TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE S1
Reviewed by: Dave Murray
What's it about
Way back in the far away age known as 1983, there was a little known horror show on television that would one day become a legend for one, fundamental reason: it was actually freaking scary! Produced by none other than George Romero and Richard Rubinstein, this landmark show took the successful idea of the anthology show to creepy new depths, and gave the audience some enduring scares that have yet to be imitated. The first season of this cult classic show is finally coming to DVD! It's time to eat some popcorn and crap in your pants! Now, why can't they make horror anthology shows like this anymore?
Is it good movie?
Of course, like any horror fan who's not a complete wanker, I've known about Tales from the Darkside for years. What I'm ashamed to say is that I didn't know of the wealth of absolutely horrific talent that was behind the show, the least of which is Romero. Most of what I have seen of the show is coloured and cloudy by childhood memory, and I wind up confusing episodes with Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits and Amazing Stories. Sad, I know. But for anyone who only barely remembers this first season of one of the scariest of the anthology shows, or for anyone who missed it the first time around, this new DVD set is a mouldy little treat. This is classic schlocky horror that manages to, in most places, be well written and damn creepy, even if the acting and direction is fairly hit or miss, with a whole lot of misses.
Bad acting from some bigger named stars aside (too many stars to get into here...hey, whatever happened to Vic Tayback? Oh wait, he's dead...nevermind), most of the episodes had some serious pedigree when it came to writing and directing. Here we have adaptations of Stephen King ("Word Processor of the Gods"), Joseph Brennan ("Levitation") and D.J. Pass ("Anniversary Dinner"). There are many more horror luminaries that either joined in the fun or cut their first bloody teeth on this show, and again if I listed them all here you'd be reading all day and not have time to watch the show! Aside from the above mentioned episodes, the Romero-written pilot "Trick or Treat" was nicely done, if a little campy, as were "Snip Snip", "Inside the Closet" (directed by Tom Savini, and featuring one of his more memorable creatures) and the weirdly named but frightening"Mookie and Pookie". The show, in each episode, tries to play with basic human fears, and what happens to those fears when the sun goes down. It also explored, in almost every episode, the theme of revenge or justice, with the "bad" characters always getting what's coming to them, but never in the way you expect. The show does have a realist feel, like a regular TV drama where things just go all supernaturally wrong. Even the opening and closing narration by Paul Sparer points this out, that the Darkside is just like our normal world, only after dark.
Watching the first season, it's hard to believe that most of the networks passed on Darkside, but it's easy to see why. I can imagine a lot of people were uncomfortable with this level of horror being on the TV during 1983-84. However, it turned out to be such a moderate success that the networks were scrambling to catch up (with CBS even resurrecting the defunct Twilight Zone to cash in). No body thought horror of this ilk would fly with audiences, but it did and then some. I think people forget that those early Reagan years were also the years of breakaway success for horror writers like King and Koontz, as well as being the peak of the slasher craze and the unmitigated success of some of our genre's most beloved film offerings. Not surprising that a show would come along that would push the envelope, bring horror to primetime, and give us something that hasn't been done since: scary, entertaining horror television that doesn't fall flat on its face (I'm looking at you MOH/Fear Itself!). It's also not surprising that it sprang from Romero, as this is the excellence of Creepshow expanded to its natural medium! And to this I say, Give Me More!!! I am now eagerly awaiting season 2!
Video / Audio
Video: Fullscreen - 1.33:1. For the most part the picture looks great, despite showing both age and the limitations of TV filming in some places. The whole opening sequence is done with cutting edge 1983 video effects, but hey, it's at least somewhat charming.
Audio: English Mono. And no subtitles either, not even closed captioning. The sound is what you can expect, not very good and grating on the nerves. It drags down the presentation of such a great show, but at least the music comes through nicely in all of its synthisizer glory!
There's only one solitary, lonely feature here. I guess there wasn't a lot of old promotional clips or footage or whathaveyou that they could have used. Shame. What we do get is an Audio Commentary on the episode Trick Or Treat by George Romero. The commentary is a little bit choppy, and feels a little out of place, but I just love listening to this man talk. Even when he's talking about something other than zombies, he f*cking fascinating. Since it's a short listen (as the episode is only 22 minutes long), it's well worth your time to check it out.
It's awesome to see classic anthology shows given the DVD treatment, because if any show was the perfect format to watch on DVD, it is these shows. Especially when it's horror. Sure, a lot of the episodes are bad, and the acting is continually horrible, but tales from the Darkside showed that it was possible to have quality genre fare on TV without wimping out on the scares. While the show is tame by today's standards (and most young titheads will think it is lame, as well), but for my money this is still one of the best horror shows to hit the TV. A great cast, good production values, wicked writing, and some producers who know how to scare (hey, you can't go wrong with Romero!). It's an all around good time, and an easy, enjoyable trip down some horrific childhood streets!