Let it be known that I am a complete and utter wuss when it comes to horror movies. Ever since I saw Alien at a far too tender age, I’ve steered clear from the genre—it doesn’t matter if it’s jump scares or merely chilling tales, you won’t catch me in the audience.
Nonetheless, I find myself fascinated by the genre. I understand the appeal of schlocky monster films, brutal slashers, psychological terror. The formulas, the history, the gender dynamics—I get it! Horror is an expansive genre that delves deep into primal emotions and social conditioning, and I want to give it another shot now that I’m a grown adult and not a twelve year old watching Silence of the Lambs at a friend’s birthday party.
What better way to jump into a genre than an anthology series? You’ve probably heard of The Twilight Zone or Tales from the Crypt, but did you know that horror legend George Romero himself produced a similar series in the 80s? It was called Tales from the Darkside, and it ran for nearly a hundred episodes.
That’s a little overwhelming, so I asked Matt Dracula—horror aficionado, proprietor of the wonderful Dinosaur Dracula, and all around nice guy—to give me some recommendations. He selected three episodes, and after some mental preparation I took a look, seeing where they all clocked in on the old Spook-o-Meter.
Monsters in My Room (Season 2, Episode 12)
In this episode we’re introduced to Timmy, a young, one-toothed child played by—foreshadowing his appearance on Buffy the Vampire Slayer—Seth Green. He’s a weird, sweet, quiet kid who plays with bugs and is scared of monsters under his bed. Unfortunately for him, he has a terrible stepdad named Biff (the excellent John Mullavey) who has some pretty restrictive ideas how how boys should act. Biff smashes a jar housing Timmy’s bug friend Ernie, who dies. What an asshole.
When Christmas rolls around Biff buys Timmy a toy machine gun, recalling his days in Vietnam. Timmy’s mom gets him the cute panda toy he wanted, making Biff furious. As if that’s not bad enough, when Timmy goes to bed, he’s menaced by three monsters—an octopus, a giant buzzsaw, and some Nosferatu-looking ass closet man. At this point I was practically screaming at these dudes to kill Biff.
Timmy’s mom is sympathetic to his fears, but Biff insists that she “toughen him up” and stop coddling him. What an asshole! When Timmy’s mom goes to drop off some presents at the neighbors’s place, we get the scariest scene in the episode: Biff enters Timmy’s room drunk out of his mind, making Timmy drink beer and then leaping around his room singing before he finally leaves in disgust.
The monsters come back, but this time Timmy isn’t having it. He yells at him, tells them he “ain’t afraid of no ghosts” (only a year after Ghostbusters was released) and forces them to retreat. It’s kind of a bummer that the solution, after all, is to pull a Biff and shout a lot, but all is not as it seems. As Biff comes after Timmy with a paddle—what an asshole—the monsters surround him and kill him to death. Good.
Timmy’s mom says Biff died of heart trouble, but Timmy knows better. At heart, Biff was the insecure, scared little boy—not Timmy.
Verdict? Just a little creepy, and more for the abusive stepfather than the monsters. Not the stuff of nightmares, and there’s a happy ending—unless you’re Biff.
Spook-o-Meter Reading: Slightly Unsettling
Anniversary Dinner (Season 1, Episode 13)
With a title like this, you basically know going in that it’s going to be about cannibalism. But that’s the thing with this episode—you see it coming from a mile away, but it doesn’t matter. It’s still coming, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Alice Ghostley and Mario Roccuzzo star as a cantankerous old couple named Elinor and Henry who take in a young girl named Sybil who’s left her asshole boyfriend and doesn’t have anywhere to go. They keep making comments about their children, how “in a way” they still live with them, and how “they become a part of you”, in case it wasn’t already clear that these folks eat people.
They show Sybil their huge hot tub, which she gladly leaps into. At this point you’re screaming “don’t go in that huge cooking pot you idiot!” But Sybil’s too trusting and doe-eyed to know better. She continues to trust them as they get her loaded on wine and start throwing vegetables into the pot as she passes out. All the better, Henry says, because fear poisons the meat.
Like I said, this one was obvious from the jump, but that almost made it worse. Remember being a kid and yelling at characters on TV not to get into trouble? This is like that, only with cannibals. The best part is that Ghostley and Roccuzzo aren’t going full-on creepy—they’re a genuinely nice, normal old couple who bicker and just happen to be murderous cannibals. But hey, they’ve been married for 25 years, so who am I to judge?
Spook-o-Meter Reading: Inescapable Terror
The Last Car (Season 2, Episode 19)
Here’s where things get real. Widely regarded as one of the most disturbing episodes of the series, The Last Car is about a student named Stacy taking a train home for Thanksgiving. As she boards the titular last car, she encounters a group of odd passengers—an overly-familiar older woman, a seemingly-unattended young boy, and a middle-aged man carrying a box of sandwiches.
Unlike the other two episodes, I don’t want to give too much away—you should really watch this one for yourself. But I will say that it embodies multiple genres of horror—the majority of the episode is a slow burn, but there are unsettling characters and jump scares tossed in for good measure too.
Possibly the most disturbing thing about this episode is that it doesn’t tie things up with a simple explanation. Unlike Anniversary Dinner or Monsters in My Room, there’s no neat ending where the hero wins or evil triumphs—you’ll have to come to your own conclusion about what the last car truly is. There’s no slapstick or cosmic justice here, just the horror of the infinite unknown.
Spook-o-Meter: Existential Dread
There’s obviously a lot of variation here, and that’s just a microcosm of the show’s full run, which spans comedy, horror, fantasy, and sci-fi. If you’re a veteran of horror anthologies but haven’t seen Darkside, definitely check it out. And if like me, you’re just dipping your toes in the genre, this is a great way to dive in—and no shame if, like me, you want to watch it in the middle of the day in a well-lit room.