Monday, June 18, 2007

Tales from the Darkside – The Circus – review – TV episode


Directed by: Michael Gornick

First aired: 1986

Contains spoilers

Tales from the Darkside was an eighties horror anthology series. This episode, from season 3, was, of course, a vampire episode. To be honest I had considered that this might be more eligible for the ‘Honourable Mention’ section. However the vampire aspect is one of the longer sections of the episode, which concerns itself with a freak show.

advertising paintingThe episode begins with journalist Bragg (Kevin O’Connor) entering the deserted circus area, he looks around and begins composing a damning article. He lights a cigarette and drops the match to the floor, not noticing that it still smoulders.

William Hickey as Dr NisThe circus owner, Dr Nis (William Hickey), stamps on the smouldering sawdust. He is aware of who Bragg is, by his articles. It seems that Bragg has been watching for a circus that never comes to the big cities and only stays in small towns for a day. However, it was sheer accident that brought him to the circus that day, after his car crashed nearby.

the vampire emergesBragg asks for a private show and Nis is only too keen to accommodate. The first attraction Bragg is shown is the vampire (Ed French). Circus helper Nanoosh (Jacques Sandulescu) wheels out a coffin. The lid is opened by Nanoosh and a long fingered, talon tipped hand appears.

The way they portrayed the vampire was excellent. Much more Nosferatu than the tired old Lugosi stereotype. Don’t get me wrong, Lugosi was fantastic in his role as Dracula but far too many shows then aped his style. This vampire seems more animalistic.

feedingNanoosh pulls a lamb from a bag and the vampire grabs it and feeds. Bragg is incensed, although he believes the vampire to be the product of excellent makeup effects, he knows that the circus actively encourages patrons to bring children. That children should face the slaughter of a lamb in such a way is, in his opinion, unsuitable.

sated after feedNis explains that in the shows the vampire feeds from snakes or rodents but, when it first awakes, a more substantial meal is necessary – to prevent an unfortunate incident should the vampire be hungry when the crowds are at the circus. Strangely he does call the vampire a succubus – whilst the vampire and succubus myths are closely related, one would hardly accuse this obviously male vampire of being a female sex demon.

Nanoosh has released the guard dogs, so they can hunt down their evening meal. On seeing the dogs the vampire retreats into his coffin.

cowering from the lightWe see the vampire again, later, as Bragg is taken backstage to see the performers in their cages. Interestingly the vampire cowers when a lantern is held up to it – showing fear of the light. Backstage Bragg is also introduced to the werewolf (David Thornton) – still in human form – as well as the reanimated corpse (Ed French) – a Frankenstein’s Monster type – and finally the mummy – a desiccated corpse whose eyes still move.

Ed French as the vampireLike all Darkside episodes this is fairly short plus the twist ending of this one can be seen a mile away, however the episode as a whole and the ending itself really work for a combination of reasons. The circus looks marvellous, decayed and full of atmosphere (despite the fact that Bragg says it has none). The writing is excellent, especially the dialogue – as you would hope as the screenplay was written by Romero. The ending is nicely violent for a television episode.

Kevin O’Connor as BraggThe main reason that this all works, however, is the acting. Both Hickey and O’Connor are excellent and there is a real chemistry between the two actors. The ending might be obvious but the motivations of the two main characters are noble, though both are at odds with each other. Bizarrely there is no real bad guy here, which makes for a nice change.

Fantastic episode, 7 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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