Monday, October 26, 2015

Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990)

Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (USA, 1990) - Color, Director(s): John Harrison
MPAA Rating: R
[UK: 18]
Approx. 93 min.

Z-rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Cheese Factor: 2 stars out of 5

What's Halloween without at least one horror anthology film? Tales from the Darkside was originally a television series created by George A. Romero similar to shows like The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery, and The Outer Limits. After the success of Romero's Creepshow, Laurel Entertainment was interested in producing a TV adaptation but they had to come up with a new name since Warner Bros. owned certain aspects of Creepshow. The show ran for about 4 seasons before coming to an end in the summer of 1988. Director John Harrison, who also directed several episodes of the original show, was chosen to helm the movie. The screenplay was co-written by George Romero and Michael McDowell (Beetlejuice), who also wrote for several episodes of the show.

The wraparound segment is like a modern day "Hansel and Gretel". An unassuming suburban housewife, played by Deborah Harry (Videodrome, Body Bags), is actually a witch who plans to cook a little boy (a young Matthew Lawrence) for a dinner party later that night. To avoid being eviscerated and stuffed, the boy reads her three horror stories from a book to keep her distracted.

The first segment is based on a short story, "Lot No. 249" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, which is the first story to ever vilify a reanimated mummy and is believed to have influenced their subsequent depictions as evil entities in horror movies throughout the 20th century. In this retelling, an antique collector by the name of Bellingham (Steve Buscemi) is framed by Susan (Julianne Moore) for stealing a pre-Columbian Zuni Fetish from the museum. These accusations lose a scholarship for Bellingham, who had recently acquired a sarcophagus at an auction. Upon unwrapping the mummy inside, he finds a scroll hidden within its body that he uses to revive the mummy and exact horrible revenge on those who've wronged him. Christian Slater plays Susan's brother Andy and this also marks the big screen debut of Julianne Moore. Romero's Dawn of the Dead can be seen playing on TV in one scene. The original story was written during the late-19th century's obsession with Egyptology and it's easy to see the influence on movies like Universal's The Mummy, which cemented mummies as a movie monster.

The second segment, Cat from Hell, is adapted from a short story of the same name by Stephen King. A rich old man named Drogan hires a professional hitman to kill a cat. Initially laughing it off as a joke, the hitman is informed that Drogan made his fortune in pharmaceuticals that were tested almost solely on cats and believes this one to be the embodiment of their vengeance. After supposedly killing three other people in the household, the old man now fears for his life and is willing to shell out $100,000 to have the cat exterminated. What would a scary movie, and Halloween, be with the obligatory black cat? Between this, Cat's Eye, Pet Sematary, and Sleepwalkers, it's almost like Stephen King has something against cats. I wish the cat transformed into a monster à la the rabbit in Twilight Zone: The Movie, [SPOILER]: it doesn't, but this does have some interesting POV shots through the cat's eyes.  

The third and final segment takes place in New York where James Remar (Raiden from Mortal Kombat: Annihilation) is a starving artist. After getting dumped by his agent at a bar, he spends the night drowning his sorrows. The bartender offers to walk him home but they're attacked by a gargoyle in the alley. After seeing the bartender torn to pieces before his eyes, and probably dropping a fresh load in his pants, he begs for his life. The gargoyle agrees to spare him on the condition that he swears never to tell anyone about what he saw. I don't want to spoil the ending but you can probably guess that he spills the beans eventually. That's not really the important part though, it's the consequence that really surprised me. This is why you should always keep your promises!

Unfortunately for little Timmy (Lawrence), time has run out and the witch is about to cook him... but he has one final story that might help him get free.

Nudity: One breast, seen during a sex scene involving James Remar and Rae Dawn Chong.

Gore: I feel like doing some Drive-In Totals for this one: 10 Dead Bodies, embalmings, decapitation, throat biting, suffocated by a cat, choking to death on a cat, heads roll, hands roll, cars roll, old ladies roll. 4 stars! In all seriousness, this movie has some decent gore but nothing extreme or over-the-top.

Leave it to a Mummy to be artsy enough to put brains in a bowl of fruit after scooping them out with a coat hanger

Awesome: I love a good horror anthology and I really enjoyed the "book of scary stories" motif. Romero already used the comic book theme for Creepshow, as a throwback to the old EC horror comics like Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, and The Haunt of Fear. Since they couldn't reuse it, they took deeper inspiration from the source material, reading the stories out of a book like the Crypt-Keeper would in the comics. With anthology films, the whole is typically greater than the sum of its parts. Since each segment is only allotted a portion of the total runtime, they have to tell an entire story in the given amount of time. In most instances, the segments won't stand on their own (as they aren't designed to) and rely on the collective strength of the others to elevate the entire film. For example, the Cat from Hell segment would be a little lame on its own but I really enjoyed the film overall. I just don't think cats are that scary, especially when there isn't anything wrong with the cat. At least in Pet Sematary, it's a reanimated zombie cat. The ending to that segment was still pretty great though. There were talks of a sequel that never materialized, which is shame because you can never have too many horror anthologies. I would definitely recommend this to fans of Creepshow and Tales from the Crypt. These kinds of movies are great to play in the background at parties too.