I caught on to Tales From The Darkside late. By the time that I realized that the good shows were on after midnight and that I could actually stay up that late on friday and saturday nights, Tales From The Darkside was beginning to step aside to make way for its antecessor, Monsters. But they released many of the shows on VHS, which is where I got to experience most of these late-night TV treats. My actual opinion of the show back in the day was pretty low, in spite of it being so exotic having been featured on the past midnight syndication schedules of one of our local UHF channels. But CBS DVD is gearing up to release the series to a horror hungry mob of DVD fanatics so I figured I’d get in line to re-evaluate the product. There’s an added bonus, as well. What I had not previously been aware of, and much to my own surprise, the show was the end-product of one George A. Romero, this writer’s pick for most important horror director of all time. True, Romero was only Executive Producer, and that title can mean a lot of things, but the pilot episode comes from the man’s own pen and for me, that goes a long way.
And if you want to throw a dart on the map and find out where a lot of the late era spook anthology shows were coming from, Tales From The Darkside was it. But more on that upon further inspection. For now, have a look and decide for yourself if you’re hungry enough to warrant plucking down the $25 or so bones that this three disc set is going to set you back.
Tales From The Darkside is your fairly standard exercise in weekly horror anthology storytelling. If you’re familiar with The Twilight Zone or Night Gallery, you should already know what you’re in for. Each episode features a spooky short with some kind of ironic twist at the end that you’ll most likely see coming a mile away. For instance, the pilot episode, the Romero penned, Trick Or Treat, features a greedy money lender in a Pennsylvania farm town who gets his comeuppance after his annual Halloween haunted house game goes awry. If you can’t foretell how that one is going to end, you’re hopeless. But like many of these types of shows, there’s an FCC friendly naievete that wins points where the show’s innocent and well meaning shortcomings fall. The entire season runs 24 episodes and the entire run is largely a horror short affair, though some episodes dip into fantasy and science fiction while others keep it light and morbid with a gallow’s humor vibe.
Overall, the show isn’t particularly bad but this is 1984 we’re talking about and the first season of a low-budget late night anthology so the quality is shoddy on the whole. Few experiments in television, particularly the late night syndicated stuff and even more, a genre show got the kind of attention to detail that Tales From The Darkside got. As the story goes, the success of Romero’s Creepshow got the wheels turning on a weekly show that followed the format. A series of shorts, in the tradition of EC Comics’ Tales From The Crypt, that would later become the gold standard for horror anthologies, and The Vault of Horror. Romero’s involvement in the production lured fans in where they otherwise might have turned up their noses and it worked. Tales From The Darkside haunted the late night rotation of cable for four years before it dropped off the air and came back a couple of years later with its own feature.
The series, like any anthology series worth its salt, featured shorts by some heavy hitters, including adaptations of Word Processor Of The Gods, by Stephen King as well as other genre names, Robert Bloch and Harlan Ellison This season also features the episode, Inside The Closet, directed by special effects legend and tremendous douchebag, Tom Savini. So for fans of horror picture and pages, there’s something for everyone.
Unfortunately, the CBS DVD presentation is pretty poor. The sound comes across fine but it looks as though the source material for the discs was from video tape. The picture is extremely grainy throughout. It’s a safe assumption that the original negatives are long gone or deteriorated to the point of being useless so this is probably the best you’ll ever get. Extras are also probably hard to come by as there was nothing particularly remarkable about the show’s original run. So the only thing you’ll find on the disc is commentary by Executive Producer George A. Romero as he gives you a little background on the pilot episode and his involvement in the show from its beginnings. There’s not much to know and it lasts a mere 21 minutes, but it beats nothing at all.
Tales From The Darkside isn’t a particularly standout show but for those of us fans of anthology shows like The Twilight Zone and Amazing Stories, it’s nice to have something like this that was edgy enough to merit a late night airing, but isn’t too scary that you couldn’t show it to your kids. As a relic of the 80’s horror wave, it stands as a unique entry as everyone by this point was clamoring to have their Jason Voorhees or Freddy Krueger. It’s an odd turn that a show like this would get a chance where only a couple of years later, Freddy would turn up in his own anthology show, the godawful Freddy’s Nightmares, which is bound to turn up on DVD to stink up your home theater at some point.