Release Date(s)1990 (August 25, 2020)
Studio(s)Laurel Productions/Paramount Pictures (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: A
Tales from the Darkside ran for four seasons in syndication during the 1980s. After it ended, its creators wanted to do more with it, specifically on the big screen. So George A. Romero, Stephen King, Michael McDowell, Richard P. Rubinstein, and John Harrison collaborated to create Tales from the Darkside: The Movie. A modest success upon its release, the film went on to be a favorite for horror fans, whom not only appreciated it for its genre trappings, but also its cast, its attention to detail, and its style.
A young housewife (Deborah Harry) has kidnapped the young Timmy (Matthew Lawrence) and plans to cook him for dinner. To stall her, he reads from a book of stories. The first story, Lot 249, concerns three college students (Christian Slater, Robert Sedgwick, and Julianne Moore) who have framed another student (Steve Buscemi) for stealing an ancient mummy. For revenge, he brings the mummy back to life to kill them all. In Cat from Hell, the old and wealthy Dogan (William Hickey) hires a hitman (David Johansen) to kill a cat that has haunted him and his now dead family for years, but killing the cat won’t be that easy. In Lover’s Vow, starving artist Preston (James Remar) comes face to face with a murderous gargoyle that makes him promise to keep its presence a secret. Afterwards, he meets the beautiful Carola (Rae Dawn Chong) and the two begin a relationship as Preston’s artistic luck changes, but keeping his secret proves to be a daunting and ultimately tragic task.
As can plainly be seen, one of the most remarkable aspects of Tales from the Darkside: The Movie is its cast. Mixing seasoned veterans and fresh faces who turned out to be successful later, every story offers plenty of on-screen talent. What can also not be overlooked is what’s going on behind the camera. Each segment features its own distinctive visual flair, which was fully intended by director John Harrison and cinematographer Robert Draper, who saw fit to give each story its own visual personality. Also worth appreciating are the special make-up and creature effects created by the fledgling company K.N.B., consisting of Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nictorero, and Howard Berger. Whether it’s an ancient mummy, a towering gargoyle, or a cat burrowing into the mouth of a human, all of the effects are impressive and mostly hold up to modern scrutiny.
Many horror anthologies often have at least one or two segments that don’t work as well as the others, but in the case of Tales from the Darkside: The Movie, all of the stories are top of the line, and offer different things. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to warrant producing the planned sequel, but as is, it’s still an effective horror film with many fine qualities.
Tales from the Darkside: The Movie comes to Blu-ray from Scream Factory in a new Collector’s Edition package utilizing an older HD transfer. Its weaknesses are mostly in its crispness and shadow detail. Blacks are deep, but a fresh scan would definitely have yielded more visual information, particularly in the Cat from Hell and Lover’s Vow stories. Otherwise, detail is adequate, even excellent during select scenes. Because of the film’s varying styles from story to story, the color palette offers a wide gamut of hues, all of which are potent. The image is mostly clean and stable, although there are minor moments of obvious light jitter.
The audio is presented in English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH. The 5.1 mix offers a decent surround experience, though it doesn’t go for the throat as much as one might expect. What it handles well are atmospheric moments, particularly in large spaces. Dialogue exchanges are clear and precise while the scores for each segment are given considerable boost. The 2.0 track is of a similar nature, but with less room to move around in.
The following extras are also included:
- Audio Commentary with David R. Kappes and Michael Felsher
- Audio Commentary with John Harrison and George A. Romero
The new audio commentary with co-producer David R. Kappes and Michael Felsher as a moderator is an interesting listen as Felsher asks questions about Kappes’ entry into show business and the various facets of the production as they watch it together. The vintage DVD audio commentary with John Harrison and George A. Romero is a delight as the two mostly discuss filmmaking while watching the film, occasionally commenting on certain moments.
Tales Behind the Darkside: The Making of Four Ghoulish Fables is a feature-length retrospective making-of by Red Shirt Pictures presented in six chapters:
- Chapter One – From Small Screens to Big Screams (HD – 16:20)
- Chapter Two – Rising Stars and the Walking Dead (HD – 17:41)
- Chapter Three – That Damn Cat! (HD – 16:51)
- Chapter Four – A Vow to Keep (HD – 25:42)
- Chapter Five – The Order of Things (HD – 14:02)
- Chapter Six – The Test of Time (HD – 13:11)
Unfortunately, there’s no Play All option, but the documentary itself is quite excellent, speaking to a variety of people who worked on the film, including director John Harrison, producer Mitchell Galin, director of photography Robert Draper, production designer Ruth Ammon, special make-up and creature effects artists Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero, and Howard Berger, creature performer Michael Deak, actors James Remar and Rae Dawn Chong, and editor Harry B. Miller.
There are also a few additional promotional and behind-the-scenes items:
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 1:57)
- TV Spots (SD – 2 in all – 1:06)
- Radio Spots (3 in all – 1:35)
- Still Gallery (HD – 46 in all – 3:59)
- Behind-the-Scenes Gallery (HD – 48 in all – 4:09)
- Behind-the-Scenes Footage Compilation (SD – 11:05)
The still gallery contains 46 photos of on-set pictures, promotional photos, and key art. The behind-the-scenes gallery features 48 stills of actors being put into make-up, creature designs, and animatronic tests. The behind-the-scenes footage is sourced from VHS and features various make-up and creature effects tests and on-set work.
Tales from the Darkside: The Movie has been long overdue for the Collector’s Edition treatment, and Scream Factory, along with Red Shirt Pictures, have delivered a Blu-ray release with a nice presentation and a quality supplementary package. For fans old and new, this one is a no-brainer. Highly recommended!
– Tim Salmons