TFTD Marathon: “Trick or Treat”

31-trick-or-treat

Welcome to the final installment of my “Tales from the Darkside” Marathon! To celebrate today being Halloween, I’m taking a look all the way back at the pilot episode that started it all. While today’s tale features a cranky old man similar to the one in the last episode I covered, this one prefers to play blatant tricks on kids. This is “Trick or Treat.”

Gideon Hackles is known around town for being basically a modern day Scrooge. On Halloween, he likes to hide IOU’s he collects from those in debt to him around his house and rig up scares to make it appear haunted. He then invites kids to scare them as they search for the IOU’s, which if found will wipe away their family’s debt. But on this Halloween, Gideon might be in for a long overdue comeuppance. Will he learn the error of his ways, or will he finally get his just desserts?

As you can easily tell, this is yet another karmic retribution story. This one was written by George Romero himself, and I thought it was done well. It has a creepy atmosphere, especially once Gideon’s haunted house is involved, and the make-up work that pops up later in the episode was amazing. Speaking of the haunted house, I liked how Gideon scared each child with something different every time. It kept the episode from dragging despite taking up the bulk of it. It also seemed like this had a pretty high budget, which worked entirely in its favor.

Only a few of the supporting characters get any major focus, but I will say that I wasn’t all that into the child actors in this. Sure, they did well emoting when they needed to look scared, but none of them are onscreen very long to shine. But Gideon is the main focus anyway, and he literally is like a Halloween version of Scrooge. He goes so far as to get IOUs from everybody and keeps all his money inside a safe in his bathroom because he doesn’t trust banks or clerks. He also gets a kick out of scaring the kids and makes for an easy target to dislike. The actor did a good job portraying him.

If there’s one big gripe I have with the pilot, it’s the twist ending. There’s no real explanation for it and very little build-up as well. It kinda comes out of nowhere and leaves the episode on a somewhat unsatisfying note. Maybe something was implied by it that we’re supposed to interpret, but the payoff wasn’t as karmic as I’d hoped it would be.

Despite that, I can see why “Trick or Treat” helped launch this show. It makes the smart choice by revolving its plot around Halloween, allowing for some great imagery and a good setting to dish out some well-deserved karma. While the supporting actors were hit or miss, Gideon was as unsympathetic as any protagonist in this type of story ought to be. Even though the ending wasn’t my cup of tea, this episode still had more highs than lows.

And with that said, we’ve reached the end of my “Tales from the Darkside” Marathon. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these and experiencing this show with me. It’s easy to think of shows like the “Twilight Zone” or “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” as staples of the anthology genre, but it’s easy to forget the others that tried to continue what they started. While “Tales from the Darkside” turned out to be more of a mixed bag than I’d expected, I’m still glad I gave it a chance. For now, though, I may take a break from blogging until my trip is over. If I get the urge, I may write up a short blog or two. Until then, have a happy Halloween!

TFTD Marathon: “Halloween Candy”

30-halloween-candy

Welcome back to my “Tales from the Darkside” Marathon! Trick or treating is a tradition enjoy by kids of all ages. But every kid has had their own horror story while partaking in it. Maybe you ran into a creepy old house, or were sent away with nothing but healthy food and a toothbrush for your troubles. Today’s tale shows us why you should always be nice to trick or treaters. This is “Halloween Candy.”

Mr. Killup is a cranky old man who torments kids on Halloween by refusing to give them candy. His son, Michael, gets so fed up with having to always deal with the aftermath of pranks that he decides to leave his dad home alone with some candy one Halloween. After turning away a few kids, Mr. Killup gets paid a visit by one apparently dressed like a goblin. However, this goblin this the real deal and he doesn’t like people who deny him candy. Will Mr. Killup finally decide to embrace the holiday, or will the goblin have the last laugh?

I’m going to start by giving you all a fair warning: if you despise bugs, do not watch this episode. The little creepy crawlers show up a few times here and in many different places. That aside, this was a good episode. The plot takes a little time to get going, but it spends just enough time allowing you to see what a miser Mr. Killup is. Once the goblin shows up, it becomes almost nightmarish. Bugs randomly show up, the phone doesn’t ring through to Michael, and it’s perpetually nighttime. It builds a suspenseful atmosphere that doesn’t let up until the very end. The dialogue is pretty good, and the goblin looked fantastic.

As you can expect with a mean protagonist, this story has a bit of karma attached. Mr. Killup just plain hates Halloween, and while you can understand why kids constantly ringing an old man’s doorbell could get annoying, he revels in being known as the meanest guy on the block. He even gives one kid candy, only it’s been mixed in with mayonnaise, honey and glue. That’s even crueler than not giving him anything. What’s good is that while the character could’ve easily been one dimensional, the actor’s performance makes Mr. Killup feel like a believably ornery man. As for Michael, while he’s not in the episode much, he’s appropriately tired of his dad’s behavior. Not just because his dad has a poor attitude, but also because he’s the only forced to deal with the clean-up duty each Halloween after kids prank him. Anyone in his position would be rightfully annoyed, and he at least tries to get his dad in the spirit so his night won’t go horribly.

The twist actually ties in with a few things established during the early scenes between Michael and Mr. Killup, as well as adds to some nightmare flashes he has whenever he tries to sleep. There’s a brief bit of foreshadowing in these flashes, but you don’t get the full context until the end reveal occurs. I felt it was an appropriate and creepy ending to Mr. Killup’s story.

Compared to the last episode, “Halloween Candy” takes a simple idea and makes a compelling story out of it. The characters are fleshed out just enough and are well-acted, the goblin was seen occasionally but looked cool, and the twist ending capped off this creepy little story nicely. I would recommend this one for sure, especially at this time of year or even on Halloween itself. Just be wary of those bugs if you’re not a fan of them.

TFTD Marathon: “The Cutty Black Sow”

29-the-cutty-black-sow

Welcome back to my “Tales from the Darkside” Marathon! One of the great things about folklore is the number of interesting stories born from myths and legends. Some of the greatest involve creatures or wandering spirits, which sometimes gain prominence during the Halloween season. Today’s tale focuses on an evil, legendary spirit. This is “The Cutty Black Sow.”

Jamie’s great grandmother is on her deathbed and could go at any minute. Before she dies, she warns him to protect himself on Halloween from the destructive Scottish spirit known as the Cutty Black Sow. Jamie, having recorded his grandmother’s last words on how to shield himself from the spirit, immediately takes this to heart and makes preparations before Halloween night. Will Jamie be able to keep himself and his family out of harm’s way, or does the Cutty Black Sow have a few tricks up its sleeve?

I have mixed feelings about this episode. I liked the idea of using a folklore tale that is tied to Halloween, and the house is later lit dimly to set the mood. The opening with the great grandmother was rough, as her acting was high-pitched and borderline hammy, but her scene with Jamie later was good if not a little exposition-y. The dialogue is okay for the most part, though there were some parts that made Jamie sound a little too much like an adult rather than a kid. But I thought the make-up on the Cutty Black Sow was lame and the entire ending (more on that later) wasn’t pulled off well. There are even points where bagpipe music is put in either with the great grandmother or to signal that the Cutty Black Sow might pop up. Bagpipe music tends to grate normally, so it was pretty distracting here and took away from the mood some.

Since the great grandmother is mainly for exposition and the parents aren’t a big factor in this, I’ll instead talk about the two kids, Jamie and Gloria. Of the two, I thought Jamie was the better actor, though there were times where he seemed flat in tone and didn’t express all that often. The scene with his great grandmother was probably the best example of him actually expressing an emotion, but he seemed to be going for either calm or dull surprise when things got scary. Still, he was at least tolerable, unlike Gloria. I couldn’t decide if the actress was trying to emote or just couldn’t act. The only emotion I tended to get from her was semi-screechy whining, but thankfully this episode focuses more on Jamie so she’s in the background more often than not.

As for that ending I mentioned… I hate to say it, but it was pretty bad. One of the issues with the episode is that we learn how to protect against the Cutty Black Sow, but there’s not a lot of history given about it. We learn it’s a mean, destructive spirit that likes to wreak havoc on Halloween and will destroy anyone who’s not protected, but I would’ve liked just a bit more to consider it a bigger threat. I’m not even sure I can consider what happens at the very end an actual twist because of that lack of insight. In fact, it actually left me confused.

Unfortunately, I can’t recommend “The Cutty Black Sow.” I liked the atmosphere they set up and the legend was interesting for what little we got. The acting was sometimes wooden but alright and the characters were fine. But the story could’ve used some fine tuning and that “twist” ending was poorly executed. I’ve still got two more Halloween-themed episodes to check out, so hopefully those will fare better.

TFTD Marathon: “Hush”

28-hush

Welcome back to my “Tales from the Darkside” Marathon! Inventions gone awry is a staple in mad scientist stories. Even if they’re made with good intentions, something usually goes wrong to make them cause chaos. Today’s tale is about such an invention courtesy of a well-meaning little boy. This is “Hush.”

Jennifer is called over to babysit Beth Warren’s son, Buddy. Buddy is a tinkerer and has taken a shine to building things in his dad’s workshop. His latest little invention is a noise eater which can make stuff like noisy toys go quiet by clamping down on them. However, the noise eater ends up destroying its remote control, and Jennifer and Buddy quickly discover that doesn’t make things quiet but actually the energy out of them instead. And unless they keep quiet, they’ll be next. Will they survive the night, or will the machine win in the end?

This episode had the right idea but not enough of a budget to quite pull it off. The dialogue here is fine, but once the plot really kicks off, it mostly becomes a slow game of hide and seek. The only way Jennifer and Buddy are able to fend the noise eater off is by continuously causing distractions so Jennifer can damage its motor enough. This does make the episode a slow burn, though it at least tries to set up a creepy atmosphere with it.

As characters, Jennifer and Buddy were your typical teenage girl and kid respectfully. While I can’t stand the stereotype of the babysitter chatting on the phone, it only happens once here and isn’t lingered on for too long. Jennifer is protective once the situation calls for it, though I did call into question why she only stood around and watched as the noise eater later attacks Beth. You know, instead of attacking it like they planned she would. Buddy doesn’t get to do much once the episode becomes all about their survival, and he has an annoying cough that plays into their distractions more than once. Aside from that, I thought the child actor wasn’t too bad.

The weirdest thing about this episode is that there’s literally no twist. The ending is abrupt and straightforward. However, that wasn’t an issue for me. My biggest gripe of the entire episode is that the noise eater just isn’t scary. Sure, it’s supposed to LOOK scary with its round, teeth-filled style mouth, but it’s basically a mini-vacuum with an alien/worm-like mouth on the end. Given a higher budget and more resources, it could have worked with the energy-sucking idea, but I just couldn’t take it seriously enough to feel it was a threat. They do try their best to show its potential by having it kill both Beth and her pet bird, but it didn’t quite work for me.

Honestly, I wish the noise eater wasn’t in “Hush.” If they had chosen to make it a creature or alien, chances are it would have been a lot scarier. However, it brings down what was otherwise an interesting idea. The acting’s fine and the characters are decent if unmemorable, and there is a tinge of atmosphere here. But it’s hard to take your main threat seriously when it looks like I could clean my house with it. I’d say this one could be skipped.

TFTD Marathon: “The Last Car”

27-the-last-car

Welcome back to my “Tales from the Darkside” Marathon! For many people, taking a trip can be a long, arduous journey. Whether it’s by car, plane, bus or train, one of the main thoughts most of us have is if we’ll arrive safely at our destination. Today’s tale features a young woman looking to do just that by taking the last train home. This is “The Last Car.”

Stacey manages to get on a train to try to make it home for Thanksgiving. On it, she comes across some odd passengers: an elderly man and woman and a little boy dressed as a cowboy. Weird things start happening and Stacey can tell something’s not right with the train. She begins to suspect that she’s hopped on the wrong train. Is she correct, or is this train heading to the right destination after all?

This episode honestly felt like something you’d see on the “Twilight Zone”, and I’d even say it lives up to that show’s quality. There’s a lot of surrealism that takes place once Stacey boards the train, and it’s further shown whenever they approach a tunnel. Some of the imagery used is very creepy and there are some decent uses of puppetry as well. Even the dialogue of the other passengers has a surreal tone to it to match the style of the episode.

The passengers don’t have any backstory to speak of, but each one has their own quirks. The old lady loves knitting and acts kindly towards Stacey. In doing so, she’s also easily comes across as the creepiest of the bunch. The old man loves to sleep and is obsessed with offering people sandwiches of their choice. He seems to be able to fulfill any request, including when Stacey asks him for a cup of hummus. Finally, the little boy is obnoxious, and he’s constantly seen wearing a costume of some kind. The most annoying thing about him besides his personality is that each costume he wears also has some sort of toy gun, and him constantly firing them got annoying immediately. Stacey is basically the audience surrogate here as she tries to figure out what’s going on and gets frustrated when nobody offers her any concrete answers. I thought the actress did a fine job overall.

The twist doesn’t give you a definitive answer to what’s going on, but instead offers up ideas and leaves the rest to your imagination. If there’s anything I never thought I’d both praise and criticize, it would be that. The mystery keeps the episode memorable, but just like Stacey, I would’ve killed to get SOME sort of answer to what was going on. Still, it did make me come up with an interpretation, so at the very least it’s an episode that would make a great discussion.

I can’t believe it took me this long to get to “The Last Car.” It has a story that’s atmosphere is both surreal and creepy, characters who only add to that, and a twist that is ultimately left up to your own interpretation. This is by far one of my favorites if only because of the impression it left on me. Definitely give this one a watch if you want to jump into this show.

TFTD Marathon: “The Geezenstacks”

26-the-geezenstacks

Welcome back to my “Tales from the Darkside” Marathon! The use of toys and dolls in horror is often a good way to take something innocent and turn it into a nightmare. Dolls can be especially effective because of the human appearance. Today’s tale looks at an apparently innocent family of dolls. This is “The Geezenstacks.”

Audrey Hummel is a little girl who loves playing with dolls. So, her uncle Richard surprises her with a dollhouse that houses a set of dolls she names the Geezenstacks. Over time, her father, Sam, notices that events happening within his family also appears to be happening with the dolls. At first, Sam chalks this up to mere coincidence, but the parallels soon begin to pile up even more. Is it all really just a huge coincidence, or could the dolls be predicting the family’s fate?

This episode was pretty good overall. The strength of it comes from Sam’s eventual paranoia over the dolls because it leaves you conflicted about everything being a coincidence or not. The dolls and dollhouse look both innocent and creepy at the same time, and most of the creepy story elements comes from how Audrey describes situations the dolls are in. They get more disturbing as the episode goes on and only fuels Sam’s paranoia even more. What’s interesting is that the story starts off a little quirky and over time becomes moodier. The plot does feel a bit rushed towards the end, but overall the pacing is fine.

Since Richard and the mother, Edith, are pretty standard as characters go, I’m going to focus on Sam and Audrey as the episode gives them the most screen time. As I mentioned, one of the strong points to the episode and to his character is Sam growing increasingly paranoid. He becomes fixated on the dolls and how they seem to reflect and even predict events in his life before they happen. I thought his performance was effective overall. As for Audrey… Well, I’ve said before that child actors are usually hit or miss for me (mostly miss). Unfortunately, aside from her describing the dolls, I couldn’t get into the actress’s performance. She sounded like she overemphasized her words and didn’t come off natural. Plus, they made the decision to have Audrey play violin twice in the episode, including the very first shot. She plays it VERY badly. Any time she was onscreen, it was just borderline painful for me to sit through.

There’s pretty much a twist within in a twist in this one. The initial twist is easy to guess as the episode gives you pretty obvious hints not long into it, but the secondary twist was a bit…confusing. It’s one of those twists where at first it seems unexpected, but when you think about it afterwards, it doesn’t make much sense with what the first twist sets up. I still liked the ending, but it could’ve used just a dash of polish.

Despite some flaws, “The Geezenstacks” was an interesting, atmospheric episode. The paranoid feel to it helps both the plot and Sam’s character, the premise is cool and creepy, and despite some confusion, the twist ending worked for me. Check it out if you’re looking for a proper paranoia story or would like a different take on the creepy dolls cliche.

TFTD Marathon: “Monsters in My Room”

25-monsters-in-my-room

Welcome to my “Tales from the Darkside” Marathon! Many kids go through a phase where they think there are monsters in their bedroom. Maybe they’re hiding in the closet, or under the bed, or lurking right outside the window. Today’s tale plays off that fear that many kids have felt. This is “Monsters in My Room.”

Since marrying his new wife, Helen, Biff has been trying to adjust to life as a stepfather and is failing miserably. He constantly tries to get Helen’s son, Timmy, interested in sports but Timmy couldn’t care less about them. Timmy’s also cautious about going to bed every night unless he checks for monsters in his bedroom. One night, he suddenly sees a bunch of monsters in his room, though he’s unsure if they’re real or not. Will Timmy be able to face his fears, or did he have every reason to be cautious?

This was a really good episode. The premise is simple, and while it takes a little while to actually get to the monsters, it was a good little coming of age story with a dash of karma thrown in. You’re left guessing until close to the end on whether the monsters are real or imaginary, and the make-up and effects (I assume done with some puppetry) were some of the best I’ve seen from this show yet. The dialogue could be a little outdated at times, but it was backed up by some decent acting.

For what’s shown, I liked the mother-son relationship between Helen and Timmy. She comes across as a stern but kind mom who even sings her kid to sleep every night. Timmy (played by a very young Seth Green) was a believable kid and actually didn’t annoy. While Green still needed to hone his acting chops and he sometimes got a tad screechy here, his character was done well enough that I didn’t mind. What I DID mind was Biff’s character. This guy was a complete jerk. I get that they wanted to make a stepdad who’s not good with kids, but this guy constantly acts like Timmy’s not manly enough for a boy, tries to push him into liking the stuff he likes, gets him to try a sip of beer, AND even threatens and nearly goes through with paddling him. He was easily the least interesting performance, even though he gets more screen time than Helen.

I thought the twist for this one was satisfying and appropriate, though you can definitely see it coming before it happens. The only thing that seemed slightly off was Timmy’s reaction to it, if only because I thought it would’ve still traumatized him a bit. Still, the intention could have been that he was in shock, so that’s a minor nitpick at best.

I’m happy to say that “Monsters in My Room” is worth a watch. It’s got some decent acting, good pacing, a fun and creepy premise, and the twist is pretty much perfect for a story like this. If you’ve ever gone through the monster phase as a kid or just want a good tale surrounding it, this is the episode for you.