Based on the little known TV Series of the same name, “Tales From The Darkside: The Movie (1990)” is an anthology of three horror stories with a strange history and an impressive pedigree.
Interviews with the original Creepshow’s legendary make up artist Tom Savini seem to indicate that “Tales from the Darkside: The Movie” was to be the third film in the “Creepshow” series, and zombie-guru George A. Romero and Stephen King returned to write for the film as they had in the past. As well, project director John Harrison, who’d worked on both previous instalments, and Cinematographer Robert Draper who’s since returned to shoot the new series on Shudder return, along with much of the effects and production crew. In the most confusing origin story, Romero’s segment, “Cat from Hell” was originally supposed to be in “Creepshow 2,” but was scrapped due to budget, then brought back to be a TV episode when “Tales from the Darkside” initially began life as the first “Creepshow” TV series (but was transformed in to its own series before airing due to rights holder conflicts), then scrapped again, which then gave birth to it’s final incarnation in this 1990 film. The third segment, adapted by Beetlejuice and Thinner writer Michael McDowell, was already previously adapted in the Japanese horror anthology film “Kwaidan” before being reworked for this format. With all this mixed parentage, it’s no wonder the film wound up a bit of a mess, but, given the impressive players behind it, “Tales From The Darkside: The Movie” is a throughly enjoyable anthology stuffed with late-80s charm and just perfect for a spooky season afternoon during 31 Days Of Horror.
The framing story involves a modern-day witch (literal goddess Debbie Harry!) who is preparing her dinner: a little boy (Matthew Lawrence). To stall the witch he proceeds to tell her a series of tales from a book of scary stories, the titular “Tales From The Darkside“, and from here we jump into the first of three shorts. In the first segment, McDowell adapts Arthur Conan Doyle‘s short story “Lot No. 249” into a modern monster mystery with film-noir overtones. A graduate student, Edward Bellingham (played by a young but somehow still old looking Steve Buscemi), has been sabotaged by two classmates, Susan (Julianne Moore), and Lee (Robert Sedgwick), who framed him for the theft of an artifact to ruin his chances of winning a scholarship for which they were competing. As one does when theses things happen, Bellingham reanimates a mummy with an ancient scroll and uses it to murder them both, which turns out to be far more complicated than expected.
In the second tale, George A. Romero adapts a little-known Stephen King short story “The Cat from Hell“. We meet Drogan, a wealthy, wheelchair-bound old man (William Hickey) who brings in a hitman named Halston (David Johansen, best known for his role in ‘Scrooged’ as the undead cabbie) for a bizarre job: Drogan wants him to kill a cat, who is convinced is murderously evil. Drogan claims that one by one, the cat killed three other occupants of his house: his sister, her friend Carolyn, and the family’s butler, Richard. We learn that Drogan was the CEO of a drug company that had killed thousands of cats while testing a new drug, and he is now convinced that this black cat is here to exact a Lovecraftian, cosmic revenge.
The third short in “Tales From The Darkside: The Movie” is a dark love story borrowed from Japanese folklore. Written again by Michael McDowel, “Lover’s Vow” followed despondent artist named Preston (James Remar) who witnesses a gruesome murder committed by a demon-like monster. The monster agrees to spare Preston’s life as long as he swears never to speak of what he saw or describe the monster’s appearance to anyone. After a dreamlike encounter leaving him scarred for life, Preston’s situation suddenly takes a turn for the better and his struggling art career becomes wildly successful…until, of course, he breaks his promise with horrifying results. From there our wraparound story gets its own conclusion, and then the credits roll, leaving us with a grin.
Made during the height of pre-CGI practical effects, everything here has its own goofy, ghastly charm, with great performances from a lot of the actors “before they were stars” and knowing winks to the audience like George Romero’s movies playing in the background throughout. And while it’s far better than most anthologies, “Tales From The Darkside: The Movie” still suffers from the hit-or-miss nature of other anthologies, where one or two stories inevitably outshine the rest. Without the humour of “Creepshow” it doesn’t quite live up to it’s full potential, but as a guilty pleasure, and one many fans might not know about, it’s definitely found a home in our collection of Horror. Check the trailer below, or watch on Amazon Prime.