DVD Review: Tales from the Darkside / Cert: 15 / Director: Various / Screenplay: Various / Starring: Catherine Battistone, John Marzilli, Karen Shallo, / Release Date: June 4th
Clocking up four seasons in the 1980s, Tales from the Darkside evolved out of George A. Romero's portmanteau movie, Creepshow, and mixed adaptations of short stories by well-known genre authors with original teleplays by various hands and occasional contributions from Romero himself. Inevitably, the result was something of a lucky dip, but then that sense of you-never-know-what-you're-going-to-get was part-and-parcel of the show's charm.
Season three, now available on DVD, runs true to this form. With many a nod to the EC comics which were their inspiration, most of the stories are cautionary tales with a (then) up-to-date setting. The hapless butts (and in the weaker tales they really do go like lambs to slaughter) tend to be grasping salesmen, gloopy with sweat, admen who buy their own lies, sharp-suited real estate developers and the like. A general theme is the greed and tawdriness of Reagan's America (which comes across as all the more tawdry in retrospect due to the show's bright, cheesy sets and some appalling blow-dried hairdos).
Yet, despite such juicy targets, Tales from the Darkside seems unwilling to take itself seriously. Angels and demons, heaven and hell crop up routinely, but always with a feeling of pantomime. In the funny and engaging Deliver Us From Goodness, an exemplary Southern housewife suddenly discovers she's become a saint, and sets about methodically breaking the Ten Commandments in order to restore normality. Let The Games Begin very effectively combines pantomime with a strain of grotesquery – a man (Home Improvement regular Earl Hindman, here giving one of the performances of the season) drops dead in the Anthony and Cleopatra suite at the Pocahontas Inn and the race is on to claim his shop-soiled soul.
Black comedy also plays a part in two of this season's more eccentric tales. Auld Acquaintances concerns a pair of witches shackled together across the centuries, despite their intense mutual loathing, by the power of a talisman – it's eruditely written by Edithe Swensen and features a snarling turn from Sally Gracie as a most uncouth hag. Black Widows is a slice of Southern Gothic from celebrated cult author Michael McDowell. A girl shocks herself by unexpectedly devouring her husband on her wedding night (she moans to her trailer-trash mother, “I feel like I've eaten a horse!”) and has to be hastily inducted into a terrible family secret.
This boxset also delivers two absolute gems. In The Geezenstacks (based on a short story by Fredric Brown,) little Audrey is given a doll house, only for the dolls inside to begin acting out the darker impulses lurking behind her parents' apparent domestic bliss. Craig Wasson (Ghost Story) is very endearing as the exasperated father, and director Bill Travis choreographs the uncanny goings-on to perfection.
Best of all, though, is Miss May Dusa. On the New York City subway, a saxophonist and a figure from ancient myth have a rambling late-night conversation. Hip, touching, poetical, intelligent, witty and full of unexpected resonances, it's the kind of thing you would imagine Neil Gaiman penning for the show. In fact, it was written and directed by the mysterious but numinous Richard Blackburn, who co-scripted Eating Raoul and helmed the cult movie Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural. As every horror fan knows, it's amazing what can turn up in a lucky dip.