The Big Picture

  • Tales From the Darkside is often overshadowed by The Twilight Zone, but it is an unsettling and genuinely terrifying horror anthology series in its own right.
  • Anthologies like Tales From the Darkside offer a refreshing alternative to traditional storytelling, with each episode featuring a new and distinct story, allowing for flexibility and variety.
  • The series features contributions from horror legends like George Romero, Stephen King, Clive Barker, and Michael McDowell, ensuring a high level of quality and creativity in each episode.

The Twilight Zone is often regarded as the greatest horror anthology series of all time, but the one that is most often overlooked would have to go to Tales From the Darkside. This cult classic program spun off of George A. Romero’s collaboration with Stephen King, Creepshow, ran from September 1983 to July 1988. Like Rod Serling’s work, Tales From the Darkside told a wide variety of horror-adjacent stories but would aim to genuinely terrify its viewers more often than it would attempt to make us ponder over real-world issues. If you’re looking for a horror series that has some real guts to it and isn’t afraid to rattle its audience to its core, then Tales From the Darkside is the answer that you’ve been waiting for.

There’s nothing that horror fans should latch on to more than a good anthology. Of course, it’s nice to have full-length features that are wrapped up in one single story, and the same goes for long-form television shows. Anthologies, on the other hand, make for a fun alternative to traditional storytelling. They require no commitment at all, apart from sharing the same general tone that the show or movie is setting. Every episode (or every segment, in the case of anthology movies) is a new story, separate from those that came before and to come. So if one story in particular doesn’t work for you, that’s totally fine because another will come along to win you over. If you like the way that the filmmakers are promising to tell stories under the umbrella of a show like The Twilight Zone, or in this case, Tales From the Darkside, then you’ll have a direct line into short bursts of fresh horror fun.

How Did ‘Creepshow’ Inspire ‘Tales From the Darkside’?

Steven King in Creepshow
Image via Warner Bros. Pictures

Tales From the Darkside first premiered one year after the release of Creepshow. That 1982 cult classic was inspired by the infamous EC Comics of the 1950s. These pulpy, vibrantly colorful, grotesque horror comics like Tales From the Crypt told new stories with every issue, dropping readers into a distinct, freshly dug-up nightmare, one after the other. Creepshow took this comic book approach, told five different cartoonish tales throughout its brief runtime, and even had quick flashes of animation to capture the feeling of the medium that so heavily inspired it. Shudder has since adapted the Romero and King film for the small screen, but back in the ’80s, there were rights issues with certain aspects of Creepshow that prevented fully taking this next step. Because of this, the comic aspects and titular Creep were dropped from development, and Tales From the Darkside came into its place.

‘Tales From the Darkside’ Is Consistently Unsettling

tales from the darkside the movie
Image via Laurel Entertainment

While Creepshow is all good horror fun, aside from the story where Stephen King plays a farmer infected by the plant-like “meteor shit,” its stories play out a lot like good campfire tales more than anything. The King-led short might be goofy in a lot of ways, but it’s also the only one that dives head-first into scares and becomes genuinely upsetting. Tales From the Darkside, on the other hand, is almost always disturbing, no matter how hard some episodes lean into comedy. Like The Twilight Zone, Darkside also has an atmospheric opening that sets the stage for what’s to come. We see a few open natural landscapes that are beautiful, but the quiet synth chords that fill the soundscape make these fields and forests both feel empty and like something is hiding in the ether. That’s when the narrator (Paul Sparer) makes it clear, stating, “There is, unseen by most, an underworld … a place that is just as real, but not as brightly lit. A dark side.” The screen turns negative, a goofy, blood-red title card reading Tales From the Darkside lifts into the frame, and we’re off. Sick.

Horror’s Greatest Names Worked on ‘Tales From the Darkside’

Image by Annamaria Ward

From there, you have 94 episodes of spooky goods to dig into. While this decade would find itself with the first of many Twilight Zone revivals, that series would falter in that it tried to replicate what Rod Serling did so well without actually being true to its own creators. Tales From the Darkside, on the other hand, is true to its filmmakers and writers. Most episodes feel like George A. Romero’s short films, true to the movies that the Living Dead filmmaker came to be known for. But there was a wide range of talent that worked on Darkside. Clive Barker, Michael McDowell, and even Stephen King would go on to pen many of the series’ best episodes. The ’80s were a landmark decade in horror, with many of the genre’s greatest storytellers working in their prime at the time. Darkside, wisely, knew to let these people cook the way they wanted to with their episodes.

RELATED: The Best Made-For-TV Horror Movie Is a Trilogy of Nightmares

The Scariest Episode of ‘Tales From the Darkside’

Image via Laurel Entertainment

If you’re looking for a solid place to start with Tales From the Darkside, then maybe you should first dig into the Season 2 episode, “Halloween Candy.” This episode follows Mr. Killup (Roy Poole), an old man who has always hated handing out Halloween candy to trick-or-treaters. After his son (Tim Choate) pressures him into participating, Killup starts sinisterly pranking one kid after another, until a sinister trick-or-treater comes along who won’t take his jokes anymore. “Halloween Candy” is the epitome of a great Darkside episode. It has a simple premise but works entirely off of having a great atmosphere, and a pitch-black sense of humor. After that, maybe check out the Stephen King-penned “Sorry, Right Number,” “Seasons of Belief” for a great Christmas-y, guest star-filled episode, and “Anniversary Dinner” for one of the best endings in the series. Many TV shows have a point where seasons eventually start dipping off in quality, but not here. Instead, the series closed out with a fantastic fourth season and even had a 1990 movie adaptation. In some ways, you could look at this movie as the original Creepshow 3 (before the disaster that is the 2006 film first came along). But in the end, you should just put some respect on the Tales From the Darkside name!

There’s nothing better than a great horror anthology, and Tales From the Darkside is exactly that. This isn’t a series that re-invented the wheel or changed the game in any way, it just perfected the game. George A. Romero and his team delivered stories that were a horror to their core, built off of a raw and spooky atmosphere, and prodded at you with a sick comedic edge. The Twilight Zone is the greatest horror anthology of all time, but none of its revivals ever managed to live up to the bar that Rod Serling set. If you want a show that does the anthology horror name justice, then look no further than Tales From the Darkside. “The dark side is always there, waiting for us to enter… waiting to enter us.”

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