“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 Two:
Life Bomb: Talk about your life insurance. Bill Macy plays Ben Martin, who takes out a very unusual policy. A device inside of him forms a protective cocoon around him each time he dies until their scientists can revive him. But when Ben’s life turns to crap, the company just won’t let him die.
Ring Around The Red Head: This was one of my favorite science fiction stories, written by the master of both sci-fi and mystery, John D. MacDonald. A man is about to be executed for murder and grants one last interview to explain what really happened. Long before Stargate came on the scene, MacDonald delivered this story of a ring that connected to other worlds. The condemned man was able to bring back objects from strange places, including a certain red haired girl. This is one of the best from the series.
The Satanic Piano: Hill Street Blues star Michael Warren is a musician who has reached a dry spell. When a keyboard inventor offers him a new device, he is suddenly creating the most haunting but beautiful music. It comes at a price, however. The device is sapping the soul of his daughter, Cosby kid Lisa Bonet.
The Devil’s Advocate: Jerry Stiller is wonderful as Mandrake the talk show host. He’s filled with hate for pretty much everybody and spills it like toxic waste from his microphone. Eventually the poison begins to transform him into a real beast. This episode is a good call.
Distant Signals: This is another one of the best the series ever offered. Darren McGavin stars as an old washed up actor who once had a hit “Fugitive-style” series that was never resolved before it was cancelled. When a strange producer offers him a ton of money to film a resolution he’s weary of the idea. But this producer represents a demographic not registered with Nielsen.
Monsters In My Room: A young boy complains of creatures under his bed, like all young children tend to do. His parents try to assure him that he is imagining them. Boy, are Mom and Dad in for a surprise.
Fear Of Floating: You think Pinocchio had it bad. Whenever Arnold lies, he begins to float in the air.
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 three 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.
We’re almost halfway through this series now. I hope that Paramount rewards our loyalty with a quick release of the final two seasons. It was an uneven show, to be sure. Still, it had some absolutely great episodes and was hugely underrated because of its syndication home. Check these out before they, too disappear into the darkness we in the biz like to call, out of print. “The darkside is always there, waiting for us to enter, waiting to enter us. Until next time, try and enjoy the daylight.”