Tales from the Darkside DVD Review


Despite my lifelong affection for short stories when they're in book form, I've never been truly satisfied with the cinematic / televsion equivalent. For every Dead of Night, Asylum, or Creepshow, there are three movies like Deadtime Stories, Campfire Tales, and (ugh) Creepshow 3. When you switch over to the TV side of the equation, you've got your Twilight Zone, your Outer Limits, and the better part of HBO's Tales from the Crypt. Unfortunately you also have the Friday the 13th series, the nearly unwatchable Freddy's Nightmares ... and lots of stuff in between. If it's true that an anthology series is only as good as its best episode, then there's certainly some fun to be had with Masters of Horror, Fear Itself, Nightmares & Dreamscapes, and SOME of the mid-'80s syndication favorite Tales from the Darkside -- which itself spawned a half-decent anthology flick in its own right.

The series began in 1984 and ran for 92 22-minute episodes. The movie version arrived in 1990 while the series was still running in heavy rerun rotation. One benefit that the anthology shows have is that they're not beholden to the same story or even the same characters, which makes them handy for Saturday afternoon "disposable" viewing, but by the time the series had reached its third season, it was a mixed bag at best. Those familiar with the works of executive producer George Romero will notice a lot of familiar names behind the scenes, including Michael Gornick (Creepshow 2), John Harrison (Book of Blood), Armand Mastroianni (He Knows You're Alone), and producer Richard Rubenstein (Pet Sematary). So yeah, clearly this is a product of the 1980s through and through.

Taken as bite-sized nuggets to (slightly) creepy concepts and half-formed riffs on the "ironic darkness" found in the finest anthology series, Tales from the Darkside works as a slight and forgettable diversion -- provided you have an appreciably high threshold for things that basic writing, bland visual presentation, and consistently starchy acting performances -- yeah, there's some fun here. Keep in mind that these "horror" stories are pitched at audience very young (or very old) and is hardly representative of the stuff that film fans have come to expect from George Romero.

You know the material: A couple moves into a house in which a woman just killed her husband ... and then the wife starts suspecting her husband of cheating. A businessman is tempted with a great deal ... from the devil. A sleazy journalist pokes into a mysterious carnival ... and becomes part of the side show. An old man tells some kiddies a Christmas story ... about a monster. A little girl finds she can kill people by saying goodbye to them ... or can she? A shoemaker realizes...

You get the idea. The series (or at least this third (out of four) seasons) jumps around from mildly effective monster stories to ironic fantasy and a few offbeat places in between. As such, there's not much of a "series" to get behind; if you're fortunate you'd get some amusement out of a third of the 22 episodes offered here. Those who grew up watching this program will no doubt enjoy the nostalgia factor of the Vol. 3 DVD package, but there's not much here that would warrant a second visit. Plus you have to sit through the interminable (and wonderfully chintzy) epilogue 22 times in a row.

Paramount delivers the goods in the sort of package you'd expect: flat, grainy, full-frame video in Dolby 2.0 (no subtitles), and nothing whatsoever in the way of extra features. Hardly the handsomest DVD package you'll ever come across, but this sort of release is for the old-school collectors. And those fans will probably be pleased to get the third edition of Darkside episodes on DVD, period.