01/03/2012. Contributed by Pauline Morgan
Region 2 DVD: Revelation Films B00696WOEO. 4 DVDs 720 minutes 24 * 30 minute episodes box set. Price GBP 13.99 (UK).
check out website: www.revfilms.com
When you have a winning team, you don’t change it. After the success of the first season of ‘Tales From The Darkside’, George A. Romero used many of his original team to produce a second series. Although most viewers don’t take much notice of the producer or director of a TV series – the director seems so much more important in a film – here one or other of T.J. Castronova or William Teitler is involved with most episodes. The former is an actor with a huge number of TV appearances to his credit, albeit not starring roles, but enough to know his way round a set and have a feeling for what will work on the small screen. The latter went on to produce a number of films, including ‘Jumanji’ (1995). Having a consistent and reliable team allows for a continuity of quality.
This, the second series of ‘Tales From The Darkside’, consists of twenty-four half hour episodes and ran from September 1985 to July 1986. Originally, the series was syndicated by Tribune Broadcasting in the USA and most stations carried it after midnight. At the time, this was thought to be an appropriate slot as the premise of the series was scary and dark. Today, the horror elements may seem a little tame. It does not appear to have been aired in the UK.
As in the first series, perhaps the most impressive episode is the one penned by George A. Romero himself as it shows most clearly the effects he wanted to produce. ‘The Devil’s Advocate’, aired in November 1985, is simple but effective. Most of us have a radio talk show host that they find particularly irritating and obnoxious. Calling himself the Devil’s Advocate, Mandrake is all rant and rudeness, not only complaining about the drunk who dared to die in his car, he proceeds to insult all his callers. As the show proceeds, clever cutting shows not only the studio gradually disappearing but also by an excellent use of make-up as the hands and face of Mandrake gradually become more demoniac. The episode is made more effective by the excellent acting of Jerry Stiller.
Other episodes do not have quite the same impact, though there are good performances amongst the starring actors, most of whom may be unknown to a British audience. In some ways this is an advantage as the stories are intended to be about ordinary people to whom extraordinary things happen. Good casting gives that edge of menace, indicating these events could happen to any of us.
As in the first series, about a third of the episodes are based on previously published short stories by writers already active in the SF field such as H. Coleman Eastman, Michael Kube-McDowell, John D. McDonald, Ron Goulart, John Sladek and Pamela Sargeant, while others are written directly for the series. Of these, four have been written by Edithe Swensen, one of the few women involved with the series and allow for stronger female characters.
The stories themselves cover a wide range of themes and approaches. The first episode in the season, ‘The Impressionist’, based on a story by H. Coleman Eastman, is Science Fiction. Because of his ability to mimic, the fading impressionist is taken to a secret laboratory to try to communicate with an alien that has arrived on Earth. It has foreshadowings of both ‘ET’ and ‘Close Encounters’.
‘Parlour Floor Front’ is a good, creepy supernatural episode. The couple who have just bought the house find that they cannot evict the sitting tenant in the front parlour. It doesn’t help that he is a voodoo practitioner. For gory horror you have to wait for the last episode, ‘The Casavin Curse’. It is a shame that it revolves around a predictable gypsy curse.
Vampires make an appearance in ‘Strange Love’ as a doctor is called to treat the injured knee of one vampire and is kept chained up so that he can’t talk about his patient. Some of the stories, though, are just silly. In ‘Comet Watch’, an amateur astronomer refuses to go out with his wife as Halley’s comet is due. While he is observing it, a woman falls out of his telescope, followed by Halley himself. As a farce, it is misplaced in this series.
Although made on a comparatively small budget with few special effects and mostly on a single set, there are good episodes amongst the twenty-four. ‘Ursa Minor’, based on the John Sladek story, and ‘Printer’s Devil’, based on Ron Goulart’s story, are fine pieces of work with a lot of the subtlety of the originals extant. The tales in the set will while away a few pleasant hours but not expect to be scared unless you have a particularly nervous nature.
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