Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Last Laurel

An archived article from the New York Times covering TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE shares some wonderful and surprising insights into the making of the show. Laurel Entertainment itself was a humble enterprise, its auspicious headquarters an abandoned mattress factory and its two shooting sets divided between the L. A. factory and a New York rehearsal hall that had hosted practices for Pink Floyd.

The article also goes on to compare DARKSIDE with its glossier contemporaries, the big studio-backed anthologies like Spielberg's AMAZING STORIES (1985-1987) and the revival of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS (1985-1989) whose budgets typically were in the $1 million range compared to Laurel's meager $124,000-per-segment.

Also alluded to is the fact that not only did DARKSIDE offer its share of competition in quality vs. budget, but that its success was fairly surprising seeing as how it had no network affiliation, instead garnering and establishing its fan base entirely through syndication on 125 local television stations. It's undoubtedly this homespun, layman's vibe that allows DARKSIDE to permeate even to this day; it epitomizes the type of after-dinner entertainment that a family could sit down to in order to raise a good shudder or two, an image that Laurel would actually literalize (and jokingly pervert) in the opening montage to their follow-up series, MONSTERS (1988-1990).

John Kenneth Muir comments in his Terror Television that syndication would soon provide a plentiful bounty for genre programs, hosting everything from similar anthologies such as FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE SERIES (1987-1990) and FREDDY'S NIGHTMARES (1988-1990) to the science fictional exploration of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION (1987-1994) and the gangster warfare of THE UNTOUCHABLES (1993-1994). Though these series would all go on to their varying degrees of acclaim and viewership, TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE was one of the very first to prove what a rich harvest syndication could reap. 

Though it earned consistently high ratings and matched its popular success with several cost-cutting measures (which included using a non-union production crew and shooting the vignettes within 2-3 days), DARKSIDE still had its detractors. Like George Romero, its disenchanted creator and executive producer. Romero negatively commented on its low production values but did commend the virtues of the show's strong emphasis on finding quality narratives, complimenting the work of story editor Tom Allen and directors Michael P. Gornick, Tom Savini, John Harrison, and Warner Shook, all of them veterans of CREEPSHOW (1982): Gornick the cinematographer; Savini the special make-up effects artist; Harrison the composer; and Shook the wonderfully effeminate Richard Grantham in the "Father's Day" segment.

It all may add up to not much more than a hill of beans, but these small snippets that we have of DARKSIDE's behind-the-screams life are enough to add an extra note of appreciation to the fan's estimation of the show.

Read the full article here.

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