Saturday, July 26, 2014

Tales from the Darkside: Anniversary Dinner

It's always the normal-seeming ones who turn out to be the biggest freaks in stories like this, isn't it? Country couple Henry and Elinor Colander (Mario Roccuzzo and Alice Ghostley) are planning their 25th anniversary when a pair of young hikers pass their home. The man is a jerk, but Ellinor takes to the girl, Sybil (Fredica Duke). Since the Colanders' children are no longer around, Elinor convinces Henry to allow Sybil, who ran away from her home two years ago, to stay and help out around the house as the prepare for their annual dinner.

"Anniversary Dinner" has a twist that's obvious a mile away. Anyone who has watched enough of these of anthology shows, whether it's Tales from the Darkside, The Twilight Zone, or Tales from the Crypt, will recognize very quickly where the story is going, what the red herrings are, and the true nature of the seemingly normal couple fairly quickly (I laughed when I saw the giant ladle and the hot tub). After all, when someone remarks how they would love to have someone for dinner, it's usually apparent that they don't mean they're inviting the other person over for post roast.

Still, after a string of sub-par and/or non-horror entries, "Anniversary Dinner" is a welcome addition to the Darkside cannon. The Colanders are convincingly simple, honest country folk, Henry as something of a grouch and Elinor as the sweet homemaker type. They squabble a bit, but they don't overdo it, and there's some real affection between the two. When the asshole hiker is a jerk to Elinor, Henry pulls a shotgun on him, and I was ready to cheer.

That's really the strength of the episode; its villains don't snarl their teeth and act like deranged monsters. They're a charming couple of empty nesters minding their own business, and in a way, you end up rooting for them. After all, not every married couple makes it 25 years. When they stir their Sybil's body in the hot tub and calmly add the vegetables for their human stew, it's a denouement that's both creepy and in it's own way heartwarming.

Apart from its predictability, the weakness of the episode is Sybil, who acts much younger than she appears to be and is never convincing as someone who has been on the road for as long as she states she is. To give the narrative more momentum, there needed to be a sense of mystery and entrapment: the more Sybil learns about her kind hosts, the greater the danger she realizes she's in, and while there is some of that, it isn't fully developed. It's more like this nice couple treats her well and then at the end, they cook her in the hot tub before she has a chance to do anything about it.

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