on 25 February 2014
1990 was a sad year in two draining ways-whilst the irritants and excesses of the decade just gone would disappear, sadly too, did the two best things it had on prodigious offer: its music artists and its dazzling array of horror films, both things no other decade has managed in such quality, abundance or variety ever before or since. So while the downturn in both was indecently showcased in the 'charts' and on video shelves markedly, a few quality horror films managed to slip through, most notably 'The Guardian', the 'Gremlins' sequel and this nifty little anthology of terror that actually made a satisfyingly successful stab at box office proceeds for Paramount that year, where it actually finished third in its opening weekend, proof, perhaps, that it, unlike music, would possibly sleep for a while, then awake anew further down the decade, which it did, but tastes and times had reshaped it into a more stylised yet rigid and often uniformed product that catered to new taste as opposed to all tastes.
I feel I should explain my truly high rating here, as the amazon star system doesn't quite click with common sense. This does not displace 'Creepshow' as the definitive anthology of the 80's, but matches it perfectly. Both score a high-kicking 9/10 from me, but as this tips it nearer to the full 5 treatment than a merely 'likeable' 4 amazon stars, so does my scoring. And elevates it above the older 'Tales From The Crypt' as well, which, while good, wouldn't quite go as far as an 80's creative team, unafraid of putting ANYTHING out there to shock and please us. Many would hold up 'Creepshow' as better than 'Darkside', but while it blazed the trail, it did have two more immediate struggles 'Darkside' thankfully lacked; firstly the wraparound story of 'Creepshow' featured an irritating and hateful little brat whom I wanted dead the minute he was onscreen, and his father was an equally overdone annoyance, and the acting from both highly questionable in the passable stakes. The other problem was the segment Stephen King himself appeared in, but of later viewings, I've have found this bit quite affecting and certainly amusing, so this can be dropped as one.
Anyone also puzzled by any comparison beyond the anthology link, therefore thinking 'Creepshow' a far more loftier piece, may be stifled into hiccups if they didn't already know that, not only has 'Tales From The Darkside: The Movie' been referred to as 'Creepshow 3' quite often through the 90's, but Tom Savini himself, make-up wizard from 'Creepshow' and Romero movies, has actually called it so! Furthermore, one of the story segments-'Cat From Hell', written by King, was originally intended to be part of the second and highly disappointing 'Creepshow' sequel, but mercifully struck out, miring it into even more resistant sludge. Director John Harrison wasn't just a clear lover of the genre, he'd actually served as first assistant director to Romero on 'Creepshow', having struck up a longstanding friendship with him, composing the score to the movie also; later he would do the same for the 'Tales From The Darkside' TV show, prior to this movie, so I feel that this being referred to in the 'Creepshow' line apt and fitting, yet happy to testify this isn't so-as evidence of how quickly they dived into the sewer after the first. The second vied for worst horror of 1986, it was so disturbingly far from everything the first so strikingly displayed, but as there are films I haven't yet seen, there may well be worse out there, and whilst not a horror film, though sometimes incorrectly billed as one (oh, how today of you all!), 'Trick Or Treat' sucked worse, as did the following year's 'Rawhead Rex' and the even more terrible 1988 offering 'Demonwarp', ending on 1989's abysmal 'The Puppet Master', but worst than all, must be the vomit bag of pointlessness and desperation that actually got stamped with the 'Creepshow 3' tag and sneaked out to universal dismissal not too many years ago! Well, it had to happen didn't it, but who actually cared?
'Tales' features 4 stories, the wraparound being utterly superior to the linking material flowing through the five 'Creepshow' tales, with a far better kid, and Blondie star Deborah Harry as a pleasingly dead-eyed suburban witch who's abducted him to cook him Hansel And Gretel style, and it's a scream to see the cell she's adapted to house him while she tries the maths to tell her how long he should cook for. She blows her barely there role in the older and wretched 'Body Bags' (yet another misstep Mr Carpenter!) out of the water here, wisely just being creepy and amusing, getting far more under our skin than if she was attempting the high-cackling, cauldron-stirring theatrics, not that I'd mind that either, 'Hocus Pocus' being highly enjoyable itself. Whilst she's warming the oven, he regales her with the three horror tales that follow in the hope she'll be eternally put off sizzling him:
*Story 1 being 'Lot 249', concerning a nastily played out tale in a college dormitory, where a student cheated out a scholarship, played by Steve Buscemi, reacts with strong contention and resurrects a mummified corpse to exact his revenge. Adapted from the Arthur Conan Doyle short of the same title, it features Christian Slater in his best horror appearance ever, and deals out another surprise, which almost trumps the brilliant mummy from the screen; the pleasure of seeing a renowned character actor of today in her just 'starting out mode' in a film she'd never since consider for a moment-Mrs Julianne Moore (yet an unnecessary 'Carrie' remake is somehow acceptable these days!):
*Story 2 resurrects the 'Cat From Hell' and boy is it feline fine, visiting the mansion of a wheelchair-clad millionaire whose pharmaceutical empire killed thousands of them over the years, to systematically off the elderly residents living there, the old man himself being the last in line for the final swipe, so has hired a hitman to take the cat down. Alice Drummond, as one of the old ladies, will be recognisable for many guest appearances over the last few decades in her golden years. Be prepared to truly stomach the ghoulishly satisfying end:
*Story 3 'Lover's Vow' is possibly the finest, and based on a certain spirit in Japanese folklore, concern's James Remar's good fortune in being spared his life by a gargoyle-like creature that has killed the publican serving Remar just minutes before closing time. Remar takes a vow to never speak of this night, and once it leaves his lips, his previous downtrodden life literally goes flying-he meets a beautiful woman (Rae Dawn Chong of 'Soul Man' fame), his artist career is revived, and they have two beautiful children, but alas, his secret weighs heavy, and one night, he speaks of it to the mother of his children and in doing shatters his life irreparably. See it to believe it, and the final twist I found surprising and quite lugubrious.
Whilst typically lacking any extras, this should please fans of 'Creepshow', especially anyone disappointed by its embarrassing sequel, and anyone who just loves 80's horrors and laments their general passing, and the dissipated days of the horror anthology as a whole, though I would urge all to snap up 2007's wonderful 'Trick 'R Treat' with an equally well-known cast, an anthology film to tap into the actual folklore of Halloween, rather than just using it to mask up and knife civilians, and not to be confused with the rubbish high-school thriller from 1986 I mentioned above, that doesn't lop of the capital O of 'Or'. Sadly today, the likes of the abhorrent and artistically devoid 'V/H/S/' and sequels are the fashion tool of the fool to dredge up an untouchable format merely to webcam it while everyone goes around killing each other with nothing to suggest any ambiguity of any other sort-I guess you'd call that the Derailed of the Darkside, for want of something pleasanter.