Welcome to the 2nd entry in this collection of Tales from the Darkside episode mini-reviews. Please note that these looks at each episode of the series are NOT spoiler free, so proceed with caution! If anything, think of this collection as a checklist for fans of the series; something they can use to verify which episodes they’ve watched, and something to bitch about if their opinion about a particular episode differs from my own.
Season 1 Episode 3 – “Pain Killer” (10/13/84) – Written by Haskell Barkin – Directed by Armand Mastroianni
Harvey (Lou Jacobi – The Diary of Anne Frank, Amazon Women on the Moon), an older gentleman whose wife, Nadine (Peggy Cass – Auntie Mame, TV’s “The Match Game”) constantly nags him to better himself, finds himself immobilized on his kitchen floor after his back gives out. After lying there for some time, Harvey is shocked by the appearance of a well-dressed man floating just outside his kitchen window. He yells for Nadine, informing her of what he has witnessed. However, she refuses to believe Harvey and scolds him for keeping her from her rest.
Harvey visits a doctor the following morning and is surprised to discover that the doctor is none other than the man that he saw floating outside his window. The man, Dr. Roebuck (Farley Granger – The Prowler, Strangers on a Train), laughs off Harvey’s claim, stating that the vision may have been a hallucination brought on by his ailments. While Roebuck finds nothing physically wrong with Harvey, he does not doubt the man’s claims of pain and discomfort, believing it to be caused by stress and tension.
Harvey’s condition fails to improve, preventing him from returning to work. This only incites more grief from his nagging wife. After some time, Roebuck contacts Harvey, now claiming to not only know the cause of Harvey’s distress, but that he also has the cure! That is, if Harvey is willing to let his wife die! As Roebuck sees it, Nadine is the cause of all of his pain, so (naturally) Harvey’s ailments would all go away if she were to die. After mere moments of contemplation, Harvey agrees.
Not long after, a (happy) accident claims Nadine’s life. Just as Roebuck predicted, Harvey’s back pain subsides almost immediately. One particular day, the elderly lady who fatally struck Nadine with her car stops by the house to apologize for the “accident”. However, in the process, she makes the odd comment that she was obligated to do so. Harvey confronts Roebuck, who freely admits that the old woman is indeed a patient of his, “curing” her in exchange for her running down Nadine. Now, Harvey must continue the chain and kill another patient’s “burden” as payment for his own treatment!
There’s the not-so-subtle revelation of Roebuck’s implied true identity, but otherwise the episode has reached its conclusion. Overall, “Pain Killer” is another solid episode of the series and may be the earliest example of the series’ heavily mixing humor and horror. That said, while entertaining, the episode is probably not one of the “defining moments” when looking at the series as a whole.
TRIVIA: Scenes from Romero’s Night of the Living Dead can be seen showing on Harvey’s TV. The episode’s writer, Barkin, primarily had written episodes of cartoon series before penning this episode. Director Mastroianni, who had previously directed 1980’s He Knows You’re Alone, would later direct the films The Supernaturals and Cameron’s Closet, as well as episodes of “Friday the 13th: The Series” and the short-lived “War of the Worlds” television series.
Season 1 Episode 4 – “The Odds” (10/21/84) – Written by Carole Lucia Satrina – Directed by James Sadwith
Tommy Vale (Danny Aiello – Do The Right Thing, The Stuff) is a middle-aged bookie doing business out of a small neighborhood bar. These days, Tommy finds himself with fewer “clients” than he once had. That is, until a tall gentleman (Tom Noonan – The Monster Squad, Manhunter) in a white suit enters the bar one day and places a $500 bet on a longshot in that morning’s horse races, knowingly smiling as he does so. At first, Tommy attempts to talk the stranger out of what seems to be a foolish wager, but as he has never refused a bet, Tommy eventually accepts.
The longshot pulls through, and Tommy pays the man in white his winnings: $20,000! The stranger immediately bets his entire haul on a baseball game scheduled for later that evening. Again, Vale accepts. However, this is unexpectedly followed by a wave of other gamblers all looking to place the exact same bet (which should really bring down the odds, thus decreasing the payouts… but we’re not here to talk about gambling.) When the team does indeed win, Tommy is forced to pay out a hefty sum between all his clients.
The biggest winner of all is undoubtedly the man in white, who returns to collect his earnings. It’s at this time that Tommy notices the man’s uncanny resemblance to a former client, a frequent loser named Lacey, who was believed to have committed suicide many years prior. Another bet is placed (albeit at halved odds). Again, the man in white wins.
Eventually, the stranger places one final bet; one that comes with a chance for Tommy to win all of his money back. The bet is that Tommy will die of natural causes by 8AM the following morning! Never one to refuse a bet, Tommy accepts. Both men take their seats in the bar and begin the long wait until morning. At just minutes before 8AM, Tommy is still holding strong. He admits to the defeated stranger that he has known all along that he was the vengeful spirit of Lacey coming to seek retribution for his failings in life and knew what the man had planned from the moment he made his first appearance.
Dejected, Lacey disappears, presumably doomed to an eternity in Hell. With Lacey gone, Tommy admits that he cheated, having set the clock ahead by a few minutes to fool the spirit. The clock strikes 8AM for real and Vale peacefully passes away. While not much of a true horror tale, “The Odds” still remains a rather strong entry in the series, and particularly, one of the first season’s better episodes.
FUN FACT: Noonan is listed in the credits has having provided music for the episode.
Season 1 Episode 5 – “Mookie and Pookie” (11/04/84)- Written by Marc Fields and Dan Kleinman – Directed by Dan Kleinman
Mookie (Ron Asher, who appeared in little else) is a terminally ill teen with a knack for computer programming, even if home computers of the early 1980’s weren’t exactly the most powerful of machines. In anticipation of his demise, Mookie makes his twin sister, Pookie (Justine Bateman of “Family Ties” fame), promise to finish a program that he’s been working should his death come before he is able to complete the work. Not wanting to think about losing her brother, Pookie begrudgingly accepts, which proves to be quite fortunate as Pookie does indeed die just mere minutes later. Talk about timing, huh?
With the aid of some manuals left behind by her deceased brother, over the course of a few weeks (possibly months), Pookie is able to learn (at least) rudimentary-level computer programming and fulfills Mookie’s final wish. This coincides with the arrival of an incredibly large voice synthesizer. (Most technology was larger in the 1980s.) With her parents dumbfounded as to just whom ordered this (then) multi-thousand-dollar piece of machinery, Pookie drops a bombshell on her parents: She claims that her brother is still alive… inside the computer!! These days, we would just call him “Alexa”.
Naturally, her parents believe her to just be dealing with grief from the loss of her sibling. However, when her father decides to sell the computer in an effort to help Pookie move on with her life, the young girl is forced to prove that Mookie’s spirit/soul/memory/whatever still lives on, at least as an elaborate computer program. After a few delays that presumably only exist to pad out the already condensed runtime, Mookie (well, his voice) makes his presence known, stunning his disbelieving parents. The episode then ends as it began, with the family gathered around the dining room table for a nice game of Scrabble.
Simply put, “Mookie and Pookie” is overly melodramatic sap… and man, have I always hated it!! Sure, there might have been some jealousy that my “computer” at the time was a Commodore Vic-20… and that the most I could do with that plastic piece of shit was turn the TV screen that served as a monitor in those days multiple shades of green. However, the main reason for my disdain of this particular episode is that I just don’t do “sappy” shit unless it’s maple syrup, and I’m pretty sure that no one is serving me pancakes here.
I also must admit that I find it peculiar that the only actors listed in the episode’s opening credits are Bateman and (star of Hitchcock’s The Birds) Tippi Hedren, who appears as the twins’ mother. In fact, not only is Asher not listed in the opening credits, but he is also not even credited as “Mookie” in the episode’s closing credits either! I’d totally sympathize if the young actor took such a move as a slap to the face.
EPISODE: While I do not claim to be 100% certain of the following facts, I have been informed that the computer featured in “Mookie and Pookie” is a DEC Rainbow 100. This system had a price tag of just over $3,000 US at the time of its release in early 1982.