The fourth and final season of ‘Tales From The Darkside’, ran in the USA from 27th September 1987 until July 24th 1988 and followed the same pattern as the previous three seasons with twenty half-hour dramatised stories. With the same executive production team and many of the other regular members of the team, this series will be welcomed by those who have enjoyed the previous three.
As with any sequence of short films that a series such as this produces, there are good episodes and bad. For the British audience, it is a pity that it started with an adaptation of the Robert Block story, ‘Beetles’. There is nothing wrong with the story itself, more in the production. It is a traditional horror story with an ancient Egyptian mummy arriving in the UK with a curse attached. Of course, the idea of a curse is not believed. The episode itself does have some genuinely unsettling moments in the second half but its downfall is the atrocious faux-British accents of a couple of the early characters. Did the Americans really think we spoke like that?
The second episode, ‘Mary, Mary’, has interesting psychological elements and is about a woman who is scared to be herself and uses dolls as representatives of real people. The acting is good but ultimately it is a slight story that would have benefited from a development into a longer piece. Other episodes use horror tropes, the devil makes several appearances, and include melodrama, time travel and sheer silliness.
A couple of the other episodes that stand out as having strong storylines are, unsurprisingly, by accomplished writers. ‘The Yattering And Jack’ is based on the story by Clive Barker and is an excellent encapsulation of the idea. The yattering is a type of demon who has been given the task of persuading Jack to sell him his soul. Jack, however, is not following the script.
‘Sorry, Right Number’ is from the Stephen King story. A strange phone call from someone begging for help worries the recipient so much that she frantically tries to find who the caller who she is convinced is a member of her family in trouble. The caller is actually the last person she would expect.
Other respected writers who have had their stories adapted for this series are Lois McMaster Bujold with ‘Barter’, Zenna Henderson with ‘Hush’ and Thomas F. Monteleone with ‘The Cutty Black Sow’.
This boxset also contains two episodes that were produced but never broadcast. Although they seem a little tame by today’s standards, at the time it was probably thought that they might be considered bad taste and wouldn’t get past the censors. The first, ‘Akhbar’s Daughter’, involves a businessman visiting Akhbar, a potential business partner. On arrival, he is introduced to Akhbar’s daughter. Although he tries to flirt with her, she will have nothing to do with him, cutting his advances dead. After dark, however, he believes that the girl who invites him to his room is the same one that he fancies. There is a very definite suggestion of sexual congress taking place behind the gauzy netting surrounding her four-poster bed. It is this part that was probably considered too lewd for the audience of 1988.
The other extra episode is ‘Attic Suite’. A young couple are in financial difficulty and have the woman’s elderly relative living in the attic. She is in ill health and a very demanding person. However, if she dies of natural causes they are set to benefit from her insurance. Killing her is discussed. This may be the factor that prevented the episode’s broadcast as it might have been feared that viewers in similar situations may be suggestible and try to do away with elderly relatives for the insurance money. Both bonus episodes have twist endings.
These two episodes and the flavour of the series in general provide a window not just on the mores of the time but also show the techniques of television programme making of the period. As the poor relative of cinema, productions of most of these short films had a single set on which all the action took place. Exterior shots were rare and then only to set the context of the episode. The number of characters was limited and very few episodes had either special effects or relied on extensive make-up to suggest the bizarre. Those that do, tend to be the better ones. If the acting at times seems wooden, it is probably because the set was more like a theatre stage and the actors behaved accordingly and possibly many were filmed in a single take. Comparing these films to those produced today, shows how much technology and technique have developed in the intervening years. The majority of people who buy this set are probably those who remember the series from their childhood, who have an interest in the history of TV or who are followers of George Romero’s career.
(Region 2 DVD: pub: Revelation Films Ltd B007IUIWZ0. 4 DVDs 433 minutes 20 * 22 minute episodes. Price: £13.99 (UK))
check out website: www.revfilms.co.uk