Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Horror Of...Halloween Night, Tales from the Darkside - "Trick or Treat"

Halloween has had many classic periods. We each have our preferences. 1820's. 1640's. 1930's. But among the periods that mean a lot to me is the 80's. Good horror themed videos. Good horror movies. And a selection of good horror anthology TV shows.

One of the classics of that period was Tales from the Darkside.

The shows opening and closing are iconic (Composed and written by Donald Rubinstein and Erica Lindsay.).This music helps set up a frightfully wonderful mood of foreboding and dread. It demands you start thinking on the looming nightfall, or just how far away daylight really is. It's exactly the thing, anytime of the day, to set the mood for horror.

The show is an anthology series in the vein of Twilight Zone and the Outer Limits, though it focused far more on monsters, magic, with the occasional alien or techno terror stories. It ran for 4 seasons in the mid 80's.

It was created by George Romero and others to showcase these creepy stories. Among the stories used are Stephen King's and other luminaries of horror and science fiction.

The first story they chose to do was a Halloween tale, which is all so nice for us. And I was pleased to see it actually premiered just days before Halloween in 1983. Now that is how you open a horror series.

So let's see what treat the 80's has saved up for us.

Tales from the Darkside - "Trick or Treat"

As titles go, this one is apt. The stories centers around an old bitter and cruel miser living out his days in a struggling farm town. And as it is Halloween, he is giddy. For this is the day above others when he can compel children to come to him to be terrorized. The trick is on the kids and treat is all for him.

Gideon Hackles (Barnard Hughes) is a bitter twisted man. He also is the richest man in the part of country he lives in. He has accomplished this in part by pulling almost everyone is town into his debt. He has IOU's from most everyone, and owns the deeds to most all of the local farms. And as it's been a bad season, everyone is just falling deeper into debt to him.

He loves this. It means he owns them all the more. He's that much richer. And, he feels, he's that much more their social and moral superior. He feasts on suffering.

But he's also cheap. He allows no one else to work in his business (It costs money and it is just one more person who'll try to steal from him.). He makes accountants travel from afar, in the middle of the night, to work on his books at his house (And he bills them for refreshments as they work.). He even keeps all his wealth in the house, distrustful of banks. He is an isolated person.

And with Halloween the next day, he has big plans. He makes deal with the town every year. He tells them that he will place all of their IOU's in his house in one easy to find spot for the night. They are there for the taking. But only children are welcomed to try. They must come and Trick or Treat from him.

But he doesn't play nice. The one place he spends money is on his tricks. Sounds. Lights. Mobile scares. His house becomes a Haunted House for the night. Most kids are too scared to come to the house. Some get to the door. The rest step inside for a moment then tun home screaming in terror.

It's a real hoot to the miser.

But why would kids go? Their parents. These adults are in deep debt to a cruel man. He cajoles them, mocks them, and even threatens to call \IOU's due (and take farms). He wants those kids at his house.

And this twists the parents. Some pressure their kids, others beat their kids out of desperation. But the kids are too young to understand.

It all just pleases Gideon. He loves looking down on his community. And he loves tormenting kids.

Tonight, though, proves to be different for him. It seems he's not the only one that can call on debts.

The house starts acting weird.

 And then he has another visitor.

Thinking it's a parent trying to mess with his he runs to the door. But it's more complicated than that.

Particularly when the witch flies into the house and cackles, while saying, "Trick or treat."

She then causes the miser's IOU's to fall from his hiding place, and then fly into her hands. She then starts tossing them around.

He starts to panic, and then worries about his money. He finds a ghost pirate has gotten into the jewelry he's taken as payment over the years. And then his cash explodes out of his wall safe, flying around the room.

(Apparently, Tim Curry did the laugh for this pirate.)

He stumbles away now, grabbing for money. He is quickly breathless and on the ground, trying to gather the cash, muttering to himself. He's so distracted that he doesn't notice that he's crawled through a doorway into an odd room bathed in red light.

He finds himself amidst a collection of strange beings. One tall one with horns smiles at him. He tells him that he's getting warmer, and then hot. It is a play on how he taunts the kids in the house as they searched, but now it's clear that the miser is getting hot for a very different reason.

The last we see of the miser, Gideon Hackles, is his backside as he crawls down a path that will only ever get warmer.

The next kid to arrive at the house finds the witch waiting. She cackles, and tosses IOU's around, then flies off. As she does she tosses the miser's wealth down for the locals to have.

"This awesome! This is great! This is...wait. Is she making me the scapegoat
for this crime?"

And that brings us to the end of this inaugural tale. In some ways it brings to mind A Christmas Carol. It's less ghosts teaching a lesson, and more the devil goes after a rich jerk. The are both cruel men, uninterested and unconnected from their communities. And they both learn their are powers well above their wealth and social status.

I appreciate the way the show nicely builds up Gideon Hackles. He tries to rationalize him life. He says he is a fair man, and people do choose to borrow from him. But instead of it just being business it is clear he uses his advantage to leverage things from the town.

The show also simply lays out how clever he is, showing his automated OPEN sign, that he's rigged, which portends all the works he built and installed in his house.

It also does a nice job of building up reasons to hate him. He's miserly. He likes to revel in his power over people. And then he eagerly sends children running in fear, and laughs uncontrollably at the sight.

And as we cheer on the forces of Hell claim on this miser, we also get a feel for the humanity of the people around him. Some just trying to work. Some trying make things right. Some taking the wrong paths, but having some decency to them still. A decency that might have saved one old misers soul.

Tales from the Darkside, like other anthology series of it's ilk would at times like to leave you thinking on such things. So contemplate how you connect to those around you, and just what spark of decency resides on you this Halloween season. Because, come a night soon, you may find a witch on your doorstep saying, "Trick or treat."

Until next, try to enjoy the daylight.

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