Revisiting this film is a lot like going to a high school reunion. There are a lot of mixed feelings, but in the end you get to see forgotten faces and have some good old fashioned fun. The first thing that caught my attention was how I had completely erased the number of huge stars in this movie. Instantly I was taken back in time when I saw such staples of the time period as Debbie Harry, William Hickey, and Christian Slater. In hindsight, though, the stories within the film are like the lunch tables at school, they don’t quite mix well with one another. Each is to be appreciated for what it is, but there is a general lack of cohesion. Nonetheless, this film maintains the necessary creep factor, good story telling, and was well worth the revisit if simply for the feelings you get opening a time capsule.
Tales from the Darkside the Movie is three short films enveloped in a wraparound story. The wraparound involves a modern day suburban witch (Harry) who has captured young Timmy with the intention of serving him to her friends. Timmy (Lawrence) tries to buy time by reading stories out of his book. The following three stories consist of: “Lot 249” which was written by Michael McDowell and based on a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story, the next is “Cat From Hell” written by George Romero and based on a Stephen King short story, and lastly “Lover’s Vow” also written by Michael McDowell.
“Lot 249” is a tale about using people, revenge, and underestimating your opponent. The narrative is highlighted with unique artistic representations that offer a horror rendition of still life or American Gothic. This story teaches you about competition, merit, and trust as the characters of Lee and his girlfriend try to sabotage Bellingham (Buscemi) in the pursuit of a scholarship grant. There is also an unspoken class element to this story as Lee, his girlfriend (Moore), and Andy (Slater) are all noticeably from a higher economic bracket than Bellingham. Much as in life, the upper echelon tries to succeed by feeding off of the energy and efforts of those below them. However, “Lot 249” is ahead of shows like “The Big Bang Theory” as it reminds us never to count the nerd out too early.
Sometimes things just happen for a reason. That’s the case in “Cat From Hell” when old Man Drogen (Hickey) falls prey to a real life cat and mouse game with a formidable opponent. In this short, nature attempts to hold society accountable for its actions. This is played out between the cat from hell and Drogen’s empire, which was built upon the backs of over 5,000 cats. Through killer POV shots the audience gets into the mind of Drogen’s opponent who stalks his prey like Michael Meyers stalks Laurie. With one of the coolest death scenes of the time period, this short holds society accountable for its actions.
In the final and (in my opinion) best short of them all, “Lover’s Vow” tackles issues of trust, concealment, and character. It suggests that promises are meant to be kept at any cost and that sometimes the truth causes just as much damage. Any horror sequence that incorporates the inner workings of families and couples sparks my interest. That being said, even after twenty years this short still holds up well. Despite having an intricate gargoyle, this short is less reliant on special effects and movie make up. What makes this one so intriguing is the timeless nature of the narrative. Anyone, anywhere, at any time can relate to this story, and its outcome is equally horrific. It’s a story of a wayward artist who falls on hard times. Just as he hits rock bottom, he makes a promise to a stranger to never speak of their encounter. Soon after, his luck turns around, he falls in love, and he must make a decision. The inner workings of his dilemma reflect back personal judgements on the value of a promise as well as weighing when to share the truth versus the damage it might cause to those around you. As I am no expert in matters of the heart, this one just helps me justify why the act of long term monogamous coupling is a bizarre and sadistic ritual.