Sunday, October 18, 2009

Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (Harrison 1990)

Ok, at this point, I am going to stop announcing films before I review them. The last film, and this latest one, are not works which I felt there was much to say about. Thankfully, I will be back later this week with a film I have plenty of things to say.

Now, onto the review:

One of the fascinating aspects about shared culture is how elements of it that seem to date and supposedly lose prominence ultimately work their ways into the culture in new forms. Tales from the Darkside: The Movie, a spin off from the cult television anthology series of the same name, is very much about cultural history and how it weaves its way into the supposedly new elements of our culture, utilizing a metafiction framing story for the three tales contained in the film, each story either adapting well known literature, making use of intertextual reference, or drawing upon cultural folklore. In each case, the past works of culture burst into the (then) present, both haunting and, in some ways, saving us through our retelling of these tales.

The film is comprised of three sections: “Lot 249,” based on a story by Arthur Conan Doyle, in which a wronged university student (Steve Buscemi) seeks revenge on those who wronged him with a mummy; “Cat From Hell,” based on a short story by Stephen King, follows an assassin (David Johansen) who is hired by an old man to kill the cat in his home; and an original tale (though the best online research available to me suggests that it might be an update or an old folk tale from Japan) titled “Lover’s Vow” in which an artist is witness to a horrific event, and makes an important promise. These tales are framed by the story of a young boy (Mathew Lawrence) who is reading the stories to a woman named Betty (Deborah Harry) who has locked him in a cage, with the intention of eating him (It occurs to me now that I have seen two films in the past month dealing with the subject of cannibalising the young, with explicit references to the story of Hansel and Gretle. Just what is going on here?).

Central to each tale is the act of reading and telling stories, with the mastery of these narratives being either a key to salvation, or total damnation. This is explored most interestingly in the “Lover’s Vow” in which artist Preston (James Remar) is confronted with a major problem for an artist, when he promises a demon who murders his friend that he will tell nobody about the event at all, in any medium, in exchange for his own life. While the central concept, the temptation to break one’s promise as opposed to keeping it, is hardly new, the filmmakers provide a fresh take on the old theme by utilizing the basic need of expression as the crux of the dilemma. The tale that follows is one that is cruel, and featuring an ending that is strangely touching. Compared to Tales from the Darkside’s predecessors, Creepshow and Creepshow 2, the film manages to save the best tale for last, and it serves the film well.

This is not to say that the first two stories are bad. They simply lack the tense drama of the final segment, prompting ironic detachment as opposed to emotional investment on the part of the viewer. Nothing in these tales is particularly scary as a result of this approach, which is fine of course given that the segements are indeed entertaining. However, given the vast superiority of the final segment, I cannot help but feel it would have served the film better to take a more serious approach to the material in some ways.

On a level of sheer filmmaking, the film is well crafted, if not overly distinctive. John Harrison is a capable director, and manages to pull in some good performances across the board, including an early performance from Julianne Moore, as well as fun work from rockers Deborah Harry and David Johansen (who is about as far removed from Buster Poindexter as he can get in this role). The standout of the cast however is James Remar, who redeems himself for his work in The Quest (to be fair, Jean Claude Van Damme is to blame for that crap) and shows that he has greater range than he usually is allowed to show in his work.

Overall, Tales from the Darkside is not going to be anyone’s favourite film, but is a fun October movie to celebrate the coming of Halloween. If you can find it, check it out.


  1. I think I'll check it out sometime this month (I'll probably rent it when I rent Brimstone & Treacle!), as I'm really curious about whether a horror anthology can work for me. I suspect that I'll eventually break down and watch Creepshow 2 (and I'll probably write a paper about that series at some point, or at least use them in my work in some capacity), but I didn't much care for the first installment. I remember seeing Nightmares a bunch of times when I was a kid though... I remember Emilo Estevez being trapped in an arcade game. Is that Nightmares?

  2. HAve never seen NIGHTMARES so I can't comment if it is that film or not. If you didn't like CREEPSHOW, you might enjoy this one better, as it tones down the over the top style of that film.

    If you are looking for a great horror anthology film, try the original British TALES FROM THE CRYPT. Fantastic piece of anthology horror.


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