Welcome to Commentary Commentary, where we sit and listen to filmmakers talk about their work, then share the most interesting parts. In this edition, Rob Hunter revisits the commentary for a horror anthology based on an underrated television show, Tales from the Darkside: The Movie.
Creepshow and Tales from the Crypt are the big names in horror anthology movies, but there are plenty of others ready and willing to deliver the thrills if you give them the chance. One of the more entertaining entries over the years is 1990’s big screen adaptation of a TV cult hit.
Director John Harrison sat down a decade after the film’s release to record a commentary track, and he brought along an old friend — the legendary George Romero — who also wrote one of the segments. So of course we gave it a listen. Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary track for Tales from the Darkside: The Movie.
Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990)
Commentators: John Harrison (director/composer), George Romero (writer/legend)
1. Most of the film was filmed just outside New York City including sets built in an unused high school in Yonkers.
2. Romero asks why Harrison went with a more elaborate wraparound story as opposed to a host (as in Night Gallery or Tales from the Crypt), and Harrison replies that Creepshow was his inspiration. It’s a nice compliment to his co-commentator, but he adds that he prefers something that ties the individual tales together.
3. “Lot 249” is the first segment and stars Christian Slater, and it’s not his first stab at the world of Tales from the Darkside. One of his earliest acting jobs was in an episode from the show’s first season. “I wish I remembered the name of the episode,” says Harrison. Ooh, ooh, I know it! “A Case of the Stubborns” is a great episode and based on a story by Robert Bloch (Psycho).
4. Harrison mentions how the differing segments have different tones by design, and Romero adds “that’s the fun thing about an anthology, that you can play around.” He initially wanted something similar for Creepshow, but they ultimately worked to maintain the same feel as it’s all part of a comic.
5. “There’s a prejudice against anthologies,” says Romero, “and I don’t understand it.” He goes on to explain how even something like Jaws is episodic as it moves from smaller scares and beats to different ones. Each segment or set-piece works to compliment the whole.
6. Romero sings the praises of horror/comedies adding that for the longest time filmmakers had to lean broad with the laughs to make it clear to audiences.
7. The character at 19:40 is watching Romero’s Night of the Living Dead on the television. “I thought I recognized that little cut of music,” says Romero.
8. Romero says that while filming on sets is theoretically meant to make the process faster it rarely works out that way.
9. They both love Ridley Scott’s Alien.
10. That’s Ralph Marrero driving the cab. He co-starred in Romero’s Day of the Dead and died a year after this film in a car accident.
11. The stories as scripted are in a different order in the film itself. Changes were made after early screenings to adjust for tone and pacing.
12. “The Cat from Hell” segment was filmed at a New York mansion that was owned by the Italian government once upon a time. Benito Mussolini would apparently stay while on visits to America. “Is he hanging around there somewhere?” asks a cheeky Romero.
13. Harrison asks Romero if he recalls where King’s short story originated, but he can’t recall. But I can! It first premiered in a men’s magazine back in the 70s — they printed the first part of it and asked readers to finish the tale, and then the next issue included both the winning entry and King’s actual ending. The story popped up in a handful of multi-author anthologies over the years before finally landing in one of King’s own collections.
14. The segment ends with the cat exiting from David Johansen’s mouth, and it reminds Romero of how the studio forced him to include a “shock” scene in his film Monkey Shines showing the monkey clawing its way out of a character’s back.
15. The NYC rooftop opening to the “Lover’s Vow” segment was accomplished via miniatures.
16. Harrison composed the score for this last segment, and it’s a reminder that his Day of the Dead score is fantastic.
17. “One of the scariest things I’ve ever seen is the end of 2001,” says Romero as part of a conversation regarding expectations when it comes to what horror films “must have” to be horror and scary.
18. Harrison says he received push back in his casting of Rae Dawn Chong as James Remar’s lover because of the inter-racial element. Romero wonders from who, “or shouldn’t I ask in this room.” The director isn’t naming names, but he says people questioned pairing the two off without some narrative element explaining why a Black woman and a white man would be together. This was 1990, people.
19. The two discuss the ambitious gargoyle design, courtesy of KNB EFX Group, and agree that you have to aim high and see what can be accomplished. “You have to stretch,” says Romero, “and I think too many people go the other way.”
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“I am the cat from hell, man.”
“This guy here, he deserved it.”
“She’s such a cold-hearted bitch, there’s almost something she appreciates about the mummy.”
“Working with the cat was no fun.”
“Were you pushing that cat through the wall?!”
“Career is an anthology.”
Harrison and Romero were longtime friends and collaborators by the time they recorded this commentary for Tales from the Darkside: The Movie, and that shorthand is evident. It doesn’t hurt the commentary, necessarily, but it feels at times as if elements are left unsaid as they both already know what the other is thinking. Still, they offer some anecdotes and information along the way. The bigger draw here is their enthusiasm — especially Romero’s — for the independent spirit that powers young filmmakers working without a studio safety net. It’s an encouraging track.
Read more Commentary Commentary from the archives.