Tales from the Darkside: The Movie Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by John Harrison
Written by Michael McDowell and George A. Romero (stories by Stephen King and Arthur Conan Doyle
1990, 93 minutes, Rated R
Released on August 25th, 2020
Deborah Harry as Betty
Christian Slater as Andy
Steve Buscemi as Bellingham
Julianne Moore as Susan
David Johansen as Halston
William Hickey as Drogan
Rae Dawn Chong as Carola
In a small New England town, a woman is planning an elaborate dinner party that features an unexpected main course: a little boy. Locked in a cell that connects to her lovely kitchen, the boy struggles to escape the chain that holds him prisoner. The woman sets about prepping the meal and finds she has a little extra time to kill. Desperate to delay his fate, the boy offers to tell his captor a series of terrifying tales from a book titled Tales from the Darkside. The first, “Lot 249”, is a classic chiller featuring an ancient mummy bringing death to a college campus. The second story, “Cat from Hell”, is about a hitman hired by an eccentric old man to kill a vengeful cat. “Lover’s Vow” is the final story, about an artist who holds a powerful secret that has the ability to destroy him and everyone he loves.
Anthology films have been a popular format of the horror genre for many years, especially in the 1970s and ‘80s. British based Amicus Films produced countless titles, including The House that Dripped Blood (1971), Tales from the Crypt (1972) and The Vault of Horror (1973), while domestic audiences were treated to the likes of Trilogy of Terror (1975). Following the success of 1982’s Creepshow, director George A. Romero (Two Evil Eyes) and producer Richard P. Rubenstein (Dawn of the Dead) created the television series Tales from the Darkside (1984-1988), a half-hour program that presents stories of the macabre. Following four successful seasons came a feature film under the same title, helmed by longtime Romero composer/assistant director John Harrison (Day of the Dead).
Tales from the Darkside: The Movie collects three ghoulish fables (plus a wraparound) of murder, deception, love and revenge. Co-screenwriter George Romero contributes the script for “Cat from Hell”, based on the short story by Stephen King, while Michael McDowell (Beetlejuice) adapts Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Lot 249” and pens the segment “Lover’s Vow” and also the wraparound story. Each chapter is presented with a distinct visual flair that sets them apart from each other with the help of the versatile cinematography of Rob Draper (Halloween 5). Harrison is in firm control as he delivers a picture rich with atmosphere and solid performances.
Headlining the cast is rocker Deborah Harry (Videodrome) as the suburban witch intent on serving a child for dinner. She plays it straight with a reserved performance that toys with audience expectations. “Lot 249” boasts the most impressive talent with Christian Slater (Heathers), Steve Buscemi (Escape from L.A.) and Julianne Moore (Carrie, 2013) in her film debut. “Cat from Hell” brings on the gallows humor with the presence of William Hickey (Puppet Master) and David Johansen (Scrooged), and the final story, “Lover’s Vow”, stars a sympathetic James Remar (Cruising) and the lovely Rae Dawn Chong (Commando).
Tales from the Darkside: The Movie captures the playful spirit of the syndicated television series, offering generous chills and a few laughs that keep things moving. “Cat from Hell” is the most stylish sequence with its wonderfully staged theatrical flashbacks and stark lighting. “Lover’s Vow” is the most emotionally involving, as you want this guy to be happy as well as successful. “Lot 249” captures the spirit of the old EC Horror comics and their penchant for just desserts. As an anthology, this film succeeds with its brisk pacing and engaging stories and comes easily recommended for your collection.
Video and Audio:
Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio and featuring a dated but respectable transfer, picture quality is strong with plenty of detail. Each story has a unique color palette, with “Lot 249” leaning towards earthy tones while “Cat from Hell” features strong blue flashbacks. Image quality is occasionally soft but never distracting.
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix is a winner that makes good use of the rear channels for music and sound effects. Dialogue levels are distinct and free from distortion. Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
In the newly recorded audio commentary with co-producer David R. Kappes, moderator Michael Felsher kicks things off on a light-hearted note requesting stories from Kappes’ involvement working on Jaws 3-D. This serves as a great intro that sets the tone for the conversation to come. From there they focus on this film’s production, starting with making the jump from TV to film and his involvement with producer Richard Rubinstein. Kappes talks about the script and the impressive cast list, the make-up effects and working with Harrison as a first time director. Felsher asks some great questions about his daily duties as a producer and allows him the time to answer in full.
A vintage audio commentary with director John Harrison and co-screenwriter George A. Romero that first appeared on the DVD release is carried over and remains well worth a listen. The two directors break down the film in terms of story, casting, cinematography and the many challenges faced during a production. The conversation is filled with interesting information and great stories.
The main attraction on this release is the documentary Tales from the Darkside: The Making of Four Ghoulish Fables (2020, 104 minutes) taking a look back at the production with newly-recorded interviews with John Harrison; producer Mitch Galin; cinematographer Rob Draper; production designer Ruth Ammon; special effects make-up artists Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger and Robert Kurtzman; editor Harry B. Miller; actors James Remar and Rae Dawn Chong; and creature performer Michael Deak. The documentary is separated into six chapters (sadly there is not a “play all” option), each focusing on a different aspect of the shoot from concept to screenplay to design and casting and the special effects. This is an insightful and entertaining retrospective that covers a lot of ground and takes the time to detail all aspects of the shoot and its release.
A compilation of rare behind-the-scenes footage (1990, 11 minutes) from K.N.B. Effects takes a look at the development of the various special make-up effects gags. It is fun watching these guys work and test their designs and this segment could easily run twice as long and still be a welcome addition.
The theatrical trailer is joined by two TV spots and three radio ads.
A promotional photo gallery (4 minutes) includes publicity shots, promotional images and international poster art.
A behind-the-scenes gallery from K.N.B. Effects (4 minutes) collects stills of make-up application, design and testing.
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