SEPTEMBER 2 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE : THE MOVIE
If you're searching for a good flick to serve as background noise at your Halloween party, look no further than 1990's "Tales from the Darkside: The Movie." Though not as popular as the similarly styled "Creepshow" series, it's well worth a rental and holds up great even after 5,000 repeated viewings. Consisting of three short horror tales and one wraparound story, it's creepy the whole way through and boasts a cast you won't believe. To whet your appetite, there's just four statements I need to make to sell you on this film:
Deborah Harry attempts to cook and eat Matthew Lawrence.
A mummy comes to life and guts Julianne Moore.
Buster Poindexter dies after a demonic cat lunges into his throat.
Killer gargoyles fall in love and have lots of sex.
Could anyone ask for more than that? The film wasn't an amazing success by any stretch in theaters, though I'd assume that the number of people who've seen it on video or cable movie channels over the years vastly dwarf the comparatively low number of ticket-buyers. Based on the television show of the same name, the movie improves on the original scheme with R-rated gore and a scene where Christian Slater helps Steve Buscemi lift the lid off a sarcophagus. Each of the stories had a different writer, making the movie a combined effort of such greats as George Romero and Stephen King. "Tales from the Darkside" wasn't going to win many awards, but it succeeded in what it tried to accomplish. It's eerie, offbeat, and it's got the guy who burned down Clark's tree in "Christmas Vacation." Here's my review -- sorta abridged, but you'll get the point. Strongly recommended.
"The Wraparound Story," designed to introduce the other tales, stars Debbie Harry (that's Blondie, folks) as "Betty," an evil witch who's preparing to host a dinner party. Matthew Lawrence plays "Timmy," and no, he's not the guest of honor. Caged up and fed bags of knockoff Chips Ahoy cookies, ol' Betty plans to serve him to the invitees. Okay, so we're like two minutes into the movie, and it's already established itself as the most brilliant work of art ever put to film. Betty is pretty apathetic towards Timmy's plight, though she does hand him a book to pass the time. Yep, it's the "Tales from the Darkside" deluxe super bible. After detailing how she plans to cook him (it involves lots of knives and the removal of integral organs), Timmy stalls by offering to read his captor some spooky stories. Procrastinating the substantial effort it'd take to gut, stuff and cook an entire little kid, Betty agrees to be an audience for a few minutes.
And that's your setup. The movie is then broken down into three separate stories, each around 20 minutes a piece. Know why that's great? If you hate what you're watching, it'll be over and done with before you get too frustrated to continue. I've read countless reviews of horror movies over the years, and the one thing I've usually agreed with is all the unnecessary time spent on exposition and bullshit filler. You get none of that in "Tales from the Darkside." There's no time for nonsense. There's only time for killer cats, gargoyles, and Lot 249.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock, yo!) penned "Lot 249," the story of a mummy brought back to life to do very bad things. We've got Christian Slater, Steve Buscemi, and Julianne Moore in this one. It's my least favorite of the three stories, which is more of a compliment to the movie than anything else. Basically, a guy named Bellingham (Buscemi) was shafted out of a big college award by Lee, who had his girlfriend write his winning essay. The girlfriend, Susan, was played by Moore. Ah Jesus Christ, this review is going to get harder and harder to read if I keep it up with all of these cast parenthesis. Let's get it all out of the way now. Buscemi is Bellingham. Rob Sedgwick is Lee. Julianne plays Susan, Lee's boyfriend. Slater plays Andy, Susan's brother. Okay, so it's still confusing to read. Hasn't Ebert written any tutorials on this shit?
So, Bellingham acts like he doesn't know he's been shafted, instead inviting the boys to help him investigate his latest find: Lot 249...
By the way, "Lot 249" is a reference to "Creepshow," a movie that shares a pair of producers with this one. Inside the box is an ancient mummy, properly stuffed with flowers, onions, and a scroll which contains a spell that can allegedly bring the beast to life. Bellingham, of course, pretends he can't read it. Meanwhile, Lee and Susan debate whether or not the guy knows what they did, leaving Andy out in the cold as a guilty party sheerly through association. It's not his fault his sister and best friend are such dicks, but will that save him from the perils of Bellingham's resurrected mummy pal? Take a look...
Haaaa.. Well, the effects team gave it their best shot. Actually, the mummy isn't that bad, he's just a bit too fluid to seem like anything but a particularly tall stunt guy covered in brown bandages. His penchant for growling isn't helping matters any, either. Earlier on in the short, Bellingham spends a good bit of time explaining the nuances of mummies to Andy. It's a great little lesson for all of us who weren't previously clued in, but the conversations served a much more entertaining purpose. The awakened mummy is a killer, no doubt, but his methods extend well past simple stabs and neck-twists. This mummy mummifies! Lee is the first one to go, having a coat hanger modified and shoved up his nose for easy brain removal. They don't show that part, but it gets pretty graphic from there. Bellingham uses the creature to continue his revenge plot against those who conspired to take away his special award, and next on the list is Clarice Deux.
Man, I hope Julianne Moore realizes how lucky she is -- not only has her resume become more esteemed as she's aged, but the girl actually got better and better looking well past the years largely considered a person's "prettiest." Plastic surgery or not, I don't care. Plus, do you think she'd be singing up for a movie like "Tales from the Darkside" these days? Anyway, her death comes quick enough. After throwing a vase of flowers at the mummy (yeah that'll work), our new hero uses a pair of scissors to slice open her back. Then, in the move that cements this film as a true classic, he grabs a bunch of the very same flowers and stuffs her with 'em. Andy later finds his sister's bandaged corpse, and despite the many previous clues painting the culprit, he only now realizes what's going on.
So, seeing as how Bellingham not only performed the cultural taboo of raising a mummy from the dead, but also used this mummy to murder his sister and best friend, Andy clubs Belliboy with a foreign object, ties him to a chair, and prepares to set the bitch on fire. Quickly, Bellingham recites the ancient sayings on the scroll, awakening his artifactual pet robot. Despite previous scenes that displayed the mummy as an unstoppable monster, Chrissy Slater takes him down with little trouble...
He even slices off the poor thing's head, burning the remains in a fit of fiery rage. Now, I know what you're thinking. That mummy ain't dead. Well...he is. Illustrating why he's not as effective as his fellow classic monsters, the mummy lack the ability to never die no matter what anyone does to him. He's dead. Again. He's gone.
Andy forces Bellingham to reveal the super-secret hiding spot of the sacred scroll -- his desk drawer -- and then proceeds to burn the devilish relic before it has a chance to once again fall into the hands of evil. Then our pals have a long debate over whether or not Andy should set Bellingham on fire, and considering that it's Slater and Buscemi playing the parts, it's a pretty intriguing thing to watch. Way more so than the murdering mummy. After some time, Andy agrees not to kill Bellingham, because even that won't bring his sister and BFF 4-life back. In exchange, Bellingham must leave the campus and never return; kind of an unbalanced trade since campus officials imposed the same decree on him ten minutes ago. Andy should have at least scored his record collection or something. I wonder if that last sentence would've been funnier without the "or something." Let's see... Andy should have at least scored his record collection. Wow, it works. Change "should have" to "should've," and we're like a third of the way there.
So Bellingham heads off, laughing off his earlier "loss" since Andy didn't realize he was only burning a decoy scroll. A short time later, Andy reflects on the death of his friend and sibling, altogether missing a peculiar sight just behind him...
It's Susan and Lee! They're alive! Wait no...they're still dead! And they're mummies! "Lot 249" ends here, leaving Christian Slater's fate to the imagination of the audience. I tend to think he died. This little skit gets massive bonus points for having a mummy gut and stuff Julianne Moore, but the next two stories provided far more enjoyment for me.
George Romero handled the screenplay for the second tale, "The Cat From Hell." I'm assuming you can guess what it's about. Noted for a pretty god damned sick climax scene, you'll also be delighted by the rare but always welcome appearance of one William Hickey...
It's my firm belief that, subconsciously, William Hickey is everyone in the world's favorite person. From "My Blue Heaven" to "Puppet Master," Hickey's portrayal of various screwball old men has saved virtually every movie he was cast in from sucking. Sadly, Hickey died in 1997, but if you take a look at his resume, the guy's been in plenty of movies worth seeing again and again. Even with his small role in "Tales from the Darkside," Hickey manages to make the movie feel that much more important.
Continuing his tradition of playing folks who are at least depraved on an outward level, Hickey's cast as "Drogan," a rich old coot who insists that a stray cat murdered his sister, friend and butler. We get to see flashbacks of the black kitty in action, including a killer scene where it smothers and old choking lady to death, but we don't find out if the cat is as devious as Drogan says until a bit later. Don't dread the wait -- the payoff is worth it.
Drogan, of course, is no one to cheer for. He owns a pharmaceutical company that dishes out harmful and addictive pills to the elderly, and Drogan himself can't go more than five minutes without popping a few. In an effort to rid the house of that infernal cat, Drogan contacts a hitman famous for his quick work and accuracy. Brace yourselves...
David Johansen plays "Halston." Johansen is best known as...Buster Poindexter. Yes, "Hot Hot Hot" Buster Poindexter. This movie is friggin' amazing. Buster may be a man of many hats, but when it comes to acting in semi-spoof horror movies, his hat is pretty ugly. The saving grace is that bad acting in a flick like "Tales from the Darkside" just heightens the enjoyment, so I really don't mind the fact that Buster's character comes off more like someone who should be redecorating Drogan's house than murdering kitties. After getting past his initial disbelief, Halston accepts Drogan's offer: 100,000 dollars...all he's gotta do is kill the cat and bring William Hickey its tail. <3 Tales From The Darkside.
Drogan heads off to the city after making the deal, leaving Halston free reign over his home while he tries to eradicate the stupid cat. Of course, the cat isn't easily defeated. Halston writes off the first few sets of mishaps as flukes, trying to remain calm and collected while shooting billiards or raiding Drogan's seriously lacking liquor cabinet. The cat gets in a few preliminary scratches, but as the story progresses, its attacks become far more vicious. Nearing the final moments, Halston is a bloody mess of claw marks and plunge bumps. Despite Halston's best efforts and a huge number of assorted firearms, the cat marches on with devilish intent. At the height of the hitman's pain and frustrations, his new enemy takes things even further. You're not gonna believe this one...
The cat leaps into Halston's -- Buster Poindexter's -- mouth, blocking the air passage and ripping up all of his insides on its way towards his stomach. Now that's the kind of onscreen death worth going up to your friends yelling "HOLY CRAP DID I EVER JUST SEE SOME WONDERFUL THING" in a fit of hysteria and misshapen sentences. Halston dies quickly, but the cat remains in his stomach, causing a lump in the corpse's belly the size of...well, a cat. Now, we've already seen a mummy kill two people, and a cat jump down Buster Poindexter's throat. Think they can nail a fourth awesome death in a row? Duh, of course -- all we need to do is remember the only person left for the cat to kill.
William. Hickey. Instead of doing anything too incredibly crass, the cat simply crawls out of Halston's mouth, covered in his blood, causing Drogan to have a heart attack before he can pop his lifesaving pills. Look, I didn't say "Tales from the Darkside" was a conventional masterpiece. It's just that any movie that's got cats jumping down Buster Poindexter's throat is worth watching by default. You don't ever want to be the only one in a room who hasn't seen something like that. Think of the collective "awww, ya didn't?!" whenever that's happened to you before. Could you imagine how magnified that annoying "awwww" is going to be when your jury is talking about a movie scene where a cat jumps inside Buster Poindexter?
By the way, the stories are broken up with more Blondie/Matthew Lawrence scenes, with our hero-in-peril desperately trying to stall as the witch cuts up various peppers to stuff him with. She insists that they don't have time for another tale until Timmy confides that it's a love story. Betty loves those. With that, our third and final adventure is titled "Lover's Vow," and it's probably my favorite of 'em all. Granted, most would likely disagree with that assessment, but this thing just struck me as genuinely creepy and full of Rae...Dawn...Chong. The obvious selling point is the fact that there's a big, man-eating gargoyle running around...
Yep, really. And you know, for 1990, the effects were pretty incredible. The gargoyle is undeniably evil, wasting no time in decapitating one of the city locals and showing off the kind of fangs that just wouldn't be that big unless their owner needed to chew people. If you think this little film is about a murdering gargoyle, you're only half right. Actually, you're 100% right, but they go the long way in getting there.
Preston, an artist down on his luck, witnesses the grisly murder. The gargoyle, using very special "see all" sonic detectors, cuts him off before he can make an escape, but oddly, doesn't immediately go for a neck-slice. Instead, it talks. In return for being allowed to live, Preston must promise to never tell anyone what he saw, what he's heard, or what happened on this darkest of nights. Seems like a pretty good deal, so he takes the gargoyle up on it. Instead of shaking hands, the gargoyle lays a big scratch across his chest, giggles demonically, and flies off. We're not sure why Preston was spared, but I think the gargoyle might've been a movie junkie/psychic who didn't want to screw up the casting for "Rayden" in "Mortal Kombat II." Yes, look closely -- Preston is played by James "Young Agile Rayden" Remar. He was in shitloads of other movies you've probably seen, but MK2 was the only one that cast him as a god of lightning.
After the gargoyle flies off, the visibly shaken Preston meets "Carola," a girl who very clearly doesn't belong on the dangerous city streets. Preston invites her to the sanctity of his apartment, fearing another gargoyle attack. She agrees. By the way, that's Rae Dawn Chong. Just keep saying her name, over and over again. I absolutely love that name. "Rae Dawn Chong." You can split it into fifty words, condense it into a single syllable -- doesn't matter, "Rae Dawn Chong" is so much fun to speak aloud. I'd include an audio sample, but the beauty of being a webmaster is being able to hide the fact that you have a girl's voice.
So, and admittedly in pretty contrive fashion, Preston and Carola spark the kind of whirlwind romance worth writing songs in tribute to. They boink immediately, with Carola playing the agressor because she's the only one there who starred in "Commando," and just to make things extra happy, she's even got the right connections to make Preston a famous artist. Then we fast forward ten years, and the happiness continues. Now they've got two kids, money, and more love than the hot air balloon that flew in the Care Bears. Preston gets all misty eyed, wondering aloud if there's anything else he could give to Carola. She insists that she has everything a girl could want, but he's not so sure. The only thing he's never given her...is the truth.
So, Preston pulls out a treasure trunk, and reveals a clay model he made that strikes the likeness of the gargoyle he met ten years ago. Carola looks on as Preston details the murder he witnessed, and the promise he made to that creature never to speak of it. Carola looks disappointed, prompting Preston to promise that he's telling her the truth. That's not really the problem, though. Suddenly, Carola turns around with rage in her eyes, and shouts out the words that usher in my favorite scene in "Tales from the Darkside." Well, 'cept for the Buster-mouth-cat thing. "You idiot! You promised you'd never tell!"
Yes, that's right -- RAE DAWN CHONG was the gargoyle. With the lover's vow broken, she's unable to stop the transformation back to her usual self. This stuff was great -- you had wings breaking out of her shoulderblades, her skin ripping apart at the seams as the much larger gargoyle body broke its way through...the works. The process takes almost a full minute, but by the end, it's the same gargoyle saw earlier. You know what this means, right? James Remar spent the last fifteen minutes fucking a gargoyle. The insanity doesn't stop there -- remember the couple's lovely children? I didn't give them much of a mention before, but they're a lot more interesting now. Okay, so this tale didn't even attempt to make sense. We're not sure how the gargoyle got all of those wonderful clothes or connections in the art society while in human form, but for the ends of seeing two innocent kids transformed into hideous monsters, I'll forgive it.
In the end, Preston and Carolagoyle profess their love for each other one last time, realizing that it's too late to change their destiny. Carolagoyle proves that by biting Preston's neck wide open and throwing him across the room. She takes the kids, flies up to the roof of Preston's apartment building, and viola -- they've turned into perfectly normal stone gargoyle decorations.
Oh, and Matthew Lawrence manages to escape the clutches of Blondie, pushing her into the very same oven she was planning to cook him in. Then he eats a lot of cookies and thanks us for watching. Yeah.
What else can I say about "Tales from the Darkside: The Movie?" For starters, it's incredibly underappreciated. Most folks tend to enjoy the "Creepshow" series a lot better -- which is understandable, as those flicks weren't boggled down by an attempt to appear "big budget." Still, there's just something about this flick that sticks with you. It's got some scenes that are creepy almost despite themselves, it certainly has the right cast, and it's surprisingly graphic at points. Fans of the old television series will most definitely appreciate this combined effort, and as far as the Halloween season goes, you're looking at the perfect movie to pop in. Pick this one up, it's worth it.