Tales From The Darkside: The Third Season:
With this release we find that series creator George Romero continued to buck the odds, bringing back his syndicated horror anthology for a third season. No self-respecting '80s kid (or adult) who loves the macabre missed this show - at the very least, they'd catch it when they could find it. It wasn't always a rewarding find, but more often than not, Darkside delivered an eerie feeling. The titles sequence alone was enough to send you off to bed with trepidation.
At about 22-minutes each, Darkside episodes are always thoughtful, sometimes comical, sometimes scary, and consistently dreary. Some tragic collision of era and budget renders each episode in glum shades of cold gray and dull violet. The effect, when not masked by genuine fear or fun, is one of institutionalized depression, meaning that not only is Darkside eternally of-its-time, but that it also faithfully recreates its intended feelings no matter when you revisit it.
Using scripts sometimes adapted from various short stories, Romero's directors are logically saddled with material that might seem overly familiar: People get sucked into evil paintings, or have their lives influenced by evil objects, for instance, and as with previous seasons casts are often quite small. Resulting is a series of creepshows that feel a little like intimate drawing room plays. However, such economy of scale creates a claustrophobic air that perfectly fits most of the stories.
This time around we get 22 episodes of varying affect that will have you longing for the bad old days. As with all anthology series, there are plenty of misses among the hits here, (of course only your personal opinion can be the judge) but the overall quality of the show indicates the degree of comfort from a show hitting its stride. There are even a few episodes that might be called somewhat scary (at least to this jaded, elderly horror hound).
A callous reporter with a gumshoe fetish and yen to debunk charlatans checks out a circus freakshow, (featuring the inestimable William Hickey of Prizzi's Honor fame) only to find out he doesn't have the proper respect for evil.
I Can't Help Saying Goodbye:
Hysterical parents are first irked, then petrified, when their creepy daughter seems to have a bad way with 'goodbye.'
The Bitterest Pill:
In another demonstration of parental paranoia, a precocious boy gains control over his abusive parents with the help of his weird uncle and a super-brain-pill.
Proving that hell has no fury like a woman scorned, here we find a couple occupying a house in which a woman killed her adulterous husband. But was it enough to satisfy her spirit's rage?
A standout for the season, this episode features the super-creepy residents of a girl's dollhouse. Got-dang-it, whatever happens to the dolls seems to happen to real people! What is it about adolescents using evil to torment their parents, anyway?
Employing hardcore camp (I hope intentionally) this ep introduces a young bride and her flamboyant mother, plus some nifty dime-store spider props. Nonetheless, it's a fun 24 minutes .
Striking photography makes this somewhat boilerplate episode a visual treat, wherein traffickers in stolen art find a mysterious, evil painting is more-than-willing to dole out a little comeuppance.
A Serpent's Tooth:
Remember when your mom warned you that if you made funny faces too much, they would stick that way? The mom in this episode finds all her similar warnings coming true. Sadly, my notes on this episode include only the words 'date nut bread,' and I can't remember why. Regardless, this is a fun, goofy episode.
Marketing and voodoo collide in this episode that (by my white, middle-class liberal standards) dances with tired stereotypes. That doesn't keep it from being a bitterly inspired outing.
Deliver Us From Goodness:
An angelic woman gets bored being so good, but discovers that it ain't easy being bad, either.
Seasons of Belief:
Creepy E.G. Marshall and his creepier wife torment their children with a Christmas Eve horror story about the murderous Grither. It's a cruel tale, and another standout episode that had my wife aghast, that is until a ridiculous yet delightful ending.
Miss May Dusa:
An amnesiac lady of death meets a saxophone player who helps uncover the secrets of her past.
The Milkman Cometh:
When this milkman comes, he'll grant your wish. When a childless man presses his luck with the milkman, we learn - big surprise - that you ought to be careful what you wish for. Another highly entertaining episode.
My Ghostwriter - The Vampire:
When a horror author gets a coffin for inspiration, he discovers the answer to the old question, "where do you get your ideas?" From a vampire, of course!
My Own Place:
Disorienting flashback-type sequences make this dryly-humorous episode a little tense, as a businessman finds his super cheap apartment holds a secret. A predictable ending betrays the previous 20 minutes featuring a great performance from Harsh Nayyar as the mysterious roommate.
This silly episode is purely for fun. An unctuous businessman discovers that hell is just like business, and an ambitious man can move up the ladder quickly.
Everybody Needs a Little Love:
A lonely man finds love with a model. Wait, I mean a mannequin. But is he deluded, or smarter than we think?
Apparently, there is no honor among witches, either, as two hags try to renege on their ancient vow to share an amulet. Somewhat silly subject matter places this episode on the lighter side of The Darkside.
The Social Climber:
Damone from Fast Times At Ridgemont High (Robert Romanus) accidentally discovers that his crusty shoemaker boss makes some pretty tempting shoes. They allow him to live out other people's lives, but he'd better be careful whose shoes he choose.
Somehow, a woman's murderous, money-grubbing scheme to kill her rich husband goes wrong. Really? I NEVER expected a murder-for-money plan to lead to comeuppance!
Let the Games Begin:
Allegory plays a big role in this tale (as in many others from The Darkside) when a deceased soul becomes involved in routing his spirit Up or Down.
The Enormous Radio:
In this period piece, (another favorite motif from The Darkside) a couple finds that their new radio allows them to eavesdrop on their neighbors. When things get ugly paranoia only makes things worse.
Though Tales From The Darkside can't really provide the scares modern horror fans want, nostalgia buffs will remember when part of the show's appeal was simply its presence on broadcast television. Horror is always a scarce commodity on TV, so when Darkside brought its dark humor and spooky/ silly special effects to the screen, it was a true delight. The show is still terribly fun to revisit, and Season Three has plenty of highlights you'll watch more than once.
Episodes come in their OAR of 1.33:1, with slightly rough, somewhat grainy, delicately soft images that reflect their era and low budgets. The often-grey palette sets an uneasy tone. A little bit of print damage also appears on occasion, though compression problems are minimal. Essentially, these episodes look about as good as they did when originally broadcast, which wasn't spectacular then, and isn't now.
English Mono Digital Audio follows suit, with a decent mix, balance and range, but nothing spectacular. Of course sound design is non-existent but the show conjures atmosphere with effective music and plenty of pregnant pauses. Whether soundtrack music is original, or replacement, is unknown to me.
Extras are limited to Closed Captioning.
Tales From The Darkside is beloved among many horror fans, simply because of its nominal pioneering status. Many episodes are classics to certain fans, and the show's bleak atmosphere contrasted nicely with a nasty sense of humor and some stylish scares. Season Three represents a solid season with more than a few episodes that really satisfy. Though this three-disc set, in a standard sized keepcase with a flipper, contains no extras, for nostalgic fans it's still Recommended.
- Kurt Dahlke
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