Tales from the Darkside Part Four – Ghouls & Goblins
The second season of Tales from the Darkside starts off strong with “The Impressionist.” Frequent voice actor Chuck McCann plays a popular – if outdated – nightclub performer whose stand-up act involves doing celebrity impersonations primarily from Hollywood’s golden age. He is approached by a twitchy government agent (played by the “Greed” victim from Seven) and blackmailed to help communicate with an alien visitor named Hoffgosh, who knows the secret to nuclear fusion.
Directed by Armand Mastroianni – a familiar name from our jaunt through Friday the 13th: The Series, not to mention prior Tales from the Darkside episodes – the star of this show is Hoffgosh himself, played under the rubber suit by Claudia Templeton, who was also in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Trick or Treat, and Maniac Cop 3, to name a few, all in more human guise. The suit work is fine, but it’s really the suit itself that sells it, as Hoffgosh is both a throwback to ‘50s alien invasion flicks and a pretty effective-looking critter in his own right.
“The Impressionist” was adapted from a short story by fantasy novelist M. Coleman Easton, even though it, like the episode that follows it, has a decidedly more science fictional bent. “Lifebomb” was penned by Michael Kube-McDowell – not to be confused with the Michael McDowell who has contributed several other episodes to this series. Kube-McDowell tends to write more science fiction-tinged tales, such as season one’s “Slippage.” This one is a “sting-in-the-tail” type story about a man who invests in a kind of insurance policy designed to keep him alive, no matter what. While not a lot to write home about on its own, its criticism of insurance companies is nice.
Next up, John Heard encounters a redhead from another dimension (Penelope Ann Miller) and then Academy Award-nominee Adolph Caesar goes up against a pair of gentrifiers in “Parlour Floor Front.” It’s a solid episode, penned by Carole Lucia Satrina, who previously wrote two other good episodes in season one, “The Odds” and “In the Cards,” and it features one of the series’ most wicked villain turns so far, once the full extent of what’s been going on is revealed.
We’re going to move along, though, because we’re only about halfway through this disc and we need to talk about “Halloween Candy.” The second episode in the series so far set on Halloween night and centered around a miserly, cantankerous old guy who hates Halloween, this episode shares a lot in common with the pilot, and a lot more in common with one of the segments of Trick ‘r Treat, which wouldn’t come out for another twenty years and which this prefigures almost beat-for-beat – the insides of the houses even look similar.
There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on in “Halloween Candy” besides just that, though. It’s the fifth episode so far written by Michael McDowell, and the second time he’s paired up with director Tom Savini (the first was the season one standout “Inside the Closet”). Savini is having a ball here, and brings a lot more atmosphere to this than many other Tales episodes can boast.
Besides Savini, this episode has another major connection to Creepshow – the movie that inspired this series in the first place. Not only does “Halloween Candy” feature a whole lot of cockroaches, just like one segment of that film, the “goblin” that haunts our cantankerous lead here is made up using the head of the crate creature from Creepshow, rendering it another of the series’ more effective monsters. (The jingly jester shoes are really what sell it, though.)
The next episode is a middling installment with an interesting pedigree. Adapted (liberally, one imagines) from a story by Weird Tales author Carl Jacobi, “The Satanic Piano” was written for the screen and directed by series regular John Harrison. While it might headline TV-regular Michael Warren as a once-successful composer now down on his luck, the real interest from a casting perspective comes in the form of his daughter, played by a Cosby Show-era Lisa Bonet.
“The Devil’s Advocate,” meanwhile, is a darkly comic one-man-show for Ben Stiller’s dad, who plays a talk show DJ who spews hate and eventually sees where his ranting leads him. The most interesting thing about “The Devil’s Advocate” is that its odd-yet-predictable script was written by none other than George Romero himself, marking only the second (of four) times he would contribute scripts to the series he helped create.
Director Michael Gornick would go on to become the showrunner for Monsters, the series that basically picks up the torch dropped by Tales from the Darkside – which makes sense, as “Devil’s Advocate” has the look and feel of a Monsters episode throughout.
The final segment that we’ll be covering tonight is an improvement over the last couple, even while it’s another installment that is more gentle than horrific. “Distant Signals” is about a canceled private eye TV show from the 1960s that gets a new lease on life from an out-of-this-world fanbase. While it stars none other than Kolchak himself Darren McGavin (alongside the mayor from Ghostbusters), the real scene-stealer in Lenny von Dohlen, who would play Harold Smith in Twin Peaks five years later, as the alien investor.
That’s it for tonight’s visit to the Darkside, but we’re just getting started with season two. Next time, we’ll tackle exorcisms, evil teddy bears, and an early-career turn by none other than Seth Green, to name just a few. 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.