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Film / Tales from the Darkside: The Movie

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A horror Anthology Film based on Tales from the Darkside television series, released in 1990 by Paramount, which later acquired the rights to the series in 1999.

In the film's Framing Device, Betty (Debbie Harry), a modern-day witch, has captured a little boy named Timmy (Matthew Lawrence) in order to cook him and serve him at a dinner party for her fellow witches. Timmy stalls her by reading three tales from the favorite book of her childhood: Tales from the Darkside.

  1. Lot 249: Nerdy college student Edward Bellingham (Steve Buscemi) is a collector and seller of antiques and artifacts. Bellingham was also recently cheated out of a chance to win a spot in a fellowship by a duo of students. The winner, Lee Monckton, ended up winning when his girlfriend Susan wrote his essay for him and left an anonymous tip framing Bellingham for stealing a precious artifact from the campus museum. He also discovers one of his latest purchases, the eponymous Lot 249, is actually an ancient Egyptian mummy. Edward also discovers a scroll hidden inside an incision in the mummy's body that contains a spell to reanimate the dead. Using this knowledge to his disposal, Edward brings the mummy to life and commands it to enact vengeance on those who have wronged him. Eventually, Andy (Christian Slater), Susan's brother and Lee's best friend, discovers what's happened to the others and attempts to put a stop to it. Based on a short story by Arthur Conan Doyle.
  2. Cat from Hell: Drogan (William Hickey), a wealthy pharmaceutical magnate, hires a hitman, Halston (David Johansen), to kill a rather bizarre target: a black cat. Drogan tells Halston that he believes this particular cat is murderously evil. He explains that for the past few nights, at midnight, the cat had previously murdered the other occupants of his house: his sister Amanda (who the cat caused to trip and fall down the stairs), her friend Carolyn (who the cat ended up smothering in bed), and his butler Dick (the cat having slashed his face and causing him to crash his car). Drogan now believes that the cat is to kill him next, theorizing it has been sent to exact revenge after his company previously tested an experimental medication on 5,000 cats, all of them having died. Despite finding his story ridiculous, Halston agrees to murder the cat when Drogan offers him $100,000. Soon after, Halston goes hunting for the cat, which manages to evade and/or attack him at every turn. Eventually, he discovers that the cat is no ordinary feline, leading to the downfall of both him and Drogan. Based on a short story from Stephen King's Just After Sunset; with a script by George A. Romero.
  3. Lover's Vow: In New York, a struggling artist named Preston (James Remar) meets his agent Wyatt at a bar. Wyatt tells him that his art isn't selling and cuts him loose. After watching Preston drown his sorrows, Jer, a friend of his, offers to walk him home. While relieving himself, Preston witnesses Jer being decapitated by a monstrous gargoyle. When the gargoyle corners Preston, it agrees to spare him as long as he vows never to tell anyone what he saw the creature do or what it looks like. Shortly after the encounter, Preston encounters a beautiful woman named Carola (Rae Dawn Chong). Still fearing for his life, he brings Carola to his apartment, and the two begin to form a relationship. 10 years later, Preston and Carola have started a family, and Preston's artwork has become wildly successful thanks to his inspiration from the gargoyle and Carola's connections in the art world. But despite all of his success, Preston's vow still weighs heavily upon him, and he doesn't know how much longer he'll be able to keep it. Based on the legend of Yuki-onna from Lafcadio Hearn's Kwaidan.


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    The film in general 
  • Black Comedy: As with its home series and spiritual predecessor Creepshow, there's a campy, gory sense of humor beneath all of the horror stories (including the framing device) except "Lover's Vow".
  • Bloodier and Gorier: The movie didn't have to worry about broadcast rules.
  • The Film of the Series: Not only that...
    • Title Drop: We have the book Timmy reads from actually being called "Tales from the Darkside", making this the only time the title had any relevance in the series proper.
  • Grand Finale: Ignoring the attempts at a reboot, including the IDW miniseries, this is currently the official end of the Darkside franchise.
  • Mood Whiplash: The Framing Device story, "Lot 249" and "Cat from Hell" all have more Black Comedy campy horror tones, making "Lover's Vow" heart-wrenching romantic tragedy stand out apart from the rest. It's particularly noticeable after its tragic ending we immediately cut back to Betty and Timmy doing their Casual Danger Dialogue.

    The wraparound story 
  • Asshole Victim: Betty, considering what she planned to do to Timmy.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: After killing Betty, Timmy turns to the audience, eats a cookie, and proclaims how he loves happy endings.
  • Cooked to Death: Timmy finally executes a Hoist by His Own Petard by pushing the witch who wants to cook and eat him into her own oven.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Betty always talks to Timmy in a calm manner and doesn't even raise her voice at him once even though it's clear she's realizing he's stalling for time reading from the book and starting to get annoyed by it, and all while she's preparing to cook him alive.
  • Homage: To Hansel and Gretel, just with no Gretel.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Betty is fattening Timmy up to eat him.
  • The Last of These Is Not Like the Others: While the other stories all end in a Downer Ending, the wraparound segment winds up being a case of Earn Your Happy Ending as Timmy is able to escape being eaten.
  • Murder by Cremation: Timmy kills Betty when he pushes her into her own oven.
  • Not Using the "Z" Word: Astute viewers may notice that neither Betty nor Timmy uses the word "witch" in their conversation. Of course, it is strongly implied by the broomstick leaning against the wall in the first scene and the fact that Betty is planning to throw Timmy in her oven like the witch in Hansel and Gretel.
  • Slippery Skid: Timmy throws marbles to the cell floor to make Betty trip.

    Lot 249 
  • Antagonist Title: The mummy is referred to as Lot 249, taken from its auction number.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Andy saws off the mummy's leg and snaps off its arm before killing it for good.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Bellingham ultimately gets the last laugh, an Adaptational Alternate Ending of the original story where he was defeated.
  • Bait-and-Switch: At first, it looks like Andy bested Bellingham, having killed his mummy and burned up the scroll, thus ruining Bellingham's chances at success. Turns out that Bellingham either lied about the actual location of the scroll or swapped it with a not-as-valuable one as Bellingham is last seen laughing to himself in the back of a cab about how Andy was too much of a dolt to tell the difference between a sacred scroll from the third Egyptian dynasty dating back to 2613 BC at the newest and one made around the time the Roman Empire was established. Andy is shown being paid a visit by the resurrected Lee and Susan, Susan holding flowers and a knife, Andy holding a coat hanger.
  • Bound and Gagged: Andy ties Bellingham to a chair and gags him with duct tape while he tortures him to find out the secret of Lot 249.
  • Cassandra Truth: Discussed: in the middle of dealing with the mummy, Andy assures Bellingham that he won't call the cops over this, as there is no way they would believe him.
  • Groin Attack: Andy threatens to roast Bellingham's nuts when he has him tied to a chair.
  • Hooks and Crooks: The mummy kills Lee by removing his brain through his nostrils with a coathanger.
  • Kansas City Shuffle: In exchange for letting him live, Andy demands that Bellingham give him the scroll he used to bring the mummy to life, which he gives, leading to Andy burning it. But as he's leaving the school in a taxi, Bellingham begins laughing to himself, annoying the cabbie:
    Cabbie: Hey, man, what's so fucking funny?!
    Bellingham: (while reading from a scroll) I was just thinking of this guy I know... Couldn't distinguish a Third Dynasty sacred scroll from a piece of post-Alexandrian pictogram porn...
  • Lodged-Blade Recycling: Susan stabs the mummy with a pair of scissors. The mummy then pulls the scissors out and uses them to rip open Susan's back.
  • Logical Weakness: The mummy being thousands of years old means that its body is widely open for vulnerability. Andy takes full advantage of this during the final portion of the segment, dismembering the mummy with a battery-powered carving knife.
  • Mummy: An Egyptian one.
  • Neck Lift: The mummy has one hand holding Lee against a wall several inches off the floor, while the other hand has the aforementioned coathanger.
  • No-Sell: Upon seeing the mummy approach him, instead of freaking out, Andy instantly drops down to the floor to saw its leg off with the turkey cutter. He doesn't even view the mummy as a threat, letting out a chuckle upon seeing it climb onto Bellingham before going for the mummy's head.
  • Off with His Head!: Andy kills the mummy by decapitating it, and placing its head on the fireplace.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: Averted with the mummy, since it's... well, a mummy. Though Lee and Susan at the end, though resurrected by the same spell as the mummy, are more like voodoo zombies due to having been brought back to life and acting on the orders of the man who resurrected them.
  • Shear Menace: Susan stabs the mummy with a pair of scissors. The mummy then pulls a Lodged-Blade Recycling and uses the scissors to rip open Susan's back.
  • Shout-Out: Bellingham says that he lost the Penrose Fellowship after being accused of stealing a "Zuni fetish." This is a shout-out to Trilogy of Terror, another horror Anthology Film.

    Cat from Hell 
  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: In the original story Halston was able to capture the cat and lead it out of the mansion until it crawled in and out of his mouth until it left Halstonís corpse leaving it ambiguous if it will kill Johansen. While in the movie Halston and the cat never left the mansion and after the cat crawled out of Halstonís corpse it leaps up to Johansen to finish the job by scaring him to death.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job: In the original tale the cat is described as being half black and half white with the split going down its face. While here itís an entirely black cat.
  • Animal Testing: Drogan believes that the cat has come to make him pay for the thousands of dead cats that were tested with his drug.
  • Animalistic Abomination: If it wasn't obvious from the vignette's title and backstory that the cat is no ordinary feline, it certainly is by the time the cat is shrugging off .44 slugs and crawling down a man's esophagus to kill him.
  • As You Know: Halston reminds Drogan about his business to provide exposition to the audience.
  • Attack the Mouth: Halston is killed by the cat leaping into his mouth, and then the cat goes far enough down Halston's throat to cause him to choke to death.
  • Black Comedy: A cartoonish insertion noise can be heard as the cat enters Halston's mouth.
  • Body Horror: Just wait until you see what that darn cat does at the end.
  • Cats Are Mean: Or just this one cat, seeking revenge.
  • Chewing the Scenery: Johansen just hams up the part. He keeps chewing the scenery even when the cat is crawling in Halston's mouth.
  • Disabled Snarker: Would you expect anything less from Bill Hickey in a wheelchair?
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The cat not only goes after some people who made millions on a drug that was fatally tested on thousands of cats but also a servant who merely happened to work for them. In fairness, Drogan sent said servant to take the cat out and kill it.
  • Eat the Camera: When the cat leaps into Halston's mouth, it's done with a shot of the camera going right at Halston's face.
  • Groin Attack: At one point the cat attacks Halston and claws through the bottom of his pants, only centimeters away from where his crotch is.
  • More Dakka: Growing frustrated with the cat, Halston picks up the biggest gun from his suitcase to finish it off.
  • Orifice Evacuation: When Drogan returns home to see if Halston has succeeded, the cat removes itself from Halston's corpse through the mouth it came in, causing Drogan to have a heart attack.
  • Orifice Invasion: After the cat leaps into Halston's mouth and kills him, the cat forces itself all the way into Halston's body through his throat. It spends the night resting in Halston's torso.
  • Professional Killer: Halston is a hitman.
  • Staircase Tumble: The cat trips Amanda as she is going downstairs, causing her to fall and break her neck.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Halston makes several failed attempts to catch the cat before considering simply using one of the guns in his case. He finally does get fed up enough to go straight for his Hand Cannon, only to have the bullet harmlessly pass through the cat.

    Lover's Vow 
  • Big "NO!": As Carola's metamorphosis continues, Preston hears shouting coming from his kids room. Soon after, he attempts to run to check on them only to immediately trip. He looks up, only to see that both their children have turned into gargoyles. This is his reaction.
  • Cradling Your Kill: The gargoyle enfolds/cradles her husband in her bat-like wings and bites him on the neck, laying him gently on the ground as he bleeds to death. She then howls in remorse.
  • Cruel Twist Ending: As the Twist Ending shows, this story's ending is about as far from happy as you could get. You know an ending is tragic when Preston being killed at the end is the best outcome for him at that point.
  • Darker and Edgier: It's the saddest and most tragic story of the film by some distance, having none of the Camp comedy the others possess. All of its violence is played for straight horror or tragedy.
  • Deal with the Devil: Heavily implied. Carola the gargoyle had to force Preston to make a deal with her not to tell anyone about her form; just so she could become a living, breathing human and start a family with Preston without him knowing of her past life. It wears off once he breaks his deal and consequently curses their children genetically to become gargoyles alongside her.
  • Downer Ending: It turns out that Carola was actually the gargoyle, and Preston inadvertently broke his promise in telling her, so he is killed.
    • Made even worse by the fact that Carola's and Preston's children have been transformed into gargoyles too as a result of the broken promise. Their enriching normal human childhood has been robbed without warning by whatever deal Carola made to gain her humanity in the first place, and now they are forced to spend possibly eternity with their mother in stone sleep in a never-ending state of emotional agony.
    • Literally the only way the ending could have been worse is if Preston had been allowed to live, his life now in a far worse place than it was at the start of the story.
  • Forced Transformation: Once Preston breaks his vow, Carola's gargoyle form involuntarily rips its way out of her human body, against either of their wills.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Carola the gargoyle wanted to live as a normal human being and start a family with Preston. All she had to do was force Preston into a deal where he would never reveal anything about her gargoyle form and she would stay as a human. The transformation she suffers from human to gargoyle is about as painful for her to endure as it is uncomfortable for the viewer to watch, and even she admits to Preston that her and their children losing their ability to remain, humans, is not her choice.
  • Loophole Abuse: Inverted: as it turns out, telling the gargoyle about the gargoyle still counts as telling anyone about the gargoyle. And in Carola's case, her children have been genetically cursed to suffer the same fate she does.
  • Loose Lips: It takes years, but Preston in the end can't let go of the guilt of seeing someone get killed by a monster unless he tells someone. Just his luck that it would be to the one person most likely to get upset about him breaking his promise...
  • Magically-Binding Contract: The way the gargoyle acts implies that her deal with Preston (and thus the deal she made to gain her humanity) was this trope: she doesn't want to kill him, but because he broke his promise, she has to.
  • Mercy Kill: In the last ten years of Preston's life, he met the woman of his dreams, became a wealthy successful artist, and fathered two children. In his own words, the past ten years have been the happiest of his life and the only thing left to do is to come clean to Carola about what happened the night they met. Unfortunately, this results in him breaking the vow he made with the gargoyle; Carola turns into the gargoyle and their children do as well. With all ten years of happiness and memories of her and their kids brutally and cruelly ripped away from him just because he wanted to keep no secrets between them, the gargoyle having no choice but to kill him is pretty much out of mercy.
  • Off with His Head!: The gargoyle kills the bartender by slicing his head off after slashing his face open.
  • One-Track-Minded Artist: With the promise over his head, and yet unable to let go of his guilt, Preston begins to draw gargoyle art. Lots of gargoyle art. It ironically resurrects his career.
  • Our Gargoyles Rock: Not just a stony beast, it can also turn into a human... ...if it makes a deal to do so with its beloved one never revealing anything about its past.
  • Painful Transformation: The gargoyle transformation scene is gory and violent. Carola's human body is stretched, split, torn to shreds, and reduced to a pile of slop.
  • Rash Promise: Preston swears to the gargoyle that he'll never tell anyone about their encounter, but in his fear for his life, he hadn't considered he'd have to hide it from those he loves. That very same night, he meets the love of his life and even after they're married, he still has to lie about the night they met until he breaks down, breaks his oath, and tells the truth to her. There are dire consequences.
  • The Reveal: After Preston tells Carola about his encounter with the gargoyle, she reveals that she is the gargoyle in question.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: Again, the raging stupidity of Preston's decision to run his mouth is almost unfathomable. He has managed to attain a financially secure spot on the upper half of the social ladder and created a beautiful family. He then decides to toss it all out the window by telling Carola about the night Jer was killed and revealing the secret of the gargoyle, which he was absolutely sworn not to do.
  • Spoiler Title: No points for guessing how.
  • Taken for Granite: In the end, the gargoyle places itself on a roof and turns into stone.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Preston. As far as principle, as well as how easily it could have been avoided, this has to be one of the dumbest self-sabotages by a main character in film history. Carola strongly agrees, as one of the last things she says to Preston before killing him is "You broke your promise, you idiot!"
  • Twist Ending: There's little other way to characterize a story where the main character is a barely-employed entrepreneur on the verge of starvation who meets the woman of his dreams who is able to get his art in a place where each piece sells for thousands of dollars. Not only do they marry, but ten years later they have two beautiful children. Preston tells Carola about the gargoyle, wanting to be 100% honest with her. Turns out that she was the gargoyle all along as breaking this vow causes her to transform back into the gargoyles, her human body being ripped to shreds from the metamorphosis. The children turn into gargoyles too and once fully transformed, all those years of happiness and memories of living the perfect life are ripped away from him and completely undone. The only thing Preston can do is beg and plead for her to stop, especially when the children begin changing too. She can't. All they can do is declare their love one last time before she tears his throat out and lays him on the floor as he dies... all because he wanted to do the "right" thing.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Tales From The Darkside


Tales From the Darkside

The stories from Tales From the Darkside always ended in cruel downer endings, if not bittersweet endings at best, so it comes as a huge surprise that the wraparound story from the movie actually ends with the monster being killed and the hero getting away. They really did save the best for last.

How well does it match the trope?

4.78 (9 votes)

Example of:

Main / SurprisinglyHappyEnding

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