Fright Fest 2017 Review #15 – Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990)

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This film’s subject matter might make it a hard cell for some

Subgenre:  Anthology

Summary:  A boy tells three spooky tales to stall the witch who wants to eat him.

Review:  I couldn’t very well do a Fright Fest without one of these short film collections, now could I?  Tales from the Darkside, sometimes referred to as the unofficial third entry in the Creepshow series, begins and ends with a Hansel and Gretel-esque framing device, with young Timmy trying to delay his consumption by reading his captor (Deborah Harry) scary stories – each one a half-hour horror movie.

The first short, Lot 249, follows Bellingham (Steve Buscemi), a poor college student who pays the bills by buying and selling antiques.  After his two rich roommates (Christian Slater, Robert Sedgwick) cheat him out of an academic fellowship, Bellingham uses a recently acquired mummy to exact revenge.  Easily the weakest of the three segments, Lot 249’s tired and predictable plot gets by on sheer star power.  The novelty of seeing Buscemi, Slater, and Julianne Moore in this schlocky material proves just diverting enough to hold the viewer’s interest for its thirty-minute running time.

The Cat from Hell, the movie’s best piece by far, proves more successful.  The plot is this: Professional hitman Halston (David Johansen) arrives at Mr. Drogan’s (William Hickey) house only to discover that the old man wants him to kill a cat.  Conveyed through a clever story-within-a-story (within a story) structure, Drogan claims the cat has been responsible for the deaths of all the house’s other occupants.  After giving Halston half his payment in advance, Drogan leaves him alone in the house to get the job done.  Essentially a two-man show, The Cat from Hell features perfectly campy performances from its leads, as well as an entertaining battle of wits between man and cat.  But its finest moment is its horrifying-yet-hilarious ending, which features some stomach-churning practical effects.

And finally we have Lover’s Vow, the story of struggling artist Preston (James Remar).  After being dropped by his longtime agent, a dejected Preston witnesses a demonic winged creature murder a bartender in an alley.  The creature spares Preston’s life, but first makes him promise that he will never speak of their encounter to anyone.  To say any more would be to spoil the plot, not that it’s particularly shocking; at a certain point in the story, it becomes fairly clear that there’s only one direction in which it can go.  Still, Lover’s Vow boasts solid acting, a visually impressive climax, and a haunting final image, which prove to be more than enough.

The Verdict:  Comprised of three stories ranging from mediocre to excellent, Tales From the Darkside is an enjoyable – if inconsistent – horror anthology.  I give it six-and-a-half craving crones out of ten.

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