Tales from the Darkside 1

Thursday, 24 November 2011 00:00

King of the zombie genre, George A Romero turned his hand to TV with four seasons of Tales from the Darkside between 1984 and 1988. It is an anthology show like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, only with a more distinctive horror bent. The first season’s 24 episodes include all manner of chilling and occasionally whacky stories of human greed, murder, monsters and technology gone mad, and feature some great guest stars.

Thanks to the anthology format, the tales are told in a variety of different ways, including disconcerting, psychological horror, gory creature features, out-and-out (and often bizarre) comedy and highly suspenseful episodes. You never know what kind of story is coming up next, and that is part of the fun! Guest writers include horror legends such as Stephen King, Harlan Ellison and Clive Barker. Each episode opens with the same, initially creepy but also increasingly annoying narrated title sequence (which ultimately you will probably fast forwards through – I know I did!), voiced by Paul Sparer over the top of the cheesy theme tune.

Tales from the Darkside - Season One on DVDThe narration goes as follows: “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.”

Definitely not The Twilight Zone, then! The opening sequence is note-worthy for the ‘door’ that opens up at the end of the title sequence, unveiling a glimpse of the forthcoming episode just as it is about to begin. The viewer’s mind trawls the imagination in a bid to guess what is about to occur on the basis of that single image, and is sucked in.

It has to be said that the strength of the anthology format can also be a weakness, and to be honest there are some patchy and mildly dull episodes as well as some real gems. Most of the stories fall somewhere in between, and are certainly entertaining enough to keep your attention for the 20-odd minutes allotted to each.

The impressive special effects and makeup in some of the instalments borders on movie standard. The creature models are sometimes a little inflexible but the pace of the story telling is generally fast enough that you barely have time to notice. On a TV budget the creators have worked minor miracles!

The running order of the episodes is sometimes a little strange, in than very similar plays occur next to or within a couple of shows of each other. For example, episode 3, “I’ll Give You a Million” is a story about two rich old men gambling over souls, and episode 5, “The Odds” is a story about a bookie who gambles over his life. The narrative angle is normally different but there are enough similarities to make one wonder why the stories could not have been more evenly dispersed.

Some of the episodes telegraph the sting in their tails quite early on, but others catch the viewer totally off guard until the last few minutes. The former can still be fun in their own way, as often the entertainment comes from watching the hapless protagonist fall into the trap set by that tale’s baddy.

From this first season, the best episodes are the ones that keep you guessing, and also deliver a genuinely chilling knock-out punch. To take two examples, “In the Cards” concerns an innocent tarot card reader who is given a cursed set of cards that seems to suggest her horrible fate is inescapable. “Anniversary Dinner” tells the tale of a quirky couple who celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary in the most macabre manner imaginable. My chin was on the floor for that one!

As you would expect, in common with the anthology greats, a large percentage of the episodes paint quite an ugly picture of humanity. The characters are commonly greedy, stupid, shallow or callous and may well deserve whatever unpleasant fate awaits them in their episode’s dénouement.

Amongst the notable guest stars there is a 15-year-old Christian Slater as well as Brent Spiner in the kooky, Munster-esque “A Case of the Stubborns”, Bruce Davison in “The Word Processor of the Gods”, Danny Aiello in “The Odds”, and Jean Marsh in “Answer Me”.

The sole special feature in this box set is an audio commentary with George A Romero on 1983 stand-alone pilot episode “Trick or Treat”.

This is a solid rather than classic series; it falls short of the original The Twilight Zone, but is probably on a par with the 1990s and 2000s remakes of the big hitters in the genre. The box set definitely represents great value for money at a paltry £19.99, and for that reason I can heartily recommend it to genre fans who crave some bite-sized morsels of terror to keep them entertained.

Tales from the Darkside - Season 1 (1984) is out now, courtesy of Revelation Films. The 4-disc box set has a running time of 9 hours approx, carries a ‘15’ certificate and retails for £19.99, or less from www.culttvstore.com

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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