Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #410
Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: May 4, 1990
Sub-Genre: Horror Anthology
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $16,324,573
Running Time: 93 minutes
Director: John Harrison
Producers: Mitchell Galin, Richard P. Rubinstein
Screenplay: Michael McDowell (Lot 249 and Lover’s Vow), George A. Romero (Cat from Hell)
Based on Lot No. 249 by Arthur Conan Doyle, The Cat from Hell by Stephen King
Special Effects: Howard Berger, Greg Nicotero, Robert Kurtzman
Cinematography: Robert Draper
Score: John Harrison, Chaz Jankel, Jim Manzie, Pat Regan, Donald Rubinstein
Editing: Harry B. Miller III
Studios: Laurel Productions, Darkside Movie
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Stars: Deborah Harry, Christian Slater, Steve Buscemi, David Johansen, William Hickey, James Remar, Rae Dawn Chong, Julianne Moore, Matthew Lawrence, Robert Sedgwick, Robert Klein
Suggested Audio Candy
Donald Rubinstein “Tales From The Darkside”
When Ana Clavell and James Glenn Dudelson shat on the Creepshow franchise from a great height with their execrable third entry in 2006, one man wasn’t buying it. The one and only Sultan of Splatter, Tom Savini, would argue that the trilogy was already all but sewn up long before that point and leagues of disgusted fans would no doubt concur. After the unprecedented success of Stephen King and George A. Romero’s collaborative first effort, and reasonable return of its sequel, Laurel Productions had pondered a TV spin-off series and were looking to supply their next installment.
One of their surplus ideas from Creepshow 2 was a tale penned by King himself named The Cat From Hell which never made it into the finished product on account of budgetary restraints. Many of the original crew returned including original composer John Harrison who was drafted in this time as director. In the eleventh hour, due to wrangles over rights, it was suggested the title be changed to Tales from the Darkside: The Movie and, as the eighties spluttered to a close, the true Creepshow 3 came to fruition. Devotees of the series choose selective memory and, considering how abhorrent its namesake was, you won’t hear any Keeper pointing out the obvious.
By the close of the decade the horror anthology already had ample representation. Nightmares, From A Whisper To A Scream, Cat’s Eye, and After Midnight had been met with varying degrees of warmth and this followed the template to the letter. Three tales of terror, one customary wraparound, and enough creeps to have us checking under our valances apprehensively before bedtime for the foreseeable. The film opened with a modern-day take on Hansel & Gretel, as affluent witch Betty (Debbie Harry) prepared little Timmy (Matthew Lawrence) for the kiln. It appears that the only hope the ankle-biter had of escaping a stuffing was to recite to her three horrifying parables from a book she had afforded him while he simmered in his seasoning. I shall bring each to the boil in turn and return to check on our scrumptious joint at the conclusion.
The first praise Michael McDowell richly deserved for his adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story, Lot No. 249, was for inspired casting. Steve Buscemi as know-it-all bookworm Bellingham, devious classmates, Susan (Julianne Moore), and Lee (Robert Sedgwick) and, most critically, the gloriously unhinged Andy (Christian Slater) all added significant heft to an old-fashioned tale of monstrous reinvention and vile retribution similar in many ways to Old Chief Woodenhead from Creepshow 2 but far more cunning and effectively implemented.
Slater was fast becoming a personal Jesus to Keeper after raising that glorious eyebrow as Hard Harry in Allan Moyle’s rousing spectacle on the revolution of youth, Pump Up The Volume. He taught me two things that day. Firstly, I shouldn’t be afraid to talk hard, rising up against the systematic spoon-fed drivel being fed by my generation’s gatekeepers and, secondly, that masturbation isn’t a crime and I should engage in it as much as arm cramps could allow. I took his advice and there was never any doubt as there was something about this fellow; Jack Nicholson had evidently fired off a love child during those sexually fluorescent sixties. I even adored Bruce A. Evans’ notorious Kuffs, and watched it almost as habitually as I spanked my monkey (and I really knew how to give that a shine).
We even forgave him the sweater as the character of Andy allowed Slater to play to his impish strengths exquisitely. Once the scroll’s hieroglyphic curse was recited by Bellingham and the mummy of the ancients was released from his perpetual slumber, it was over to the competent hands of Howard Berger, Greg Nicotero, and Robert Kurtzman and our first taste of some wonderfully grotesque make-up. Lot 249 set the tone rather well considering its played out premise and this was primarily due to some inspired turns from its established young cast.
Lot 249 Judgement: 7/10
Cat from Hell
Romero’s bridge segment paired William Hickey and David Johansen as jumpy wheelchair-bound aristocrat Drogan and the composed hitman tasked with snuffing out his kitten, Halston. Consequently, both men found comfort inside a bottle of gin and became firm drinking buddies, reciting ludicrous anecdotes and engaging in bromancian banter while getting into character. There was no evidence of their foul play once the cameras rolled and Johansen, in particular, showed more than a dash of Dirk Bogarde, personifying his inner monologue like a dab-hand of noir pulp fiction.
Black cats and horror go together like peas and carrots, and Dario Argento offered his own reasoning to never trusting a feline in the very same year, alongside Romero no less, for Two Evil Eyes. Then you have Lewis Teague’s Cat’s Eye, which was itself born of the fiction of King. That cat flap must have been constantly swinging come the latter stages of the decade and Romero’s entry offered more than enough encouragement to become a dog person. Fuck that shit, I only desired to be in with the kitty; observing, prowling, showing up unexpected and casting my ominous shadow. Again, well-played, tense, and ultimately gratifying, Cat From Hell brought absolutely no shame to the game.
Cat From Hell Judgement: 7/10
McDowell returned for the third installment, a stirring interpretation of Lafcadio Hearn’s Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things. It told the tale of down-on-his-luck Preston (James Remar), who unwittingly witnessed a heinous crime committed by a gargoyle on his way home from a heavy session drowning his sorrows. In return for his life being spared, he entered a tryst with the creature whereby he would never again mention the evening’s event to another living soul. To the despondent Preston’s almost eternal credit, he remained purse-lipped and, lo-and-behold, was provided with the ideal distraction in the shape of beautiful stranger Carola (Rae Dawn Chong).
Boasting three syllables which rolled from the tongue like no other during the era, Chong was winding down from a relentless string of hits which included Commando, The Principal, and Fear City and couldn’t have been more diligently cast alongside the wonderfully reflective Remar. She exuded maternal energy and it was fruitless not being mesmerized by her seductive charm and falling just a little in love myself. Their union was bathed in a blue light and full of soft caresses and tender kisses, as opposed to two randy voles drenched in hormones, busting mattress springs and bursting blood vessels. This made the conclusion even more devastating.
The moment where Carola’s humanity was compromised and the vow broken was handled with the utmost respect for our infatuation. We desperately wished for the happy ever after and, once that was no longer an option, McDowell resisted the urge to stamp on our broken hearts and instead cradled them lovingly as it gripped our organs tight and placed our still bodies to the ground. Then the fully transmogrified sobbing winged monstrosity clutched the pair’s offspring and flew off into the night where they became statues forevermore. Lover’s Vow was an emotionally shattering closing segment and effortlessly took its place at the very top table.
Lover’s Vow Judgement: 9/10
After ninety minutes slow-roasting, we returned to Timmy in the pantry and the menu options were altered in typically delicious and typically Creepshow-esque fashion as Betty received her comeuppance at the hands of the resourceful brat. By this point, we were far too busy collecting the scattered shards of our obliterated hearts to pay much attention to our wicked witch receiving her more than justified just desserts but its ending offered a fitting suggestion for how to cook one’s goose.
Wraparound Story Judgement: 7/10
Tales from the Darkside: The Movie was far more deserving of bearing the Creepshow mantle than the risible 2006 misadventure. Like most anthologies there were peaks and troughs but, in its indisputable champion, Lover’s Vow, it possessed a parable capable of catching us utterly off-balance, burrowing much further beneath our skin than was ever expected. Loose lips may have been largely to thank for Timmy sidestepping the baking tray but they also sink ships as attested by the hapless Preston. As for Carola and her brood, whenever I pass a pair of stone gargoyles, I still feel a slight twinge of sadness.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: The macabre latex creations of Berger, Nicotero, and Kurtzman, were predictably on point, particularly during Carola’s transformation. While not overly gruesome, there were a few grue-drenched morsels to savor including unscheduled decapitation, a little throat ripping, and a gluttonous new take on cat food. I’m still not budging you know; Cujo can fuck off with his slobbering rabies, I’d still rather give a cat a home, although perhaps not lodged in my larynx.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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