Tales from the Darkside: The Movie
Four ghoulish fables in one modern nightmare.
Year of Release: 1990
Running Time: 93 minutes (1:33)
Director: John Harrison
Deborah Harry ... Betty (wraparound story)
Matthew Lawrence ... Timmy (wraparound story)
Christian Slater ... Andy (segment "Lot 249")
Steve Buscemi ... Bellingham (segment "Lot 249")
Julianne Moore ... Susan (segment "Lot 249")
Robert Sedgwick ... Lee (segment "Lot 249")
Ralph Marrero ... Cabbie (segment "Lot 249")
Michael Deak ... Mummy (segment "Lot 249")
William Hickey ... Drogan (segment "Cat From Hell")
David Johansen ... Halston (segment "Cat From Hell")
Mark Margolis ... Gage (segment "Cat From Hell")
James Remar ... Preston (segment "Lover's Vow")
Rae Dawn Chong ... Carola (segment "Lover's Vow")
Robert Klein ... Wyatt (segment "Lover's Vow")
"The Wraparound Story" concerns a little boy who spins all the tales... to distract a modern-day witch who wants to pop him in the oven! In "Lot 249," a malevolent mummy gives new meaning to "final exams" when he awakens to wreak revenge on unsuspecting student bodies. A furry black kitty is really the "Cat From Hell," and a "Lover's Vow" brings a stone gargoyle to murderous life.
Tales from the Darkside, the movie that reminds us that while Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, they only give preteen boys a sense of confusion, awkwardness and occasionally, stark terror. Wiccans hate this movie. They think Deborah Harry's character got a raw deal at the climax, and while I personally have no objection to witches eating children, I think they're just in denial about the whole situation. On this particular day, the middle Lawrence brother was simply the better man. If it's okay for her to invite him in an shove 'em into a dungeon, I figure it's perfectly acceptable for him to put her off balance an flambee her when the time is right. I'm reminded of what Ossie Davis told James Marshall in Gladiator, I'm paraphrasing here: "make your opponent think you're weak when you're strong, and make them think you're strong when you're weak." This is how Matt got Deborah off her game, an put her down for the count. She got Hanseled, and she's got no one to blame but herself. But anyhow, what anthology horror movies may lack in depth, they make up for in sheer volume, so lets review what we've learned from this one. First, reanimated mummies can sneak around in the shadows with cat like stealth and elude most forms of detection. The only tip off is the stench of decaying bandages and centuries old gastric intestinal system replacement stuffings. Second, even the paranoid can sometimes miss a source of danger. For instance, no one ever things to check the inside of somebody's stomach. And always, said danger works its way out in some capacity. So prepare yourself. And third, everyone says honesty is the best policy, but none of them ever had their wife go monster on 'em an chew out their jugular.
But what concerns me greatly is the way couples these days can let such trivial things completely destroy their marriages. In the third segment, "Lover's Vow", (got a spoiler alert on tap here so scroll down to the next paragraph if you don't want the ending spelled out) I feel like Rae Dawn Chong overreacted just a bit to James Remar letting a little secret slip. Now sure, nobody likes a squealer, but I think turning gargoyle on him an eating his face was a little excessive. His heart was in the right place, he just wanted to be completely honest with her about a bit of his past history. How was he supposed to know she was the gargoyle all along anyway? The judicial system would call this entrapment. He's willing to try to work things out if she'll just stop shedding her Chong suit for a minute an discuss this like an adult, but she doesn't wanna hear it. I guess she just figures they're too different. Besides, they probably didn't see each other much anyway. He works on his art during the day while she sleeps, an he sleeps while she's perched on top of buildings late at night looking for guys to decapitate. Maybe she's right. Maybe this is for the best. But anything worth doing is difficult, an I think she just wanted out of the marriage an used this whole secret disclosure as an excuse to end it. All relationships have their ups an downs, but the idea that there's always someone better out there is generally maintained by people who end up settling when they're 45 cause they're desperately afraid to die alone. Bottom line, try to compromise and make your relationships work. Don't just shed your skin an start slurping down carotid arteries like spaghetti noodles.
The movie begins with a woman, lets call her, Blondie, heading home from the market. Upon arriving home, she picks up the phone an provides some exposition about her grand dinner party related plans for the evening, then opens up her kitchen S&M dungeon to check on the main course. Seems she's got Jack Hunter from Boy Meets World locked up in there an she's gonna put an apple in his mouth an roast some suckling kid for her party. I trust she's tactful enough not to invite any of her Jewish friends. That's a veal joke, not an oven joke. You're a horrible person for thinking that too, by the way an I hope you fry in... never mind. But anyway, she gave the kid her copy of the Book of Shadows to pass the time while he sits on death row, an the kid figures he'd better distract her if he doesn't wanna be the guest of honor at the Donner Party later on.
The first story begins with a pair of douchey Socias discussing how one of them (Kyra Sedgwick's brother, but we'll call 'em Robert) got the other one's (Christian Slater) sister (Julianne Moore) to write his paper for him on account of him being a chunkhead. The reward for the winning paper is a grant that the douchebag doesn't even need, but the upside is he got to screw an unsophisticated peasant out of the money he could have used to stay on campus to make something of himself. So at least there's that. Elsewhere, the unsophisticated peasant, played by Steve Buscemi, is having an item he won at an auction delivered to his dorm with the hopes of flipping it to some insipid Socia an make enough money to keep his education fund afloat. So when Robert an Christian happen upon Steve and his acquisition, Steve invites them in to take a look-see. Turns out it's Boris Karloff. So Robert goes home an Julianne wants to know how much he told Christian about the screw job they've got going, cause in addition to her writing his paper, she also filed an anonymous claim that Steve was the one that stole the Zuni Fetish doll from the set of Trilogy of Terror, an Dan Curtis is real mad about it. Christian only knows about the writing part. Back at Steve's place, he an Christian are rooting around inside the mummy's interior an Steve finds a scroll that can bring the mummy back to life, only he tells Christian it was just Boris' shopping list an not to pay any attention. So later that night, Steve reads the scroll an Boris pops up like someone just threw a toaster into his bathtub an he bowls over Christian an Julianne on his way out of the dorm.
Julianne stopped by to be a cock tease an stash the Zuni Fetish in Steve's place so she can get his proletariat ass kicked out of college for not being well bred enough. But back over at Robert an Julianne's place, Boris shows up an after several tries, is able to locate Robert's brain an yank it outta his nose with a coat hanger. It's like an abortion for your brain. Julianne comes home just in time to see Boris wobble out the back door an she calls Christian over to help scrub the Robert out of the carpet. The next day, the Dean finds the Zuni Fetish in Steve's place an promises to have it returned to Dan Curtis an to evict Steve's no good ass from campus. But Steve's twice as smart as the other three characters combined an not only does he know Julianne did it, but he sends Boris back over to her place where he slices open her back an stuffs her full of flowers. Okay, so he needs to work on his romantic approach a little. At least he had the flower part right. Shortly thereafter, Christian shows up, but by then Boris has her wrapped in gauze an he's back in his sarcophagus. Christian has sad face. Then mad face. Back over at Steve's place, the second fuse of the segment blows, only this time when Steve comes out to the fuse box, Christian clocks 'em a good one, takes him back inside, ties him to a chair and spreads Steve's masters thesis under it. Even for a guy that's not real swift, Christian has this one figured out an he's gonna roast Steve's chestnuts on an open fire if he doesn't tell 'em where the scroll is. Steve's grown pretty attached to his chestnuts, so he tells Christian where it is, an he torches it. He lets Steve live, and the next day Steve moves out, but he'll "find a way to keep in touch." Will cut it here to preserve the segment's conclusion.
The next story begins with a sharp dressed man pulling up to Batman's place in a cab. Then William Hickey sticks his cryptkeeper-esque face outta the door an tells the cabbie to wait, an he invites the man inside. Will wants the man to do a hit for him. The guy says no problem, that's his business. But don't ask him about his business. The victim, he says, is standing right behind him. The hitman (Halston) whirls around to see a puddy tat sitting on the floor and, much like war veterans, is not real amused by that brand of humor. But Will's being super cereal. He claims the cat killed all of his roomies an that if Halston doesn't end the cat it's gonna get him next an bury him in the litter box. Will has this funny idea that maybe Halston doesn't believe 'im, so he runs down how the cat got all three of his room mates an that he figures the cat's been sent to avenge the thousands that went to their yowling deaths as a result of the research his pharmaceutical company using them for lab animals to brew up some legal cocaine that's super expensive an makes you insane in the membrane if you take too much of it. Then the puddy drops into Halston's lap an Will warns him not to get cocky. But Halston's super cereal too, an for the payday Will's offering he'll squeeze the puddy's neck. Only he's got a pretty lousy grip for an assassin an succeeds only in pissing the cat off. Halston tells Will to bugger off an he'll skin this cat his way, so Will takes the taxi into town an Halston pulls out his tool box an gets to work.
Then the puddy sneaks up on him while he's getting some booze an slashes 'em a good one. Halston has to take a few deep cleansing breaths cause he's startin' to lose his cool, but when he sees the blood on his expensive shirt, that pretty much tears it. This isn't fun anymore an he's gonna get puddy in a sack an toss 'em in the river now. Then we watch the battle of wits from the cat's point of view for awhile an after Halston fails to stick 'em with a syringe full of death juice the puddy tries to give 'em the ole toenail vasectomy an scares the bejezus outta him until he realizes he's still got lefty an righty attached. So after he practices his Lamaze for awhile an pulls himself together, he figures he's going about this all wrong an sets up some Fancy Feast for the puddy. But when puddy goes for it, Halston's shot succeeds only in canceling the day's television programming an the puddy goes for the face again as Halston shoots blindly at everything in the room except the puddy. But the puddy's had enough fun for one night an figures inside Halston's stomach would be a nice place to curl up an take a nap, so it latches onto his face an burrows it's way into his belly as he convulses an bulges. Still, it's less painful than eating at #1 China Buffet. In the morning Will returns to quite a sight, but we'll end it here an not spoil what happens next.
The third and final story begins with a guy (Preston) trying to construct a model of the Brooklyn Bridge with popcicle sticks. Only he gets real frustrated an starts smashing it when he realizes how many more popcicles he's gonna have to eat to finish it. Plus he's got an ice cream headache so severe that the bomb squad shows up to defuse his head on the basis that it's about to become an improvised explosive device. So he heads down to talk to his agent at the bar, but he just gets more bad news when the agent tells him his artwork is so terrible and nonsensical that he makes Picasso seem sane an that if he wants his garbage he can head over to the gallery an get it before they give it to the Salvation Army. Plus he's a big waste of time an needs to find a new agent. So after he gets good an trashed, the bartender decides to help him get home, only this big nasty gargoyle comes to life an swoops down on the bartender while Preston's taking a piss. Which is just as well, cause it would have been in his pants when the beast gets up in his face. After it relieves the bartender's head of its post, it turns on Preston an figures one random decapitation is enough for one night, an if he'll promise not to tell anyone about this, it'll let him live. So Preston blubbers out a promise an it gives him a parting Freddy Kruger signature slash across the chest an Preston has to puke for a little while. Once he's finished, he runs into Rae Dawn Chong an chastises her for running around in a neighborhood like this cause all kinda scrubs like him hang out here an she could get hurt. So naturally, she goes home with him an after she rubs some alcohol all over his gaping wounds he finds a gash of his own that he's interested in an they make the sign of the triple pronged jackal. Afterwards, Preston starts making chalk drawings of the Gill Man from Creature from the Black Lagoon until he remembers what the gargoyle said an he realizes if anybody sees it he may as well lay down on the floor an use it to draw his own outline.
The next morning, he has to go out, but he tells Rae Dawn to hang out for a while cause that sex thing was a lot more fun with a second person an he'd like to do some more of that. But the first thing he sees is the rummy from the bar whinoing about how the bartender that's being shoveled into the meat wagon was his friend, an he heads home to draw some more. Rae Dawn done ditched him while he was gone, but what the heck, he's got his work an... OH GOD I'VE BLOWN IT I'LL NEVER GET ANOTHER ONE THAT HOT AGAIN. But shortly thereafter, she returns. Not only does she return, but she's got an artsy fartsy friend of a friend that just happens to be the owner of a ritzy shwitzy art gallery downtown an she's gonna come by an look at some of his work later. So in no time flat, Preston's the toast of the town, an he's selling pictures of nothing to people that'll marvel at it for years trying to determine what it represents, an it's all thanks to Rae Dawn. More "good" news, she's preggers, so he does the manly thing an... no wait, he doesn't sneak out in the middle of the night an ditch her. He does the "gentlemanly" thing an asks her to marry him. Naturally, she accepts, he is quite a catch after all... it's not like he was a complete failure until she came along or anything. But anyway, 10 years pass an Preston's agent steps into their place with their two monstrous children cause part of his plea bargain for getting Preston back as a client now that he's a big success, is to babysit the little terrors. Then Preston starts talking about moving to the country. For her of course, cause she's just fantastic an he thinks she's super neat. She says not to worry about it, there's nothing more that she wants that he can possibly give her. But that's not true. There is one thing he can give her that he never has. I mean, besides a fulfilling sexual encounter. An we all know what that thing is. We'll cut here even though I spoiled the ending earlier.
Of course, by this time, Blondie's been stalled by Matthew Lawrence for far too long and she really needs to get his buns in the oven. But he's got a plan, and he will not go quietly into the night.
In general, I prefer full length movies to these anthology types, but there really aren't that many of them, and for that reason they're a nice change of pace every now and then. Besides, there are just some ideas that don't need to be drawn out into 90 minutes. Plus there's not nearly so much plot getting in the way of the story with these. The downside is that there's so little of it, when reviewing them, you really need to include every little bit just so anyone can have the foggiest notion of what the Hell you're talkin' about. How many of these are there really anyway? Creepshow of course. Trilogy of Terror, Stephen King's Cat's Eye, Body Bags, Twilight Zone: The Movie, Tales from the Crypt (1972), Tales of Terror, Vault of Horror, an there's probably more than that but if you've never heard of them, there's often a reason. Of the anthology horror sub-genre, Tales from the Darkside is one of my favorites, although I do like Twilight Zone: The Movie better. I find Darkside to be better than the Creepshow series. Maybe because some of the Creepshow segments are so goofy. They're also a bit shorter, at least in the first Creepshow. There are actually some who say this was originally intended as the third installment of the Creepshow series (much later there would be a Creepshow III in spite of this), which may or may not be true. There's certainly the Stephen King/George Romero connection from Creepshow, but you've also got many connections with the actors and the director, John Harrison, to the Tales from the Darkside TV series. In the end, none of this is really important. Essentially it's just an interesting bit of trivia. Maybe the rumor is true, maybe it isn't, nobody with the clout to definitively clear it up has said either way. Tom Savini is one of the people that's made this claim. Though Savini didn't work on the movie, he is pretty tight with Romero, which lends some credence. So, who knows.
Now, the dissection. The acting is all masterful. Not only does it have some great character actors, it's also got several mainstream actors as well. Granted, before they were famous for the most part. Nonetheless, it has quite a menagerie of recognizable faces for the mainstream public, and for people like me who enjoy good character actors. For the general public you've got Christian Slater, Deborah Harry (more famous for her singing than acting of course), Matthew Lawrence and Julianne Moore. As for interesting people, you've got Steve Buscemi (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction), Ralph Marrero (Day of the Dead), William Hickey (Puppet Master), David Johansen (Scrooged), Rae Dawn Chong (The Borrower), Mark Margolis (The Pit and the Pendulum, Hannibal) and Michael Deak who I mention only for his great special effects work in a large number of movies. So, this is one of the few movies where you can say the actors involved should appeal to just about everyone. The stories are all well written, it's possible that the fact that they're so short makes it easier, then again it may not. As you've probably noticed, I dunno squat about writing. Still, the screenplays are all very well written, and unlike the Creepshow series, they save the best story for last. All three have great atmosphere, but "Lover's Vow" is head and shoulders above the rest in probably every category. The shooting locations range from decent to great. The mansion in "Cat from Hell" is fantastic, as are the New York streets in "Lover's Vow". Just kinda "meh" for "Lot 249", in that one you're more or less just watching for Steve Buscemi and the special effects. Speaking of which, no bad special effects in the movie, and while the ones used in "Lot 249" and "Cat from Hell" are adequate and somewhat standard, the gargoyle in "Lover's Vow" is amazing. Its face just looks so real that you can't help but find it believable. The only thing I'd mention in the negative about it is the dubbing doesn't match the mouth movements all the time. Still, it's great. The soundtrack is another positive. Anytime it's playing, it's enhancing the scene. And not only is the soundtrack great, it's when they don't use it that's equally effective. For instance, when the gargoyle touches down onto the street, and the camera is showing its lower half from behind, the dead silence does more than any track ever could. So, another big plus. Tales from the Darkside can be safely recommended to anyone that lacks an aversion to horror films, so long as they also lack an aversion to anthology movies.
Individual segment ratings:
Lot 249: 67%
Cat from Hell: 75%
Lover's Vow: 90%