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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Tales From The Darkside: The Movie
Tales From The Darkside: The Movie
Paramount // R // September 25, 2001
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted October 6, 2001 | E-mail the Author
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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 darkside...

It'll probably surprise no one that I was a strange little kid growing up. Back in 1987 and 1988, when most of my friends were discovering the joy and splendor of Cinemax After Dark, I'd spend the wee hours of the weekend glued to the numerous anthology series glutting the airwaves at the time. Among them were Monsters, Freddy's Nightmares, Tales From The Crypt, the revamped Twilight Zone, and, as you could probably guess from the title of this review, Tales From The Darkside. Freddy's Nightmares was repetitive and half-hearted, with the writers banking on the charisma of the pop-horror icon host instead of anything approximating originality. It seemed as if every other episode featured an artist whose medium of choice brings his or her work to life. Seriously. Monsters was fun but inconsistent, placing its emphasis more heavily on quirky camp than terror, and The Twilight Zone offered little of interest after an amazing first season. Ah, but Tales From The Darkside was, at least in my eyes, one of the few series that improved as time went on. In keeping with its title, Tales From The Darkside was darker than most of its contemporaries, invariably ending on a down note and offering quite a bit of variety in its stories. Though production of new episodes had long been completed by 1990, apparently reruns were bringing in enough cash for a theatrical anthology bearing the series' name to seem attractive.

Wrapped around a framing story where Joey Lawrence's little brother is on the verge of being baked by aging new-waver Debbie Harry, Tales From The Darkside: The Movie serves up three healthy portions of quirky horror. The first segment, my personal favorite and the entry with the most recognizable faces, is Lot 249, based on a story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. After being cheated out of a fellowship by a trust fund baby and his scheming girlfriend (a then-unknown Julianne Moore), archeology geek Steve Buscemi turns to a 3,000 year old mummy to exact his revenge. Christian Slater, doing his best Jack Nicholson impression, is caught in the middle of all this wackiness and the inevitable twist ending. The closest thing to star power in the following tale, the subtly titled Cat From Hell is David Johansen. The occasional Buster Poindexter stars as a hitman given an unusual target -- a black cat sent, presumably from hell, to wreak havoc in the life of a pharmaceutical mogel whose company's breakthrough product came at the expense of 5,000 feline lives. Johansen's feeling hot, hot, hot stalking the pussycat through a dimly lit mansion, leading to several unintentionally hilarious battles and a conclusion that's an unusual and entirely unnecessary homage to Romero's Creepshow. Rounding out the trilogy of terror is Lover's Vow, in which a starving artist views a grisly murder by a rather spry gargoyle, swearing that he'll never tell anyone what he saw that night. Understandably shaken, he bumps into Rae Dawn Chong and the two fall madly in love. It wouldn't be much of a story if that vow didn't come back and bite him in the ass, and its ending, predictable though it may be, redeems the largely dull tale.

Tales From The Darkside: The Movie feels like an episode compilation masquerading as a motion picture. Despite the involvement of both George Romero and Stephen King in some capacity, Tales From The Darkside fails to reach the heights of their previous anthology collaboration, Creepshow. Even Creepshow 2, which paled in comparison to the original, was stronger than this collection of tales that don't really add any additional cinematic quality or grandeur to the better episodes of Tales' final season. That's not to say that Tales From The Darkside: The Movie is bad, but it does feel like a bit of a misfire, considering the talent involved. I was hoping for more than the equivalent of three random episodes from the series, with a little more money and gore at its disposal. Still, I have a weakness for horror anthologies, and I'm both surprised and pleased that Paramount gave this decidedly average film a respectable presentation and took the time to assemble a very nice commentary track.

Video: Perhaps my equipment isn't as state-of-the-art as other reviewers, or maybe I'm just not as discerning as I ought to be. Still, when I stumble upon reviews at other reputable DVD sites claiming that a particular disc is scarcely an improvement over a previous VHS release, I assume the worst. I'd read several such intensely negative criticisms at a variety of websites, and when Tales From The Darkside: The Movie arrived in the mail this afternoon, I was anticipating writing a similarly scathing review. Though others would apparently have you believe that Tales From The Darkside is mired in grain, I didn't find it distracting in the slightest on my set. (For the curious, I watched this disc on a 36" Sony VVega KV-36FS12, calibrated with Video Essentials and with the 16x9 squeeze enabled.) The unique color schemes and lighting of each tale are presented accurately, from the monochromatic Cat From Hell to the oversaturated earthy hues of Lot 249. An insignificant number of shots are on the soft side, almost certainly flaws present in the theatrical prints, and shadows are, perhaps intentionally, a little murkier than most. Specks and spots are kept to a bare minimum, and there are no tears, scratches, or similar print flaws worth noting. This film was a very low budget affair, and it's unlikely that it'll ever look considerably better than this. In case anyone's keeping track, on the commentary, George Romero and director John Harrison mention that they're watching the movie on a rather large screen and remark several times on how impressed they are with the improved look of the film. If the reviews of the image quality on other sites have turned you away from purchasing this DVD, I'd suggest making a judgment yourself in this particular instance. Tales From The Darkside: The Movie is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and, as is par for the course for Paramount, is enhanced for widescreen televisions.

Audio: The Dolby Digital 5.1 remix feels like little more than a run of the mill stereo surround track, with the action firmly anchored towards the front and center. Surround use is limited to the score and scattered, awkward effects, notably the howling of the wind in the early moments of Cat From Hell. There isn't an extensive amount of bass present in the score or any of the effects. On the upside, dialogue is always discernable, and there isn't any hiss or distortion to be found. It's your average unremarkable low-budget horror mix, basically. Also available are English stereo surround and French mono tracks.

Supplements: The most notable extra is the excellent commentary track with director John Harrison and the legendary George A. Romero, who helped bring the series to television and penned the screenplay for Cat From Hell. Both Harrison and Romero maintain a steady stream of laughter throughout, but the occasional quips don't detract from their serious discussion of technical notes as well as the underlying themes of the stories presented in the film. Given Romero's limited involvement with Tales From The Darkside: The Movie, it's little surprise that Harrison dominates the track, though the two bounce so many ideas off one another that Romero's presence is more than welcome. This commentary is well-worth a listen, standing well above the lackluster tracks that have become standard issue nowadays. The other supplement is an anamorphic trailer that spoils a couple of the film's most memorable shocks and twists.

Conclusion: Tales From The Darkside: The Movie doesn't approach the brilliance of the best episodes of the series on which it is based, but it's worth an addition to the collection of any anthology completist. Diverting from Paramount's usual price point, the $24.99 list price is easy enough to swallow, and the excellent commentary makes this disc even more of a worthwhile purchase. Perhaps if sales are lively enough, Paramount might consider releasing episodes from Tales From The Darkside in reasonably priced three-disc season sets. I'd pay for the opportunity to catch "Love Hungry" again, an episode that's both my favorite and by and large the most hated of the entire series by fans. But anyway, this DVD release of the series' big screen counterpart is recommended.
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