The Test of Time: Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990)

We all have movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? So…the point of this here column is whether of not a film stands the test of time. I’m not gonna question whether it’s still a good flick, but if the thing holds up for a modern audience.

Director: John Harrison
Starring: Christian Slater, William Hickey, and Steve Buscemi

When I was a kid, my knowledge of Tales from the Darkside was limited at best. In fact, I never knew it existed as a TV show (which lasted from 83-88) until the movie came out back in 1990. My first horror series was Tales from the Crypt (I don’t count Twilight Zone as horror), and to me Darkside was that one flick that starred a pre-coked out Christian Slater and had a really bad cat in it. However, I now realize that not only wasn't Darkside a Crypt rip-off like I had always assumed, but it was cut from the same cloth. 

Apparently, Tom Savini declared Darkside the unofficial Creepshow 3 (it’s a shame Ted Danson and Leslie Nielsen didn’t come back as they made Creepshow for me), which George A. Romero couldn’t get off the ground due to various and probably boring rights issues. Instead, he created a new franchise, one that expanded on his live action EC Comics tribute.

Someone should have locked up the Joey Lawrence and his brother years ago. 

Anyway, when the series ended, the film adaptation ended up being one of the last big screen horror anthologies released. But does this one stand up against the Test of Time?

Under the examination: Tales from the Darkside: The Movie.  

THE STORY: Essentallly, we're given four stories here starting with "The Wraparound Story,” which involves Deborah Henry (from Blondie) who has a kid (Matthew Lawrence) locked up in her kitchen, ready to cook up. To keep himself from being eaten, he starts telling her favorite stories (three of ‘em to be exact) from a book: Tales from the Darkside. The first story “Lot 249” revolves around a nerdy college guy (Steve Buscemi) who imports a very special package. There’s a mummy inside the crate, and he resurrects it to seek revenge on some rich jerks (Christian Slater, Julianne Moore, and Robert Sedgwick). The next story is “Cat from Hell,” which gives us a hit man (David Johansen) who tries to takes down a pussy with a bad attitude for a rich old man (William Hickey). The last story, “Lover’s Vow” involves a struggling artist (James Remar) who happens to run into a killer gargoyle who lets the artist live only if he keeps his damn mouth shut. The problem? He falls in love with Tommy Chong's daughter, and he doesn't like hiding things from her. 

Buscemi and Slater digging in a mummy. Sounds like a bad joke set-up. 

WHAT STILL HOLDS UP: It’s funny the things that you remember. I didn’t remember much about this movie, but I never forgot about Slater with his electric knife cutting off a mummy’s head. That's not a thing easy to drop from memory. I didn’t even recall what the hell was even going on in the scene, but I never forgot it. Now rewatching the flick years later, that lone memory of the movie actually makes sense, because that first story is probably the only thing worth recalling.

Why? Perhaps its comes from the cast of Slater, Buscemi, and Moore. Obviously, only Slater was actually a star back then, but watching a young Buscemi make a play for power and revenge is worth a viewing in itself. The story itself seems a bit old fashioned, but considering it comes from a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story, well that makes sense.

The oddest of the stories comes from the Stephen King short story, “Cat from Hell” in which we have a, you guessed it, a really damn evil cat. This one kills all the members of an old man’s family, so the old man is forced to hire a hitman in the form of Buster Poindexter (David Johansen from the New York Dolls). The story plays out like something King sneezed on a typewriter, but it's only story with any sort of life or humor to it. It's really a dumb plot and drapped in blues to look like Film Noir to a nice effect. Johansen hams it up as the hitman (“Hey cat, for me it’s nothing but the best”) while Hickey defined his Hollywood title of "That One Old Grumpy Man.' 

The effects aren't top notch (see below), but the film does have its moments. My favorite? When the cat reemerges from Johansen's stomach. It's pretty freaking disturbing. 


WHAT BLOWS NOW: It's pretty simple to know what blows now for Tales from the Darkside: the effects, which just don’t really hold up. The opening sequence “Lot 249” is weak in the horror and gore department. I thought the film missed an opportunity without showing heavy gore when the mummy decides to remove some brains via a laundry wire hanger. While "Cat from Hell" had some of my favorite moments, there's too many sequences involving an obvious dummy cat, which just looks stupid. 

The final story “Lover’s Vow,” is by far the worst of the bunch. I never understand why an anthology movie ends on a slow note, but whatever. It does make up for it slightly with probably the best effects in the film. Ok, so the gargoyle looks like rejected Gremlins models, but without giving away everything, stick around for the final blood and guts sequence. It makes up for the lackluster stuff for most of 90 minutes. 

The gremlins are out for blood. 

THE VERDICT: Tales from the Darkside is ok at best. The stories are second rate, along with the gore and the effects. While the acting takes a step up from the Creepshow runs, everything else stops short. Darkside isn’t shitty, but its nothing special either. Time has passed it by.




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