Saturday, August 8, 2020

TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: THE MOVIE (1990) (Scream Factory Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review)


Label: Scream Factory
Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 93 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 and 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1)
Director: John Harrison
Cast: Debbie Harry, Matthew Lawrence, Christian Slater, David Forrester, Robert Sedgwick, Steve Buscemi, Donald Van Horn, Michael Deak, Julianne Moore, George Guidall

This anthology film based on the four-season long George A. Romero produced Tales from the Darkside (1983-1988) TV series, a fun and low-budget syndicated series that explored the realm of horror with a lot of gusto, if not a lot of production value. I watched it religiously as a kid,, sure it might of lacked the success of The Twilight Zone, the lavish production of Stephen Spielberg's Amazing Stories, or the humor-horror wit of Tales from the Crypt, but for a kid who loved all things horror it hit a certain sweet spot for me. I remembering it airing late at night, I'd usually be alone in the living room watching it, and when those opening credits started it rolling it always scared me a bit. Beginning with a scene of a creepy wooded forest that turns into a negative image with some ominous toned narration over it. It always  set the perfect tone for late night TV frights viewing. The show ended in '88 and a few years later came the feature-length film, not directed or produced by Romero, but he did co-write the 'Cat From Hell" segment, and director John Harrison (Frank Herbert's Dune TV mini-series) is someone who worked with Romero often as a either a writer, actor, composer and assistant director - so it was still in the Romero family.  As soon as the trailer hit the TV I was ready to go see it, having been a huge fan of the series, but also because it features Christian Slater who I thought was so cool at the time, having seen him in Heathers and Gleaming the Cube.  

Tales From The Darkside - The Movie (1990) opens with a fairytale like wrap-around story,  featuring new-waver rocker Deborah Harry (Videodrome) as a modern-day witch who is out and about gathering groceries for a dinner party before returning to her suburban home. Inside we discover that sje is keeping the local paperboy (Mathew Lawrence, the brother of Joey "whoa" Lawrence) locked away in a kitchen dungeon, until she is ready to bake the tender kid in her industrial sized oven. The kid keeps her distracted by reading to her stories from a book of dark fantasy tales, which is how each of the three segments that follow are introduced.

First up is 'Lot 249' an adaptation of Sir  Arthur Conan Doyle's short story 'Lot No. 249', in which we have a vengeful graduate student named Edward Bellingham (Steve Buscemi, Ghost World) is out to have his revenge on a trio of classmates who have cheated him. This trio, consisting of Susan (Julianne Moore, Boogie Nights), her boyfriend Lee (Robert Sedgwick, Die Hard with a Vengeance), and Susan's brother Andy (Christian Slater, Heathers) have framed Bellingham for an antiquity theft which caused him to be denied a much needed scholarship. As revenge he purchases an ancient mummy sarcophagus, resurrecting the mummy inside by reciting the words from an ancient Book of the Dead type scroll. This is my favorite of the segments, it starts off strong with a visually moody piece bathed in shadow, the re-animated mummy going after it's victims by yanking out their brains through their noses and stuffing their corpses with flowers, but Bellingham's plans begins to come unwrapped so to speak when Slater's character gets wise and turns the tables with the help of an electric carving knife! This adaptation modernizes the source material with some not unwelcome humor, and the young cast of soon-to-be Hollywood stars is also pretty great, with Buscemi and Slater's adversarial relationship winning the day with their venomous back and forth.

The middle segment is 'Cat from Hell' and is an adaptation of a short story by horror scribe Stephen King (Maximum Overdrive), with a screenplay by Romero, the tale of the curmudgeonly, wheelchair-bound pharmaceutical magnate named Mr. Drogan (William Hickey, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation) who summons a hit-man named Halstead (David Johansen, Scrooged) to his mansion. The mark is a menacing black cat that Drogan believes has caused the death of his sister, her friend and even the damn butler, and he's quite sure he's gonna be the next victim. The hit-man is a bit offended by the offer, killing a cat, but nonetheless he takes on the job, which turns out to be a bit harder than he might have anticipated. The black cat has a supernatural aversion to being killed, in addition to being quite vicious and well-clawed, causing the hit-man to, well, choke-on-it when the cat goes for the throat. It's a fun one, with Johansen and Hickey pairing well together, at the time I first watched this I had no idea Johansen had been the singer for seminal glam-rockers the New York Dolls, at that time I knew his as his 80's alter ego, croooner Buster Poindexter who had an obnoxious hit with the song "Hot Hot Hot" in '87. He plays it fairly straight, not as over-the-top as he played the otherworldly spirit-taxi driver from Scrooged (1988). I like it but it is my least favorite of the three segments, the overdone cat-vision POV shots tarted grating on me, but the special effects from KNB are fantastic, with the black cat literally clawing it's way down someones throat and back out again, with all the blood and sickly gurgling you could imagine, it's both rediculous and awesome. 

The third and final segment is 'A Lover's Vow', an adaptation of the Japanese folklore of the the Yuki-onna, a tale previously explored in the Japanese film Kwaiden (1964). In it we have a struggling  New York City artist named Preston (James Remar, The Warriors) who after a late-night of drinking witness a gargoyle decapitate his friend. The gargoyle says it will let him live on the condition that he never mentions the incident to another soul. Shortly after he encounters a woman named Carola (Rae Dawn Chong, Commando) whom he ends up marrying, and ten years later his life has greatly improved, his art career has taken off, he has two young children with Carola, things are going great... until he decides to share with her the story of what happened to him ten year's earlier the same night that they met, proving that there are no statute of limitations of gargoyle curses!  They cram in a lot of emotion into this short, James Remar and Chong are great together, they have a bit of a 9 1/2 Weeks sort of vibe happening, and the creature FX in this thing are terrific. There's a scene of the gargoyle opening up it's wings that looks like a William Blake painting brought to life, it's terrific. The weak spot is when the creature is talking the animatronic jaw doesn't look that great, it doesn't ever look like it's forming words, but the overall look is a fucking brilliant creature-feature with a surprising amount of heart. The anthology wraps up nicely with the wrap-around framing coming to a close in proper fairytale fashion, but seeing one of the Lawrence boys kill off Debbie Hairy was a bit depressing to be honest, I would have rather seen that kid get baked with an apple in his mouth till his youthful skin was crispy perfection, but that's just me. 

The flick holds up, I have held it in high regard ever since I saw it at the theater and I still love it today. It still sort of bugs me that they did not re-create the fantastically frightful opening credit sequence from the series, and I wish we had four stories plus the wrap-around, but as a frightful anthology that you can watch while gobbling up handfuls of buttery popcorn it's a wonderful bit of macabre movie magic. It's not too scary, it's not too funny, it's got just the right of both humor and horror. 

Audio/Video: Tales From The Darkside - The Movie (1990) arrives on Blu-ray in 1080p HD framed in the original 1.85:1 widescreen. There's no blurb advertising this as being a new scan so it's most likely an existing HD master licensed from Paramount. With that in mind I was rather surprised with how pleasing it looks on Blu-ray, colors are warm and nicely saturated, skin tones appear natural and the black levels are organic looking throughout. Whatever the source for this scan is it's in fantastic shape, the grain looks organic, and fine detail is abundant in facial features, creature skin, and clothing textures in the close-ups. This is a pleasing transfer that should  bring a smile to the faces of fans who have been clamoring for a long time for this to finally get a proper HD release on disc.  

Audio come by way of both 2.0 and 5.1 English DTS-HD MA with optional English subtitles. The audio is clean throughout with no issues with distortion or hiss. The dialogue is always up front, and score and effects are well-balanced, with the score having some nice strength to it when summoned. The surround track is quite immersive with the score spreading to the surrounds alongside the atmospheric directionals that add subtlety and ambiance to the proceedings.

Onto the extras we get a brand-new feature-length doc ' The Making of Four Ghoulish Fables' from Red Shirt Pictures.  this thing was quite a treat, a six-part doc that runs over an hour with enthusiastic participation from director John Harrison, producer Mitchell Galin, director of photography Robert Draper, production designer Ruth Ammon, special make-up & creature effects artists Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero, and Howard Berger, creature performer Michael Deak, actors James Remar and Rae Dawn Chong and editor Harry B. Miller. All facets of the film are covered, from how the success of Creepshow lead the late-great George A. Romero diving into TV with the anthology series, which according to Harrison he saw as an incubator for the talented people that surrounded him, which lead to John Harrison ending up directing the film. Then they get into breaking down each segment, the production challenges posed by each, with the KNB FX team talking about how the certain effects were achieved, and how much they loved working with the legendary Dick Smith on the film. The only actors that appear in the interviews are creature performer Michael Deak, and actors James Remar and Rae Dawn Chong, and their input adds a lot to the telling of the story. Unfortunately no interviews with Slater, Moore or Buscemi, but I can guarantee you that they tried and were turned down for whatever reason, so my hat is off to Remar and Chong for being so enthusiastic about their involvement. There's so much great stuff packed into this documentary, from the way they had to re-order the segments, composing the score, what it was like working with a young cast who went on to bigger things in short order, to the way they shot each segment, and finally the initial reception of the film when it his theaters - it's great stuff. I think that the doc is among the best work that Red Shirt Pictures has done to date.  

The film also get a new audio commentary with co-producer David R. Kappes, plus the archival audio commentary from the Paramount DVD with director John Harrison and co-screenwriter George A. Romero, which is appreciated as Romero is no longer with us.

The disc is buttoned-up with trailers, TV spots, radio spots and a pair of galleries, plus an 11-min of behind-the-scenes VHS footage of the KNB FX team working on the effects for the gargoyle from "A Lover's Vow" and the black cat from "The Cat From Hell".

The single-disc release arrives in a standard keepcase with a sleeve of reversible artwork featuring the awesome original illustrated theatrical poster that was stupidly not used for the Paramount DVD years ago, but also a new illustration by artist Laz Marques that is stupendous, it's one of my favorite artworks I've seen this year. It's a gorgeous painting that pulls in elements of all three stories and the wraparound story. I am hoping that at some point this gets a steelbook release with that same artwork, but I would also love a steelbook with the original illustration as well, so maybe a 2-artwork steelbook release, one on each side! The new illustration is also featured on the disc itself.  Strangely when I received the Blu-ray and opened it I saw that it was a s-disc tray keepcase, which made me think that this was supposed to be a 2-disc release and that maybe I was missing a disc. However, looking up the specs for this release I confirmed that this is a single-disc release, perhaps it's just a weird manufacturing glitch and they sent it out with a dual-tray keepcase, I am wondering if the whole initial first run was sent out with dual-trays keepcases. 

Special Features:

- NEW Audio Commentary with Co-Producer David R. Kappes
- NEW Tales Behind the Darkside: The Making of Four Ghoulish Fables – a six-chapter, feature-length documentary featuring director John Harrison, producer Mitchell Galin, director of photography Robert Draper, production designer Ruth Ammon, special make-up & creature effects artists Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero, and Howard Berger, creature performer Michael Deak, actors James Remar and Rae Dawn Chong and editor Harry B. Miller

  • Chapter One: From Small Screens To Big Screams (16 min) HD
  • Chapter Two: Rising Stars And The Walking Dead (18 min) HD
  • Chapter Three: That Damn Cat! (17 min) HD
  • Chapter Four: A Vow To Keep (26 min) HD
  • Chapter Five: The Order Of Things (14 min) HD 
  • Chapter Six: The Test Of Time (13 min) HD
- Audio Commentary with Director John Harrison and Co-Screenwriter George A. Romero
- Theatrical Trailer (2 min) HD
- TV Spots (1 min) HD
- Radio Spots (2 min) HD
- Stills Gallery (4 min) HD
- Behind-the-Scenes Footage Compilation (11 min)  HD

Tales from the Darkside - The Movie (1990) has always been, in my mind at least, the true sequel to Creepshow 2, the less said about that turd that came in 2006 the better in my opinion, a true shit-show of an anthology. I feel like I've been waiting so long for this to get a Blu-ray release, and now it's here, and it totally was worth the wait. 

Factory's Blu-ray looks and sounds terrific, and it's got that amazing hour-long doc to go along with it, this is a top notch release for a bit of an underrated anthology entry. 

More screenshots from the Blu-ray: