Review: Tales From the Darkside (15) / Directed by: George A. Romero, (various) / Written By: George A. Romero, (various) / Starring: Catherine Battistone, John Marzilli, Karen Shallo, (various) / Release Date: Out Now
"Man lives in the sunlit world of what he believes to be reality. But . . . there is, unseen by most, an underworld, a place that is just as real but not as brightly lit . . . a DARKSIDE".
Way back in the murky depths of 1984, George Romero - he of the Dead franchise – was asked to direct a series of short horror stories for television. Two years earlier Romero had directed the moderately successful Creepshow anthology - a film collecting five interpretations of Stephen King’s work to instant cult status and an assured place in the annuals of horror. Unlike Creepshow, however, Tales of the Darkside would lack animation and instead focus on the bizarre and outright strange. Romero, a big sought-after director of the time agreed, perhaps recognising a cash-cow when he saw it, and Tales of the Darkside ripped its way into the world.
In the strange days of the 1980’s, where 42k computers were considered cool, there is a marked difference between budget allocation for television and film, and Tales from the Darkside suffers heavily from a shoestring budget. Most of the scenes are set indoors and limited to one or two rooms at best; the acting varies between outstanding to shockingly bad. But the true strength of Tales from the Darkside comes in the form of its twenty-one tales of moralistic caution. We are served episode after episode of the many failings of man: greed, envy, sloth, the darker aspects of our lives are dragged into the open and dissected for our viewing pleasure. In this manner, Tales from the Darkside borrows heavily – some might say unashamedly - from Twilight Zone and Outer Limits.
Romero does on occasion deliver a good episode, but, as if often the way with anthology shows, most of the episodes are lacklustre affairs and the sting in the tail all too obvious from the start. In fact this becomes something of a game, plenty of fun can be found trying to guess the dark and nefarious twist that will undoubtedly befall the protagonist as the show creeps, flounders, or sprints towards it’s all too obvious conclusion. That said, when the show delivers it really does pack quite the punch. Word Processor of the Gods and A Case of the Stubbons both stand head and shoulders above the other episodes.
George Romero, Clive Barker, and Stephen King have all contributed to the show in some form or other and as a result Tales from the Darkside can at times resonate with powerful writing, strong direction and horror at its spine-tingling best.
Despite its many flaws, Tales from the Darkside Season 1 remains entertaining viewing almost thirty years since its original conception. And as an added bonus, the pilot episode comes with audio commentary by George Romero. Also keep an eye out for little nods towards Night of the Living Dead and a very young Christian Slater who stars in A Case of the Stubborns.
Tales from the Darkside is at times shocking, horrific, and darkly humorous. Well worth the watch.
"The dark side is always there, waiting for us to enter, waiting to enter us. Until next time, try to enjoy the daylight"...