Stemming from the success of Creepshow the previous year (1982), Tales from the Darkside was an anthology television series created by George A. Romero and produced by his own Laurel Entertainment, which Romero co-founded alongside fellow producer Richard Rubenstein in the mid-1970s. 

The pilot episode would air during the Halloween season of 1983, and would prove successful enough for the series to be picked up for syndication by Tribune Broadcasting. Tales from the Darkside would ultimately run for 4 seasons, with a total of 92 episodes having been produced. Two of those episodes would never hit airwaves but were later made available when the series was granted a DVD release by Paramount (via CBS Home Entertainment) in 2009, and again in 2018 upon release of the “Complete Series” DVD set.

The final episode of Tales from the Darkside would debut on July 24th, 1988.

Pilot Episode  (Original Airdate: 10/29/1983) – “Trick or Treat”  – Written by George A. Romero – Directed by Bob Balaban

Gideon Hackles (Barnard Hughes – The Lost Boys, Midnight Cowboy), the miserly owner of a small-town general store, holds nearly all of the local farms as collateral, thanks to growing debts that the residents have accrued due to failing crops and recent dry seasons. The mean-spirited bastard that he is, each Halloween, Hackles presents the local children with an “opportunity” to clear their family’s debt. That is if they are able to find the wad of paper IOU slips that Hackles has hidden somewhere in his home. Naturally, this task will not be easy as the man has converted his home into a “haunted house”, complete with terrifying props on pulleys, vintage animatronics, and spooky sound effects.


Many of the indebted parents shamefully look forward to the occasion, each hoping that their child will be the one to find the old tyrant’s stash and free them from financial burden. One particular father even admits to beating his child as a way of “toughening him up” in preparation for whatever scary gimmicks Hackles may throw at the young boy. Another man, already in debt after just his first season in town, boasts to Hackles that his son will not be participating in the old man’s twisted charade; his love for his son (as well as his pride) worth more to him than his land. That said, the boy is more than ready to enter the old man’s house of haunts and do his family proud.

Although I do not believe a specific timeframe is ever stated, “Trick or Treat” appears to be set sometime in the past, presumably in the early 1900s. While not essential to the episode, I do feel that the dated setting does add something of a “folktale” or “urban legend” aspect to the tale. As the story is also set primarily on Halloween, it seems befitting that the episode would make its debut just days before Halloween of 1984. It adds that extra layer of seasonal atmosphere that people like me just eat up.


Multiple children (among them actor Joshua Miller, who would later appear in 1986’s River’s Edge and 1987’s Near Dark) enter Hackles’ home, including the previously mentioned abused child, but all end up fleeing in tears thanks to the old man’s various scare tactics. Hackles takes enjoyment in frightening the children, but the sympathy and sadness that the parents show their now-emotionally-scarred children clearly sickens him.

Soon, a mysterious visitor appears at Hackles’ door; one that, while dressed like a witch, is far too old to be a child in costume. Within moments, the house is crawling with all sorts of monsters and demons. The make-up effects range from fairly impressive, such as a zombie pirate that is rumored to have been voiced by Tim Curry, to what often appear to be cheap-looking masks. Most notable to me, however, is the cleverly conceptualized, but somewhat poorly realized tent-like structure that I believe is supposed to be a portal or gateway to Hell. Whatever it is, it may have been more effective when I first watched this episode sometime back in 1984/1985, but age (the episode’s and my own) has done it no favors.

In retrospect, the episode’s climax of supernatural comeuppance is a tad goofy and really doesn’t make a whole heck of a lot of sense, other than maybe teaching the lesson that you shouldn’t be a dick… especially on Halloween! Overall, from a visual standpoint, “Trick or Treat” is a pretty strong episode to kick the series off with and sets the appropriate tone right out of the gates. It’s fairly undeniable that the episode is geared more towards younger horror fans, and in those regards, I feel that the episode was highly successful. I know that it made a strong enough impact when I first watched it as a 7- or 8-year-old that I never forgot it… although I admittedly have forgotten if it was the first episode that I ever watched. 

80s’ FUN FACT: Max Wright, “Willie” of TV’s ALF fame, appears in the opening sequence.


Season 1 Episode 1 (9/30/84) – “The New Man” – Written by Mark Durand, Barbara Owens – Directed by Frank De Palma

Businessman and recovering alcoholic Alan (Vic Tayback, best remembered as “Mel” on TV’s Alice) receives a visit at his office from a young boy named Jerry (Chris Hebert – The Last Starfighter, Mortuary Academy), who claims to be his son. Believing the boy to be confused or possibly a part in some bizarre prank, Alan drops Jerry off at the police station before heading home.

When he arrives home, Alan is met by his wife and real son (Billy Jacoby – Just One of the Guys, Bloody Birthday) … who both now act as if Jerry actually IS part of the family. Naturally, Alan’s wife is far from thrilled that her husband has seemingly abandoned their child at a police station. The police escort Jerry safely home, where Alan’s family now begin to fear that the man has either started drinking again or is just losing his mind. Alan, much to no avail, aggressively insists that it is everyone else who has lost their minds. 

As if his issues at home weren’t confusing enough, Alan returns to work the next morning and is surprised to learn that he’s missed the last two days. Shortly after, he receives a phone call from his wife, who informs him that she is leaving him. Eventually, Alan finds himself alone, a drunk with no job or family. In cruel fashion, the story ends just as it began, with Jerry stopping to visit the man that has since taken Alan’s job and claiming to be that man’s son, all while an evil grin grows across his face.

Although it features a solid performance from Tayback, “The New Man” is not one of the series’ stronger episodes. At least, not in my opinion. That said, it’s also far from the bottom of the barrel. As with many future episodes of Tales from the Darkside, “The New Man” is much closer to being a grim, science-fictiony Twilight Zone-like tale (especially when compared to both the series pilot and proceeding episode) yet lacks the moral lesson that Serling’s tales tended to have.

GAMING TRIVIA: Director De Palma would later serve as one of the writers on the 3rd and 4th entries in the popular “Wing Commander” game series.



Season 1 Episode 2 – “I’ll Give You A Million” (10/7/84) – Written by John Harrison, M. Durand, David Spiel –  Directed by John Harrison

Aging tycoons Duncan Williams (Keenan Wynn – Piranha; Dr. Strangelove) and Jack Blaine (George Petrie in TV’s The Honeymooners; Planes, Trains, & Automobiles) share a friendly rivalry that has them wagering against each other on nearly everything they do. On one particular evening, Duncan offers Jack one million dollars for the rights to his eternal soul. After much hesitation and a little soul-searching (pun intended), Jack accepts the offer, and the two men seal the deal with the signing of a contract.

When Jack is later informed by his doctor of a terminal illness, he attempts to cancel the contract with Duncan, but is met with rejection. When his condition worsens, Jack sends Duncan a telegram offering to buy his soul back for twice the original price. The new offer is accepted, but Jack dies before making payment, which leaves Duncan angry that he’s now out one million dollars over what was supposed to be nothing more than a macabre joke between friends… as well as a fiendish way to make some (more) money.

The episode ends in ghoulish fashion with Jack returning from the grave, decay already well underway, and begging his friend to “seal the deal” and accept ownership of the glowing, green capsule that houses his soul. However, fate (and other outside influences) intervenes before that can happen, and a maleficent third-party enters the scene to claim the now open contract… as well as a few long unpaid debts.

While not particularly gruesome, “I’ll Give You A Million” feels right at home with the classic stories found in the pages of the classic EC horror comics, such as “Tales from the Crypt” and “The Vault of Horror”.  With a dark sense of humor underlying the dread and a Theremin-like synth score backing the tale, this episode is a solidly entertaining entry in the first season, and the series as a whole. While not seasonally themed like “Trick or Treat” before it, “I’ll Give You A Million” would also fit well in any Halloween watchlists, so its debuting in October of 1984 was pretty well timed. 

DARKSIDE HISTORY: In addition to composing music for Day of the Dead, Creepshow, and Creepshow 2, Harrison also composed music for Tales from the Darkside as well. Harrison would later direct the 1990 spin-off film version of Tales from the Darkside.