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TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: THE MOVIE

This 1990 anthology film, from George Romero’s late Laurel Entertainment, was a big screen transposition of the TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE TV series, yet is viewed by many as CREEPSHOW 3 under another name. It’s not bad--in fact it’s pretty impressive in many respects, though still far from great.

The Package
     This 3-part film featured “stars” like Christian Slater, Rae Dawn Chong and Deborah Harry (a.k.a. Blondie), and also Julianne Moore and Steve Buscemi early in their careers. The screenplay, penned by the late Michael McDowell and George Romero, was inspired in part by stories from Stephen King (“The Cat from Hell”), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (“Lot No. 249”) and an unaccredited Lafcadio Hearn (the Japanese folklore inspired “Yuki-Onna,” a story also adapted for Masaki Kobayashi’s KWAIDAN). The director was CREEPSHOW’S assistant director and composer John Harrison, who had directed eight episodes of the TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE series, and still works largely in television.

The Stories
     A blond woman returns from a shopping trip to her cozy home…where a young boy is held captive in a dungeon! The woman intends to cook and eat the boy, but he manages to hold her off by reading from her “favorite book”: a thick tome called TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE.
     The first tale takes place in a college dorm, where a nerdy student named Bellingham is cultivating an ancient mummy. Bellingham has been meddling in ancient Egyptian rituals, and calls the mummy to life so it can kill anyone who offends him. Its victims include an obnoxious college student whose brains are yanked out of his head through his nose (an actual part of the mummification process) and a bitchy woman who’s cut open and stuffed with flowers (also a real mummification method). Eventually Bellingham’s pal Andy, whose sister and best friend were the mummy’s victims, discovers what’s going on and takes it upon himself to destroy the creature.
     In the second story a hit man is summoned to a foreboding mansion owned by the ancient and eccentric Drogan, the head of a successful pharmaceutical company. The latter wants the hitman to kill a cat, which Drogan claims has haunted his family for generations. The cat, it seems, is an immortal beastie who’s upset that so many of its buddies have been killed in experiments carried out by Drogan’s company. The hitman takes the job, but killing the cat isn’t nearly as easy as it might seem!
     The third story has Preston, a down-on-his-luck artist, witness a close friend murdered by a scary monster. The creature makes Preston promise never to repeat what he saw. Later that night Preston meets the fetching Carola and the two strike up a romance. Ten years pass, finding Preston and Carola happily married with two young children. Preston, who’s kept his secret all this time, finally informs Carola what he witnessed ten years earlier, and…

The Direction
     This film isn’t in the same league visually as the baroque and stylized CREEPSHOW, but it does look quite good. Each segment has a strong and distinct color scheme: burnished firelight in part one, cold and desaturated tones in part two, and appropriately soft and diffused hues in the romance-tinged part three. The film also has some decent scares, with a far more horrific air than CREEPSHOW and its sequel (this film’s evident forebears), and there are even some good low budget THING-like transmutation effects.
     So TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: THE MOVIE is indisputably well made. The problem with the film is, simply, that the stories chosen aren’t that strong. Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Lot No. 249” was a powerful tale in its day (1892) but hasn’t dated especially well, while Stephen King’s “The Cat from Hell,” written early on in his career, is not one of King’s better works, and Lafcadio Hearn’s “Yuki-Onna” works better in its original Japanese setting (among other problems, it’s not exactly difficult predicting the story’s outcome). Yet even though this film isn’t all it could have been, it’s leagues ahead of the real CREEPSHOW 3 (2006), which TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: THE MOVIE should have been titled.
 

Vital Statistics

TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: THE MOVIE
Paramount Pictures/Laurel Entertainment

Director: John Harrison
Producers: Richard P. Rubinstein, Mitchell Galin
Screenplay: Michael McDowell, George Romero
(Based on stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, Stephen King & Lafcadio Hearn)
Cinematography: Robert Draper
Editing: Harry B. Miller III
Cast: Deborah Harry, Christian Slater, David Johansen, William Hickey, James Remar, Rae Dawn Chong, Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, Matthew Lawrence, Robert Sedgwick, Robert Klein, David Forrester, Donald Van Horn 

     

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