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DVD Review: Tales from the Darkside – Season One

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The recent history of horror has been one of degradation and insult. Nowhere is the art of storytelling more mangled than in the horror genre. I realized this after watching the season one collection of Tales from the Darkside.

Tales from the Darkside is something of a spin-off of George Romero’s 1982 movie Creepshow. In Creepshow Romero and writer Stephen King paid homage to the E.C. comic series from the 1950s with a sense of wittiness while striving to maintain the horror aspect.

The moderate success of Creepshow gave the green light for a television version with Romero as executive producer. In much the same fashion as The Twilight Zone and Outer Limits, Tales from the Darkside focused mainly on the horror aspect of man’s inner workings and ended with something of a twist. The show ran for five years before concluding and showcased rising and upcoming stars such as Christian Slater and Brent Spiner (of Star Trek fame).

The DVD collection is a hefty eight hours and some odd minutes worth of stories from authors such as Stephen King, and Harlan Ellison. While I find it amusing to see the antiquated views of the commonplace PC, as illustrated in King’s "Word Processor of the Gods," one cannot help but shudder at what is considered a horror story by a horror master. The story lacks anything compelling, anything gritty, anything that makes your teeth hurt.  Ellison’s quaint story, "Djinn No Chaser" offers a disgruntled genie that refuses to do the bidding of its master (this particular story reminds us all why sports stars should stay in their respective fields — the acting in this story by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was so hateful I could barely sit through the episode).

These two examples serve as a broad explanation of what exactly is wrong with Tales from the Darkside. The talent behind this series simply do not take the story seriously. Sadly, this disregard for the horror story has provided loose ground for the genre to slip and slide on. Sad, too, that we have so-called horror masters to thank for the decline of horror, as illustrated so perfectly in Tales from the Darkside.

Special features are almost nonexistent, although Romero does grace a commentary for the pilot episode. Extras, apparently, were left on the cutting room floor and are completely absent from this collection. It would have been nice to see interviews from the up and comings as they looked back on their Tales experience. It would have been nice to see trivia from each episode (even trivia or commentary done Trey Parker and Matt Stone-style from South Park). This was not to be and makes Tales from the Darkside an extreme disappointment. One is left with an emptiness, almost as if the producers simply threw together the season and left it at that. (As a thought, maybe this is the true genius of this horror. Offer something as basic as a DVD collection that in its own right should be thoughtful and, well, scary, and instead we are left with the cold realization of dread we just dropped a lot of money on something worthless.)

Such haphazard and careless collecting makes for a very dissatisfying collection. Its not that the stories are dated (though this is amusing in a shuddering, oh dear Lord I can’t believe that PC is so huge sort of way) it’s more that they lack punch. Twilight Zone gave thought and purpose to each story. Tales from the Darkside seems to irreverently disregard story and focuses instead on tongue-in- cheek humor. Tales from the Darkside seems to be the pinnacle of the horror genre’s decline. We have been sliding down that slippery slope ever since. One can trace zany horror back to Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and smile a little at its innocence. One watches the unraveled horror of Tales from the Darkside and can’t help but wince.

Man, is this where we came from? Then it is no surprise that we have such winners as Friday the Thirteenth in outer space, inner space, and MySpace. What we need is a solid run of legitimate horror so zombies like Romero’s Tales from the Darkside can stay dead. Good and dead. We really don’t need more Tales from the Darkside collections particularly one as poorly assembled as this mad scientist’s monster. At least Frank’s monster gained some civility in the end. This monster, however, should be left on the ice floe where it belongs. 

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