Comprehensive Comments on “Tales From the Darkside: Disk 4”

I did not know what I was getting into.

I made a mistake that I’ve made before, which is looked at one cover and noted that there were two seasons and six disks there, and so assumed that that was the entire run of the show.  Of course, the other cover also had two seasons and six more disks, which I discovered when I noted while starting this disk that there seemed to be an awful lot of disks left in the pack of there were only two disks left that had actual episodes.  So instead of six disks there are twelve, although some of the later ones only have seven episodes instead of eight, so that will be a help.  But this does mean that if I finish this off there will be posts for twelve weeks instead of for six … or, rather, fourteen and eight, given that I split two episodes out into their own posts.  It looks like an even better idea that I’m offloading these posts to Saturdays.  An another advantage is that so far there aren’t really any new episodes that I want to split out into their own posts, making posting a bit easier.

This disk is the first one in the second season, and so far this season seems to be them moving a bit away from horror stories to focus more on simply weird stories, that may or may not be horrific, which puts it far more in the vein of a show like “The Twilight Zone”.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing if the stories work, and it’s not like the previous season was all that great at horror, but when the stories are more upbeat and even have happy endings it makes the intro narration and especially the ending narration that focuses on being really creepy seem a bit out of place.  I wouldn’t comment on it but especially the ending narration really was out of place in some cases so that it was noticeable.

The first episode is “The Impressionist”, where a struggling but skilled impressionist is recruited by a government agency to work with an alien that they’ve discovered who seems to get upset if the person talking to them is not in sync with their actions.  So he studies the alien and tries to imitate it, but makes the mistake of looking to the people behind the mirror which upsets the alien.  He begs for the chance to try again and, when denied, storms in himself and manages to make it work.  Later, he’s walking along and sees a bright light, which turns out to be the alien who takes his hand and takes him into the spaceship, presumably to take him to their planet.

This episode is mostly nonsensical.  First, it is odd that the impressionist goes with the agent just from seeing a badge despite not wanting to go and not wanting to get involved.  Second, we don’t learn anything about why the aliens are this way.  We also don’t learn if the government got the information they needed and what that actually was (there is a hint at fusion power but that’s never followed up on).  And we also don’t ever figure out why the impressionist seems so happy to go with the alien at the end and why that seems like such a happy ending for him.  So this episode really comes across to me as “Stuff happens and the guy goes off to another planet”, which is hardly compelling television, even though the performances are fine.

The second episode is “Lifebomb”, where a wealthy businessman with heart trouble is approached with an offer of a “Lifebomb”, which is a state-of-the-art medical device that deploys if something terrible happens and has all sorts of things in it to keep him alive until help can come.  He eventually comes around to accepting it, but his wife keeps bugging him about slowing down and spending more time with her, but he needs to keep running his business, which gets him upset, which causes him to have a heart attack.  The Lifebomb saves him , but when he still won’t slow down his wife threatens to leave him and when he stops discussing it with her to talk to a senator she leaves him, and all of the stress gives him another heart attack.  Awakening in a hospital bed, he is depressed and wants to die, but the salesman notes that this is being paid by his insurance companies to avoid them having to pay out his death benefits, and so he can’t.

Not much really happens in this episode, which is a but of a theme in this season, but the big issue here is the ending.  It isn’t clear why he so wants to die, other than that his wife left him.  If they had made it clear that they could keep him alive but that he wouldn’t necessarily have quality of life — he might end up stuck in that bed forever, for example — then it could have been horrific, but if he was able to walk out of the hospital at some point he could go and apologize to his wife and actually slow down, which would fix the big thing that Lifebomb cost him, especially since while she doesn’t like the thing sticking out of his back it doesn’t seem like she wanted him for his money or death benefits.  So it tries to end with this being a fate worse than death but doesn’t spend enough time establishing that,

The third episode is “Ring Around the Redhead”, where an inmate on Death Row tells his story to a reporter.  He’s an inventor who ends up with a strange kinda volcano thing with a ring on it coming out of his basement, and by moving the ring he can see into other dimensions.  He starts exploring them, and eventually discovers some perfect rubies and shows them to a friend of his, who thinks that strip mining these dimensions is the way to go, but the inventor refuses.  Later, he finds a woman who somehow became entangled on his grappling hook, and as the ring has moved he can’t figure out where she was from originally.  He teaches her his language which she picks up very quickly and he falls in love with her.  His friend returns and steals the ring, but then comes back later with a horrible story about what some other denizens did to him.  The friend ends up dead, the girl disappears, and he’s on Death Row.  However, right at the point where he is about to be executed the girl returns to take him to her dimension, where invention happens all of the time, and the journalist calls her editor calling this the story of a lifetime.

As noted before, not much happens here, and as it has a happy ending it’s not at all horrific which clashes with the narration.  It’s also not clear why his being an inventor is so important here.  Overall, it wasn’t a terrible episode but there isn’t much at all to say about it, which again is not a good thing.

The fourth episode is “Parlour Floor Front”, where a young couple is renovating an old and large building but are upset because the parlour room is occupied by someone that they can’t get rid of and they also can’t significantly raise his rent because of rent control.  He notes to a friend that he’d leave if he had somewhere to go, and ends up offering to help them, which means that the husband drafts him as a labourer, where the husband starts to like him while the wife — who was always more upset and angry about the situation — is still not happy.  They also discover that the tenant practices some kind of voodoo, and the wife wants to see if they can find a way to use that against him.  Later, he’s carrying in an expensive and one-of-a-kind vase that he drops, and the wife tears into him over that.  He then casts a curse saying that if he was responsible the curse would be on him but if not it would be on who was really responsible.  The wife starts to get worried because he tripped over a paint can that she left on the floor and that’s why the vase was dropped, and then her husband hurts his wrist, their cat dies, and she falls off a ladder and claims that she was pulled off of it.  She also tells her husband that she’s pregnant, but it seems like she’s lost the baby from the fall off the ladder.  She then goes to the tenant and insists that he lift the curse, and gives him her ring because he is always paid in gold.  This freaks out the tenant and makes him think that he really is cursed, so he hangs himself.  The showing for the dead body is in the parlour, and the husband discovers the ring in the coffin, as all of the cursed gold he collected has to be buried with him.  The husband mentions this to the wife, and then discovers that she arranged all of that, including killing their cat, as a way to get the tenant to leave.  The husband leaves and the wife, not wanting the ring to be buried with him, sneaks down and steals it, under the watchful eye of his friend who watches her take it but pretends to be asleep.  Later, the body gets out of the coffin and stomps upstairs, demanding his ring back, finally taking it from the wife and, presumably, killing her in the process.

This episode doesn’t really hang together, because it doesn’t seem to be able to decide what story it wants to tell.  About the only thing that’s consistent is that the wife is totally unsympathetic, which then makes it bad that she is the only one really threatened. The ending is especially bad, because it would make more sense given the character of the tenant that he wants to ring back because of the evil associated with it and what that would do if not buried than that he considered some sort of prized possession when he didn’t want to take it in the first place.  This episode really needed a consistent story to make it work, because the clash itself could be interesting but the story as written is just confusing.

The fifth episode is “Halloween Candy”, where an old and cantankerous man is talking to his son on Halloween, refusing to give out candy despite the fact that he didn’t do it last year and was pranked.  The son leaves candy for him and tells him to give it out, but of course he doesn’t and even tries to scare off and play pranks on the kids himself.  At the end of the day, a strange kid rings the bell and in a deep voice demands “Trick or Treat”, scaring the old man but eventually going away.  Time also seems to stop as the phone keeps saying that it’s midnight.  The strange creature also left his bad around and bugs seem to be spreading out from it.  The old man gets hungry and finds bugs in the kitchen, and then again when he drinks some water.  Eventually, the creature comes in again and knocks him down in a scene that was hinted at in the dreams of the old man.  The next evening, the son returns and finds him there, and calls the police, who tell him that the old man starved to death and looked like he was trying to survive for weeks on only a bag of Halloween candy.

The episode confuses itself by hinting that the old man was always hungry and always wants to eat, but then tries to make his starving to death a consequence of that one night’s time stop, and also has to toss in that it looks like elder neglect.  There’s also a big focus on the events of the night, but they drag quite a bit and so it isn’t interesting.  While we don’t really need to know why the creature does what it does, we really would like to know what it did, especially since the episode implies that it killed the old man directly instead of leaving him to starve.  So this is a pretty confusing episode that doesn’t really do anything else all that well, except for having a couple of decent scares.

The sixth episode is “The Satanic Piano”, where a very successful composer is trying to get a new contract with his label who are holding out against him and are saying that they don’t like his new pieces, which causes him issues and to ignore his musically talented daughter.  He gets a strange call offering him a new type of piano that can help him, and when he goes to meet the strange person he discovers that it can play music based on his thoughts.  He takes it home and plays with it, and his daughter does as well.  He finds out from his manager that the person he talked to was associated with a Satanic group, and the inventor has also decided that he is not the one, but that the daughter is.  We previously discovered that a previous attempt resulted in the death of someone but didn’t fulfill his goals.  Anyway, the daughter and machine disappear, and the musician tracks them down where the guy originally showed the musician the machine.  Inside, he finds the guy draining his daughter’s soul to get some kind of power, and so he tries to shut it down and ends up hurting his hand.  Eventually, he interrupts the procedure by interposing his music through his thoughts into hers, and the machine explodes, and the father and daughter leave together, reunited.

Again, an episode where not much happens.  The performances aren’t bad — and Lisa Bonet plays the daughter — but there just isn’t really much here to grab onto.  It isn’t particularly scary and we don’t get a particularly interesting redemption arc and story.  It could have been good but it just needed a bit more.

The seventh episode is “The Devil’s Advocate”, where a guy who hosts a radio show where he pretty much just berates his listeners comes into the studio and is mostly ignored by the tech and rants about how the police found a dead person in his car, so he had to walk.  Then he goes into his schtick, which is pretty much depressing and insulting.  He reveals that his mother, father, wife and son all died tragically, which is why he keeps saying that he’s given up.  His tech in general ignores him and eventually disappears, and then the calls that are coming in seem to be from the past and who are hearing him without a phone or radio.  Eventually, he finds himself sealed in and then the Devil himself starts talking to him, congratulating him for being such a good advocate and bringing many people to the Devil, and the end of the episode has him with a full switchboard, still being “The Devil’s Advocate” for all of eternity.

This is another episode from George A. Romero, and like “Trick or Treat” it’s an episode that’s a good idea but that isn’t executed all that well.  The idea of him as a real Devil’s Advocate or as a Job who failed his test is a good one, but the episode never really establishes how he brought people to the Devil.  And the sad thing is that they had lots of room to do that, for two reasons.  The first reason is that, as noted, they did actually have the Devil show up to provide exposition, which would have been a wonderful opportunity to go into some detail there.  And the second reason is that the episode spends a lot of time letting us listen to “The Devil’s Advocate” rant, with some things highlighted — like his spilling milk on the meter — that are never really used, and so it spends a lot of time on things that don’t add much.   As it is, the idea isn’t developed enough to be really interesting and the episode seems oddly a bit too long for the idea they actually did develop.

The eighth episode is “Distant Signals”, where an agent is approached by a strange man who wants to recruit the writer and star of an old and unlamented show to write six more episodes to finish it off, as it was cancelled part way through the last season.  He insists that it was the greatest show ever and was mythic, and wins everyone over by paying them lots of gold.  The former lead actor has now become a drunk, and has a lot of problems getting back into acting, but the patron helps him accept that, and the actor gives a wonderful performance.  The final episode and resolution to the mystery of the lead character’s amnesia thrills the patron, and he promises that millions of people will watch it somewhere far, far away.  The writer and actor talk about it, and the actor says that the patron came from an alien world far away where they have just now discovered that it was cancelled, and that it’s likely an important story for them.

“Futurama” did the same thing later, in a more comedic episode but also in one that was a better and more entertaining episode.  As the story of a writer and actor recovering through a revival of an old show, it’s not bad, but it’s trying to talk about weird things and so has to insert the alien plot, which doesn’t really add anything.  This is another case where inserting the weird or horrifying aspects doesn’t add anything to the story and seems shoehorned in.

So far, season 2 is mostly inoffensive.  I don’t find myself absolutely hating episodes, as I did in the first season.  But I’m not enjoying them either.  The best reaction they get from me is “Meh”, and it ranges down to “This is kinda stupid”.  But I have two more disks and two more seasons of this, so we’ll have to see if it manages to improve.

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