Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990)
Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990)

Genre: Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 33 min.

Release Date: May 4th, 1990 MPAA Rating: R

Director: John Harrison Actors: Debbie Harry, Christian Slater, Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, David Johansen, William Hickey, James Remar, Rae Dawn Chong

 


 

B

etty (Deborah Harry) is planning a dinner party at her New York home, having just finished with the shopping and now arranging for her friend to bring the champagne glasses. In her pantry/dungeon is the main course: little boy Timmy (Matthew Lawrence), who is being fattened up with cookies for a pending evisceration and cooking. To stall his demise, Timmy tells three stories to Betty from her favorite book, “Tales from the Darkside,” which fascinated her as a child.

The first is “Lot 249,” adapted from an Arthur Conan Doyle story, involving kooky antiques collector Edward Bellingham (Steve Buscemi), who receives a 3000-year-old mummy in a sarcophagus inside a crate, which he intends to sell for a tidy profit. Fellow college students Andy (Christian Slater) and Lee (Robert Sedgwick) take a peek at the find, though only Andy stays for the unwrapping – an activity that one would think would drastically devalue the ancient artifact. When Andy’s sister, Susan Smith (Julianne Moore), stops by Bellingham’s later that evening, just after he reads a scroll discovered inside the mummy’s stomach, all three are surprised by the dusty entity – who magically walks away from his tomb.

The setup for this initial sequence doesn’t pose much originality, though the visuals are more than adequate. The mummy (Michael Deak) is nicely emaciated, stiff, rotted, and ugly. And when his primary mission involves prying brains out of skulls through noses using a coat hanger, the gore and makeup effects prove quite amusing. Buscemi does a decent job of being a weirdo, but Moore fails to act scared or concerned at the mummy’s mutilative endeavors. Slater, too, doesn’t exhibit fear or anger to a convincing degree, instead turning this episode of death and revenge into a dark comedy of sorts – with a nice twist.

The second tale, “Cat from Hell,” based on a Stephen King story (with a screenplay by George A. Romero), involves pharmaceutical kingpin “Old Man” Drogan (William Hickey), a suspicious character with a big problem. He hires specialist Mr. Halston (David Johansen) for a most unusual assassination assignment: to kill his black cat – for a sizable $100,000. According to the wheelchair-bound Drogan, the cat has already killed three people inside his once-luxurious, now rundown mansion … and Drogan is next.

Curiously, the old man regales Halston with the details of how his former housemates came to ruin, chronicling a collection of flashbacks within Timmy’s own retelling – a second layer of storytelling. This one ends up being even more comical than the previous episode, particularly when the cat suffocates a victim by latching onto her face, causing her to fight against an obviously stuffed prop. Plenty of cat-cam perspectives also offer unintentional humor, as well as when Halston pulls out his laser-assisted hand-cannon to finish the job. This segment features a riot of an ending, too, with hilariously gruesome special effects. “It’s not going to be that easy, Mr. Halston.”

In “Lover’s Vow,” by Michael McDowell, an eerie stone gargoyle overlooks frustrated artist James Preston (James Remar) as he struggles with his unmarketable vision. His agent (Robert Klein) can’t help him, and the gallery displaying his works has given him a tight deadline to remove his pieces; they haven’t sold anything in months. After Preston temporarily drowns his sorrows with booze, bartender Jer (Ashton Wise) offers a ride home. In the alleyway, a monstrous, lizard-like creature attacks, tearing off Jer’s hand, slashing his face, and finally decapitating him. As Preston flees, he runs into Carola (Rae Dawn Chong), a frightened woman desperately searching for a cab. Against her better judgment, she accompanies him back to his studio, where they soon climb into bed together (instead of calling the police), allowing Preston to momentarily forget the horrors of the earlier events.

This final chapter is a take on Faust, with Preston stumbling into great success and happiness – only after striking a deal with the devilish alley ogre. It could have been the most straightforward horror story of the bunch, were it not for the design of the beast, which again suffers from accidental humor, unable to avoid appearing goofy with its rubbery appendages and largely immobile facial features. Still, the gooey transformation shots look fantastic. And the wraparound story conclusion resorts to the same comical tones that pervaded each of the individual tales, marking a competent, consistent horror anthology.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10