01/01/2012. Contributed by Pauline Morgan
Region 2 DVD: pub: Revelation Films Ltd 5060285850016. 4 DVDs 600 minutes 24 * 25 minutes episodes episodes. Price: GBP19.99 (UK).
check out website: www.revfilms.com
In the same way as a good short story is capable of engaging the reader, sucking them in and leaving an impression behind so does a good short film. Many shorts have a running of less than ten minutes and can be regarded as either art films or practice pieces for the director. At this length they can be very effective. For the television audience in a regular slot, greater discipline is needed.
In 1982, George A. Romero directed the film ‘Creepshow’. This was an anthology film putting together within a framework several stories by Stephen King. It gained a cult reputation, especially amongst horror fans, as it was an intelligent approach to the genre. As a result, Romero was approached to direct a series for television. ‘Tales From The Darkside’ is the result. The programme ran for four seasons and consisted of half hour episodes, each a separate, unconnected story. This set is season one and the four discs contain all twenty three episodes as well as the pilot. As an extra, the pilot can also be viewed with a commentary by Romero. It is useful to play the straight version and then the extra. The commentary explains not only the genesis of the series but also the effects he was trying to achieve in this episode.
The pilot episode, ‘Trick Or Treat’, was written by Romero who was also one of three executive producers for the whole series, and was initially screened in October 1983. It is set at Halloween and features Hackles, a rather obnoxious old man who enjoys sinister practical jokes. He holds IOUs for most of the people living in the town. At Halloween, he invites parents to bring their children to his house. Only the child can enter and if they can find where he has hidden the papers, these IOUs will all be cancelled. Hackles delights in scaring the children so that they are too terrified to look properly. However, his comeuppance in the form of a witch is about to be served on him.
Always with viewing DVDs of this era it is worth remembering that the special effects budget for TV series was far lower than that for films and there was a much tighter schedule as episodes could not be delayed by production over-runs. As the pilot was screened almost a year before the season proper (from September 1984 – August 1985) there would have been a fair amount of time to produce the episodes. Pilots, by their nature, are designed to induce the networks and sponsors put money into them. It is no coincidence then that this is a very slick episode with more special effects than later episodes.
On the whole, the stories chosen for the rest of the season are right for the half-hour format. They have a simple linear narrative which can be told within the time-slot. Some are based on extant stories by such as Stephen King, Michael Kube McDowell and Harlan Ellison. Others are written specifically for the series and a variety of directors.
The emphasis on all these stories is the darker side of human nature with a predilection towards horror. This said, there a couple of episodes such as ‘The Word Processor Of The Gods’ (Stephen King) and ‘Djinn, No Chaser’ (Harlan Ellison) which do have happy endings.
In general, each episode is filmed with only a couple of sets, mostly indoors. Although this keeps the budget down it does usually work in this format as the plots are tight with no extraneous or lingering shots. Except for the pilot episode, special effects are largely absent as these stories are about ordinary people in what start out as everyday situations which descend into darkness. The acting of the lead is usually okay but some of the support performances leave much to be desired.
At the time of production, several of the stories used what was then cutting edge technology in the form of computers. These seem much dated now although the story itself still hangs together.
On the whole, these are still neat little vignettes of the genre of the time with good stories being chosen to suit the medium. They should appeal to a wide range of viewers.
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