Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990)

TALES-FROM-THE-DARKSIDESo “Tales from the Darkside: The Movie” is based on the television show, but in the movie, “Tales from the Darkside” is actually a book filled with various horror stories. Does that mean the television show is actually a book? Is the narrator at the opening credits the one telling us the various stories? How did the witch in the film get a hold of the book? And is the witch Debbie Harry plays in the film the same one she plays in the episode “The Moth” where she portrays a devious teenage witch outwitting her mother? It’s never quite indicated. At all. I assume the film is attempting to be meta with the wrap around story, but it never quite works. However we do get a slight instance of the theme song to the television series playing during a scene in the opening.

Interviews with make up artist Tom Savini indicate that “Tales from the Darkside: The Movie” is the official third film to the “Creepshow” series, and if fitted to the mold of the “Creepshow” story frame, I imagine it could have been a better film, overall. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that George A. Romero and Stephen King return to pen stories for the film, or that “Cat from Hell” was supposed to be included on “Creepshow 2,” or that “Tales from the Darkside” initially began life as a “Creepshow” TV series, but was transformed in to its own series. Who knows? For all intents and purposes, the film version of the classic series does manage to acquire some of its most fetching stars. Debbie Harry in her days of youth was a gorgeous and daring persona and she plays the menacing villain once again as a witch preparing for massive feast for her friends.

Trapped in her cellar, she plans to prepare and cook a helpless young boy (Matthew Lawrence) she’s been stuffing with sweets. The preparation is only ninety minutes away and to keep her distracted the boy tells the witch three stories of varying quality. The wrap around is a miss since the stories don’t entirely hearken back to fairytales as they do around irony and twist endings. “Lot 249” Steve Buscemi plays a college student named Bellingham who is set up by two classmates to take the fall for a theft involving an ancient Zuni Fetish Doll (wink wink). When he unearths a sacred scroll in a mummy he’d acquired, he uses the scroll to re-animate the mummy and viciously murder his classmates. In spite of some gruesome moments involving the mummy, and a slick performance from Christian Slater, “Lot 249” is rendered to feel derivative of “Old Chief Wood’n Head” and “Something to Tide You Over,” even with a final scene too reminiscent of the latter story.

“Cat from Hell” is a wicked and gruesome tale of comeuppance for a wealthy foursome of crooked aristocrats all of whom are assassinated by a black cat with supernatural abilities. When the only remaining victim hires a hit man to kill the cat, the battle wages and things take a turn for the macabre. Save for the excellent editing and story along with a grotesque of the cat’s abilities in the finale, the segment is marred by an over the top performance from David Johansen. As for “Lover’s Vow,” the segment works better in the context of the Japanese legend of yuki-onna. Alone, it’s a predictable and downbeat finisher lacking in any real explosive moments or twists. James Remar is Preston, a struggling artist who is confronted with a violent gargoyle one night who makes him vow never to tell anyone he’s witnessed the monster. Allowing him to live, Preston conveniently crosses a young woman who he brings back to his loft for help.

The two form an intense romance and luck follows Preston along with two children. When Preston decides to reveal his horrible encounter, he realizes that trust is a sacred vow in any relationship. “Tales from the Darkside: The Movie” suffers from being a very grim and bleak anthology film with a narrative structure that never lives up to the innovation of “Creepshow.” Fitted for “Creepshow” I think this would have become a better horror offering. Lacking the sardonic humor and twisted sensibility of “Creepshow,” the cinematic follow-up to the hit horror series is downbeat, forgettable, and often very confused. The trio of stories aren’t very memorable, but it does at least provide some interesting bridges to other horror titles, and solid performances from the respective cast including Christian Slater and Debbie Harry.