STEPHEN KING WEEK: Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990)

After the two Creepshow movies, where can you turn for a modern portmanteau filled with Stephen King stories? How about the cinematic version of the TV show Tales from the Darkside?

The success of Creepshow led to thoughts of making it into a TV series. Warned Brothers owned some aspects and Laurel Entertainment, who produced the film (its George Romero’s company) opted to create their own version. Two episodes of the show, “Word Processor of the Gods” and “Sorry, Right Number,” were based on King stories.

Starting with the intro “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 dark side,” and ending with “The dark side is always there, waiting for us to enter — waiting to enter us. Until next time, try to enjoy the daylight,” the show was a dark journey into the supernatural. It was followed up by Monsters, another anthology show of somewhat lesser quality (although several of the episodes are great fun and there’s a King written episode, “The Moving Finger”).

Several people, including Tom Savini, think that this movie is the real Creepshow 3, but his quote may be referring to the similar nature of the movies and the involvement of King and Romero.

The movie begins with Debbie Harry of all people, playing a housewife who is preparing the main course for a dinner party — Timmy (Matthew Lawrence, brother of Woah! Joey). As the film progresses, they will be our framing device as Timmy reads from the actual book Tales from the Darkside.

In Lot No. 249, based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story and adapted by Beetlejuice writer Michael McDowell, a grad student named Edward (Steve Buscemi has never looked so young!) has been framed for a theft which ruins his scholarship. He wants revenge on Susan (Julianne Moore in her screen debut) and Lee (Robert Sedgwick, brother of Kyra) and gets it by reanimating a mummy to kill them both.

Susan’s brother Andy (Christian Slater, Untamed HeartRobin Hood) kidnaps Edward and brings the mummy to kill him. At the last moment, he can’t do it and releases him. He probably shouldn’t have done that, as Edward soon sends the reanimated versions of Susan and Lee to kill him!

The next story, The Cat from Hell, is based on a King story and was adapted by Romero. A black cat is bedeviling Drogan (William Hickey, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation), a pharmaceutical owner whose latest drug has killed over 5,000 cats in testing. One by one, the cat has killed everyone in his house, so he hired a hitman named Halston (New York Dolls frontman David Johansen, who is also Buster Poindexter).

After a comical battle, the cat goes down Halston’s throat (seriously, this special effect is insane and kudos to the special effects crew, which includes KNB) and then emerges to kill the old man.

The third story is also written by McDowell and is based on the Yuki-onna, a spirit in Japanese folklore. Preston is a drunken and depressed artist played by James Remar (Raiden from Mortal Kombat: Annihilation) who witnesses a gargoyle kill a man. The monster swears to not kill Preston as long as he never tells anyone what happened.

Starting with that night, his life changes for the better. He meets and marries the gorgeous Carola (Rae Dawn Chong, Quest for Fire) and they have two children. He becomes a famous artist. He even wins back Robert Klein as his agent. All is well, but he can’t forget the monster.

On their tenth anniversary, he decides to tell his wife, which was the wrong idea. She was the monster all along and their children are also monsters (!). At the end, they all fly away after she kills him.

Finally, Timmy escapes by throwing the woman into the oven, then looks directly at us and says, “Don’t you just love happy endings?”

There was an announced sequel to this movie that was never filmed. A screenplay was written by McDowell and Romero, along with Gahan Wilson. Segments would have included an adaptation of Robert Bloch’s “Almost Human,” as well as Stephen King’s “Pinfall” (originally planned for Creepshow 2) and “Rainy Season.” Sadly, it never was filmed.

Director John Harrison was part of the Image Works, along with Dusty Nelson and Pasquale Buba (whose family name and hometown of Braddock was used for Martin). They produced the film Effects together. Harrison is also a music composer, creating the music for this film, as well as Creepshow and Day of the Dead. He wrote and directed Frank Herbert’s Dune in the early 2000’s, plus he wrote and co-produced the follow-up Frank Herbert’s Children of Dune.

Here’s some trivia I found interesting. Because of the samples and music cues that were used from Day of the Dead, Harrison recieved a co-writing credit on the Gorillaz’s songs “M1 A1” and Hip Albatross.

This is a pretty well-done film. I miss the Creepshow framing device, but it’s a great way to get more stories into one film. I remember catching the end of the third film as a teen and being freaked out by it. It’s still pretty powerful nearly thirty years later.

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