Director: John Harrison
Writer: Michael McDowell (Lot 249 & Lover's Vow), George A. Romero (Cat from Hell)
Cinematographer: Robert Draper
by Jon Cvack
Turns out Tales from the Darkside is unofficially Creepshow 3, though allegedly there isn’t any good evidence for that (it was only George Romero’s involvement that lent credence to this rumor). But I’ll agree, since this offers all of the fun of the original, and makes up for what was one of the worst sequels of all time that is Creepshow 2. It contains three stories with one string that runs throughout the series, involving the guy from 'Boy Meets World' being stuck in a jail cell while a woman prepares to cook him.
One of the great elements of film is discovering movies that contain big stars in some of their earliest roles. In the first story, ‘Lot 249’, based off Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story of the same name, it stars Steve Buscemi, Christian Slater, and Julian Moore, involving a archeology graduate student Bellingham (Buscemi) who purchases an old sarcophagus, containing a mummy that comes alive and starts to kill of those involved.
In the second story, ‘Cat from Hell’, there’s the guy who plays the taxi driver in Scrooged (David Johansen) who plays a hitman hired by an old wealthy recluse (WillIam Hickey). Based on a Stephen King short story, which was likely inspired by the Edgar Allen Poe’s short story 'The Black Cat', this chapter does a lovely job of taking the 40s gangster archetypes and placing them within an incredibly creative and well blocked setting where the hitman battles a murderous cat. Director John Harrison fuses old blue-toned flashbacks and then integrates them within the same shot into the present moment. I don’t really find cats even remotely scary, but the performances by Hickey and Johansen more than make up for it.
The last story is by far the best, involving a struggling artist, Preston, played by the guy from the remake of Miracle on 34th Street (James Remar), who recently lost his agent. After a long, drunken night at a bar, Preston's attacked by a gargoyle. Sparing Preston’s life, the gargoyle makes him swear he won’t mention the event to anyone. Days later, he meets a beautiful woman, Carola (Rae Dawn Chong), who helps to completely transform his life, helping make his wildest dreams come true. Eventually he has a show that catapults him to the top echelons of the New York art scene. His life looks set. Ten years later, after Carola and Preston have a few kids, Preston finally reveals the story to Carola, who turns out to have been the gargoyle. In an effects transformation that’s worthy of the whole 90 minute film, Preston is then killed.
Not until Trick ‘r Treat did the anthology film really see a successful return. What makes films like TrT, Creepshow 1 and 2, and the Tales from the Crypt movies so great is their refusal to take the material too seriously. It’s meant to be fun and silly, and if they toss some scares in there as well, then mission accomplished. It’s been a long time since we’ve received storylines like this. Nowadays, horror films take themselves all too seriously, and I don’t just mean the narrative. The lighting and camera work all operate so realistically. I long for the days when the storytellers had fun with color, set design, and camera work. Trick r’ Treat returned us to these days, allowing us to laugh and squirm; the Town that Dreaded Sundown (2014) remake did the same. A few tried to follow their lead and what happened? Of course, they went straight back to the serious camp. I hope it turns around, one of these Halloweens.
BELOW: A phenomenal practical transformation from man to gargoyle, up there with - if not better than - American Werewolf in London (1981)
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