“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 so brightly lit, a darkside.”
I have been waiting a long time for this release. Tales From The Darkside. Not since the likes of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits has there been a really good sci-fi/horror anthology until 1984’s Tales. Not to say that each episode was a winner. In fact, most were pretty weak and relatively lame, but when this show was good, it was very good. These tales weren’t any ordinary specter spectaculars, but were told by spectacular story writers, directors, and producers. Look at just this first season and you’ll find some of the top names in the field involved in one way or another. You’ll see the likes of: Stephen King, Tom Savini, George Romero, Robert Bloch, Frank De Palma, and Harlan Ellison. The tales often came with a twist or at least a big finale in the end. Much like a train’s headlight in a long tunnel; you might have seen it coming from a mile away, but it’s hard to avoid the impact.
The episodes are pretty much low budget and ran in syndication during its television run. Each episode was about 20 minutes (half hour of grid time) and usually went right to the point. You won’t find any fancy frills or large casts here. Most episodes rely on just a couple of characters to make the point. It’s more like theater than television. There’s no end of story morality wrap up. You’ll figure it out for yourself.
Here are a few of the best moments you’ll find waiting for you in Season One:
Trick Or Treat: A miserable old man owns the local store. He holds IOU’s from pretty much everyone in the poor farming community. Every Halloween he hides the cache of dept papers and invites the local children to dare enter his house and look for them. If a child should uncover the stack of debts, he will forgive that family’s entire debt. Of course, what he really delights in is his elaborate devices to scare the Hades out of the young treasure hunters. One Halloween a mysterious force will turn the tables.
Inside The Closet: Fritz Weaver stars as an old college professor who takes in borders for a few extra nickels and some pet food. Tom Savini creates the coolest television creature and even directs this classic episode.
Anniversary Dinner: An old couple who live in an isolated house in the woods is about to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. When young Sybil shows up at the front door, their spirits are raised by the possibility that she’s brought just what they need for that special meal.
Bigalow’s Last Smoke: While Stephen King had already written Quitter’s Anonymous, the Cat’s Eye segment wouldn’t be out for another year. So, this tough quit smoking episode beat it to the public by a year. It’s not as good as the Cat’s Eye episode, but it has a fiendishly sweet ending.
The Word Processor Of The Gods: Every writer wishes he had a word processor like the one Uncle Richard inherits from his dead young nephew. The kid was somewhat of an inventor, and Richard gets to write more than just his stories. Whatever he writes comes true in his life. Sounds like a dream come true, but this is The Darkside, after all, and something’s bound to go wrong; or is it?
I’ll Give You A Million: Hey, if you don’t believe in Heaven, Hell, or life after death, what have you got to lose when a friend offers to buy your soul for a million bucks. The two guys are fierce competitors, and one of them learns you always get just what you pay for.
Madness Room: Two lovers devise a fiendishly clever plot to rid the woman of her rich and elderly husband. The guy’s got a bad ticker, so they figure out a way to scare him to death. They get what they want, freedom from the old geezer. But be careful what you wish for, and out of the frying pan and into the ….
It All Comes Out In The Wash: Carl is a ruthless businessman who would sell his own grandmother to make a few bucks. He’s suffered guilt before for the things he’s done, but now he’s found a Chinese cleaner who can wash away his sins and the accompanying guilt along with his shirts. The price is high, but Carl’s on a roll, now that he doesn’t have to suffer any ill effects of his heartless behavior, until there’s an unexpected wrinkle in the service.
Each episode of Tales From The Darkside is presented in its original broadcast full frame format. Unfortunately these transfers are simply horrible. They’re barely one step up from the extended play tapes I made during the original run. This image was not taken from any film element. These are obvious video dubs, and not very good ones at that. Colors run, and this image is about as sharp as watching a film through 3 inch leaded glass. I’m not sure what the problem here was. Maybe the original film is unavailable. Whatever the reason, these transfers have seriously dampened my excitement about the release.
The Dolby Digital mono track is almost as bad. While you can hear the dialog clearly, there is a distinct muddiness to the entire presentation. The theme warbles and distorts at times. I have to believe that there are better masters out there than this.
There is only a single Audio Commentary with George Romero on the pilot episode.
As I told you before, I was waiting for these shows to finally arrive on DVD. After ten years of waiting, I was incredibly disappointed at the quality of the release. Sound and image look absolutely hideous, and I don’t mean that in a good way. There are no extras to speak of. I have to believe there are some marvelous bits of information this formidable crew of writers and directors could share with us. Let’s hope that future releases offer improvement, because “The darkside is always there, waiting for us to enter, waiting to enter us. Until next time, try and enjoy the daylight”.