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‘Tales From the Darkside: The Movie’ (R)

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 05, 1990

It's been 45 years since "Dead of Night" and no film has yet matched that classic horror anthology. That hasn't stopped folks from trying, as can be seen in the latest lame effort, "Tales From the Darkside: The Movie." Even with the explicit language and graphic gore available four decades later, these new horror tales have none of the visceral emotional impact of those ancient ghost stories. While there have been some near-hit successors to "Dead of Night" -- "Tales From the Crypt" and "Vault of Horror" -- this is just another miss along the lines of "Creepshow" and "Twilight Zone: The Movie."

On television, where the syndicated "Darkside" series has been popular for some years, such tales stand alone: video-ized short stories, usually from master genre craftsmen and women. Here, three disparate tales are lumped together, with a wraparound story to excuse their telling. Unfortunately, the fact that these particular stories come from the likes of Arthur Conan Doyle and Stephen King can't overcome the direction of John Harrison and the movie's basic television-level aspirations.

"Lot 249" could be subtitled "The Mummy of Revenge." At some underpopulated college, an archaeology nerd is dirty-tricked out of a much-desired fellowship and turns to a newly delivered ancient mummy to extract revenge (and a brain or two). After several predictable twists, the story ends on a punch line that will be all too familiar to fans of horror comics.

"Cat From Hell" is the King contribution (via a George Romero script). It involves a cat with 12 lives (if you include the three human ones that he has already taken as the story opens) and a newly hired hit man (David Johansen) who thinks it will be easy to dispose of this particular kitty litter. Of course, he's wrong. Turns out the man who hired him had offed some 5,000 cats while developing the super-drug that made him rich. Well, the cats came back and you know that he's the goner. This story features a spectacularly gross effect that isn't going to do much for the image of black cats.

"Lover's Vow" is about an artist who is surprised to find fame and fortune after taking a vow of silence when he witnesses the bloody murder of a friend; since he makes this vow to a monstrous gargoyle, you just know both the promise and the gargoyle are going to come back to haunt him. And since Rae Dawn Chong mysteriously appears as the artist is running away from the crime scene and subsequently beds him, weds him and bears his children, it's not a wild leap to immediately suspect she's wearing the other shoes that are about to drop. Again, the plot contrivances here are so thin, you can see through them before they're even in place. Outside of the black cat, Chong and her "children" are the only actors of color in the film, and it's unsettling that in the end (albeit poignantly) they turn out to be monsters.

Deborah Harry is featured in the wraparound story as a modern-day wicked witch getting ready to cook a suburban Hansel, who delays his fate by reading her the three major "Tales" before tricking his way into a happy solution to his own dilemma.

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