Tales From The Darkside (1990)
What’s It About: My week of watching horror anthologies comes to a close with the most recent one I can recall (no, I never saw Tales From The Hood……yet) from waaaaay back in 1990! Tales From The Darkside was based on the old TV series horror anthology of the same name and its no different in approach from Creepshow (In fact, most people refer to this film as “Creepshow 3” because of Romero’s and King’s involvement) During the week I also watched Tales From the Crypt and The Vault of Horror, very fun and well-done British productions from the early 70s. I chose not to review them because they both are not something I’ve seen before and could rip on as effectively or entertaining enough for this review. I’ve seen Tales From the Darkside countless times in its heyday and just first seen it again since the early 90s.
So again, three stories of terror with short interludes of a larger story. This time the storyteller is young Timmy, a hapless paper boy trapped in a dungeon and planned to be a meal cooked up by a hot witch, played by Debbie Harry. Timmy reads her these scary stories to stall her dinner preparations. Timmy was given the book by Debbie Harry yet, she either forgot these stories or never read the book because why would hearing these stories be more important or a good use of her time, especially if cooking Timmy is on a very strict pound-per-hour cooking time. Anyway, lets begin the first segment:
Segment 1: “Lot no. 249” — Based on a classic Sir Arthur Conan Doyle short story, this a simple tale of revenge by way of mummy. Steve Buscemi plays Bellingham, a college student who acquires a sarcophagus that happens to have a 3,000-year-old mummy inside. How a college student has the cash or even know-how to get such a relic is incredible in of itself. He shows his dorm neighbor, Andy (Christian Slater) and Lee, two rich snobs the relic but Lee doesn’t have the stomach for seeing or smelling 3,000-year-old rotting flesh and bolts. Lee is dating Susan (a very young Julianne Moore—had no idea she was in this!), Andy’s sister and both she and Lee have cheated Bellingham out of a scholarship and Bellingham knows this. Susan also stole another relic from the museum and plant it in Bellingham’s dorm room. While digging around the mummy’s corpse, Bellingham discovers what he really was seeking in Lot #249 and that’s an ancient Egyptian scroll which contains a curse. All mummy’s have curses—ITS A FACT!
Bellingham plays off that he cannot read Hieroglyphics and Andy also doesn’t care. Meanwhile, Bellingham reads the curse out-loud and animates the mummy. Its first victim is Lee in his apartment and the mummy gruesomely takes a wire hanger’s hook and pulls out Lee’s brain out of his nostril (off-screen unfortunately).
Shortly after Lee’s death, the museum and college dean confront Bellingham about the stolen relic and find it in his dorm room. Bellingham maintains his innocence but the college expels him anyway. Next victim, Susan who dies by having a bouquet of flowers rammed in her back by the mummy and her body is found by Andy with some wrappings as well. Without a doubt, Andy knows that Bellingham is solely responsible for the deaths of his friend and sister and plans his own revenge by tying Bellingham to a chair and threatening to burn him alive.
Bellingham gives up the ancient scroll and Andy burns it as well as takes out the mummy with an electric carver. He lets Bellingham go alive thinking he can do no more harm and that Andy has no real “believable” proof that Bellingham is responsible. Bellingham packs up his stuff and leaves the campus. Later on we see him in cab reciting the curse again, this time to reanimate Susan and Lee to come and kill Andy!
Segment 2: “Cat From Hell” — Another Stephen King horror short, this time about a killer cat. King really doesn’t think too far out of the box does he? Anyway, William Hickey hires David Johansen (a/k/a Buster Poindexter), a professional hit-man, to kill a black cat that Hickey believes is responsible for 3 deaths in that house and that he is next. He believes this because Hickey is the CEO of a pharmaceutical company that tests on felines and has killed 1,000’s of them and that the black cat was sent as revenge for this.
Johansen scoffs at his story and the task he was hired for but the money’s good and the royalty checks for “Hot, Hot, Hot” ain’t going to last forever, ya know? So Johansen stays at the old man’s house for the evening so he can attempt to kill the cat. Very confident and cock-sure, Johansen thinks this is a cake walk until the cat cuts his hand, then his leg and face, really upsetting Johansen. He cannot believe this small house cat is getting the upper-hand over him. Even with a trap of some Friskies and armed with a semi-automatic pistol with laser-sight he misses the cat by a mile! Furious he chases the cat around the mansion missing every shot he makes. The cat is better at what he does and scratches him up good. Finally, Johansen is so terrified at this supernatural cat that he basically lets the cat jump on his face and the cat for whatever reason decides to crawl down Johansen’s throat into his belly, killing him.
The next morning, Hickey arrives back home to find a very bloated and dead Johansen lying on the foyer tiles. When the sound of the grandfather clock chimes, the cat emerges from Johansen’s mouth again and scares Hickey to death when he cannot take his medication (the same that was the result of all those cats’ deaths) in time to stop his heart attack.
Segment 3: “Lover’s Vow” — James Remar, plays Preston, a struggling inner-city artist. His agent lets him go due to the lack of buyers and Preston drinks his woes away at his local bar. When leaving the bar, quite drunk, he decides to take a leak in the alley. He probably lives a few blocks away, so why couldn’t he hold it. Plus the bartender friend of his asks him why didn’t he go before he left. Whatever Preston’s answer is, it doesn’t much matter because the bartender is ripped to shreds by a gargoyle! The gargoyle spares Preston’s life on the condition that he never speaks of this incident or about the gargoyle to anyone ever. Preston agrees and in a few moments meets Carola, played by Rae Dawn Chong. They eventually fall in love and Preston’s art career gets a second wind when Carola knows some art gallery owners and gets his art displayed. A whole decade goes by, Preston and Carola marry and have two kids and they seem as happy as any great couple.
However, the guilt of not telling the authorities about the truth to his friend’s death at the hands of the gargoyle is eating away at Preston and he decides to tell Carola. Bad move because Carola is in fact the gargoyle and when the vow is broken she reverts back to the gargoyle form. Also their kids change into gargoyles and Preston is then killed by Carola. Then, she and the kids fly though the skylight and become stone gargoyles looking down over the building.
Interlude finale: After the three stories, Timmy is out of time and Debbie enters the dungeon to kill Timmy to stuff him with aromatics. Timmy describes his “plan” to escape by telling Debbie that she will trip on the marbles he just threw onto the ground, which she does and she falls on skewers/poultry needles and Timmy grabs the keys. He unlocks himself and throws Debbie in the pre-cooked oven, killing her Hansel-style.
Is It Actually Scary: Even when I was a kid back in 1990 I wasn’t scared of these tales of suspense. They are fun though and still hold up to this day. I really thought this was going to let me and my memory down by being worse than I remember it but it actually surprised me how decent it was. I always hated the last segment though and I hated it a little less now but I’ll get to that later.
Scariest Moment: The mummy in Lot #249 was very decently done. The entering and exiting Buster Poindexter’s mouth is disgusting. The gargoyle is so over the top and cartoonish it crosses over to being creepy. (kinda like when Large Marge in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure scares Pee-Wee with that claymation face)
How Much Gore: Not that much really. The best kills, like the guy getting his brains pulled out his nostril was done off screen with a shot of his feet getting dripped in blood, thus stunting the best bit. The brains getting pulled is what we really want to see! The cat going down Johansen’s throat isn’t as gory as you would think. The bartender gets his hand severed, half his face ripped off and then his whole head is ripped clean off so that was quite graphic.
Dumbest Moments: This movie has a lot actually. Timmy throwing the marbles after he tells Debbie Harry he was going to do it AND SHE STILL trips on them is stupefying. I will also mention the terrible casting choices in the Cat From Hell. William Hickey and David Johansen? The funny old guy from Christmas Vacation and My Blue Heaven. Alright but Buster Poindexter as a hit-man….are you serious? I dunno maybe I’m getting too old for this. However, it briefly has the guy who plays Salamanca, the old guy with the bell on Breaking Bad, so I should give it a little of a pass.
However, the whole plot for Lover’s Vow is downright asinine. A guy sees a demon gargoyle kill someone for no reason. Spares the guy on the condition he says nothing. Then the gargoyle turns into a beautiful girl and falls in love with the guy, gets married and has kids with him, lives happily with him for a decade and when he spills the beans, the girl turns back into the horrible monster and kills him. So, what is the point of the gargoyle anyway? Was she looking for love and found the right guy? Was it a curse of some sort? Did she turn into Rae Dawn Chong to make sure he never spoke of the incident and just happened to fall in love with him? Because if it was the latter than that is some convoluted way to make sure a guy keeps a secret. The gargoyle wasted a whole decade and I’m assuming was willing to go a lifetime, just to make sure the artist kept his mouth shut. Why did the gargoyle care that he saw her kill a man anyway? She’s a supernatural and powerful gargoyle and can probably kill anyone she pleases very easily. I don’t think she was going to be arrested anytime soon. And plus, if she can turn to human form than her secret is way more than safe. Why didn’t she just kill Preston when she noticed he was there and saw her kill the bartender? Why did she even have to kill the bartender? Seemed a very reasonable gargoyle since she makes bargains with random eye-witnesses to her murders. She probably could’ve just flew away and not have to kill anyone in the first place. Man, do I hate this gargoyle.
I was baffled in 1990 and I’m even more baffled at this imbecilic plot. Seems it was created just for the surprise twist that probably gave M. Night Shyamalan wet dreams for months. Call me unromantic but that whole twist and plot is DUMB.
Any Nudity: Was hoping for Debbie Harry and maybe Rae Dawn Chong’s darksides but was denied.
Overall: Was fun back in the day and still fun. I’m only briefly aware of the TV show but I have it now on DVD and will hope to find time to catch some more episodes. Its the tried and true basic horror show formula with the errors and sins of common, ordinary people and how fate (and mummys) come back to bite you on the poetic justice ass. This film has its flaws (and Lover’s Vow) but it’s still well done, well acted and mostly memorable.
Score: 7 Egyptian Curse Scrolls (out of 10)