Tales from the Darkside: The Movie – USA, 1990

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‘Four ghoulish fables in one modern nightmare.’

Tales from the Darkside: The Movie is a 1990 American horror anthology feature film directed by John Harrison, and based on the anthology television series Tales from the Darkside.

The movie depicts a kidnapped paperboy who tells three stories of horror to the suburban witch who is preparing to eat him, à la Hansel and Gretel.

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Wraparound:

The movie opens with Betty, an affluent suburban housewife and modern-day witch (Deborah Harry), planning a dinner party. The main dish is to be Timmy (Matthew Lawrence), a young boy whom she had captured earlier and chained up in her pantry. To stall her from stuffing and roasting him, the boy tells her three horror stories from a book she gave him, titled Tales from the Darkside.

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Lot 249:

In the first segment, Michael McDowell adapts Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story, “Lot No. 249”. A graduate student named Bellingham (played by Steve Buscemi) has been cheated by two classmates, Susan (Julianne Moore), and Lee (Robert Sedgwick), who framed him for theft to ruin his chances of winning a scholarship for which they were competing.

As revenge, Bellingham reanimates a mummy and uses it to murder them both. Susan’s brother Andy (Christian Slater) kidnaps Bellingham, and burns the parchment and mummy. He considers killing Bellingham, but in the end can’t bring himself to commit real murder…

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Cat from Hell:

George A. Romero adapts a Stephen King short story of the same name. Drogan is a wealthy, wheelchair-bound old man (William Hickey) who brings in a hitman named Halston (David Johansen from The New York Dolls) for a bizarre hire: kill a black cat, which Drogan believes is murderously evil.

Drogan explains that there were three other occupants of his house before the cat arrived: his sister, Amanda (Dolores Sutton), her friend Carolyn (Alice Drummond), and the family’s butler, Richard Gage (Mark Margolis). Drogan claims that one by one, the cat killed the other three, and that he is next.

Drogan’s pharmaceutical company killed 5,000 cats while testing a new drug, and he is convinced that this black cat is here to exact cosmic revenge…

The third and final segment is written by Michael McDowell (Beetlejuice) and based on yuki-onna, a spirit or yōkai in Japanese folklore or more specifically Lafcadio Hearn’s version in Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things. A despondent artist named Preston (James Remar) witnesses a gruesome murder committed by a gargoyle-like monster.

The monster agrees to spare Preston’s life as long as he swears never to speak of what he saw and heard or describe the monster’s appearance to anyone. The monster vanishes, leaving Preston traumatized and confused, but bound by his oath never to talk about the incident.

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After that night, Preston’s life takes many turns for the better. He meets a beautiful woman named Carola (Rae Dawn Chong), and they fall in love, marry, and have two children. Preston’s struggling art career becomes wildly successful, and life seems promising, but he is tormented by memories of his encounter with the monster, and his vow of silence weighs on him…

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Epilogue:

Betty remarks that Timmy saved the best story (“Lover’s Vow”) for last, but he says that he hasn’t told her the really best story yet and that this one has a happy ending. She tells him that he should have done it earlier, because now it’s too late and she has to start cooking him to be ready in time for her party, and that none of the stories in the book have happy endings.

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Reviews:

” … nothing about Tales from the Darkside is likely to give anyone much of a scare. But thanks to casting that is savvier than the horror norm, and to direction by John Harrison that is workmanlike and sometimes even witty, at least it’s fun.” Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“In front of the camera, you’ve got dependable (if not exactly brilliant) performers like Steve Buscemi, Christian Slater, and Rae Dawn Chong. Dick Smith did the special effects. The screenplay for “The Cat from Hell” was written by George Romero from a story by Stephen King. All that talent really should have added up to more than a decent, but by-the-numbers, horror anthology.” 1000 Misspent Hours and Counting

Cast and characters:

Wraparound Story:
  • Deborah Harry as Betty
  • Matthew Lawrence as Timmy
Lot 249:
  • Steve Buscemi as Edward Bellingham
  • Julianne Moore as Susan Smith
  • Christian Slater as Andy Smith
  • Robert Sedgwick as Lee
  • Donald Van Horn as Moving Man
  • Michael Deak as Mummy
  • George Guidall as Museum Director
  • Kathleen Chalfant as Dean
  • Ralph Marrero as Cabbie
Cat from Hell:
  • William Hickey as Drogan
  • David Johansen as Halston
  • Paul Greeno as Cabbie
  • Alice Drummond as Carolyn
  • Dolores Sutton as Amanda
  • Mark Margolis as Gage
Lover’s Vow:
  • James Remar as Preston
  • Rae Dawn Chong as Carola
  • Robert Klein as Wyatt
  • Ashton Wise as Jer
  • Philip Lenkowsky as Maddox
  • Joe Dabenigno as Cop #1
  • Larry Silvestri as Cop #2
  • Donna Davidge as Gallery Patron
  • Nicole Rochelle as Margaret
  • Daniel Harrison as John

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“Definitely an improvement on the lamentable Creepshow or Cat’s Eye, but Harrison never quite transcends the inherently limited format.” Nigel Floyd, Time Out

Image credits: VHS Cover Scans

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