Children of the eighties will get shivers down their spine anytime they hear the magic words "Man lives in the sunlit world of what he believes to be reality, but there is, unseen by most, an underworld... a place that is just as real but not as brightly lit... a dark side." The cult hit anthology series of horror and the supernatural played in syndication for four seasons, the first of which began in 1983. Influenced by the likes of The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits and Alfred Hitchcock Presents the show didn't really deviate too far from the anthology horror norm but never the less managed to churn out more than its fare share of memorable episodes over its run.
Inspired by the success of executive producer George A. Romero's Creepshow, a great E.C. Comics inspired anthology film he made with Stephen King and Tom Savini, Tales From The Darkside developed a pretty substantial cult following over the years as it lived on in syndication for some time after it was given the axe and new episodes ceased production. It's been a pretty regular 'want it on DVD' request in genre circles for years now and Paramount has finally dug deep into their vaults and delivered all twenty-four episodes that make up the entire first season of the fan favorite series.
Here's a look:
Trick Or Treat: A weird old man convinces the kids who live next door to take a trip through his haunted house, only to receive a strange visit that night from some unexpected guests.
The New Man: A middle aged man may be losing his mind when he can't remember the boy named Jerry who is claiming to be his son. The rest of his family all remember the kid, but not him, and he starts to wonder if it may have to do with his drinking. Vic Tayback stars.
I'll Give You A Million: Two wealthy old coots enjoy competing with one another and over a game of pool, one agrees to sell his soul to the other for a cool million in cash, only to find out shortly thereafter that he has cancer. George Petrie and Keenan Wynn star.
Pain Killer: A man named Harvey is having chronic back pains preventing him from working. This annoys his wife to no end but soon Harvey's doctor tells him about a sure fire way to get rid of all of his pain, permanently. Farley Granger pops up in this one.
The Odds: A man named Lacey makes a wager with a smalltime bookie named Tommy Vale that he'll die at a specified time. Vale soon learns about Lacey's connection to his past. Tom Noonan and Danny Aiello star.
Mookie And Pookie: Twin brother and sister, Mookie and Pookie, are pretty close. Things get weird when Mookie dies and Pookie finds that his spirit lives in the computer that he loved to work on before he passed away. Justine Bateman and Tippie Hedren star.
Slippage: A would be graphic designer has had a string of bad luck all his life and soon finds that he's literally slipping out of existence, much to the delight of his nasty wife and his supposed best friend. David Patrick Kelly stars.
Inside The Closet: An anthropology professor lets a student life in his home, and wouldn't you know it, the nosey chick gets into his stuff and accidently unleashes a what she believes to be some sort of odd little monster.
The Word Processor Of The Gods: Richard's home life isn't so hot - his wife is a bitch and his son is a jerk. When his nephew gives him a weird word processor as a gift, he realizes that he can go back and magically rewrite his life, but there are, of course, some unexpected consequences. Stephen King co-wrote this episode.
A Case Of The Stubborns: A family of hillbilly types run into problems when the grandfather, who is recently deceased, won't stop hanging around and bothering them. Brent Spiner and Christian Slater star in this story co-written by Robert Bloch.
Djinn No Chaser: A married couple by an antique lamp that they don't realize contains a genie of the most uncooperative sort. He won't grant any wishes and instead makes life Hell for them, until the wife figures out how to deal with this problem and turn it to their advantage. Kareem Adbul-Jabbar plays the genie in this story written by Harlan Ellison.
All A Clone By The Telephone: A TV writer is running out of ideas until he gets a new answering machine that initially helps him get back in touch with his creative side... until it starts to demand more and more of his attention. Harry Anderson and Dick Miller star.
In The Cards: Caterina is a bogus fortune teller who winds up in possession of a deck of cards that turn out to be cursed when everyone that she reads for soon winds up dead.
Anniversary Dinner: A pretty young woman intent on running away from her nasty boyfriend hides out at the home of a kindly couple of invite them to celebrate their anniversary with them, but she soon finds out that she's what is on the menu.
Snip Snip: A warlock and a witch both win on a $10,000,000.00 lottery ticket claiming that they got the winning numbers from a spirit. Of course, a battle of wits, wills and magic ensues.
Answer Me: A British actress named Joan thinks all is well when she settles into her new Manhattan apartment, until the next door neighbor's phone starts ringing and doesn't let up. Jean Marsh stars.
The Tear Collector: A perpetually sad woman named Prudence just can't seem to stop crying. This initially is obviously a problem, until she meets a man who is willing to pay handsomely for her tear drops. Jessica Harper stars.
Madness Room: Cathy and her 'friend' Michael come up with a nefarious plan to scare Cathy's husband to death by convincing him to spend the night in a supposed madness room. Stuart Whitman stars.
If The Shoe Fits: A slime ball politician named Bo Gumbs is running for governor in his state. He gets a hotel room for the night and soon learns the truth about his less than honest ways and the effects that they have on people.
Levitation: An aged magician named Kharma used to be the biggest deal on the magic scene but his since fallen from grace, making his living as a low rent circus performer. When a snotty fan heckles him, however, Kharma proves that he's still the real deal.
It All Comes Out In The Wash: A greedy real estate tycoon named Carl comes across a Chinese laundry that claims it can wash out guilt. He's pretty into this idea, figuring it'll be a quick and easy way to ease his conscience, until he finds out that cost. Vince Edwards stars.
Bigalow's Last Smoke: Mr. Bigalow sure does love his cigarettes, until he wakes up to find his home has been made into a prison and a strange character starts popping up on his television and telling him to quit begins to drive him insane. Richard Romanus stars.
Grandma's Last Wish: An elderly woman wants her family to understand what is happening to her before they commit her to a retirement home, and so she makes one last, heartfelt wish before submitting to them.
The False Prophet: A superstitious woman named Cassie Pines walks into a diner and finds a weird mechanical fortune telling machine called Horace X that makes incredibly accurate predictions and in return makes incredibly unreasonable demands. Ronee Blakely and Bill Fiore star.
While the series isn't as consistent as, say, the early Twilight Zone series or the more adult oriented HBO Tales From The Crypt material, there are still a lot of fun stories in here. While none of it will keep you up at night (the scare quotient is pretty low) they are at least some creative and entertaining yarns, often with some fun and unexpected twist endings. While those who didn't grow up with the series in the eighties might not get as much out of the show as those of us who did, it's still hard not to have a good time with this material thanks to plenty of clever scripts and more than a few enjoyable guest appearances from people who either were big stars at the time or would become big stars a few years down the road.
One thing worth noting, and how much this will affect you depends completely on how well you know the series, is that some of the music that was used in the original broadcast episodes has been changed due to rights issues. The opening and closing theme songs that will be so familiar to most fans of the show are thankfully intact for each and every episode, but some of the library tracks that were originally licensed for use in the episodes themselves are definitely different. Paramount has included a disclaimer on the back of the packaging noting this (in ridiculously small type - you have to look for it to notice it).
That issue aside, it's nice to have these episodes on DVD. The quality of the writing, acting and directing isn't as consistent as some series but the good definitely outweighs the bad in this first season. Fans of similar anthology horror series from the eighties, such as Friday The 13th and Freddy's Nightmares will know exactly what to expect as the quality is definitely along those same lines. It may not be the best that television has had to offer in terms of suspense and horror but it's still a fun batch of episodes made by an interesting batch of contributors and collaborators.
These episodes were all shot on video and broadcast fullframe, which is exactly how they are presented in this set. Spread out over three discs the episodes don't really look any better here than they do in syndicated re-runs. It doesn't look like any restorative work was done on the material and there's definite softness throughout in addition to some mild mpeg compression artifacts. Given that the video masters for this series are a quarter century old, we can't expect them to look pristine, but many fans, this reviewer included, had hoped that the video would at least be of average quality and sadly, it's not. The quality is watchable, but no better than that.
The English language Dolby Digital Mono tracks sound okay. Not great, but okay. Music changes aside, the quality is acceptable enough even if it won't really 'wow' you. Dialogue remains easy enough to understand and there aren't any problems with hiss in the mixes. No alternate language options are included, nor are there any subtitles included, though an English closed captioning option is provided.
The only extra features, aside from the menus and episode selection options included on each disc, is an audio commentary track available on the Trick Or Treat episode from the series' executive producer, George A. Romero. While this is a pretty decent commentary, you can't help but wish Paramount had done a little more in this regard - a retrospective featurette or documentary would have been very welcome, particularly when you consider the talent involved in the series. That said, there's no use crying over spilt milk - let's move on to what is here. Romero is always an interesting guy to listen to and this track is no exception. He discusses putting the project together, what it was like working on a television series, and how various contributors became involved with the series. There are a few moments where the man clams up and we're left with some awkward silence, but for the most part this is definitely a worthwhile track.
While the video quality is disappointing and the extras far lighter than the series deserved, Tales From The Darkside - The First Season is a fun trip back to the eighties. Not every episode is a winner but more often than not the series is at least fun and entertaining even if it isn't all that frightening and for that reason this set is recommended, with the caveat that it doesn't really look all that great...
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.