Februrary 22, 2013

Tales From the Darkside: The Movie (1990)
Starring Debbie Harry, Matthew Lawrence, Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, and Christian Slater

Comments:   Horror anthologies were big in the 1980's.  

If you have never seen one of them before, a horror anthology is basically where the director had a bunch of good creepy short stories that he wanted to make into a film, but none of them were long enough or had enough substance to stretch into a 90 minute movie.  So the way to get around that was to create an anthology.  All you had to do was take a bunch of creepy short stories, show them back to back to back in a movie, and have some sort of a "wraparound" story at the beginning and the end that tied them all together.  And voila, there you have it.  A 1980's horror anthology.

The most famous horror anthology from the 80's was probably Creepshow.

Well there was one horror anthology that came out right at the end of the 80's (technically it came out in 1990) that has always held a special place in my heart.  And the reason for that is because it was the first horror movie I ever saw in a theater.  Plus, as horror movies go, it is actually pretty good.  

But the problem is that it is virtually unheard of today.  And I wanted to give it some love.

That long forgotten horror anthology, of course, is the Tales From the Darkside Movie.

Hi I'm Buddy I'll be your waiter

Tales From The Darkside was a TV show in the 1980's that, for all intents and purpose, was basically just a ripoff of the Twilight Zone.  It was a weekly show where bad and scary things happened to bad people.  And there was usually some sort of a twist involved.  I don't remember ever seeing the actual show myself, but from what I have read it sounds like it sucked pretty hard.  In fact, it made so little of an impact on me I honestly don't even remember how long it was around.  It was just one of those shows that was on TV late at night for a couple of years and my parents wouldn't let me watch.  And then it just sort of disappeared.  I am guessing that I never saw a single episode of it.

Well, in 1990 all of a sudden a new horror movie came out in theaters.  It was called "Tales From the Darkside: The Movie."  It had nothing to do with the TV show, other than the fact that it shared the same name and that Debbie Harry (from Blondie) was in the movie, and she had also been in a couple of the episodes.  But otherwise the movie and the TV show really had nothing to do with one another.  The movie was just some random anonymous horror anthology that was supposed to be in the same style as Creepshow.  It was three short horror stories that were all tied together with a wraparound.

Like I said, I was only 15 years old when this movie came out.  I had never actually seen an R rated horror movie in the theater before.  But in April of 1990 my school's marching band (including me of course) went on a three day trip to Victoria, British Columbia to play in a festival.   And on the first night of the trip my friend Brian and I were bored in Victoria all alone with nothing to do.  So Brian suggested that we go down to the local theater and see the new Tales From the Darkside Movie.

"But it's rated R," I said.  "And we're only 15.  They won't let us in."

"Nah, we're in a Canada now," Brian reminded me.  "In Canada they don't care.  Watch, they will just let us walk right in."

And that is how I saw my very first horror movie in a movie theater.

There are four short stories in Tales from the Darkside, all of which have varying degrees of effectiveness.  Although one of them (the last one) is pretty awesome.  In fact that last story (Lover's Vow) is so good that it is the main reason I am writing this entry.  

The other three stories, well they are okay.  I mean, the wraparound story starring Debbie Gibson is pretty forgettable.  Well, it's not forgettable if you remember Joey Lawrence from Blossom.  Because the wraparound story involves Debbie Gibson trying to cook Joey's little brother Matthew Lawrence as a pot roast.


I don't think I have ever seen anyone say anything even remotely interesting about the wraparound story.  Debbie Gibson is a cannibal, and she is trying to pop Matthew Lawrence into the oven and serve him for dinner.  That's about it.  

Oh, and to stall his fate in the oven, he distracts her by reading her some stories out of a Tales From the Darkside book.

The three stories he reads make up the rest of the movie.

The most delicious Lawrence brother

Trying to remember if you cook a Lawrence at 350 or 375

The first story that little Pot Roast Lawrence reads out of the book is called "Lot 249."  It is the story of three college students, a mummy, and revenge.  It is a fun little story, although it is awfully gory.  Let me put it this way, it wasn't until I saw Lot 249 that I understood how ancient embalmers removed a mummy's brain from his skull cavity.  Suffice it to say that it involves your nostril and a really long hook.

The mummy featured in Lot 249

Lot 249 isn't really anything special.  It is just a fun little revenge tale that is exactly like something you would have seen in Creepshow.  However, if you go back and you watch it NOW, it is much more interesting than it ever was in 1990.  And the reason for that is because Lot 249 features three young actors who would later appear in some much bigger movies.

It features a young Christian Slater

And a VERY young Julianne Moore

And my favorite, a particularly odd looking Steve Buscemi

Yes, when people think of Lot 249 (if they think of it at all), most people generally remember it as the mummy story.   And then they remember, "Hey and wasn't Steve Buscemi in that?"  And then they generally remember, "Hey, and wasn't Steve Buscemi ugly and funny looking in that, even by Steve Buscemi standards?"

And the answer to that is yes.  Yes he was.

Even as a young actor that nobody had ever heard of before, Steve Buscemi was particularly funny looking.

Funnier than most people even

So anyway, that is Lot 249.  It's nothing great, but some people like it, some people don't like it.  Again, if you are familiar with horror anthologies you know what to expect.  Expect a lot of mummy attacks and dark humor embalming jokes.

Donnie you're out of your element

The second story in the movie, though.  Well this one is different.  The second story is called "Cat From Hell" and it was written by Stephen King.

And, well, it is about a Cat From Hell.  

That is about the best way to describe it.

In Soviet Russia, pussy fucks you

Cat From Hell is about a particularly nasty little black cat who has a habit of killing people.  And a hitman who has been hired to assassinate it.

It is a silly story, and it doesn't make any sense.  But almost anyone who has ever watched Tales From the Darkside remembers it.  In particular, they remember the ending.

Cat From Hell has an ending that you will never forget.

David Johansen as the hitman who has been hired to kill the cat

Like I said, Cat From Hell is a Stephen King short story, so if you are a fan of Stephen King at all you should probably see it.  Just because, well, because.  Because it is a quirky one.  And again, because of that really... uh... interesting ending.

This fight is hot hot hot

Okay, and then we come to the third story.  The final story.  The masterpiece.  The story that is so good that it probably should have been made into its own standalone movie.  

Seriously, if Lover's Vow had been a standalone movie, it would probably be considered one of the best horror movies of the 90's.  It would probably be a movie that people would be putting on a pedestal.

Lover's Vow is the story of a man (Preston) who witnesses a strange murder.  He is just walking down the street one night, minding his own business, drunk and blitzed out of his skull, when he sees a gargoyle come down from the sky and rip a man to shreds in the back of an alley.

The gargoyle turns and it sees that Preston has witnessed the killing.  And it says it will only let him live under one condition.

The gargoyle tells Preston, go home right now and tell nobody what you have seen here.  Do not tell anybody EVER what you have seen here.  If you can go your entire life without ever telling what you have seen, I will allow you to live.  

Tell anyone, even fifty years from now, and I am going to come back.

So Preston keeps his word and he tells no one.  He keeps the gargoyle's secret.

Years pass.  More years pass.  Preston leads a perfectly normal life.

Then, one day, he meets the love of his life.

And he drops his guard.  He falls in love.  He starts to get comfortable.

And he debates if it is okay to tell her...

Preston with his new fiancee, Carola

Lover's Vow is one of those stories that I saw in 1990 and it has always stuck with me.  I don't know why, there is just something about the way that the story was told and the way it was written that has always lodged itself in my brain.  And what is funny is that I thought I was the only one.  I thought that I was the only one who watched Tales from the Darkside in 1990 and thought that Lover's Vow was awesome.

Well I was reading through some reviews of obscure horror movies in preparation for this list, and sure enough, what do you think I found?   I found pages of reviews talking about the Tales From the Darkside Movie.  And nearly all of them said the exact same thing.  

They all said "the wraparound story was meh, Steve Buscemi was creepy in Lot 249, WTF was the Cat From Hell.  And OH MY GOD do you remember Lover's Vow?  Why the hell don't more people remember that last story?  Lover's Vow was fucking CREEPY!"

Call me

And so there you have it.  The first horror movie I ever saw in a theater, featuring two pretty good stories, a psycho cat versus a hitman, Debbie Harry in one of her rare acting roles, and then ending with one of the best short stories that has ever been in any horror anthology movie ever.  Seriously, I would say that Lover's Vow is better than anything that was ever in any of the Creepshow movies.

I do feel a little guilt recommending this one, because Tales From the Darkside is much gorier than most horror movies I would ever recommend to you, but most of the gore in this movie isn't really that bad.  I mean, it is nowhere near as gross as Seven or Silence of the Lambs.  A lot of the stuff in this movie (particularly the cat sequence) is more blackly funny than it is disturbing.  

You will know exactly what I am talking about if you have seen it.

Has cat issues

Tales From the Darkside isn't one of the best horror movies ever made, but it is a fun way to spend an evening, and it is a movie that has been virtually unheard of since about 1994.  It won't freak you out, and it won't gross you out.  And really, if you are looking for a light fun interesting horror movie, you could do a lot worse.

Although you really need to see it at least once, if only for Lover's Vow.

Oh, and be sure to keep all your promises to gargoyles.  That is really just good advice for anyone.

* My favorite IMDB user reviews about Tales from the Darkside:

A Fine Horror Anthology - 12 February 2013
The fact that two of the stories in this fine thriller are based on works by Stephen King and Arthur Conan Doyle promises good things for the viewer. Tales From the Darkside not disappoint; it is a far better than average horror anthology. Typical of 1980's horror movies, it is an entertaining combination of humor and thrills.

The segment that frames the other three segments is about a witch who wants to serve up a little boy as a meal. The boy distracts the woman by telling her stories from a book with the same title as the movie. The woman, Betty, is played very well by Debbie Harry in her prime. Her almost cold, flawless beauty is perfect for the part. It's a shame that Harry did not capitalize on her physical beauty and apparent acting ability to appear in more movies back in the day.

The first standalone story is Lot 249 by Arthur Conan Doyle. It's about an ambitious young museum curator who purchases an Egyptian mummy's casket. Steve Buscemi brings the right amount of creepiness to the role. Christian Slater and Julianne Moore are also featured in the story. It's entertaining to watch a critically acclaimed actress such as Moore play the hot young coed. This must be one of her first film roles. Despite her attractiveness, it is very clear from watching that she's more than just a pretty face.

The second story, called Cat from Hell, belongs to Stephen King. It is the simplest of the three. A wealthy pharmaceutical company president hires a hit-man, amusingly played by rock singer David Johanssen, to dispose of his cat. The cat has other plans. If viewers are looking for blood and guts, this is the story.

The last story, Lovers Vow, is the most emotionally involving of the three stories. It is, after all, a love story of sorts. It is also the best developed of all the segments. A struggling artist (James Remar) witnesses a murder, but is compelled to keep quiet about it.

A good cast, along with well-done makeup and effects, make this a fine anthology.

Anthology spookiness - 3 February 2010
Christ, I love horror anthology movies.

Something about the format just really, really works. The short running time of each tale seems to focus the mind of the writer, compelling them to shed unwanted fat and hone efficiently chilling tales of gore and ghouls more regularly than their full length movie counterparts.

Three tales, here, with an additional throwaway 'wraparound' tale to bind them all together:

Wraparound: Debbie 'Blondie' Harry plays a witch who intends to cook a child in a large oven, and makes the necessary preparations, lining a large baking tray with aluminium foil and setting the gas mark to 'human flesh.' Well, the kid is no idle dimwit, and sets about delaying his death by telling her creepy stories from a large tome.

Tale 1: Steve Buscemi reanimates a 3000 year old Mummy. A veritable array of stars here, as Christian Slater, the aforementioned Buscemi and Julianne Moore all get to creep it up with a long deceased Egyptian. Pretty spooky, pretty funny, in the blackest sense of the word, this is a good opener.

Tale 2: A wealthy old man hires a hit-man to kill a cat. Written by Romero and based on a Stephen King short story, expect plenty of darkness, and it's delivered in spades, the standout moment being a cat forcing itself down a grown mans throat.

Tale 3: An evil gargoyle spares a mans life, on the condition that he never speak of the incident. Easier said than done. Another good tale, and a solid closer to the anthology.

With gore, genuine scares and solid script writing, this is a cut above most horror, and is recommended to all.

Brilliant - 31 October 2004
Tales... is an excellent entertaining movie. The wraparound story is about a woman who is going to eat a boy. So this boy tells her three stories to delay the purpose of the lady. Lot 249 updated from an Arthur Conan Doyle story is really funny. Watching Steve Buscemi, Christian Slater, Juliane Moore and others in the story about a mummy covering life.

The second story (Cat's from hell), written by George A. Romero from a Stephen's King story, has some frightening moments when you look at the eyes of the black cat who was the object of murder. A millionaire hires a hit man to do the job. But the best comes towards the end with "Lovers Vow" where an artist deals with a very terrifying creature in order to save his life. He is awarded with a beautiful wife if he does not tell a word that this devil exist. Amusing. I shouted a lot. Really, gave me the creeps. And the conclusion is great. 10/10.

Very entertaining Horror Anthology - 12 December 2005
In director John Harrison's adaptation from the 80s TV series, four horror stories are told (one of them as a wraparound story) with different results, although the movie leaves the audience with a feeling of pure worthy entertainment.

The wraparound story stars ex-Blondie singer Deborah Harry as Betty, the typical next door woman, the only difference is that she hides her cannibalistic habits a a secret. Matthew Lawrence is Timmy, a kid who was kidnapped by Betty in order to be her dinner tonight. Timmy begins to tell her stories from the "Tales from the Darkside" book in order to gain time while he plans his escape. The stories Timmy tells are the other three stories in the movie.

First one, "Lot 249", stars Steve Buscemi as Bellingham, a misfit in a yuppie university. Bullied by Andy (Christian Slater), Lee (Robert Sedgwick) and Susan (Julianne Moore), he works as assistant in the Museum. When he receives Lot 249, troubles will begin as he revives an ancient mummy to do his will.

Second one stars William Hickey and David Johansen in a tale of a devilish cat that seems to haunt Hickey's character. Johansen plays a professional assassin hired to kill the feline.

In last one, writer Michael McDowell develops a love story loosely based on a Japanese tale. James Remar stars as Preston, a failed artist who is having the worst day of his life, as he watches his best friend being brutally killed by a mysterious beast who makes him promise that he won't tell anyone about it; everything looks worse until he meets Carola (Rae Dawn Chong), and his life changes for good. What would happen if he reveal the secret of the monster?

The four stories have very good performances, particularly those of Buscemi and Hickey. The downside is that while the three main stories present a very adult horror style with very gory scenes, brief nudity and foul language, the wraparound story looks tame and more similar to kid's horror like "Goosebumps". That doesn't mean that it's a bad tale, is just that it seems out of place in the film, but still the movie is good enough to keep the attention of the viewer.

Very good movie that is almost forgotten today. The very good acting and the good SFX (although outdated for today's standards) create a very rewarding movie that surely will give entertainment.

Terrifying if watched alone late at night - 9 May 2001
One of the top horror-story anthology movies out there (albeit that isn't saying much). Will scare the pants off you if watched late at night by your lonesome. Stories are cleverly placed from least terrifying first to most terrifying at the end. Acting leaves much to be desired, however, with the first story containing the most watchable cast (Steve Buscemi, Christian Slater). Wraparound story is cliched and predictable, but it doesn't really matter.

First story is one of the more interesting mummy tales out there, with Buscemi playing an outsider in a yuppie university who discovers "Lot 249." Lot turns out to be ancient preserved mummy who, of course, wrecks havoc. Twists at the end are good but not exceptional in any way.

Second story is a fantastical tale regarding a vicious cat that never seems to go away. Old man hires hitman to kill cat. Tale is entertaining and unnerving but altogether ridiculous as well. Only for fans of horror, really.

Third story is gem of anthology. Concerns a young man who witnesses a gargoyle savagely kill a man in a dark alley. Man makes vow to never speak of gargoyle to anyone in exchange for his life. Romantic tale ends in shock and horror. Likely to give nightmares.

Overall, this movie is laughable and boring in daytime but can be terrifying at night. Personally I have a tough time choosing favorite tale; each one brings something different to the table. Horror buffs be sure to check this one out if you haven't already.

Quite good actually - 12 April 2003
Just saw this yesterday and I was quite surprised by the quality of this. Compared to today's CGI standards the effects used hold up quite good, refreshing to see something different for a change. I've never had the chance to see the original TV series so I expected something in the likes of Twilight Zone, but this one here is of course a lot more gory.

The stories are original, except for "Lover's Vow" which seems to be more than just inspired by the tale "The Woman in the Snow" from Japan's 1964 movie "Kaidan". Of course the scenery is different, yet the concept is strikingly similar. It's a good adaption nontheless.

* My favorite trivia about Tales from the Darkside:

* The second story, titled "The Cat From Hell" (written by Stephen King and adapted for the screen by George A. Romero) was originally intended for Creepshow 2. The story was later dropped due to budgetary reasons.

* "Tales from the Darkside: The Movie" is considered by many fans and Tom Savini himself to be the 'official' "Creepshow 3". Following the success of Stephen King and George A. Romero's Creepshow, Laurel Entertainment (Creepshow & Creepshow 2's production company) toyed with the idea of a Creepshow television series. After several negotiations and changes (due to rights holders etc.), the decision was made to change the title for the series to "Tales from the Darkside" (to be helmed by none other than Creepshow director and Creepshow 2 screenwriter, George A. Romero). After the series' great success, just roughly three short years after Creepshow 2 hit theatres, Tales from the Darkside: The Movie came to fruition in 1990 as the successor to the original two Creepshow installments, sharing many of the same crew as the Creepshow installments.

* My favorite scene in Tales from the Darkside:

The ending of Lover's Vow is great.  I haven't seen this movie in years but I have always remembered that.

Tales from the Darkside: The Movie at the IMDB

Tales from the Darkside: The Movie at Wikipedia

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