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TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: THE MOVIE

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Deborah Harry, Christian Slater, Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, David Johansen, William Hickey, James Remar, Rae Dawn Chong, Robert Klein, Matthew Lawrence
Director:  John Harrison
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Paramount
Features:  Theatrical Trailer, Commentary Track
Length:  93 Minutes
Release Date:  September 25, 2001

“I ALWAYS go to a lot of trouble for a dinner party.”

Film ***

I love horror, and have always had a warm spot in my heart for Tales From the Darkside: The Movie.  Episodic scare flicks don't always pan out, but this picture, which seemed to bear similarity to the television show in name only, was more effective, more fun, and more satisfying than either Creepshow film, or Twilight Zone: The Movie, or any number of other entries in the same genre.

Tales works because of a satisfying wraparound structure that gives the individual tales scope, as well as for being so wickedly funny with its macabre premises and gory makeup effects.  For people who love horror, it's a good hour and a half of shrieking and smiling.

A suburban housewife (Harry, of Blondie fame) has an unusual item on the menu for dinner: a hapless youngster named Timmy (Lawrence).  He's the main course, but he tries to stall the inevitable by reading aloud stories from the lady's favorite book.

His first story, “Lot 249”, is based on a story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and tells a tale of college campus revenge when an archaeology major (Buscemi) unleashes an ancient Egyptian curse with murderous results.  There are no real surprises here, but plenty of fun to be had as you wait for the inevitable.

The second tale is “Cat From Hell”, and was penned by George Romero for the screen from a story by Stephen King.  When a bizarre wheelchair bound old man (Hickey) employs the services of a renowned hit man (Johansen), the killer has no idea his prey will be a simple black cat.  But the cat may be more than he appears to be.  You say you've seen too many black cat movies already?  I'll bet you haven't seen one with a climax like this.

The final story, “Lover's Vow”, is the best of the bunch, and was probably inspired by one of the tales in the Japanese film Kwaidan.  A struggling New York artist (Remar) witnesses a horrible murder by a demonic gargoyle, who lets him live on the condition that he never tells what he saw that night.  If you've never seen this movie before, I envy you getting to experience this tale for the first time.

That brings us back to the connecting story, which resolves as only a Darkside tale can.  Yes, we do love our happy endings!

Director John Harrison seems to grow more confident as each tale unfolds…while “Lot 249” is done fairly by the numbers, “Cat From Hell” takes on a visual style akin to Dario Argento, with the camera often showing the kitty's point of view, opening up for wild effects and movements.  “Lover's Vow” is a masterpiece of horror, with a perfectly rendered atmosphere, timely bits of gore, and perfect pacing.

I enjoyed the cast across the board…particularly seeing very early screen appearances from Buscemi and Julianne Moore.  Buscemi would later turn the creepiness he created in his character here into a brilliant, edgy comic career.  The makeup effects by Dick Smith are terrific…he spares no expense to make us squirm in our seats.

Best of all, the film never loses its macabre sense of humor.  Most horror fans like to laugh after a good scare anyway, to relieve the tension.  This is a movie that actively encourages that response.  Even the most horrific scenes are usually offset by a good titter, which is why fans have embraced this picture over the last decade.

You'll laugh, you'll scream…most of all, you'll want to share the Tales again.  Enjoy it with someone you love…maybe over a nice, home-cooked meal…

Video ***

This is a good anamorphic transfer from Paramount…the print is quite clean, and doesn't seem to suffer from any apparent compression effects.  Blacks and whites both render purely, but colors in between seem to have a little less range.  Some slight grain is apparent in one or two of the darkest scenes, but it's not distracting, and just barely noticeable.  Images range from sharply rendered to a bit softer, depending on the lighting scheme and mood of the shot.  Extreme effects, such as the distortion and color saturation of the cat's-eye view shots come across very well.

Audio ***

I never expect much from older films remixed for 5.1 sound, but Tales performs quite nicely.  The rear stages are used sparingly but effectively, for musical cues and extra impact on more chaotic scenes.  There is a bit more panning on the front stage, which is always done smoothly and fluidly.  Dynamic range is fairly strong, as horror films should be.  There's not a lot of bass, but it's not really missed.  All in all, a very worthy effort.

Features **1/2

The disc contains a trailer and a decent commentary track by director John Harrison and co-writer George Romero…there are some pauses here and there, but overall, the joint track is a good listen.  The two masterminds come across as surprisingly normal!  Both express their pleasure at the film being remastered for DVD with a new 5.1 soundtrack.

Summary:

Three creepy stories, one connecting thread…Tales From the Darkside is an effective piece of horror filmmaking with a lot of good creative talent involved.  The disc is more than serviceable, too…fans should be quite pleased.