Man lives in the sunlit world of what he believes to be reality. But… there is, unseen by most, an underworld, a place that is just as real, but not as brightly lit…a DARKSIDE.
Those are the words spoken in a foreboding voice-over by Paul Sparer, at the beginning of each episode of the anthology television series, “Tales from the Darkside,” which sprang to life from the mind of director, screenwriter, editor, and sometimes actor, George A. Romero, who gave movie-goers the iconic horror film, “Night of the Living Dead.” Romero wrote the narration that appears at the start of the show as well as the ending narration; I can write with absolute certainty that when I was a child both stuck with me, from the time the show was over at night, until the sun came up the following morning. Why did mere words have such an effect on my psyche even as a young boy? Words are, after all, just that…merely thoughts written out to express oneself, and due to all of the real life horror one can usually find on the news, the words, by themselves, don’t offer much in the way of chill inducing fright, but they are not just spoken words. No, those words, which made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up as a child, are accompanied by the eerily haunting composition co-created by Donald Rubinstein and Erica Lindsay, and performed for the show by Rubinstein.
In the spirit of shows such as “The Twilight Zone,” “Tales from the Crypt,” “The Outer Limits,” and “Amazing Stories,” “Tales from the Darkside” originally aired in syndication from 1983 to 1988, and each episode was a stand-alone story that would end with a plot twist. The series’ episodes spanned the genres of fantasy, horror, science fiction, and sometimes the show would dabble in some dark humor. On occasion, when I would reflect on this show over the years, I would always think that the episodes had a terrifying effect on me. I set out to determine whether the show would have the same effect on me as it did when I was a boy. Sadly, most of the shows did not; that’s not to say they aren’t good…some are downright excellent, but things that frightened me as a child are vastly different from the things that cause my mind to be disturbed these days. I am in no way attempting to speak for anyone but myself. What may not frighten me anymore might perhaps scare the wits out of some of you.
Fans of best selling author Stephen King will be treated to two episodes penned by the master, “Word Processor of the Gods,” and “Sorry, Right Number.” In addition, works of other fine writers are showcased such as that of Michael Bishop (Would it Kill You to Smile), Robert Bloch (Psycho), Fredric Brown (The Fabulous Clipjoint), John Cheever (The Enormous Radio), Harlan Ellison (I, Robot), and Fredrick Pohl (Jem). Clive Barker creator of the “Hellraiser” movie franchise based on his novel “The Hellbound Heart,” also makes a contribution to the series. In addition, the episodes featured well known actors from both film and television. Among those making appearances were: Danny Aiello (Do the Right Thing), Justine Bateman (Family Ties), Marcia Cross (Desperate Housewives), Victor Garber (Argo), Sean Green (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Christian Slater (Heathers), and Brent Spiner (Star Trek: The Next Generation).
Even though it doesn’t have the same effect on me that it used to, I can still appreciate “Tales from the Darkside” for the following reasons. Firstly, the gore content is kept to a bare minimum. The viewer will be able to concentrate more on the plot of the show instead of, depending on what sensibilities one has, being put off by gruesome scenes of extreme carnage the likes of which can be found, for example, in the films of the “Saw” and “Hostel” franchises. Secondly, the acting is, for the most part good, and done in a way that doesn’t convey ‘hokiness’. Lastly, even though the budget was small, and the special effects would be considered not even second, but third rate by today’s standards, I feel the shows’ producers did their best with what they had to work with, and I can never fault anyone for that.
The dark side is always there, waiting for us to enter, waiting to enter us. Until next time, try to enjoy the daylight.