Bridging the gap between the George A. Romero-produced television series of the same name & the start of Tales from the Crypt‘s television run, Tales from the Dark Side: The Movie is a delicious little slice of early 90s horror anthology. Besides the occasional shocks of gruesome practical effects & general Creepshow vibe, Tales from the Dark Side also features great performances from some always-welcome faces in all their 90s glory: Christian Slater in full Heathers mode, a handsomely young Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore in dated aerobics gear & the makeup of the undead (not at the same time, unfortunately), Deborah Harry as a killer housewife preparing to cook & serve a child for a dinner party, etc. Much like the look of its recognizable cast, it’s a very dated film in terms of visual & cultural aesthetics, but it’s enjoyably dated, as horror anthologies typically tend to be.
The aforementioned Deborah-Harry-preparing-to-cook-a-child story is the tie-in or “wraparound” segment that provides the framework for the film’s three short tales of terror. Adopting an Arabian Nights structure, Harry’s would-be victim tyke prolongs his precious little life by telling his captor scary stories while she prepares to cook him. At first he recounts the tale of a revenge plot that involves a mummy rising from the dead to mummify the living. Then he tells the story of a murderous cat squaring off with a mafia hitman. Finally, he concludes his stay of execution with a romantic tale that revolves around an artist & a winged demon that looks like some kind of cross between a gargoyle & a gremlin.
As with Creepshow, Tales from the Crypt, and the Tales from the Dark Side television show, these stories have no significant connections outside of the wraparound segments, but rather function as individual short stories with their own narrative ups & downs. The opening mummy segment front-loads the movie with the recognizable talent & the most complex storytelling of the film. After that story concludes, it may initially feel like diminishing returns in the much sillier killer cat tale & the lackluster romance of the gargoyle yarn, but both sections actually pack a much stronger punch than they first imply. The narratives may become a little weaker as the films progress, but the intense body horror in their individual conclusions become increasingly intense. The cat’s final kill & the gargoyle’s transformation are both practical effects spectacles that rank among the best I’ve ever seen. Much like dated aesthetics & very loosely connected narratives, sitting through a couple underwhelming (and thankfully brief) stories to get to some prime gore also comes with the horror anthology territory. Tales from the Darkside might not be the most significant example of its genre, but it’s definitely worth a look for fans of the horror anthology in general, especially for that gruesome killer cat scene. That’s one for the ages.