Even after being turned into a feature film and nearly being rebooted for the CW this past year, Tales from the Darkside is an anthology show that I still think never got the credit it deserved. It hasn’t had the time to build a lasting legacy like The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits. It never became the pop culture sensation that Tales from the Crypt did. Even though you can still catch Darkside re-airing from time to time, it doesn’t have the same kind of reverence for a huge section of the horror community the way that those other shows do.
For many of us, it’s just something that we caught at the right time to leave a lasting impact. As a huge fan of Creepshow, I can definitely see the fingerprints of that movie all over this series. You still have the intact trio of Romero, King and Savini that made Creepshow work as well as it did, even if the show doesn’t always have all three of them at once.
There were episodes I saw that terrified me as a kid and still creep me out to this day. Even when Chiller began re-airing episodes, having not seen the show in years, I would still feel exactly the same thing I’d felt watching it as a child. Like all shows, not every episode is a winner. But the ones that really stand out feel that much more successful because of that.
“Trick or Treat”
I love that Tales from the Darkside gave us multiple Halloween-themed episodes and that they were usually among the best of the series. This one also gets points for being an exceptional pilot, written by Romero himself. The plot is archetypal and that’s why it works. It’s about an old man who everyone owes money to, who forces children through a grueling haunted house to try and pay off their parents’ debts. Of course, he gets a surprise trick or treater who changes all of that.
Tom Savini designed such an unsettling creature for this episode that it kind of became the face of the series. It’s the monster you’ll see on most DVD collections, even the new full-series collection. It’s even so scary that people tend to forget that the monster actually turns out to be relatively harmless by the end of the episode. That’s how scary this little demon is.
“The Devil’s Advocate”
Jerry Stiller, father of Ben Stiller, plays a cranky conservative radio host very much in the vein of Rush Limbaugh. As his show goes on, he begins to transform into an actual monster. It’s simple, but it works. And it’s also a credit to Stiller’s acting because the whole episode is essentially just him alone in a room.
“The New Man”
This one’s not so overtly scary. It’s actually more of a mind game, where a recovering alcoholic sees a young boy stumble into his workplace, claiming to be his son. He insists that he’s never seen this kid before but everyone, especially the man’s wife, claims he’s been there the whole time. It’s one of the most engaging episodes with a simple but extremely effective ending.
There’s something very primitive about the idea of a toy, a child’s plaything, doing very bad things. It’s an idea that’s really never stopped working. From Twilight Zone’s Talky Tina down to Chucky, Puppet Master, Dolly Dearest and so many more. This one’s about a killer teddy bear and it really works. The best thing about this episode is how far out of their way the parents go to not believe that the bear is alive.
“Monsters in my Room”
A young Seth Green is afraid of the dark, afraid of what’s under his bed, what’s in his closet… he’s pretty much afraid of everything. He gets no sympathy for it, either, which is a problem because his room actually is full of monsters. But that’s what turns it into a great story about facing your childhood fears.
This is incredibly similar to the pilot in many ways as it still focuses on a cranky old man and a ghoulish trick-or-treater. But it’s a better episode. It’s scary because the goblin design is haunting. It’s one of the best creations Tom Savini ever came up with. But it’s also scary because the man’s being tormented by this ghoul on a night that seems to never end. It just goes on forever.
“The Cutty Black Sow”
This is considered by many to be the best episode of the show and, once again, it’s set on Halloween. It’s got a great concept. It’s got an incredibly spooky monster. Those are the two things you really need for an episode of Tales from the Darkside to work. It’s about a demon that steals the souls of those who die on Halloween, and now a boy has to stop it from stealing the soul of his dying grandmother.