Directed By: John Harrison
Starring: Deborah Harry, Matthew Lawrence, Christian Slater
Tag line: "Four Ghoulish Fables in One Modern Nightmare"
Trivia: Laurel Productions initially announced a sequel to this film in October 1990, but it never came to fruition
I was a fan of the Tales from the Darkside television series, though admittedly I came to it a bit late (it launched in 1984, but I didn’t start watching until ‘87, at which point it was on its last legs). But even if I never saw the show, I’d have wanted to check out 1990’s horror anthology, Tales from the Darkside: The Movie. Featuring segments written by Michael McDowell (who penned Beetlejuice and The Nightmare Before Christmas) and George A. Romero (the Living Dead series), one of which was based on a short story by Stephen King (Creepshow, Pet Sematary), Tales from the Darkside: The Movie already had enough going for it, but throw in makeup effects by Robert Kurtzman (Predator, From Dusk Till Dawn), Howard Berger (Drag Me to Hell, This is the End), and Greg Nicotero (Day of the Dead, Wishmaster), and you have a film sure to pique the interest of most red-blooded genre fans.
Betty (Debbie Harry), a witch living in a posh suburban neighborhood, is preparing a dinner party for eight, and the main course is going to be her paperboy, Timmy (Matthew Lawrence), who she has chained up in a small dungeon that’s adjacent to the kitchen. Hoping to stall his imminent demise, Timmy relates his three favorite stories from the horror-themed book that Betty gave him to pass the time. The first, titled Lot 249, is about a nerdy college student named Bellingham (Steve Buscemi) who’s been cheated out of a fellowship award by classmates Lee (Robert Sedgwick) and Susan (Julianne Moore). An antiquity major, Bellingham takes his revenge by bringing an ancient Egyptian mummy (Michael Deak) to life, then ordering it to kill his two adversaries. But will Bellingham’s neighbor Andy (Christian Slater), who also happens to be Susan’s brother, thwart his plans before he can carry them out? Story #2, aka Cat from Hell, tells the tale of an elderly rich man (William Hickey) who offers a professional assassin (David Johansen) $100,000 to kill the black cat that’s been hanging around his mansion. Yet what at first appears to be an easy hit takes a terrifying turn when the cat starts fighting back. Finally, there’s Lover’s Vow, in which Preston (James Remar), a struggling New York artist, witnesses a murder committed by a gargoyle. Instead of finishing Preston off as well, the gargoyle makes him promise never to tell anyone about what he’s just seen. Preston agrees, and over the course of the next 10 years, his career takes off. What’s more, he marries a beautiful woman named Carola (Rae Dawn Chong), the love of his life and the eventual mother of his two children. For Preston, it’s the realization of all his wildest dreams, but some dreams have a way of turning into nightmares.
With decent performances from both Debbie Harry and Matthew Lawrence, the framing story gets the job done, but it’s the three segments that truly stand out. Aside from featuring a sexy Julianne Moore (in what would be her big-screen debut), Lot 249 (which McDowell adapted from a short story written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) is also a nod to the classic monsters of Universal’s heyday, a reminder that a mummy can still give you the shivers . Written by Romero and based on a work by Stephen King, Cat from Hell is the film’s funniest sequence (thanks in large part to William Hickey, whose over-the-top portrayal of a drug-addicted millionaire was absolutely hilarious), but it also has one of the movie’s best special effects, a moment that will have you laughing and cringing all at the same time. And even though the final twist in Lover’s Vow is a tad predictable, it’s still an effectively romantic tale (and the gargoyle is awesome as hell).
With the crisp storytelling of the TV series combined with plenty of R-rated gore, Tales from the Darkside: The Movie is the best of both worlds, and that alone is something to celebrate. Whether you’re a fan of the show or not, Tales from the Darkside: The Movie is definitely worth a watch.