The second disc of Tales from the Darkside season two opens in a rather unfortunate spot, with the mostly un-funny comedy episode “The Trouble with Mary Jane.” While this Exorcist spoof sports some star power in the form of both Phyllis Diller and Lawrence Tierney seven years before Reservoir Dogs, the jokes (from Tales from the Darkside regular Edithe Swensen) mostly fall flat.
“Ursa Minor” is a (ahem) minor improvement, a story about a little girl and her evil teddy bear that features a starring turn from ‘90s mainstay Timothy Carhart (the violinist in Ghostbusters) as her alcoholic dad, plus a nice monster bit just before the end credits. It’s nowhere near the high points of the beginning of the season, but it’s a nicely horrific change of pace from the deflated comedy of the episode before.
The next episode is a rather perfunctory piece about the nature of reality that’s notable mainly for starring former would-be ingenue Susan Strasberg (Scream of Fear). It’s also the directorial debut of Mark Jean, who would go on to helm about a million of those Hallmark romance movies. Of greater interest to monster fanatics like myself is “Monsters in My Room,” which stars a very young Seth Green as Timmy, a boy whose conflict with his stepfather (who is pretty much toxic masculinity in human form) is exacerbated – and then ultimately solved – by the eponymous monsters that live in his room.
What monsters are those, I hear you asking. There’s an ogre-like boogeyman in the closet, a frog-eyed thing with tentacles under the bed, and, inexplicably, a giant buzz saw that moves along the floor. Before all is said and done, there’s also a “terrible witch.” None of them are any great shakes, though the silhouetted shots of the octopus under the bed where you can just see its glowing eyes are nice.
What follows is a marginal improvement over most of the comedic episodes thus far, a nonetheless still forgettable little tale about an amateur astronomer looking to get a glimpse of Halley’s Comet who gets more than he bargained for. The astronomer in question is played by Anthony Heald, Silence of the Lambs’ own Dr. Chilton, while Fritz Weaver makes his return to the show (we previously saw him in the season one classic “Inside the Closet”) as Sir Edmund Halley himself, who visits our protagonist through his telescope, in pursuit of a young woman from 75 years earlier. It’s yet another episode that would have probably felt more at home in a show like Amazing Stories, as it features no actual horror element.
Unfortunately, the string of also-rans continues with a couple of the show’s more pointless episodes to date. In fact, the Tales from the Darkside wiki cites “Dream Girl” as “considered to be one of the more confusing episodes by many fans.” I would call it less confusing than, as I said, merely pointless, as Jon Cedar, Carolyn Seymour, and Lou Cutell star in a story about a stagehand who somehow traps those who have wronged him in his dream.
“New Lease on Life” shows somewhat more promise, complete with another teleplay by Michael McDowell and a supporting turn by ‘50s star Marie Windsor. Unfortunately, its idea of an apartment building with an appetite – that is maybe also a dragon – is never really realized fully enough. You can, perhaps, lay the blame at the feet of director John Strysik, who helmed the episode “Anniversary Dinner” back in season one and has several more to go before the show is done, but I think it’s ultimately just a bit undercooked, overall.
A mild improvement is “Printer’s Devil,” the episode that closes out this disc of the DVD set. Directed by series regular John Harrison, it’s a “be careful what you wish for” story that takes a page from Conjure Wife and posits that all the good literary agents use black magic to aid their clients. “Did you think talent had anything to do with it?” the sinister agent asks his newest customer.
While Larry Manetti may get top billing, it’s Charles Knapp as the obese agent who steals the show this episode. His convivial yet sinister and worldly performance is a bright spot in what is, frankly, something of a lackluster batch of episodes. While season two may have come in like a lion, it seems to be proceeding like one of the unfortunate lambs that our put-upon writer has to sacrifice in order to stay on top of the game. Hopefully, this is not all indicative of things to come…
That’s it for tonight. Join us next time as we see if we can plumb the depths of the second season of Tales from the Darkside and hope it can reach some of its early-season heights once again. Until then, try to enjoy the daylight…
Besides his work as Monster Ambassador here at Signal Horizon, Orrin Grey is the author of several books about monsters, ghosts, and sometimes the ghosts of monsters, and a film writer with bylines at Unwinnable and others. His stories have appeared in dozens of anthologies, including Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year and he is the author of two collections of essays on vintage horror film.