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Monday, October 10, 2016

The Best of Tales From the Darkside Season 2

Season one was successful enough that TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE could haunt viewers for another year. Much of the same filmmakers returned as did the atmosphere and resemblance in the types of stories. It being a syndicated show, the producers and filmmakers were able to have much greater freedom than they would have had a major network. Season two brought another set of 24 episodes, produced simultaneously at two different production houses on the East and West Coast. At the time, Laurel Entertainment had a very ambitious slate, using DARKSIDE as a springboard to launch their stable of filmmakers into feature films. Few of their proposed theatrical features came to fruition--they failed to resurrect Dr. Phibes for a third time, while CREEPSHOW 2 crept onto theater screens in 1987. Regardless, season two was another success, with a little more polish than its debut season.


Parlour Floor Front (originally aired October 20th, 1985)

"If I am responsible for this thing... let me be cursed. If another is responsible for this thing... let THEM be cursed."

Linda and her husband Doug have recently bought an old apartment house with a beautiful parlor room. Spending a ton of money to remodel the entire building, they've managed to peaceably evict the remaining tenants save for one named Mars Gillis, the kindly janitor who has lived there before they purchased the building. Occupying the best room in the house, Mars doesn't wish to move. The couple can't force him out due to rent control laws. Linda wants Mars gone and devises a despicable scheme to get rid of him. A practicing voodoo priest, Linda's actions have grave consequences.

The second, and best, of Richard Friedman's DARKSIDE tales is an effective voodoo story with an ending reminiscent of the folktale 'The Golden Arm'--substituting a ring for the gold-plated limb. The scenario likewise recalls the absolutely terrifying closer in Mario Bava's classic triple threat, THE THREE FACES OF FEAR (BLACK SABBATH in the US) from 1963. Ernest Dickerson (having been with the series since season 1), later to become a director in his own right, was the DP.

Tragically, Adolph Caesar would die from a heart attack on the set of the Disney feature, TOUGH GUYS (1986) on March 6th, 1986--roughly five months after this episode debuted. He was only 52 years old. One of his two daughters, Tiffani Caesar, plays a young lady (she was only 15 at the time) who comes to Mars for a love spell. Adolph Ceasar's unique, gravely voice graced a number of 70s Drive-in and exploitation movie trailers including KARATE WARRIORS (1976) and DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978).

Halloween Candy (originally aired October 27th, 1985)

Grumpy Mr. Killup hates Halloween; and if there's one thing Mr. Killup hates more than Halloween it's trick r' treaters. After refusing his son's wishes to hand out candy, the old man is tormented the rest of the night by a nasty goblin creature doling out tricks and treats of its own.

It's a shame Tom Savini couldn't have directed a lot more DARKSIDE shows. He helmed three of them and this, his second, is another stellar example of the series. It's a particularly nasty segment that ends on a satisfyingly disturbing note. The scenes of roaches scurrying around in the house recall the fifth story in CREEPSHOW (1982). Savini was responsible for the Makeup FX, assisted by Ed French. Among the FX crew are Howard Berger and Gregory Nicotero, future founders (along with Robert Kurtzman) of KNB EFX Group in 1988.

In Fangoria #48 from October 1985, it is reported that Tyler Smith (GEEK MAGGOT BINGO monster maker) contributed a full-body goblin costume for this episode although he's not billed in the end credits.

The Devil's Advocate (originally aired November 10th, 1985)

"I been listenin' to you for a long time. You call yourself 'The Devil's Advocate'. Well you sound more like the Devil himself. I hope everybody stops listenin' to you, and I hope people start callin' in! And you have to just sit there, wherever you are, and rot till the end of time!!!" 

The abrasive talk radio host Luther Mandrake, The Devil's Advocate, is on air at midnight. Hated by many of his listeners, Mandrake is in rare form on this particular night. With each aggressive rant Mandrake begins to change; his physical form taking on the frustration and rage building up inside of him. It isn't long before Mandrake finds himself in his own private Hell.

George Romero penned this psycho-supernatural creeper directed by Michael Gornick (CREEPSHOW 2 [1987]). In it, comedian Jerry Stiller is a one-man-show as the overbearing Mandrake, a man who barks at his callers and belittles them with aplomb. Masterfully handled for the duration, Romero's piece recalls another devilish DJ from an old NIGHT GALLERY episode, 'The Flip Side of Satan' starring Arte Johnson. With their low budgets and short shooting schedules, TALES had a lot of episodes with limited sets and cast; this is one of the best examples of surpassing limited resources. The story and its twist has been done dozens of times, and Gornick's effort is a highlight of the form.

A New Lease On Life (originally aired January 26th, 1986)

"You take care of the St. George, and the St. George will take care of you."

Mr. Archie Fenton has just moved into the St. George apartment building. At just $200 a month, Mr. Fenton can't figure out why it's so cheap; at least not till after he meets his kooky landlord, Madam Angler. Fenton signed a lifetime lease, and with it, a bunch of bizarre rules he eventually breaks. Once his neighbor, Ms. Tanner disappears, Fenton begins to notice what it is about the St. George building that makes it special.

One of the most enjoyable of the blackly humorous TALES, it's also one of the most unconventional within the DARKSIDE universe. This episode operates within a world outside of anything remotely normal. For example, Fenton questions the bizarre things he sees (the building shaking; blood pouring from the walls when he tries to hang a picture; wine pouring from the faucet as opposed to water), but then he shrugs them off. If director John Strysik had played it entirely straight, it wouldn't have worked. A Lovecraftian take on 'St. George and the Dragon', Harvey Jacob's teleplay isn't keen on explanations so much as it is about incidentals. Madam Angler and her two stooges are a peculiar, motley trio bearing an unmentioned, and ornate, tattoo of a dragon; the same dragon adorns patches on their clothes and even a book of matches. A subplot dealing with an equally unstable neighbor, like everything else at the St. George, does little to get a rise out of Mr. Fenton--the cheapness of the rent is just too much to pay attention at the over-powering weirdness going on around him. The twist at the end (which you'll see coming very early on) isn't hard to digest.

Printer's Devil (originally aired February 6th, 1986)

Junior Harmon, a struggling writer, gets the chance at the success that has eluded him when an eccentric publisher named Alex Kellaway makes him an offer at stardom.... it only requires animal sacrifices for him to succeed.

Frequent Romero collaborator John Harrison both wrote the teleplay and directed this darkly humorous tale of soul-selling and devil-dealing. This scenario comes up a few times in this series; Harrison's go at the material is the quirkiest take of those. There's light humor dotting the episode, yet, unlike other entries with comedy (and there's lots of them), it never circumvents the eeriness prevalent throughout. The shocker twist at the end is a striking change of pace for the familiar material.

If Larry Manetti looks familiar to Drive-in fans that's because he was among the cast in the Filipino exploit-actioner SUDDEN DEATH (1977) starring Robert Conrad, Don Stroud and Felton Perry. Mainstreamers will know him best as Rick on MAGNUM PI (1980-1988). Charles Knapp is a delight as the jovially off-kilter fat man whose contracts bring great wealth and fame to those who sign, but the Devil is in the details.

The Last Car (originally aired February 23rd, 1986)

Stacey, a young lady traveling home the day before Thanksgiving, awaits the train in the dead of night. Once aboard, she finds the last car mostly empty save for three curious occupants.

It's refreshing when you come across a DARKSIDE show that is pure horror with nary a funny moment in sight. The gloomy entries are outnumbered by the darkly comical ones--possibly one way of getting around having to tone it down even with the freedom provided by the program's syndication model. 'The Last Car', as predictable as it is, unsettles the viewer from the first frame to the last.

It's a shame John Strysik didn't go on to a bigger career as a director; he was one of the most consistent in his TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE episodes. Michael McDowell wrote a healthy amount of DARKSIDE's best, including this funereal story that has been well represented elsewhere, particularly the original TWILIGHT ZONE (1959-1964). This is the third example of Strysik's work in this 4-part 'Best Of' series.

Strange Love (originally aired May 11th, 1986)

"My name is Edmund Alcott. I was born in the same year as your country... 1776. My wife and I are vampires. Creatures of the night. Forever undead!"

Doctor Carrol is brought to the home of Edmund Alcott to see to his wife, Marie's, injured leg. Unknown to him, his late-night clients are vampires. Enslaved by his captors, Marie takes a liking to more than the doctor's blood.

Erotic thrillers exploded in the 1990s after the success of such films as FATAL ATTRACTION (1987) and BASIC INSTINCT (1992). Outside of BODY HEAT (1981) and BODY DOUBLE (1984), the sub-genre wasn't prolific in the 1980s. This edition of TALES is an example of small screen erotica but with vampires. Theodore Gershuny's fourth of five directed episodes is terribly anachronistic--the setting is supposed to be 1935 yet the decor looks 1980s--but is bolstered by some savvy lighting and Edithe Swensen's sexy script. Unlike the usually downbeat erotic template it's following, things only go badly for one character.

An early role for Marcia Cross, the stunningly beautiful actress later found fame in MELROSE PLACE (1992-1997) and DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES (2004-2012). In 1989, she played Rebecca Howe's sister, a horror movie actress, in a great episode of CHEERS, 'Sisterly Love'. Likewise, this was an early role for Patrick Kilpatrick; especially in that he's playing the role of a victimized hero. Making his feature-film debut in THE TOXIC AVENGER (1984), he was perfect for the many bad guy roles he would undertake.

TALES of Missed Opportunities: There's Something About Mary....

The Trouble With Mary Jane (originally aired November 24th, 1985)

"I am not Mary Jane. I am Aisha Candisha, and I do not want any chicken soup! I want men's souls to eat!"

A husband and wife team of palm readers try to pass themselves off as exorcists to land $50,000... if only they can rid Mary Jane's body of Aisha Candisha, a man-eating, goat-footed, soul-stealing demon. Fumbling their way through the process, Jack and Nora Mills complicate matters when they summon an additional demon named Gads, a male demon who immediately butts horns with Aisha.

The first full-fledged comedy episode of season two benefits heavily from the casting of Tierney and Diller. Directed by T.J. Castronovo, it's a spoof of THE EXORCIST (1973); and the first of ten episodes written by Edithe Swensen. You'll get an occasional giggle here and there, but the scenario grows stale before its predictable finish. Tanya Fenmore (from Spielberg's segment in TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE [1983]) is the possessed Mary Jane in an over the top performance worthy of a silent movie.

TALES of Missed Opportunities: Grin and Bear It

Ursa Minor (originally aired December 1st, 1985)

For her birthday, little Susie receives a stuffed Teddy Bear; but this isn't any ordinary stuffed animal. Containing an evil ursine spirit, strange things begin to occur around the house prompting Susie's mother to try and dispose of the toy.

Theodore Gershuny, the director of SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT (1972), wrote and directed this mildly engaging segment. There's a bit more human drama than normal--Susie's dad is an alcoholic and her mother's struggles are close to paying off; only things are complicated by a stuffed animal harboring a malevolent force. Even with the eerie music and sound effects, it's difficult to make Teddy Ruxpin scary. The horror is ratcheted up for a ferocious finish when the bear goes on a mini-rampage. One of the more frightening finales in this series, only it's preceded by 20 minutes of tepidness.

With the sunrise, we close the coffin on our look back at season two. More dark delights are found in season three. "Until next time, try to enjoy the daylight!"

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