Tales From The Darkside Pilot Trick Or Treat

Tales From the Darkside was a show that always frightened me as a kid. Just the theme music was enough to creep me out. As a result, it's still one of my favorite horror anthology shows, equaling Tales From the Crypt, and definitely better than Freddy's Nightmares or the Friday the 13th show. The showed debuted on October 29, 1983 with the pilot, titled Trick or Treat. The story is about a miserly old man named Mr. Hackles who holds almost the entire town under loads of debt. He makes it clear that he loves two things, money and Halloween. Every Halloween he insists that the children of the families that owe him money come to his house, which he has set up as a haunted house. But it's not for fun! The kids have to look for his stack of IOU's without getting so scared they run out. If they find the IOU's their parents' debts are forgiven.

The Kimbles have had the misfortune of moving to town in a year when the crops are bad. As a result they are in deep with Mr. Hackles.  But even with the chance of erasing his debt, Mr. Kimble won't let his son go to be terrorized by Mr. Hackles. Of course Billy decides to go on his own accord to help his family out. Before Billy gets there we see other kids trying to find the IOU's only to lose their nerve and run out of the house. And boy, are these kids lightweights! They get scared of by a rubber bat, a stuffed bear, and an animatronic skeleton. The kid who was scared by the bear even let his fear overcome the fact that apparently his father had been beating him all year to somehow prepare him for this night. 

Mr. Hackles gets another knock on his door, but it's not Billy just yet.  Instead it's a witch, who flies into the house and causes the IOU's to scatter all over the room. Hackles becomes worried about his stash of money, and runs in to find a pirate skeleton (?WTF?) rifling through his fortune. The pirate skeleton laughs, a fact that I only mention because apparently that laugh was provided by the one and only Tim Curry. Running away from the pirate, Hackles opens a door to find that it has become a portal to hell. Satan and a few demons are hanging out, and Hackles gets pulled into hell, presumably never to be heard from again. Billy shows up just in time for the witch to pelt him with IOU's and stacks of cash and loose jewelry. The camera pulls away and we see that the graveyard that Hackles has erected as a Halloween decoration includes his own tombstone.

The pilot is okay, but when you see that it was written by George Romero it definitely seems like it should have been much better. Instead of a well structured horror story, it comes off almost like a Christian parable against greed. Romero is the best known name attached, but there are some other notables in the cast. It's directed by Bob Balaban, who has 116 acting credits (including Altered Staes, Ghost World, and episodes of Seinfeld), 29 directing credits (including Amazing Stories, Eerire Indiana, and the 2002 version of The Twilight Zone), and writing and producing credits. Mr. Hackles was played by Barnard Hughes, whose 105 acting credits include Tron,  The UFO Incident, and Car 54 Where Are You?. Max Wright plays a business associate of Hackles in the opening scene which serves to set up Hackles' character. Wright it seems has been in just about every popular sitcom ever made, but is best known for playing the dad on ALF. Eddie Jones, one of the debt laden townsfolk, went on to be in C.H.U.D., Lois and Clark, and the 1991 version of Dark Shadows. The devil was played by Ed French, who is credited as a makeup artist on 82 productions, but only has five acting credits including this The genre cred is there, if not in spades. The episode is alright, but far from the best the series had to offer. Still, it's not terrible, especially by the standards of other horror shows of the time period.

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