Thursday, July 3, 2014

Tales from the Darkside: The Trouble with Mary Jane

"The Trouble with Mary Jane" plays as a comedic take-off of The Exorcist. As in that film, the story centers on a little girl, the eponymous Mary Jane (Tanya Fenmore), who has been possessed by a nasty demon, and a pair of protagonists who are called upon to drive out the evil spirit. However, this demon is sassier than Pazuzu, and instead of two flawed, human, and righteous priests, our heroes are a couple of squabbling con artists played by Lawrence Tierney and Phyllis Diller, who aren't motivated by religious faith as they are by the $50,000 reward

"The Trouble with Mary Jane" is one of the sillier episodes in The Tales from the Darkside canon. It lacks the stark terror and sense of dread other, more serious-minded episodes were able to conjure, but it's amiable enough, despite its rather predictable nature and a climax that doesn't make much since.

The episode doesn't take long to show us it's going for laughs. It begins with Mary Jane's grandmother  (Anita Dangler), who remains unflappably cheery in the face of demonic possession, fussing over the unseen girl as Jack (Tierney) and Nora (Diller) Mills look on nervously. "You mustn't bite grammy, dear," she tells her. "You have very sharp teeth."

Then, we cut to an angle showing Mary Jane in bed, not restrained in anyway for some reason, as she flops around, gesticulates wildly, and declares in an unnatural voice that she is the biggest, baddest queen demon Aisha Candisha. That's about the time we see her goat legs, though thankfully that's really the only serious physical change the girl has to deal with; unlike Linda Blair, she doesn't have to worry about rotting skin, feeding tubes through the nose, and pea-soup vomit.

The performances are broad, and the comedy is fairly obvious and occasionally slapstick. Jack and Nora squabble over the course of action once they realize they're dealing with a real live demonic entity; Nora thinks they should go back to reading tea leaves for old ladies and rich housewives, but Jack thinks the reward is too big to pass up. The Mills' efforts to drive out the demon are pathetically inept and amateur. One attempt to transfer Aisha Candisha into a pig fails when the swine won't stay on the ceremonial pentagram, and the possessed girl responds by sending our would-be exorcists crashing through furniture. A plan that involves summoning a male demon, Gad, they can control results in two spirits inside Mary Jane, and well, let's just say the two demons don't enjoy being roommates, each telling the other there's no room for the two of them.

Somehow, Jack gets the power to drive out the two by sheer force of will after spending a week working out and consuming nothing but spring water (huh?). He succeeds, but the exorcism ends with the demons jumping into Jack and Nora. Of course, Jack has Aisha Candisha, and Nora has Gad. As they stumble out of the bedroom, the demons resume their bickering in separate bodies, as they head out to do whatever it is demons do when they're aren't confined in the beds of little girls. I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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