Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990)

I yearn for the days long past when old fashioned horror anthologies were far more common and still relatively popular. When done right, collection of traditional short horror segments under a single umbrella and possibly told via an entertaining narrator persona are incredibly comfy to consume, and given how they usually cover a wide range of topics, you’re bound to have at least one segment that clicks with you in a meaningful way. 

What we essentially get here is the TV anthology series Tales from the Darkside brought to the silver screen, in the form of three simple horror tales wrapped around a framing device that is, in a way, a more modern version of 1001 Nights meets Hansel and Gretel. I’ve seen this described as basically Creepshow 3 in everything but the name and I can see why, it’s not that far off the mark. The similarities and people involved certainly invite that comparison. I’ve never seen the original TV show so I can’t actually tell whether or not the movie inhabits the same spirit in tone and approach that was visible in the original TV the show, but I’m feeling generous, so let’s just assume it does and thus allow the movie to have its own limited identity and steer it away from any further comparisons to the two Creepshow movies.

The three horror tales presented here are all pretty good thrills. You get an old school Mummy story, an adaptation of a Stephen King short story about a hellish (quite literally) cat terrorizing people and lastly, a cautionary story about the importance of keeping your promises, featuring a grotesque Gargoyle. There’s something for everyone and each story takes different enough approach to horror to ensure a balanced  pallet and enough variety to spice up things at suitable pace. 

The first story dealing with the Mummy was quite nice, and probably my personal favorite of the bunch. It does a good job at distilling the vibe of the old black and white Hollywood Mummy flicks and smoothly transfers it to the more contemporary 80s setting. The story is very simple but still exciting enough to entertain you more than adequately and it fits just perfectly to the short running time that the anthology format allows. It’s basically a more gory love letter to the Mummy genre. It fabulously gets the tone so right that it’s like a genuine throwback to the past. The cast is also pretty phenomenal in this segment, you have young Steve Buschemi, Julianne Moore and Christian Slater all sharing the credits, and they do a bang up job here. It’s cheesy, but just the right flavor. The entire segment is all around a positively delightful to watch.

The second story is a bit more atmospheric, telling a yarn about a demonic stray black cat that starts tormenting the rich inhabitants of a mansion, and how a hitman is hired to get rid of it once more traditional ways prove insufficient. As a whole it was pretty humorous and goofy, but not that exciting. It tries to be a bit like a moody Edgar Allan Poe story  (the Raven most obviously comes to mind) but doesn’t quite pull it off in the end. At least, not until the very ending of the story, where it finally gets to do throw some gruesome special effects at your face when the cat kills the hitman by forcing itself down the hitman’s mouth, choking the contract killer to death. As the grand finale, you see the disgusting operation take place in reverse order the next morning as the cat now slowly works its way out of the body through the same way it went in. Great stuff.

The last story with the gargoyle on the other hand was largely only okay-ish. It had a weak plot and not particularly interesting premise. You could tell it was one line elevator pitch that didn’t get enough development to become a better story. And it was so predictable, you honestly could see the twist ending coming a mile away. Still, it was kinda engaging in a slow-moving trainwreck in the making sort of way, I suppose. The effects and makeup were also really good, but not great enough to salvage the segment itself.

The framing device that sets up each of these three tales was fairly alright. I quite liked the idea that the otherwise normal looking woman you followed around in the opening was revealed to be a witch secretly keeping a small boy locked in a dungeon, and planning to serve him as dinner for her dinner guests. Unfortunately allowing the kid to survive and kill the witch instead in the most cheey way possible kinda left a sour taste in my mouth. I get that it stayed true to the spirit of the old Hansel and Gretel story but in my opinion it would have been better if after all his efforts to postpone his death the kid would have ultimately failed along with his escape attempt and the movie would have ended with the boy’s stuffed body served on the dinner table. Suffice to say, I was not the kid’s biggest fan.

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