Starring: Deborah Harry, Christian Slater, Steve Buscemi, James Remar, Rae Dawn Chong, Robert Klein, David Johansen, William Hickey, Julianne Moore
Screenplay: Michael McDowell, George A. Romero, based on stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Stephen King
Director: John Harrison
I never saw this one when it first came out, but I’m glad I finally did. It’s an anthology horror film in the style of Creepshow. This isn’t surprising, as the Tales from the Darkside series produced by George A. Romero came about because of his film of Creepshow, only they had to rename and rejigger it. In fact, some, like makeup artist and actor Tom Savini, have called it, “Creepshow 3,” because unlike the actual film of that name, this has contributions from both Romero and Stephen King.
Deborah Harry stars in the framing story as a small town single woman, liked by her neighbors, who is planning a dinner party for friends consisting of a young boy she’s kidnapped and locked in a cell adjoining her kitchen. In order to stave off death, the boy proposes reading a story (then another, then one more) from the large hardcover in his pantry cell, titled, of course, Tales from the Darkside. Since it’s a feature length film, she agrees, leading us into…
“Lot 249” - a young Steve Buscemi plays a graduate student who has acquired a mummy’s sarcophagus, with the mummy inside, and sets about bringing it to life for revenge against those who have wronged him, mainly fellow students Julianne Moore and her boyfriend, who cheated him out of a grant. Christian Slater is another student, Julianne’s brother, and the best friend of Julianne’s boyfriend, and when bad things happen to them—related quite cleverly to how mummies are made (the brain pulled out through the nostrils by a hook, then the empty body stuffed with flowers and spices), he goes about his own plan of revenge. But can he outwit Buscemi? The amusement of seeing all three actors before they made it big is just icing on the cake—this is a terrific short, with pleasant similarities to Sam Raimi’s style and The Evil Dead films in particular.
“Cat from Hell” - this adaptation of Stephen King’s short story finds the raspy old Hickey playing a rich man who hires a hit man (Johansen, fun to watch but somewhat miscast) to rid him of a black Abyssinian cat who will not leave his mansion, and whom he blames for the death of his sister, her best friend, and the butler. And he’s right, the cat is evil. Despite his claims of being a professional who keeps his head to avoid mistakes, Johansen frequently opens himself up to attacks by fixing a drink and exposing his back to the shadowy house, and it proves his undoing. Mildly enjoyable, and the cat’s-eye p.o.v. is well-done, but the scares are dissipated with the laughable fake cat that Johansen has to pretend to wrestle with. And while it’s a cool effect, having the cat climb into Johansen’s mouth only to explode through his chest seems like overkill.
“Lover’s Vow” - James Remar plays Preston, a tortured, broke artist who witnesses the murder of his friend by a living gargoyle, who lets him live if he promises to tell no one. That same night, he meets Carola (Chong), and they fall in love, and soon his career takes off, though he is still haunted by his guilt over the murder. Ten years after that night, married and with two daughters, Preston finally tells Carola, who lets out a heartbroken screech and reveals herself as the gargoyle, then kills him. She takes her two gargoyle daughters and they fly to a building ledge, where they turn back to stone. Apparently the basis for the story is an old kwaidan (Japanese ghost story). I can go a little easy on the gargoyle lover thing, except that it looked more like a giant Gremlin than any gargoyle one would see on a building.
And then we wrap up the framing story with basically a gory homage to Hansel and Gretel, and we’re out. As with any anthology, the odds are greater that it won’t work as well as one complete, self-contained effort. Even if all the stories are good, it might create a situation where a viewer likes the first story and wants more of the same, while the filmmakers are trying to provide some variety, both it terms of type of story and, to some extent, the tone. I liked Lot 249 the best overall, so the rest of the film was diminishing returns, but still pretty good. Any one of the stories, with a little tweaking, would have been enjoyable single episodes of the series; there are no dogs here.