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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Tales from the Darkside: The Second Season
Tales from the Darkside: The Second Season
Paramount // Unrated // October 27, 2009
List Price: $36.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Kurt Dahlke | posted October 27, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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Tales From The Darkside: The Second Season:

No better a late Saturday night there was in my town (for a teenaged horror geek) than one in the mid-'80s, when Elvira, Mistress of the Dark would cue up a wretched feature, but before her turn at bat, those eerie ascending tones heralded another trip to the Darkside. Running for four seasons - from 1984 to 1988, George A. Romero's anthology series capitalized on the success of Creepshow, (though for legal reasons had to use a different name) while indoctrinating a new generation of youngsters to the fun of fear.


Though brief at about 22-minutes each, Darkside episodes - even when sometimes cast in a humorous light - rarely fail to generate some small sense of unease. Of course for impressionable youth watching late at night after mummy and daddy have gone to bed, that small unease might seem rather large. Kids' fears frequently take a front seat, but even when subject matter is more adult, scripts and production cast a pall that transcends age.


Much unsettling gloom arises from necessity, as low-budgets for the independently produced series, and speedy schedules lead to stories where grim isolation plays a central part. Most tales, whether horrific, fantastic, or futuristic, come down to one to three people facing the unknown. As per horror convention, it's often just one poor soul creeping around a grey house, playing cat-and-mouse with a monster. If not that, it's a couple arguing about their relationship, but whatever the circumstance you can bet the environment is grey, poorly lit, and grey. Worse yet, no one ever seems to go outside, strongly reinforcing the notion that the world of the Darkside is utterly devoid of other people, like a post-apocalyptic nightmare. There's no one to talk to, no one to relate to, and no one to help you fight your demons. This grey loneliness, more than the unique 'twists' that end each episode, is the lasting impact of Darkside, one that stays with you - unless you find some friends quick - long after the tale ends.


This sense of talky isolation places Darkside firmly in line with Rod Serling's anthologies. Jerry Stiller's turn as a hellish talk-radio host in "The Devil's Advocate" in particular holds an affinity with John Astin's hippie-in-a-hellish-radio-station from Night Gallery season two episode "Hell's Bells." A complex episode titled "The Shrine" tackles a more nuanced childhood/ adulthood fear. While a mysterious girlish ghost represents straight fear-tactics, intense parent-child relationship issues create real interest and plenty of ambiguity for TV horror, in similar fashion to many Twilight Zone episodes.


Through these depopulated grey tales wander liars who float ("Fear of Floating") and makers of poor health-care policy ("Lifebomb"). Alcoholic dads who are true a-holes make a strong showing - childhood concerns modernized. Monsters turn up in the closet, of course, ("Monsters In My Room" starring a young Seth Green) and head out to trick-or-treat ("Halloween Candy"). And things can get truly ridiculous, such as a lousy impressionist aping the moves of a dorky alien, ("The Impressionist") but nothing can match the impotency of a cute evil teddy bear with glowing orange eyes ("Ursa Minor").


Even with its frigid hold on '80s-kidz hearts, Darkside is like every other horror anthology, some of it works, some of it doesn't. There is enough talent displayed here to mark most episodes as sincere, and many as effective. Depending on your temperament, it can all seem pretty good, especially since that cold, grey, lonesome atmosphere permeates virtually all episodes - even the funny ones - you're bound to be slightly discomfited by most everything you see. Speaking of which, here's an episode listing with brief descriptions:


The Impressionist: Aging Vaudevillian tries a new act, learning to communicate with an alien.

Lifebomb: Life insurance that takes things a bit too far, like walking around with a permanent car-crash airbag on your chest.

Ring Around the Redhead: A hot dame leads a man to the electric chair.

Parlour Floor Front: Xenophobic landlords attempt to evict the Voodoo Houngan renting their front room.

Halloween Candy: An old jerk learns just when to refuse the kids, and when to make with the candy - when a real goblin comes knocking!

The Satanic Piano: If Robert Johnson could sell his soul to play the blues, why can't a modern hit-maker do so too? It would sure please the suits!

The Devil's Advocate: Jerry Stiller gives shock-talk a run for its money as a radio host in the hate-speech a bit too deep.

Distant Signals: When a lame show is cancelled too soon, a creepy Keanu Reeves look-a-like gathers the old production team (including Darren McGavin) for a command completion of the season.

The Trouble with Mary Jane: It's not what you think, it's a weird mix of childhood demonic possession and comedy, funny, scary and annoying all at once, it's the type of programming that would never be made today.

Ursa Minor: Yep, it's the evil cute teddy bear, but he's got a friend with the surname Major.

Effect and Cause: Can things turn out well when a woman learns she can live life backwards?

Monsters in My Room: How will little Seth Green sleep when his drunken step-dad calls him a sissy and there's a monster under his bed?

Comet Watch: Halley's Comet, Sir Edmund Hillary, and an obsessed stalker: past, meet present.

Dream Girl: When you're trapped as part of a theater group in a stagehand's dream, you know you're in the Darkside.

A New Lease On Life: The benefits of technology may make modern life a breeze, but there are still other ways to pay for your super-cheap apartment.

Printer's Devil: How do authors replicate success? They put blood, (a lot of blood) sweat, and other things into the process.

The Shrine: When a young woman comes back to her childhood home, she finds her mom has rented her old room to a new, younger tenant.

The Old Soft Shoe: Beware if you, like this salesman, take some unknown woman to your room after a night of carousing - you might wake up with someone entirely different.

The Last Car: Like in the back of the bus, you find some real characters in the last car of a train.

A Choice of Dreams: A mobster with a terminal illness gets help from the wrong type of 'Make A Wish' foundation.

Strange Love: A house call becomes especially perilous for this doctor, especially when his patients have plans of their own for him.

The Unhappy Medium: A video will reveals the deceased was less concerned with providing for his relatives as most, but he does send them a sign.

Fear of Floating: A man claiming to be on the run from circus assassins possesses the power to float.

The Casavin Curse: Genetics don't mean a thing when you've got killing in your family tree.


Tales From The Darkside maintains a consistent tone and level of success throughout season two, as it mostly does throughout the four seasons. As with all anthology series, not every episode is a complete winner, and those not inclined to genre shifting through horror, sci-fi and fantasy - with plenty of humorous moments to boot - may have some trouble with the Darkside. However, an insistent air of lifeless isolation, constructed with ubiquitous grey walls and lonely people, adds an effective continuity to Darkside making it a weirdly compelling touchstone for many Gen-X-ers.





The DVD


Video:

All episodes are presented in their OAR of 1.33:1, and through a rough appearance betray something - possibly their origins as independently produced shows made for syndication. A grey palette is entirely stylistic, washing all the life from flesh tones, but making viewers uneasy. Tons of grain, speckling, some print damage and dirt also appear, though compression problems are minimal, and mostly of the posterizing variety. Essentially, these episodes look about as good as they did when originally broadcast, which wasn't spectacular then, and isn't now.



Sound:

English Mono Digital Audio is of similar ilk to video, it's OK and really no different than when this show was originally broadcast. Dialog is easy to understand, and mixed well enough with music so that there aren't any volume control issues. As far as I can tell this includes the original soundtrack - although I'm relying solely on memory and native intelligence here.



Extras:

Extras are limited to Closed Captioning and a five-minute mini-featurette/ commentary "On Air With George Romero" in which Romero opines on various aspects of Darkside, and social life as pertaining to the "Devil's Advocate" episode.



Final Thoughts:

Short-lived series often hit their stride in season two, but not so for Tales From The Darkside: The Second Season. No, Darkside maintained a pretty consistent level of quality for the life of the series, and season two is certainly no exception. The usual mix of horror and humor is there, with episodes including the efforts of Tom Savini, Marcia Cross, Lisa Bonet, Fritz Weaver, Lorna Luft, and frickin' Cab Calloway for pity's sake. With a stylistic feel overarching all episodes, you always know you're in the Darkside, and if you know you love that side of life, you'll find this bare-bones three-disc set Recommended.

- Kurt Dahlke

~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com

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