Welcome back for another chapter, our third so far, in this look at every episode of Tales from the Darkside‘s complete run.
Despite not airing until midnight or later in many markets, “Tales” was starting to find some success and was already cultivating a small, but growing fanbase. While I don’t consider myself among the show’s most ardent fans at this point in its lifespan, I most certainly made every attempt that I could to watch each new episode. As I was only 8 years old at the time, this often meant having to convince my mother to let me stay up late.
While I can’t remember which day or time the show aired, I will always have fond memories of Channel 51 on the UHF dial, which I believe may have had the callsign of WBSP at the time. I’ve written about this particular station being a big influencer towards horror in my youth, but that piece is long since lost. To summarize what I said back then, Channel 51 not only provided me with “Tales from the Darkside” and, later, “Friday the 13th: The Series”, but also provided me with my first viewings of Lifeforce (sans boobies), the first 3 Halloween films, and Night of the Living Dead. They also aired Ducktales, but that’s an article for a different website.
S1E6 (11/11/84) – “Slippage” – Written by Mark Durand and Michael Kube-McDowell – Directed by Michael Gornick
Richard Hall (David Patrick Kelly – The Warriors, The Crow) is a young designer who begins to find traces of his existence mysteriously fading away. Vital records, such as birth certificates and Social Security cards, vanish. People begin to forget his name. The company he works for loses his check. He discovers that he never received an invite to his high school reunion, which was organized by his best friend from those younger days.
Confused and without explanation for the events befalling him, Richard soon begins to suspect that his wife, Elaine (Australian actress Kerry Armstrong), and new best friend/co-worker, Chris (Philip Casnoff – Message From Space, North & South miniseries) are having an affair, as well as screwing with his head for some twisted amusement. However, when his own mother fails to recognize him, claiming that she never even had children, Richard finally discovers that something much more dire is at hand.
“Slippage” may be an allegory for the pitfalls of allowing oneself to become too obsessed with or consumed by everyday life and career pressures. Perhaps there is an undefined dark element at play behind the scenes. The episode never gives a definitive answer, leaving itself completely open to interpretation and debate. What’s not over debatable though is that the main character’s fate does seem rather grim and malicious.
Overall, “Slippage” isn’t exactly the “deepest” episode, often feeling hampered by its limited runtime. As is, the episode often feels like a thinly-scripted “Twilight Zone” cast off. There’s an interesting premise here, but is a little lacking in substance, so “Slippage” is definitely not what I’d call a “bad” episode or even a weaker episode, but much like its main character, “Slippage” is one I do tend to forget.
FUN FACTS: Based off a short story by Kube-McDowell, the screenplay was written by Durand, whose other credits primarily consist of baseball videos. Also, Richard’s apartment contains at least one painting featuring pot leaves, which is something I surely didn’t notice watching the show as a child in the 1980s. Honestly, I probably never noticed them until I rewatched the episode for this review.
S1E7 (11/18/84) – “Inside the Closet” – Written by Michael McDowell – Directed by Tom Savini
Gail (Roberta Weiss – The Dead Zone, TV’s “Santa Barbara”), pays a visit to a fairly reclusive professor (Fritz Weaver – Jaws of Satan, Creepshow) in regard to a room for rent. After being informed of the man’s rules regarding loud music and visitors (“no” to both), Gail is shown to the room. The room is lightly furnished, albeit with a somewhat undersized bed and desk. Just as curious, a small closet door can be found along one of the bedroom’s walls. The professor informs Gail that the room once belonged to his daughter, who lost the key to the closet a long time ago and has since moved away.
After hearing noises coming from inside the closet on her very first night in the room (and sleeping through the moment when “something” turns the doorknob from within), curiosity soon gets the best of the young woman, and she makes an attempt to unlock the diminutive door. Eventually, the door does open, seemingly of its own accord, but Gail is surprised to find the closet empty. Believing the noise to have possibly been a mouse, she still sets a trap for the alleged critter.
Soon, it’s revealed that something is indeed residing in the room with Gail, although the viewer is not initially given a good glimpse of it. In time, the creature sets off the trap and, as one might expect, does not take kindly to the offense. Later on, Gail finds the closet door opened once more, and the closet filled with what would appear to be children’s clothing. While inspecting these items, she also finds that the mouse trap has been reset and is waiting for her curious hands. However, she finds that the door has been shut and locked once more upon returning from bandaging her injury.
Eventually, Gail comes face to face with the dweller from within “Inside the Closet”. While the story is more than a little predictable, the episode features a somewhat creepy setting, an effective creature, and great pacing. “Inside the Closet” has been one, if not my favorite episode of the series since I first watched it many years ago, quite possibly on its original airdate. There’s an aspect to the horror presented that I most assuredly did not grasp as a child, but as a parent now helps me appreciate the story as more than just a “creature feature.”
WRITER BIO: McDowell, as many already know, would go on to write the script for Beetlejuice, as well as the screen adaptations of The Nightmare Before Christmas and Stephen King’s Thinner. McDowell would script 10 more episodes of the series, as well as direct the highly remembered Season 3 episode “Seasons of Belief”, which will be covered in a later installment of this review series.
S1E8 (11/25/84) – “The Word Processor of the Gods” – Based on a short story by Stephen King – Directed by Michael Gornick
Bruce Davison (Willard, Apt Pupil) stars as “Richard Hagstrom”, a failed writer who now lives a mild-mannered life in a pigsty of a home with his nagging slob of a wife and lazy, guitar-obsessed wastoid son. As if things weren’t going bad enough, his drunkard brother recently went for a drive off a cliff, taking his family along for the ride. While Richard may not feel much loss for his brother, he’s heartbroken for the loss of his brother’s wife, a woman he once loved but was afraid to tell, and possibly more so for the loss of his nephew, Jonathan: an exceptionally bright kid that Richard frequently wished were his own… instead of the thing currently occupying his couch.
The brother’s neighbor brings Richard some boxes left to him by Jonathan. These boxes contain a homemade word processor that Jonathan promised to build his uncle sometime prior. Expecting little from the ramshackle device, Richard decides to put the word processor to the test. He soon accidentally discovers that the machine has the capability of altering reality, deleting the existence of one item or creating another from thin air.
In time, Richard’s daily stresses and frustrations finally get the better of him and he begins to use the word processor to alter his own life, as well as those of his family AND those he wishes were his family. However, the shoddily constructed device begins to smoke, spark, and sputter as he attempts to make these changes, threatening to die completely at any moment. Kinda like Jonathan and his mom did. Is Richard able to remake his life in time? Can he even go through with such a thing?
The answer to both of those questions is a “yes”, ending the episodes on what is clearly intended to be a happy note, but one with some rather morbid connotations. I mean, sure… Richard now has a family whom he loves and will truly love him back, but he did basically kill a couple people to make it happen. I guess we can take solace in the fact that Richard’s family were shitty people, and it’s okay when shitty people die. Even with these darker implications, I’ve personally always found the episode’s ending to be a tad too sappy.