doesn’t want to rob their children of their father. Because this is Tales from the Darkside, there’s rather more blood involved in the tale, and the ending is pretty gruesome, but otherwise, this effectively puts its old tale into a still grubby New York, using a gargoyle (turning into Rae Dawn Chong) as its monster (and given that it introduces itself with a decapitation, it is a monster), and James Remar as the poor stupid bastard who marries her.

So, even though there certainly are more artfully made horror anthologies (as well as a bunch of very inferior ones), Tales from the Darkside: The Movie is a good time for the discerning horror fan. If nothing else, it is surprisingly well directed given that Harrison is mostly a TV guy from an era when TV directors really weren’t allowed to do much, and that rare case of an anthology film without a weak segment. Unlike your usual bro horror anthology of today that generally has only one segment that isn’t weak.

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