The First Season
- Buy the DVD
Reviewed by Will Harris
an 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.”
The 1980s was a glorious decade for fans of the anthology series. The baby boomers who had thrilled when Rod Serling welcomed them into “The Twilight Zone” and loved everything that Alfred Hitchcock presented were suddenly in charge of the TV business, but after briefly bemoaning the fact that “they just don’t make shows like that anymore,” they suddenly realized, “Hey, we can make shows like that!” Serling’s series was revived for CBS, while Hitchcock overcame death to find his show returning to NBC’s line-up, but they were far from alone. The list is plentiful: “Darkroom,” hosted by James Coburn, “Freddy’s Nightmares,” which sprang forth from the “Elm Street” films, HBO’s “Tales from the Crypt” and “The Hitchhiker,” and the cheesy but fun syndicated series, “Monsters.” There were three shows, however, which stood out from the pack because of the notable names involved in their production: “Amazing Stories” (Steven Spielberg), “The Ray Bradbury Theater” (take a wild guess), and George A. Romero’s “Tales from the Darkside.”
The DVD release of “Tales from the Darkside” has been a long time coming, but it’s a pleasure to see that CBS / Paramount has finally found it in their heart to begin releasing the series. Although Romero’s contributions are, aside from writing the pilot episode, little more than that of producer, his name certainly lent the series a considerable amount of horror credibility. So, however, do the authors whose works were adapted for the program, such as Stephen King (“Word Processor of the Gods”), Robert Bloch (“A Case of the Stubborns”), and Harlan Ellison (“Djinn, No Chaser”).
Although the decision to shoot the series on video rather than film has left it looking more dated than it perhaps deserves, quite a few of the stories within the first season of “Tales from the Darkside” still hold up very well, and not just those written by the big names. Tom Savini directed Fritz Weaver for “Inside the Closet,” wherein Weaver plays an elderly man who takes in a border who claims that there’s something lurking within the closet in her room. (Spoiler: there is.) “The Odds” stars Danny Aiello as a bookie who can’t resist taking a bet on the time of his own death; “The New Man” finds Vic Tayback playing a recovering alcoholic whose family believes he’s fallen off the wagon when he doesn’t recognize his own son; and “I’ll Give You a Million” features Keenan Wynn as a despicable old sod who buys the soul of one of his friends and pays the price. As for those aforementioned “big names,” few would argue against calling Bloch’s “A Case of the Stubborns” one of the best of the season, with Eddie Bracken playing Christian Slater’s late grandfather, a gentleman who can’t seem to understand that he’s actually dead. Not even “The Twilight Zone” can claim that all of its episodes have stood the test of time, however, so it’s no surprise that the same is true of “Tales from the Darkside.” In particular, “Mookie and Pookie” is tough to watch without laughing, with Justine Bateman playing a twin who helps fulfill her late brother’s dying wish of living on as a program on his computer.
It’s always a tough call as to whether or not revisiting these anthology series will remind you why you loved them or leave you thinking, “Wow, I don’t remember it being this cheesy,” but in the case of “Tales from the Darkside,” it’s a pleasant surprise to find that it holds up far more often than not. If you’re a fan of the creepy who missed it the first time around (which is highly possible, given that it was syndicated and often aired in the wee hours of the morning), it’ll be worth your while to give it a spin – well, just as long as you remember that the dark side is always there, waiting for us to enter, waiting to enter us.
Special Features: In theory, it’s nice that George Romero found it in his heart to contribute an audio commentary to the pilot episode of the series, “Trick or Treat.” Unfortunately, it’s a pretty underwhelming listening experience, with Romero lapsing into silence more often than he really should’ve been allowed to do. Seriously, it’s 22 minutes, and it’s the only insight into the series that the fans are being offered. (There’s no other bonus material included in the set.) Couldn’t someone have laid out a conversational flight plan for Romero in order to fill the commentary to the brink with information, even if it wasn’t necessarily episode-specific?