Tales From The Darkside is one of those odd horror anthology series from the 80s and 90s. However, what makes this one different is that it is produced by the legendary George A. Romero, director of, among others, Night of The Living Dead and Dawn Of The Dead. It is possibly as a result of his influence that this series has a much higher rate of episodes that are actually good.
Most of the stories within are downright weird, all of them having some sort of nasty twist in the end. Generally, they’re about instances of horror at the domestic level (such as The New Man which is about a man who comes home to find he has a son who didn’t exist before) and most of them have a highly unusual sense of justice. Notable examples of this include episodes such as Pain Killer (an episode about a man who finds that a doctor can miraculously cure his back-pain, but at a horrifying cost), Slippage (everyone starts to forget a man because he never made an impact on anyone’s life), The Word Processor Of The Gods (a man finds he can re-write the past with his typewriter, ‘deleting’ his wife and son in the process, a moral dilemma which the story neatly sidesteps), In The Cards (which suggests that a woman giving nice card readings deserves to die) and the very, very weird If The Shoes Fit… (about a political candidate who acts like a clown and becomes one… maybe. It’s very surreal).
Then, there’s the lighter episodes, breathers amongst the darkness of the series. A Case Of The Stubborns (about an old man who is dead but refuses to accept it so decays. His family have to convince him that he’s dead, with a memorably gory ending) is my favourite example of this, but Djinn, No Chaser (a genie drives a couple mad until an unusual solution to the problem is found) and Grandma’s Last Smoke (a tormented old lady gets back at her family) are also some of the best episodes of the series.
However, this is a horror series, after all, and there is no shortage of scary stories on hand. Although only two episodes, Inside The Closet (about a girl who finds a monster in the closet, usually regarded as one of the best episodes for good reason) and Answer Me (a phantom telephone call and bumps in the night freak the hell out of Jean Marsh and the audience) are the only two episodes that are almost consistently terrifying, there are several examples of stories that are downright shocking and nasty. Snip, Snip (featuring Bud Cort and a hairdresser playing cat and mouse over a lottery ticket, with a naughty twist), Levitation (a young man wants to see a levitation act, eventually becoming part of it and being blown away by it all… literally) and Bigalow’s Last Smoke (a smoke enters and unusual rehab… in a cage) are all mildly shocking, they are nothing compared to the terror of the Anniversary Dinner. For the first half of the episode, we focus on this lovely old couple who seem perfectly innocent, until their shocking secret is revealed. There’s a palpable sense of terror and apprehension within this story and it has a nasty and ingenious conclusion that has haunted me for days. After watching both this and Paradise Towers (in which evil old ladies try to kill the Doctor’s companion in what was the only good thing about a terrible Doctor Who story), I’ve realised that killer old ladies are freaky as hell. Nasty.
However, there is one other episode that is noteworthy. The beautiful and moving episode, The Tear Collector, is a great story about moving on from and embracing sorrow. Admittedly, it’s not exactly what the brief of the series is, but it’s a wonderful episode all the same.
Overall, Tales Of The Darkside is a great example of the sort of anthology horror series that was popular only a decade or two ago, but has since grown out of favour. With the sheer number of quality stories and actors that the series employs, this is a great way to freak yourself out.
Most Amusing Episode: A Case Of The Stubborns
Most Terrifying Episode: Answer Me
Most Shocking Episode: Bigalow’s Last Smoke
Most Emotional Episode: The Tear Collector
Most Confusing Episode: If The Shoes Fit…
Favourite Episode: Anniversary Dinner
Favourite Moment: The conclusion of In The Closet
Overall Rating: 8/10