Thursday, October 6, 2016

Welcome to the Darkside

Greetings, and welcome to Entering the Darkside, a retrospective blog on the horror anthology television staple of the 1980s, TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE. Here you will find a complete episode-by-episode breakdown of the show (including credits, synopses, and commentaries) as well as ruminations on different aspects of the series including its memorable opening theme, recurring thematic strains within the stories, an overview of the 1990 film version, Best Of-lists, and image galleries of all your favorite guys and ghouls from the program.

As your humble host, it is my intention to put a spotlight on TFTD and give it some of the love and attention (and maybe just a smidge of the derision) it deserves. Despite the fond memories and vibrant impressions the show made on those who watched it during its initial run between 1983 and 1988 and in the years since, critical assessments of the series are sorely lacking even in this day and age of information overload from the Internet. It’s my belief that for all the passion fans have for horror in the short medium, no one ever seems to want to talk about it in detail. Hopefully we can change that.

This project was inspired by the wonderful series of TV show-themed blogs written by Peter Enfantino and John Scoleri: A Thriller a Day, We Are Controlling Transmission, and It Couldn’t Happen Here. Click on those links to find fun, comprehensive coverage of some prime genre television. And thanks for setting the standard, guys.

My own project will not be quite so ambitious as to try and undertake TFTD in its entirety in a matter of a few weeks (or months). The schedule I hope to maintain is posting several episode reviews each month, along with whatever other treats may come our way. It is my hope that the time in between new posts will be spent generating active discussion on the series’ particulars.
My personal history with the darkside started when I was in middle school. I was an avid horrorhound (still am) and I was particularly fond of anthology films and TV programs (still am). I can’t recall the precise moment I first learned of DARKSIDE, but I do remember family members regaling me with descriptions of the opening number raising the hairs on their neck every time it started playing on the TV set in the shadowy hours of evening.

Although I could get my fix with THE TWILIGHT ZONE on the Sci-Fi Channel and TALES FROM THE CRYPT on AMC Friday nights, DARKSIDE was much more elusive, and therefore more tantalizing and mysterious. I would obsessively read episode descriptions online (in the days before screenshots were readily available, I had to suffice with the snippets of information provided by TV.com), dreaming of the spine-tingling dramas that they were based upon.

My first official taste came in the form of a VHS volume containing five episodes won off Ebay that I received as a birthday present. And that’s all I got. I’d have to take the five or pretty much forget about ever seeing the show, for the time being. But it was enough. The show’s limited means made themselves known almost immediately and I was also a tad irked that one slot of the precious tape was spent on a light, fantasy-romance yarn (“Comet Watch”) and not one of the traumatizing, darker entries I had heard so much about like “Inside the Closet” or “Seasons of Belief.” Still, I was intrigued.

Fast forward a few years and I’ve finally obtained the first of CBS’ DVD releases of the complete series, finally filling in the gaps of my viewing experience and watching the program as was intended (minus that troublesome substitution of the entire show’s musical score!).

Perhaps what I admire most about TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE is that despite its obvious financial shortcomings, it was never afraid to push the envelope and explore every facet of fantasy that the show's runners could think of. Its willingness to devote time to works that might have seemed utterly ludicrous--such as the infamous "Love Hungry"--though perhaps head-scratchingly odd, was always surprising and, for better or worse, daring.

Not only did the low budget create an insular, claustrophobic makeshift universe as in the most charming examples of B-grade cinema, but it kept the program on an under-the-radar level that gave it one all-too-important allowance: it gave the creators the ability to do whatever the hell they wanted. The utterly bizarre focuses and courses some of the stories take are a far cry from the Hollywood-slick horror shows that you currently see on the CW (a channel, ironically, that a revival of DARKSIDE has been rumored to be broadcasted on under the guidance of Joe Hill).

A crooked politician transforms into a clown in a three-ring circus. A spoiled young boy is given the chance to become the Dahli Lama. A nasty baker manipulates people with her voodoo gingerbread cookies. A woman falls in love with a mechanized fortune teller. On this show, almost all creative bets were off.

But that's what I love about it. These unique premises didn't always translate to good episodes, but the willing spirit of the Darkside, that "Little Horror Show That Could" aspect of it is what always endears it to me at the end of the day.

In the ensuing months we'll undoubtedly encounter our share of spills and frills (and kills), but perhaps when all is said and done, we'll be able to view TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE in an entirely new... light.

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