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Tales from the Darkside (1990)

by on November 19, 2014
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Deborah Harry and Matthew Lawrence retelling "Hansel and Gretal"

What was long thought of as an unofficial “Creepshow 3,” the “Tales from the Darkside” movie proves to be little more than a poor man’s “Creepshow” in all things but its all-star casting.

You may best remember “Tales from the Darkside” as the anthology horror series from the 1980s that was most often confused with HBO’s “Tales from the Crypt.” Without a wisecracking, decomposing creep to narrate the stories, the lesser-known, PG-rated “Darkside” was regarded as more of a cult classic. To make a comparison to an earlier decade with a similar run of shows, “Darkside” was the “Outer Limits” whereas “Crypt” was more “Twilight Zone.”

Where am I going with all these comparisons, you may ask? Well, it stands to reason that “Darkside” forever remained the little-brother-series-that-could, even after its big-screen debut because, by the time of its theatrical release, it was “Creepshow” that dominated most cult enthusiasts’ attention. I’m sure as a standalone project that is immune from all judgmental comparisons, “Darkside” would be a quirky horror gem straddling two decades of excess. Of course, that’s not the case, and “Darkside” is open for any and all comparison/critique. It’s simply not up to par with the slew of horror anthologies that preceded it.

Much like any anthology series, the movie is presented with an intro that acts as a wraparound story. Suburban house witch Betty (Deborah Harry) has abducted a little boy (Matthew Lawrence), whom she has locked away in a cage with the intention of eating him for supper. This poor man’s modern-day “Hansel and Gretel” serves as a catalyst for the three short stories, which are told from the perspective of the boy as a means of buying time for his own survival.

The first tale of the macabre, entitled “Lot 249”, is your typical mummy romp with all the usual ancient Egyptian stereotypes: haunted scrolls, incantations, nostril lobotomies — the works. Starring Steve Buscemi, Christian Slater and Julianne Moore, it stands to be the most star-studded affair of the three shorts. It has your standard twist ending and a litany of nods to Karloff’s “The Mummy,” but ultimately fails to update a been-there-done-that story.

The second movie in the trilogy, “Cat from Hell”, was originally penned by Stephen King and adapted for the screen by George Romero. Given the blockbuster horror names associated with the second act, it has a surprisingly lackluster delivery. Luckily, outstanding performances from David Johansen of “New York Dolls” fame and the eternally decrepit William Hickey help elevate “Cat from Hell” from boring to a somewhat serviceable midnight movie. The ending in particular will make your skin crawl in the best way.

The movie ends on a considerable high note with an ode to a piece of Japanese folklore in “Lover’s Vow.” Based on the tale of the yuki-onna, “Lover’s Vow” takes an ancient Japanese ghost story and creates an updated American adaptation, with vengeful gargoyles come to life, that is unique upon itself. There’s even a transformation scene at the climax of the story rivaling even that of “The Howling”. The remarkably realistic special effects are truly the keynote of the entire affair. Ironically boasting the least amount of star-power, “Lover’s Vow” manages to steal the show and end the anthology on a memorable note.

The wraparound “Hansel and Gretel” story ultimately closes the film with a cheesy twist that honors the Brothers Grimm. All in all, “Tales from the Darkside” falls just short of my “Creepshow”-level expectations, but is worth a watch for “Lover’s Vow” alone.

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