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Tales from the Darkside Season Four

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Classification: 15 / Studio: Revelation / Released: 15 Oct 2012 / Run Time: 433 minutes

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    Your dooyooMiles Miles

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      18.12.2012 19:19
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      This is the fourth and final season of the endearingly bargain basement horror fantasy series Tales from the Darkside - first broadcast in 1987/1988. The series was created by George Romero in the wake of the success of his 1982 horror anthology film Creepshow and although EC Horror Comics are, like the film, cited as the main inspiration for Tales from the Darkside their influence feels far less apparent. Tales from the Darkside plays more like a cheapjack eighties Twilight Zone/Night Gallery as much as anything and is enjoyable for this reason alone. The series ran for four years, becoming a cultish late night favourite through syndication and seems to be fondly remembered by anyone who encountered it either at the time or retrospectively. Given that they clearly had absolutely no money whatsoever to produce this show you have to admire their invention and unmitigated chutzpah in managing to get ninety (often very enjoyable) episodes made before the plug was pulled. As ever with these fantasy anthology shows inconsistency is the salient and unavoidable weakness and you have to shift through a lot of duds to find the gold but it's always fun searching for it all the same. You can't help but love too the wobbly almost deliberately rubbish title sequence with discordant synthesizer, babbling brooks, swaying grass, ominous clouds, dark spooky woods and Paul Sparer's familiar gravel voiced introductory narration. "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!"

      The modest budgets are both a strength and a weakness in a sense. Many of these episodes are restricted to one or two rooms but with a good lead actor and a compelling and atmospheric premise the intimate and constrictive nature of the production could work in its favour. In other places though, where the lead actor wasn't so great and the premise was dull, it struggled. One problem that occasionally blights the stories is the need for exposition. When you have practically one character in a story and they have to explain the plot to you along the way this device is unavoidably clunky. Still, the series is certainly worth watching if you like anthology fantasy programmes and after a slow start series four picks up to produce some of the most memorable episodes Tales from the Darkside ever produced. You get stories by Stephen King and Clive Barker too and, believe it or not, the directorial debut of Jodie Foster. My only real disappointments with this final year are that Romero didn't write or direct an episode himself and famous guest stars (looking out for familiar faces is always part of the fun with these old shows) are very thin on the ground for some reason. Apart from Debbie Harry and Divine there was hardly anyone here I recognised. There are twenty episodes spread over four discs in series four and each one runs to about twenty-five minutes. So, without further delay, please turn the lights off and prepare to enter the darkside for one last time...

      The first episode is Beetles - directed by Frank De Palma from a story by Robert Bloch. It's 1936 and rather dubious Egyptologist/archeologist Arthur Hartley (Rod McCary) has uncovered an ancient sarcophagus. Hartley is only interested in the jewels he expects to find hidden with the mummy and ignores a warning from a mysterious Egyptian man named Hammid Bey (Sirri Murad) that he will bring a terrible curse on himself if he takes any of the artifacts - which belong to the great beetle god Khepri. They of course never listen to any dire warnings of doom in these shows. Hartley believes the Egyptian is merely after his precious gems and is in no mood to debate the Egyptological matter. Indiana Jones might like returning artifacts to museums and people but Hartley is only interested in profit and so opens the coffin. He's soon plagued by visions of beetles in his house. On the walls, the floor, even turning up in a cup of tea he is drinking. That would put you off your PG Tips and chocolate digestive. Is he hallucinating or has he really invoked an ancient Egyptian curse? Beetles is not exactly original but it serves as a solid enough start to the final series. While Tales from the Darkside is a notoriously inexpensive looking show and the restrictive set is apparent, the 1930s period detail is nicely conveyed and there is a decent looking mummy at the heart of the story. I've never heard of Rod McCary but he looks the part of a period archeologist and has the right amount of pomposity and vulnerability as our increasingly rattled protagonist. Look fast by the way for Irish actor and former Star Trek regular Colm Meaney as a policeman. He's the best thing in this episode. Beetles is vaguely reminiscent of a Night Gallery story called Fear of Spiders but lacks the whimsy and amusing dialogue of that story, coming across as a trifle unimaginative. I haven't read the Robert Bloch story on which this was based so I can't tell you what was lost in translation but I wouldn't imagine it was one of his better ones on the evidence of this. Lovecraft Lite. The beetles themselves are well done though and somewhat evoke the Creepshow segment They're Creeping Up on You. This is always watchable but not one of those Tales from the Darkside episodes that you'll remember much afterwards. One other weakness is that the story is supposed to be set in England (despite Hartley being an American) and some of the accents by the actors in bit parts are absolutely terrible.

      Mary Mary was written by Julie Selbo and directed by Katarina Wittich. Mary Jones (Margaret Whitton) is a lonely outsider who spends her days indoors tending to her fashion clothes horse mannequins. Mary is so shy she avoids all human contact and lives through her dummies (she even dresses one up and films to put on a dating agency) and fantasies but when new neighbour David (AC Weary) asks her to go out to a baseball game she has a big decision to make about her seclusion and life in general. But is David attracted to her or the mannequin? This is a strange episode and one of those Tales from the Darkside stories that seems to have little to do with horror. It's not bad at all though and has a good central performance from Margaret Whitton which always attracts your attention and sympathy. I'm not quite sure what the message is here beyond some sort of commentary on the increasingly disconnected nature of society and I suppose the mannequins could be a metaphor for Mary herself, so racked with indecision and fear of life she has almost become frozen herself. The episode (in traditional Tales from the Darkside fashion) plays out over one set representing Mary's apartment but the static nature of the production isn't a huge weakness and Mary's interaction with her mannequins and scenes of her nervously trying on dresses and make-up to try and make her brave enough to face the world are quite compelling vignettes. Thankfully, this episode never descends into comedy and remains interesting (Whitton has to take a lot of credit for this) but I'm not too sure about the twist at the end. If you've ever watched a Twilight Zone episode called The After Hours you'll see it coming a mile off and in this case it didn't make an awful lot of sense. Mary Mary is hardly a classic but it's certainly watchable and the fact that it was written and directed by women and a showcase for Margaret Whitton at least gives it more emotional resonance and makes it feel different from many Tales from the Darkside stories.

      A middling ghost story next with The Spirit Photographer - written by Mark Patrick Carducci & Brian Thomas Jones and directed by Bill Travis. Spirit photographer and paranormal investigator Algernon Colesbury (Frank Hamilton) has bought the infamous Jackson House in New Haven. The house is reported to be one of the most haunted properties in the area and Algeron has invented a machine (shades of Legend of Hell House) that he believes will flush out the ghosts in the house and allow him to photograph one. At last he will have photographic evidence of the existence of spirits. That's the plan anyway so good luck with that one Algeron. However (and there has to be a however because this is Tales from the Darkside), Algeron's machine is not to be trifled with and he might soon be in very big danger meddling with things that human beings can never quite understand. This is an average episode that (the misjudged ending aside) never really goes anywhere or does anything terribly surprising but the premise - despite its familiarity - is engaging enough and it is at least nice to see a haunted house story again in the series even if this one isn't very scary. What really stops The Spirit Photographer from becoming completely forgettable are the enjoyable performances by the lead actors. Hamilton makes us care about the fate of Algeron and Richard Clarke is excellent as his more rational and disbelieving friend Harry Bainbridge. Nice scene between the two men at the start. It's a shame really that the actress who appears near the end as we move towards the spooky coda is terrible. She should have been arrested for that cameo. While one wishes that The Spirit Photographer could have been scarier (a frequent criticism of a series that often seemed more interested in whimsical fantasy than horror despite its name) I certainly found this a watchable enough diversion while it was playing.

      The Moth was written by Michael McDowell and directed by Jeffrey Wolf. This is a strange and confusing episode that never really seems to go anywhere. It's most notable for having the first famous guest star of the fourth year, in this case the singer Debbie Harry. Or Deborah Harry as she's billed here. Debbie, sorry, I mean Deborah, plays Sybil, a witch who has died but convinces her mother (Jane Manning) to keep her soul in a glass jar in the form of a moth. Mother begins to have her doubts about her course of action though and decides that although Sybil is supposed to be dead her own soul might be threatened by the late witch. Who has now come back to life in her bedroom. Or something. I don't know if I dozed off at some point but I genuinely had no idea what The Moth was about or what exactly they were trying to do here. This is a bit too vague and offbeat for its own good and while you have to give them credit for at least attempting a twist in the tale it doesn't really work. It's watchable for Debbie Harry though. She made her acting debut in David Cronenberg's Videodrome and is perfectly competent here despite not having the most challenging of roles. On a note of pointless trivia, Harry also played a witch in the 1990 film version of this series.

      Next is No Strings, written and directed by David Odell. Series four has been a trifle dull so far but things perk up with this story for its outrageous premise alone. Mob boss Eddie Minelli (T.J Castronovo) has just killed his hated business partner Don Paulie (Derek Loughran) and jumped up a rung on the Mafia ladder. To celebrate, he has decamped to an empty theatre where his goons are holding the famous (and now terrified) puppeteer Aldo (Barry Dennen). Minelli also has the dead body of the recently deceased Don Paulie. His aim? To force Aldo to put on a very special show using Paulie's corpse as the puppet! This is a truly bizarre episode and a strangely compelling one too. I was a little surprised by just how dark the central concept is here and it gives this episode a real sense of creepiness that Tales from the Darkside could have done with more of. You do get to see the dead puppet performance too and while it's no more tasteless than watching Weekend At Bernie's you have to give them credit for coming up with such an offbeat McGuffin and not backing away from shooting it. The ending is rather predictable but satisfying in an Amicus anthology film sort of way and the spartan set with stage is perfectly fine to convey a small empty theatre in the dead of night. The performances are good too (Castronovo seems to be enjoying himself) with the only weak link being Cameron Milzer as Aldo's hysterical girlfriend. You do feel like reaching for the mute button whenever she is onscreen.

      You wait four years for an Egyptological episode and then you get two almost at once. The Grave Robber was written by Howard Waldrop and Donald Wollner and directed by Jeff Schiro. More mummy tomb capers but unlike Beetles, The Grave Robber is a lighter affair and played for laughs. Archeologist Dr Harold Gormley (Ed Kovens) and his assistant Aileen (Polly Draper) discover an Egyptian tomb and decide to plunder its treasures for profit. Hmmn. I feel like I've seen this plot somewhere else. But the mummy (voiced by Arnold Stang) comes to life, kills their guide and threatens them with death. Aileen tries to reason with the mummy and realises he's someone who can be bargained with. The trio are soon playing strip poker to decide their fates. This is an ok episode but never too much more than that. Comic relief episodes are usually a chore to get through but this one is not so bad and relatively enjoyable. The Egyptian tomb set is well designed and the mummy make-up is nicely done too. The mummy alters appearance through the course of the story and the design is skillfully done. What really lifts this up a notch and stops it becoming a waste of time are the enthusiastic performances by the actors. Arnold Stang (who was apparently a comedian in real life although I can't say I've ever heard of him) is droll as the voice of the mummy and Polly Draper (star of a television series called Thirtysomething) is a cut above some of the actors who have graced this series and brings some energy and sassiness to the part of the shrewd Eileen. The comic book look of the episode is always pleasant too in a nice anachronistic sort of way. This is a decent episode if hardly a great one and the only major complaint I think is that the ending seems rather at odds with the whimsical intent of much of what has come before. More than anything The Grave Robber has the rare distinction of being a comic relief episode that is worth watching. No mean feat given how awful some of the comedy episodes in this series have been over the four years that it was produced. The one thing I don't quite understand is why they put the two mummy episodes so close together. You'd have thought they might have spaced them out a little more.

      The Yattering and Jack was written by Clive Barker and directed by David Odell. The participation of Barker (here adapting one of his own short stories) leads one to expect a more traditional horror atmosphere but The Yattering and Jack is another one of those Tales from the Darkside episodes that can't quite decide if it wants to be funny or scary and consequently ends up being neither. Salesman Jack Polo (Antony Carbone) should be enjoying Christmas with Quality Street and Carry On films but he's had a most unwelcome visitor this festive season. A three foot "daemon" known as a "Yattering" (Phil Fondacaro) that seems intent on driving him mad. The Yattering generally causes chaos in the house (including some dancing Turkey capers) and Jack and his daughter Amanda (Danielle Brisebois) must somehow make sense of it all. I've never read the story on which this was based but you can't help suspecting that something was lost in transplanting it to television. Aside from a spooky shot at the start involving a mirror, there is none of the oppressive aura you might expect from Barker's work and I couldn't help but be reminded of a similar segment in the Amicus anthology From Beyond the Grave. The Elemental was more fun really with Ian Carmichael and the very English setting. The Yattering can't actually touch Jack or it will become his slave and the ultimate goal behind the soul snatching has to be explained to us by some clunky exposition. Like The Grave Robber, an unmemorable episode benefits from some good performances and so The Yattering and Jack is at least just about worth watching. The diminutive Phil Fondacaro (the only Ewok in Return of the Jedi to have a death scene according to Wikipedia!) is good value as the Yattering and Antony Carbone is excellent as Polo. This is far from my favourite Tales from the Darkside episode but it certainly isn't a complete clunker by any stretch of the imagination.

      An out and out comedy episode next with Seymourlama. This is pretty strange even by the standards of Tales from the Darkside and not an episode I ever really got into. The Strands are a dysfunctional family who tend to bicker a lot. Henry Strand (David Gale) in particular is rather rough on his son Seymour (JD Roth) because he considers him to be a complete wimp more interested in knitting than baseball. However, a twist of fate that will reverse their roles is just around the corner. There is a knock on the door and who should it be but John Waters' star Divine. Sadly, Divine is not dragged up to the nines but does have a bizarre white beard and a lurid red dressing gown thing as Ambassador Chia Fung. Fung - who has an assistant called Madame Wu played by Cathy Lipinski - explains that he is from a country named Lo Poa and that Seymour is their new Dahli Lama. Seymour is naturally delighted at this unexpected course of events and is soon bossing his parents around. That's more or less it as far as the story goes save for an ending which you'll see coming a mile away. Beyond the rather obvious message that power can corrupt and change people, there isn't much point to this episode and it always feels like it's trying too hard to no great effect. It's only worth watching really for Divine. He has a few amusing moments and without him this would be completely forgettable.

      Easily the best episode so far next and the second and final contribution to Tales from the Darkside by Stephen King. His original teleplay Sorry, Right Number was directed by John Harrison. Katie Weiderman (Deborah Harmon) is a mother of three with a happy marriage to Bill (Arthur Taxier). One night, while taking to her sister on the telephone, she receives a call on the other line from a distraught woman who seems to be trying to warn her about something. The caller soon hangs up but Katie feels sure that the voice is familiar and might have come from a member of the family. She asks around to try and establish who was responsible for the call but it seems to be a mystery. All will be revealed in the end. This is a great little episode. It's not only moving but one you find yourself having to think about afterwards. The use of foreshadowing by King is a nice device and supplies the poignant twist at the end. One thing I like about this episode too is that the actors feel completely genuine and believable. Deborah Harmon and Arthur Taxier have a warm easy chemistry that makes you believe in them as a married couple and the domestic setting feels right too. Famalies in Tales from the Darkside are usually grotesque and over the top but this feels like a real family and a real home. This is definitely one to watch and worthy of Rod Serling. I thought it was a nice touch by the way too at the start to have Bill (who is a horror novelist) watching Romero's Dawn of the Dead on television.

      Payment Overdue was written by Richard Benner and directed by John Drury. This one had the potential to be a lot better but is a middling episode on the whole. I've seen far worse Tales from the Darkside stories but it's not brilliant by any criteria. Debt collection agent Jeanette (Maura Swanson) works on the telephone from her apartment. She's responsible for chasing up those who owe money and generally has no heart whatsoever. It doesn't matter how unfortunate a person's circumstances are or what their excuse is for not paying their debt on time, Jeanette doesn't want to know. She is only interested in getting their money and she doesn't care if it leaves them destitute. Jeanette will even threaten her clients if she has to. This being Tales from the Darkside though, she might get an important lesson about karma over the next twenty-five or so minutes. I liked the basic set-up here and the restrictive nature of Tales from the Darkside doesn't matter here at all as the story is set in Jeanette's apartment. The story has Jeanette eventually talking more and more to a poverty stricken Spanish woman (Wanda DeJesus) who she is trying to wring money out of and gradually realising there might be more to this mystery woman than she suspects. The intimate nature of the story (constructed as it is around telephone calls) is never quite grasped and made full use of by the script here and although the performance by the lead actress is fine I left this one feeling strangely unsatisfied. Payment Overdue is certainly watchable and has that traditional and trusty nasty person getting their comeuppance device that always works well but ultimately I felt this should have been a lot tauter and more atmospheric than it actually played in the end.

      A fun episode next with Love Hungry - written and directed by John Strysik. This must surely go down as the only Tales from the Darkside episode to feature a talking banana. Betsy Cowland (Sharon Madden) is overweight and frumpy and eats for comfort. The only things that make life bearable for her are tending to her beloved plants and gorging herself on grub. When an old schoolfriend named Elmo (Larry Gelman) arrives in town and gives her a call asking if they can meet up, Betsy has the perfect motivation to lose some weight and engage with life again. But losing weight is not easy. Or is it? She then receives a phone call from a weight loss company called Your Weight Is Over and decides she has nothing to lose (except the weight of course). The mysterious company send her a hearing aid and a pair of glasses. Strange things to try and lose weight with but there is an alarming method behind the apparent madness. When Betsy puts the hearing aid in, each time she goes to eat some food she seems to be able to hear it pleading for its life! "Please don't eat us!" As for the glasses, you'll just have to watch Love Hungry to see what they do. This is good stuff. I like the weird nature of the McGuffin and the strange mysterious company who seem too good to be true angle is well worn but still fun here all the same. Sharon Madden is excellent as the desperate Betsy and I thought it was clever the way that the telephone call she receives from Your Weight Is Over mimics Betsy's own telephone script in her job as a telemarketer for a book company. The talking items of food are rather hokey but not a little creepy too. If you went to eat a biscuit and it started talking to you the last thing you'd feel like doing is eating it. Such is Betsy's dilemma. One of the admirable things about this episode too is the way that it's quite amusing and feels tongue-in-cheek but becomes progressively darker towards the end. Love Hungry is definitely one of the more memorable Tales from the Darkside stories.

      The Deal was written by Allen Coulter & Granville Burgess and directed by TJ Castronova. This is not a terrible episode but hamstrung by the fact that it uses by far the most familiar and cliched plot device these types of shows return to again and again. Someone selling their soul to get ahead in life but then regretting it later when the ramifications of their act becomes clear. Aspiring writer Tom Dash (played by West Wing star Bradley Whitford) seems to get nothing but rejections but gamely keeps plugging away to fulfill his dreams of becoming published. His enigmatic landlord Donald (Allen Garfield) seems to think he can help though and passes Tom's manuscript on, earning him a contract and a tidy sum of money. It all seems too good to be true. "I'll be damned!" says Tom and I think we can all see where this one is heading. Despite the fact I feel like I've already seen this story gazillions of times in things like The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery, The Deal managed to sustain my interest although I certainly wouldn't rank this as one of the best episodes this series churned out over the course of its four year run. This is almost entirely down to the actors rather than the script. Bradley Whitford is fine as you'd expect but the real delight is Allen Garfield - here playing no less than three different roles.

      The Apprentice was written by Ellen Sandhaus and directed by Eleanor Gaver. This is an excellent episode. Sarah McBride (Haviland Morris) is studying American history and accepts a job at a museum in a colonial village that recreates Puritan life. This touristy rich with history environment seems to be right up her alley. Her employer Thomas Branford (Wayne Tippit) seems to have a less than enlightened attitue to gender politics though and seems to still be living in 1692. There's a good reason for that. He is living in 1692 and when Sarah begins work she is transported back in time with him (not that she seems to cotton on straight away). Sarah is soon unwittingly stirring things up by persuading Branford's daughter Jane (Katherine Elizabeth Neuman) to stand up to her husband. If this carries on she's going to be accused of being a Salem witch sooner or later. A decent time travel episode with a predictable but neat ending and some decent performances from the cast. Not only is this episode entertaining but Tales from the Darkside (which I often affectionately rib myself for being a cheap looking show) seems to push the boat out a little here and the costumes and seventeenth century details are excellent.

      The Cutty Black Sow was written by Michael McDowell and directed by Richard Glass. A somewhat underrated episode with a nice spooky premise. Young Jamie (Huckleberry Fox) hears his dying grandmother (Paula Trueman) murmur warnings about the Cutty Black Sow, a Celtic demon who comes out at Halloween to take the souls of family members who have witnessed death. As Jamie's family have witnessed grandma's death it appears as if they might qualify for a visit from old Cutty. It's a Scottish legend apparently but not one I've heard of myself. "Have ye no heard the tale of the Cutty Black Sow?" Ok, I'm going to stop doing that. Anyway, Jamie decides that he must save the family from the Cutty Black Sow and with sister Gloria (Mary Griffin) in tow sets about his task like a junior Ghostbuster. The only problem is that Jamie seems to be the only one in the family who actually believed grandma's warning. Can he convince the others to take hed? Is the Cutty Black Sow even real? Stay tuned and you'll get the answers. Tales from the Darkside, for some reason, seemed to fare pretty well with episodes involving children and they just about manage to maintain their overall credit rating with this one. I think they seemed to be very clever in the way they presented certain stories from the perspective of a child and reminded us of how extraordinary a child's imagination can be. When I was Jamie's age I was convinced there were aliens living in the cherry orchards near our house and nothing would persuade me otherwise. It's fun to tap into that spirit again where anything is possible. I can see how the ending might annoy some people and the story maybe struggles to sustain itself completely but I like the direction and moody shadow strewn look of the episode and the central McGuffin is a fun one (and not a million miles away from the wonderful Tales from the Darkside Christmas episode Seasons of Belief). It's the child actors who have the ability to make or break this though and happily they are very good. Huckleberry Fox (what a great name!) is believable as Jamie and Mary Griffin is also fine as his sister. This is an episode that might be dull for some but I quite liked it myself and would certainly watch it again in the future.

      Do Not Open This Box was written by Bob Balaban & Franco Amurri and directed by Jodie Foster (yes, that Jodie Foster). This is one of the best episodes of series four and worthy of The Twilight Zone. If you'd posted this story to Rod Serling in the early 1960s he would have snapped it up fairly quickly I think. Amateur inventor Charles (William LeMassena) is always being nagged by his materialistic wife Rose Pennywell (Eileen Heckart) about not making more money or having nicer possessions. He's happy pottering about in his workshop and doesn't really care about money but Rose would probably strangle her granny to be wealthy. One day, Charles receives a parcel in the post by accident. I wonder what this could be. Inside is a box with a simple instruction written on it: DO NOT OPEN THIS BOX. Charles decides they should comply with the message and try and return the box but Rose is having none of it. She wants to see what's inside and if it might be worth anything. When a delivery man (Richard B Shull) suddenly turns up explaining that he would give anything to get the box back the greedy Rose takes him at his word. She's soon demanding more and more gifts from him in the promise of returning the box one day. How long is this arrangement going to last? There isn't too much to dislike with Do Not Open This Box. The story is interesting and enjoyable, the actors are fine, and the resolution is clever and satisfying. It's nice to see characters all getting exactly what they deserve - whether good or bad - and that happens here. The apartment set is believable too and this has all the hallmarks of an episode that they put effort than usual into. Maybe it was because of the presence of Jodie Foster, here making her directorial debut. Three years later she would direct her first feature film. While Tales from the Darkside was clearly a means to get some experience she does an excellent job all the same and credit must go to the writers too. This is a neat little episode that one can almost picture in black & white with a Rod Serling introduction. Good stuff.

      The upward curve (come on Tales from the Darkside, let's keep it going) of series four continues with Family Reunion - written by Edithe Swensen and directed by Tom Savini (Romero's famous make-up artist and a decent director himself when he got the chance). Time for some lycanthropic shenanigans I think. Robert Perry (Stephen McHattie) has something of a problem and it's not the gas bill or having to defrost his freezer. His son Bobby (Daniel Terrence Kelly) is a werewolf with all that that entails. You know, spouting hair and trying to eat people. That sort of thing. Robert is determined to protect his son (and those his son might harm as a werewolf I suppose and hope) from attention or capture and is now on the run with him. But Bobby's mother Janice Perry (Patricia Tallman) is on their trail and fiercely determined to get her son back. Savini's previous directorial efforts with this series were usually amongst the most memorable of that particular year on the show and so is the case again with Family Reunion. The story doesn't always make a lot of sense (especially when you watch the ending and think about it afterwards) but the actual look of the episode is superb and very atmospheric. Great use of shadow and suggestive wolf imagery and - as you'd expect with Savini involved - the special effects are great. I love some of the background details here like Bobby's bedroom having a Creepshow poster and copies of Fangoria magazine with some of Savini's make-up work highlighted. I might be wrong but I get the impression Savini is a man who feels he never quite got the credit he deserved. Anyway, while these details are self-referential they are great fun and he deserves to blow his own trumpet for a bit if he wants to. The story here is always absorbing and one becomes eager to learn more about the characters too as we move to the revelations at the end. Stephen McHattie is solid as Robert Perry and Patricia Tallman is well cast too as the formidable mum on their trail. A few years later Savini would cast Tallman as the central heroine in his (better than expected) remake of Romero's Night of the Living Dead. A mention too for Marilyn Rockafellow as Trudy, the abuse centre professional that Janice enlists to help her. This is a nice final contribution to the series by Savini and well worth watching.

      Going Native was written by Theodore Gershuny and directed by Andrew Weiner. Weiner also wrote he story the screenplay was based on. Hmmn. I'm not quite sure what to make of Going Native. This walks a fine line between being remarkably stylish and clever and absolutely tedious pretentious nonsense. The premise is simple. Claire (Kim Griest) is an alien on Earth disguised as a young woman. Her mission is to study humanity and she does this by taking gazillions of photographs and even joining a support group to interact with humans and study their emotions. Could all of this human contact and study have a lasting effect on Claire? The premise makes Going Native sound a lot more interesting than it actually is to watch. The direction here is preposterously arty, a sort of Tesco Value Michael Mann. Endless scenes of Claire in her white hazed apartment going through her photographs. I like the contrast between the vague indistinct nature of her flat and the bright light of the support group room but the overall style here is irritating at times. The premise is hardly original but it helps that Kim Griest plays Claire although even she can't stop you wincing at some of the lines (which are desperately trying to be profound as we get this ultimate outsider perspective on the nature of humanity). Griest was the female lead in Terry Gilliam's Brazil and also played William Peterson's wife in Manhunter. For some reason she seemed to abandon acting in the end and hasn't been in anything for over a decade but her presence here is a help. She has an interesting expressive face, which helps as she's very much the focal point of the story. I think some of the themes here are genuinely interesting (who controls the images we see every day?) but with its narrating voiceover (which can be a very pretentious and self-important device sometimes) and incredibly arty gloss I found this one a struggle to be honest. I'm sure there are some people out there who consider Going Native to be one of the more profound episodes but I never really got into this one and was rather bored in the end. I give them some credit anyway for at least trying to do something slightly different with this one.

      Hush was written by John Harrison from a story by Zenna Henderson and directed by Allen Coulter. Anyone in the mood for some murderous vacuum cleaner capers? Oh, go on then. This is pretty good fun actually despite being rather silly even by the standards of Tales from the Darkside. It's somewhat reminiscent of a Twilight Zone episode called A Thing About Machines but then if you've seen enough of these fantasy shows there is nothing new they can do to surprise you. A resourceful boy named Buddy (Eric Jason) is something of an amateur inventor and has created a "noise eater" machine that basically looks like a customised vacuum cleaner. The machine seeks out noise and makes everything quiet again. I would love to have one of these when some idiot leaves their car engine running outside with the radio blaring away. Anyway, the "noise eater" goes berserk and starts trying to attack people, sucking the life out of its victims. Little Buddy and his babysitter Jennifer (Nile Lanning) become trapped in the house with this contraption and must find a way to survive. This is more of a tongue-in-cheek episode I suppose but it works because the characters are fleshed out and likeable and the family setting is believable. You get a good sense of the geography of the house and if you pay attention they foreshadow which places which play a part in the story later on. The noise eater machine is not exactly scary (unless of course you happen to have a severe phobia about stupid looking customised vacuum cleaners) but Hush is an entertaining piece of nonsense and not bad at all.

      Do you ever remember watching an American sitcom called I Love Lucy? No, me neither. Well, Barter, written by Jule Selbo from a story by Lois McMaster Bujold and directed by Christopher T Welch, is a pretty tedious parody of I Love Lucy that doesn't really work at all. I Love Lucy starred Lucille Ball (I think she was in one of the last Marx Brothers films but I digress) as a redheaded housewife who dreamed of stardom and was married to a Cuban bandleader played by Desi Arnaz. In Hush, Lucille Ball lookalike Ruthie (Jill Jaress) has to put up with Spanish sounding musician husband Nicky (Michael Santiago) and their son Little Nicky (Miguel Alamo) who drives them all crackers by playing the drums all the time. They could do with that noise eating machine from the last episode I think. Anyway, a machine of sorts to silence the drum playing rascal (or freeze him in this case) could on the cards though and is promised by a travelling salesman named Klaatzu (Jack Carter). All he wants in return is some amonia. I'm not sure that Hush would really work even if one was familiar with I Love Lucy and I'm not quite sure what the point of this was. Maybe it makes much more sense to American viewers who grew up with Lucille Ball reruns. I didn't really get any of the jokes or references and the actual story is not terribly interesting. The cast mug to no great effect and even the mysterious salesman (who seems to have wandered in from one of those forgettable light comedy Twilight Zone episodes that Rod Serling was trying to use as a comedy pilot) is boring. Season four has been surprisingly strong at times but this one is an out and out dud I'm afraid.

      Finally, we have Basher Malone, written by Peter O'Keefe and directed by Anthony Santa Croce. It's a shame really that what has been an interesting and at times highly enjoyable last year for Tales from the Darkside ends with two of the weakest episodes. This is the nadir of series four and revolves around American professional wrestling (which I suppose was experiencing its first flush of global popularity and becoming a major business phenomenon for the first time in the late eighties). A clean cut nice wrestler named Basher Malone (Steve Strong) is tricked into fighting a demon from another dimension named Trog (Magic Schwarz) for reasons which completely escape me at this present moment. Sporting themed episodes of The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery could be surprisingly good (one thinks of A Game of Pool for instance) but Basher Malone is pretty tedious. The demon emerges from a fizzy drinks machine and the acting is really bad in this one. I'm not really sure what they were thinking. Steve Strong was apparently a real life wrestler rather than an actor and it shows in his performance. The only real saving grace is Vic Tayback (who appeared in the second ever Tales from the Darkside episode The New Man in season one) as the dubious manager/promoter Tippy Ryan.

      This final season is terrific at times and anyone who has gamely slogged their way through the previous collections should certainly enjoy this last hurrah a lot. While there are the usual smattering of duds and episodes that just aren't very interesting, stories like Sorry, Right Number, Do Not Open This Box, The Apprentice and Family Reunion are superb. Sadly, Tales from the Darkside DVDs are very light on extras (a shame really as a documentary would have been fascinating) but you do get the bones here of two episodes that were never transmitted called Akhbar's Daughter and Attic Suite. They don't have titles and are difficult to judge but it's interesting all the same. There is no explanation for what the intended home for these stories was (it might even have been the Tales from the Darkside spin-off show Monsters) but their inclusion is better than nothing I suppose. At the time of writing you can buy the final four disc season of Tales from the Darkside for £13.99.

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