There was a time at the end of the eighties when Hollywood horror had become, quite frankly, goofy. There were still killings everywhere and weird creatures all over the shop but the tone had become more comedic, more sitcom macabre than darkly sinister. This can pretty much be blamed on Freddy Kruger: how you can start off with a cinematic child killer and end up with a doll of the same monster being tucked up in bed with your kid is something that could have only have happened in the eighties. Everything had become a commodity, success was only valued in how much money you made, and if Freddy had to sell out to become a success then so be it.
This had a knock on effect to countless other genre films: Jason went to Manhattan, the Living Dead made brain eating funny and Re-Animator did some funny stuff with a severed head and a fanny. It also spilt onto TV, with Freddy having his own anthology show which at best could be described as stupid. Tales From The Dark Side was another anthology show which was again quite daft but seemed to be written and made by people who actually cared about making good horror stories rather than just making a fast buck.
We never got it shown over here in the UK (well probably on some long forgotten cable channel but its the same thing) however it must have done okay because it got this cinematic spin off. It too is incredibly goofy but it is done with such relish that I felt quite forgiving of its faults and just enjoyed it for what it was. Plus I am an absolute sucker for horror portmanteaus so I was always going to find something to like about it.
What we have is a wrap around story with three tales within it. The main plot has Debbie Harry as a modern day witch keeping a ten year old boy chained up in a cell in her kitchen. She is about to cook him and serve him up as the main dish at what I presume is some kind of witch swingers dinner party. Why do witches love eating children so much? Must be the taste of innocence. Anyway as a delaying tactic the kid tells Harry three stories while he works out the hell he’s going to get out of this mess.
The whole thing is incredibly light hearted and silly but Debbie Harry is as good as she always was. I always thought it was a shame she didn’t do more acting, she was so great in Videodrome, but then I suppose she had other things on her mind.
The first tale is the most shocking: not because its a dark and twisted tale – its a simple story of a nerdy college student getting revenge on his bullies using a recently delivered three thousand year old mummy – but because of the actors starring in it. It has Christian Slater, Stephen Buscemi and Julianne Moore, all looking ridiculously young, even Buscemi, although he still looks like a weird old man even at the tender age of, oh I just looked it up, he was 33. A 33 year old playing a 19 year old – good to see that horror trope was still alive and well in 1990. Christian Slater already had a few good roles under his belt when he did this and is obviously very at good battling the mummy with a mini electric chainsaw but the real revelation is Julianne Moore. Obviously she is rightly now considered one of the greatest actors of her generation but flippin’ heck, it wasn’t immediately apparent here. She’s incredibly stiff and uncomfortable in front of the camera and her line delivery is half hearted at best. Maybe she just thought having her back torn open and having a bunch of flowers shoved inside the open cavity was below her, I don’t know.
So the first story is pretty fun, you can’t beat an ancient corpse shuffling towards you and pulling your brains out through your nose with a coat hanger can you? Its an easy win for the makers of Tales From The Dark Side so why not? Plus its based on a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle short so its a classic tale to tell.
The second section is probably the weakest and that’s especially surprising as its based on a short story by Stephen King and the script is by George A. Romero. “The Cat From Hell” probably falls down in its execution. I know that cats have been a big part of the horror world at least since of the times of Poe but I’ve just never found them remotely scary. This one is no exception, even when its suffocating old people or throwing them down the stairs I just look it and think “aw, that’s sweet.” There’s a decent bit when the cat climbs inside someone’s mouth and down their throat but other than that I couldn’t give a monkey’s arse about it. Or a cat’s bottom for that matter.
The final story is probably the best and when I say best I mean none of them are great and they are all hugely predictable but this one has the best monster and effects so let’s give it to this one. A failing artist, played by Dexter’s dad James Remar, is attacked by a giant winged demon on the back streets of New York, which in 1990 was probably quite normal. The monster spares his life on the condition that he never tells another soul about it. The he meets a beautiful woman (Rae Dawn Chong) and his life is turned around. If you can’t guess the ending of that story then you are even more of an imbecile than I am, which is saying something.
Tales From The Dark Side: The Movie (because we demanded a movie not just a TV show goddammit!) bounces along at a fun old rate and its never long before someone is having their head torn off or balls bitten to pieces and its all sort of played for humour in that weird end of the eighties kind of way. But really, it never gets even remotely close to anything that could be called a dark side. I’m sure it was an 18 or R to keep the kids away but I can’t imagine any child being kept awake by it. They would have watched it with same look on their faces as that the boy trying not to be cooked alive seems to have: like he’s just having a bit of a laugh.