Man lives in the sunlit world of what he believes to be reality.
But… there is, unseen by most, an underworld, a place that is just as real, but not as brightly lit…a dark side.
Tales from the Darkside is an anthology horror series created by George Romero, the man responsible for bringing us the zombie apocalypse. In 1982 Romero directed Creepshow, a horror anthology movie based on horror comics from the 1950’s called Tales from the Crypt.
Creepshow was written by another master of horror, Stephen King. Tales from the Crypt wouldn’t be adapted into a TV series until the late 1980’s, a year after Tales from the Darkside ended.
The massive success of Creepshow led directly to the creation of Tales from the Darkside. Warner Bros. wanted to turn Creepshow into a series. They used the same inspiration but took away the comic styling of Creepshow and called it Tales from the Darkside.
The series used works from some of the biggest authors of the time; Harlan Ellison, Micheal Bishop, Frederik Pohl, Micheal McDowell, Clive Barker and Stephen King. Tales from the Darkside ran for four season (1984-1988) and ended with a feature film Tales from the Darkside: The Movie in 1990.
Like Friday the 13th: The Series, Tales from the Darkside was a late night show. I first discovered it during Thanksgiving break 1984 while my sister and I were staying up late the day before Thanksgiving watching TV.
The first episode I saw was “In the Closet” and as a young kid it scared the hell out of me. Not so much as I watched it, but later when I was alone, in my dark basement bedroom, staring at the closet door. For weeks I would put a chair in front of the closet door when I went to bed, hoping and praying ‘it’ wouldn’t come out.
Despite the fear, I was hooked on Tales from the Darkside. Looking through the TV listings I discovered it was on Saturday nights, not Wednesdays. I stayed up, usually with my sisters on Saturdays and we’d watch it with the lights off. Then in true sibling fashion, they’d try to scare me before heading off to bed.
Last year, sometime around the Black Friday frenzy I picked up Tales from the Darkside Complete series on DVD. I watched all four seasons over the next three months and loved them as much as when I was a kid.
Below are my Top 10 Tales from the Darkside episodes. You may have a couple different ones in your list, but these episodes are solid and should be on every watch list.
Oh, I guess I should mention it, there may be some spoilers.
Let’s start with the obligatory honorable mentions…
Tales from the Darkside Honorable Mentions
The Milkman Cometh (S3 E13, 25 Jan 1987)
Down on his luck artist, Garry, is struggling to find work. His wife is pressuring him to find a job so they can start infertility treatments. While talking to his friend, Garry learns the milkman will grant your wish, all you have to do is leave a note.
Garry is skeptical but tries it one night…and it works. He then starts asking for more and more. He never asks for money but he does ask for the winning horses so he can bet on them at the track.
Then Garry asks the milkman if he can help his wife get pregnant. The milkman complies and as you can imagine it doesn’t end well.
The baby is born to the shock and horror of Garry. It has a great final scene revealing the baby.
Sorry, Right Number (S4 E9, 22 Nov 1987)
This one makes the honorable mention list mainly because it is written by Stephen King.
Housewife Katie is talking on the phone when a call comes in on the second line. She puts her call on hold to answer the incoming call. On the other end is a distraught, crying women trying to tell her something, then the line goes dead. Katie is convinced it’s someone from her family.
She calls her daughter, who’s off at college, who is fine. She calls her mom, she’s fine too. She calls her sister and the line is off the hook. Katie and her husband, horror novelist Bill, drive over to the sisters house to find her sleeping.
When they return home Katie goes to bed and Bill stays up. In the morning Katie finds Bill dead from a heart attack.
Fast Forward a few years and the daughter is getting married. Katie finds a memento of Bill’s, freaks out, picks up the phone and hysterically starts mashing buttons…
It’s an OK episode but not quite worthy of the Top 10.
Top 10 Tales from the Darkside Episodes
Alright, let’s get into the top episodes!
#10 – Anniversary Dinner (S1, E13, 03 Feb 1985)
After re-watching this episode I’m convinced the developers of Red Dead Redemption 2 are Tales from the Darkside fans. If you played the game you may recall the creepy pig farmer and his wife. This episode is similar in nature.
In this episode, Henry and Elinor, are celebrating their 25th anniversary and are sad the children are gone and they can’t have them for dinner.
Enter Sybil, a girl traveling around the woods. She’s lost and hungry so Elinor takes her in. The couple give her bottles of homemade wine and let her soak in the hot tub. When Sybil is in the hot tub Henry is extra nice to her.
When you think you know the direction this is going it takes a hard left turn and you understand just how demented Henry and Elinor are.
#9 – My Ghostwriter – The Vampire (S3 E14, 01 Feb 1987)
Vampires are always a good plot device. Struggling author Peter (Jeff Conway from Grease and Taxi) is trying to write the next great vampire novel. He buys a coffin for inspiration and discovers Count Draco, a real vampire.
They strike a deal, Draco will give Peter 900 years worth of vampire stories in exchange for living in his house and a split of the royalties. After Peter’s book becomes a best seller he reneges on the deal, infuriating Count Draco.
One thing I know, you should never make a vampire mad! You’ll have to watch the episode to see if Count Draco gets his revenge.
#8 – The Last Car (S2 E19, 23 Feb 1986)
Stacey is taking the train home for Thanksgiving break. When the train finally arrives late, she gets on the last car and has a seat. She soon discovers the last car is filled with a strange group of passengers. A young boy who is obnoxiously hyper, an old man and a friendly old lady.
Things get really weird anytime the train passes through a tunnel, the old man retreats to his seat, the young boy gets scared and the old lady tells Stacey to close her eyes.
After a few more tunnels, Stacey realizes the trip is taking to long and there aren’t any tunnels on the route she normally takes. When passing through another tunnel she looks out the window and is horrified by what’s staring back at her.
Sometimes you’re dead and don’t even know it.
This episode is written by Micheal McDowell who also wrote Beetlejuice.
#7 – The Word Processor of the Gods (S1 E8, 25 Nov 1984)
Written by Stephen King and adapted to TV by Micheal McDowell.
Struggling writer Richard (this is a theme for King stories) hates his wife and son and wishes he had married his high school sweetheart. Unfortunately his brother stole her away and married her instead.
Then his brother and nephew die in a car accident and the nephew leaves him a homemade word processor. Richard soon discovers the word processor has more power than expected. Type what you want and hit execute and it happens, or type what you don’t want and hit delete.
With a few keystrokes Richard changes his fortune before the word process burst into flames and is destroyed.
#6 – Inside the Closet (S1 E7, 21 Nov 1984)
This is the one that started it all for me.
Grad student Gail rents a room from Dr. Fenner the Dean of the Veterinary school. The only rule is she cannot open the small closet in the room. It’s locked anyhow and Dr. Fenner doesn’t have a key.
At night Gail can hear something scraping around in the closet and believes it’s a rat. Her curiosty gets the best of her and she breaks into the closet only to find it completely empty.
Then one night she hears a noise again, opens the closet and finds it full of young girl clothes. She brings it up to Dr. Fenner who gets extremely mad and warns her never to open it again.
Then we see what’s in the closet! And the cause of my nightmares for months.
Gail discovers to late that curiosity not only kills the cat, it kills Gail too.
This episode is written by Micheal McDowell and directed by Tom Savini. Tom is a familiar name if you are into special effects, specifically for horror movies. He worked on Dawn of the Dead with George Romero and Friday the 13th.
#5 – Family Reunion (S4 E16, 22 May 1988)
Distraught mother Janice claims her estranged husband Robert has kidnapped their son Bobby and keeps him locked up in a room. She goes to a social worker to get her son back. It turns out she’s’ not lying, Robert is keeping Bobby locked up in his room.
Robert is convinced Booby is suffering from a rare disease and he is trying to find a cure. One night, during a full moon we discover the true nature of Bobby’s disease. He transforms right before his father’s eyes, who tries to keep him in the house.
The next night Janice returns with the social worker to get Bobby back. When the full moon shines through the window Bobby transformers as the social worker screams in horror. Janice smiles as she ‘suffers’ from the same disease. She attacks Robert and mother and son are reunited.
This one is also directed by Tom Savini.
#4 – Ursa Minor (S2 E10, 01 Dec 1985)
Creepy dolls are always on the top of my list. They freak me out.
Susie’s dad is a drunk. He gives her a teddy bear for her birthday only he doesn’t remember where he got, or that he got it at all.
Strange things start to happen around the house, broken lamps, mud tracked through the house and Susie blames it all on Teddy. Her parents don’t believe her until they see unusually claw marks on the walls.
When her mom picks up Teddy his eyes glow an eerie red and he growls at her. She knows Teddy is to blame.
In the terrifying ending Susie and her mom are trapped in a room while Teddy thrashes at the door trying to get them.
Do they escape? Does Teddy eat them?
#3 – Trick or Treat (Pilot Episode, 29 Oct 1983)
The first ever episode of Tales from the Darkside and it’s a Halloween episode written by George Romero.
Gideon Hackles owns everything in town, property, the store, everything. He makes the residents buy from him and causes them all to go into debt, to him. He documents all the debts so they can pay him back.
On Halloween he invites all the children to his house to look for their parents debt receipts. If they find them the debts are erased forever. No one has every lasted long enough in the house to find them. Gideon transforms his house into a haunted mansion scaring the kids into never coming back.
One Halloween a kid comes to the door dressed as a witch. Only this witch gets revenge on Gideon, as she enlists monsters and demons to scare him.
It’s a great pilot episode, the only real drawback is it has a happy ending. We can’t have that for a horror show!
#2 – Cutty Black Sow (S4 E14, 08 May 1988)
How creepy would it be to have your great grandma die in your living room, on All Hallow’s Eve? That’s exactly what happens to poor Jamie. As his gram is dying she warns him of the cutty black sow, a demon from Scottish lore that steals your soul.
Jamie preforms rituals in the house to protect his great-grandma’s soul. His parents are at the wake and Jamie hears strange noises outside and sees yellow glowing eyes staring at him through the window. The door burst open and it’s his parents.
Jamie goes to bed and his dad comes in to check on him. His dad leans in to give him a hug and his eyes start glowing yellow as Jamie screams in fear.
This one is written by Micheal McDowell too.
#1 – Halloween Candy (S2 E5, 27 Oct 1985)
Treats or Tricks, Mr. Killup!
Mr. Killup is a grouchy old man who hates Halloween and trick-or-treaters. His soon visits him on Halloween and tells him to be nice to the kids and pass out candy. Instead Killup torments the kids going so far as to pour honey and syrup in their bags.
Late at night, much to late for a normal trick-or-treater, his door bell rings. At the door is a kid dressed as a goblin, with a deep booming voice demanding treats or tricks. Killup refuses and slams the door.
Strange things begin to happen, Killup sees roaches appear and disappear all over the house. And the goblin appears at the window, then the back door, still demanding treats. Killup spends the night terrorized by the goblin.
When his son returns the next day he finds his father dead on the floor. According to the coroner, Killup was dead for two to three weeks. His son is arrested for neglect.
Did the goblin kill him and then suck the life out of him? Or was Killup hallucinating the whole time due to lack of food because his son was neglecting him? So many unanswered questions.
This one was directed by Savini and written by McDowell. I have anew respect for those two. I apparently like their work more than I thought.
I looked up the biography of McDowell and he is a disturbed man. It lists one of his hobbies as collecting photographs of corpses, specializing in train-decapitation victims. What the…!!! I’d hate to look through his photo albums.
McDowell died in 1999 at the age of 49.
Tales from the Darkside creator George Romero died in 2017.
Tom Savini is alive and well working on horror related projects, most recently directing episodes of the new Creepshow series.
That ends our look at the top episodes from Tales from the Darkside. Let us know in the comments what your favorite episode is.
The Darkside is always there waiting for us to enter; waiting to enter us.
Until next time, try to enjoy the daylight