Rod Serling's original Twilight Zone is not only one of the most influential science-fiction properties ever created, in this writer's opinion, it's also the greatest TV show of all time. Think of any high concept science-fiction film that came out during the last five decades or so, it wouldn't be hard to trace its influence back to a classic Twilight Zone episode. But let's face it; Serling's usually heavy-handed allegorical approach to his science-fiction fables makes the show ripe for parody.
Since the show's cancellation in the early 1960s, there have been many parodies that poke fun of the show's plot twist-based structure and Serling's unique narration style. Some of the most effective examples of this are Dan Aykroyd's take on Serling during the very first line-up on Saturday Night Live, and the show-within-the-show The Scary Door in Futurama. The unifying quality of the Twilight Zone parodies that work is that they're fairly short, which allow them to poke fun of the tropes that the show itself created, without overstaying their welcome.
Really Weird Tales, a made for cable TV movie from 1987, attempts to parody The Twilight Zone formula by presenting three half hour episodes done in the style of the iconic show. Each episode contains the classic structure of the original, complete with an over-dramatic narration by a mysterious and stoic figure (Joe Flaherty) and modern fable storylines with "shocking" twist endings. The big twist, of course, is that they're infused with over the top absurd comedy.
Since the film was made by the same team that brought us SCTV Network, Canada's famous answer to Saturday Night Live that propelled some of the greatest comedians of their generation (John Candy, Rick Moranis, Martin Short) to stardom, fans of that show's irreverent, absurdist, and over the top humor might find some elements to enjoy in Really Weird Tales. The SCTV-style comedy is the film's biggest asset, since we get a lot of the manic energy that made the show so groundbreaking.
However, the project falls apart when the stories try to adapt a truly weird and distressing tone to match The Twilight Zone. It's hard to call Really Weird Tales a feature, since the three stories are completely separated by opening and closing credits, and each of them can be watched on their own. In fact, the DVD gives the viewers an option to do exactly that. This approach looks like the film presents only three episodes of a short-lived cable show, but it turns out that HBO asked Joe Flaherty to just write and produce three episodes that could be put together as a feature. So even though it looks like this DVD is part of a longer season of a show, these three episodes are all we get out of Really Weird Tales.
The first story is about a shady businessman (John Candy) who cons an entire town into buying cheap property until the real estate bubble makes everything worthless. The episode tries to say something about Reagan-era greed, but ends up as a dull and uneven experience thanks mostly to the obvious and tacked on sci-fi twist. The second story revolves around a woman (Catherine O'Hara) who can't love anyone, since anyone she loves ends up spontaneously exploding. It's a weird premise, to be sure, and O'Hara's trademark awkwardness and confusion adds a lot to the story, but the final twist is again weak and too random. The final story concerns a talentless lounge singer (Martin Short) who falls in love with a playmate-type at a Hugh Hefner-type tycoon's party, only to find out a terrifying secret about the woman. Usually, Martin Short's manic characters are a delight, but this one obviously needed more work, and comes across as grating.
Joe Flaherty is the film's MVP as an aloof take on Rod Serling. The running gag about the narrator being pestered by the characters of the story he's telling create some of the most amusing parts of Really Weird Tales.
It looks like all Kino could score for the DVD master was a Betacam or some other SD video from the era the show was produced. Really Weird Tales was obviously shot on film, but the transfer has a very old video look. It's barely an improvement on a VHS copy. The colors are faded; there are many video noise issues like comet trails, aliasing, and color bleeding.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 track, more than likely a mono mix, is very tinny, and has some issues with the dialogue and music levels. When the score kicks in, it becomes very hard to follow the dialogue. The fact that a subtitle option isn't provided makes this situation worse.
We get nothing.
Uneven and mostly uninspired, Really Weird Tales is solely for SCTV completionists. It has some clever moments, but they're not enough to spend 90 minutes on these three episodes (Again, it's hard to call this a film). The sub-par DVD transfer doesn't make things easier either.