Pale Horrors

Tales from the Darkside: The Movie; written by Michael McDowell and George A. Romero, partially based on stories by Arthur Conan Doyle and Stephen King; directed by John Harrison; starring Deborah Harry (Betty), Christian Slater (Andy), David Johansen (Halston), William Hickey (Drogan), James Remar (Preston), Rae Dawn Chong (Carola), Robert Sedgwick (Lee), Steve Buscemi (Bellingham), Julianne Moore (Susan), and Robert Klein (Wyatt) (1990): The 1983 Stephen King/George Romero movie Creepshow, an anthology of five horror shorts, was once supposed to become a TV series. That fell through, and the Romero-produced Tales from the Darkside series of the 1980’s ultimately resulted. A second, lesser Creepshow movie came out in 1987. And then came this film, which horror effects guru Tom Savini called “the real Creepshow 3.” Got all that?

Here we get three shorts and a frame story starring Deborah Harry as a suburban housewife with a shocking secret. She’s actually a retired pop star! Well, no. Then we get three shorts: “Lot 249”, loosely adapted from an Arthur Conan Doyle short story; “The Cat from Hell”, based on a Stephen King story; and “Lover’s Vow”, an original penned by horror novelist Michael McDowell.

The last one is the best, with the first two (and the frame tale) partially submerged by too much campiness and jokeiness. As with Creepshow and Creepshow 2, most of the makers seem to have confused the jokeiness and punniness of the frame narration of the1950’s EC horror comics from which these movies draw their inspiration with the content of the actual stories, stories which were generally played straight up and gruesome. It’s the frame that’s supposed to be jokey, not the tale itself. Thus horror gets repeatedly undercut by that deadly, deadly jolite. Oh, well.

The cast, especially of “Lot 249”, is very good — Julianne Moore and Steve Buscemi would soon be on their way to better things. “Lover’s Vow” highlights the fact that Rae Dawn Chong and Jaye Davidson (of The Crying Game) bear a fairly startling resemblance depending on the camera angle. Short, vaguely enjoyable, and occasionally interesting. Lightly recommended.

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