Tales from the Dark Side pilot: “Trick or Treat”

“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.”

Back in the mid-80s, the success of Creepshow led to the thought of making a continuing TV series. The problem was that Warner Bros. owned part of that film, so Laurel Entertainment just changed the name and avoided the comic book look of the movie while basically making a weekly live-action E.C. Comic-themed TV show, something HBO wouldn’t even consider until 1989.

Syndicated weekly by Tribune Broadcasting, with most stations airing it after midnight — it aired at the witching hour on Sundays and sometimes even later, keeping me awake and frightened before middle school — it played throughout the 80s and is now owned by CBS Television Distribution.

There are some great episodes of this show, with episodes based on stories by Stephen King, Frederik Pohl, Harlan Ellison, Clive Barker and Robert Bloch. And because it was executive produced by George A. Romero, Richard P. Rubinstein and Jerry Golod, it attracted some great talent. And yes, like most anthologies, there are some real stinkers. There are also some great episodes as well and hey — they’re only 20 minutes each, so you aren’t wasting much time.

This pilot episode aired on the very appropriate date of October 29, 1983 and tells the story of shopkeeper Gideon Hackles (Bernard Hughes, Grandpa from The Lost Boys), who puts the town through his Halloween fun. All year long everyone runs up huge debts buying his supplies and on October 31, their children try to pay those debts by finding the IOUs hidden in his house of horrors, always disappointing their parents.

Hackles hates the town he lives in, hates the people and has one night of joy, a night of abusing children. He’s turned generations into slaves to his general store and also ones that are left with nightmares of the scares that live within his home. One child has been coached by his father all year long, only to fail. But one other has promised himself that he will free his family from the crushing yoke of owing, owing, owing. I get it. Trust me, I get it. I’d go into any number of haunted homes to try and get out from under all that we owe.

Written by Franco Amurri (the Italian director of Flashback and Monkey Trouble, as well as the writer of the Jodie Foster-directed episode “Do Not Open This Box” which was part of the Stephen King’s Golden Tales VHS release that collected all of that author’s stories on this show) and Romero, this episode is directed by Bob Balaban, the director of My Boyfriend’s Back and an actor you may remember as Dr. Theodore W. Millbank, III in Best In Show, Jonathan Steinbloom in A Mighty Wind and Lloyd Miller in Waiting for Guffman.

The pilot was a big ratings hit and the show was on the air. Future episodes may not have had this one’s budget or quality, but the fact that we had a weekly horror show to watch was a big deal back in the early 80s. And hey — Tales from the Dark Side: The Movie is the movie that Creepshow 3 should be.

Stay tuned — now that Circle of Fear/Ghost Story is done, I’ll be watching a new episode every week. Would you like to cover one? Just let me know!

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