Dir. Ron Oliver (1992)
A young boy who is afraid of the dark finds something in the basement of the house he recently moved into with his family.
Look, basements are scary. I'm man enough to admit it. They're dark, dirty, and filled with dusty old things that could very well be haunted. While it can be terrifying enough for a kid who is used to their basement, it can be even scarier for someone in a brand new environment who has no idea what to expect. The Tale of the Dark Music, in which music opens a world to another dimension in the basement of Andy's (Graham Selkirk) new house, takes advantage of the scary basement trope and winds up being one of the scarier episodes of the entire series.
The house is hungry in Eric's (Jacob Tierney) story about Andy, who is bullied by seemingly everyone, from local Dave Mustaine-wannabe Koda (Leif Anderson) to his little sister Christina (Jennie Lévesque). Because his mom is a pushover who lets his sister do pretty much anything she wants, Andy is tasked with performing all of the chores in the basement, where he discovers a monster that wants to feed on people. The monster is summoned by music, a fact he accidentally discovers when playing with an old radio. The monster shifts its shape to lure its victims in, becoming both a terrifying man-sized doll and a carnival barker, as if either of those things would work on anyone with any common sense.
The monster's choice of attraction is scary as hell, providing some imagery that calls back to the earlier episode The Tale of Laughing in the Dark, as well as the Charles Band-produced classic Tourist Trap. It's surprisingly effective, and this is an episode I either missed or didn't at all remember from childhood. The ambience of the basement, which feels not unlike any basements I've had in any house I've ever lived in, must have been terrifying for any kid who came across it in the 90's. It's well-done scares that never suffers from a lack of acting talent or a relatively barebones script.
The eventual reveal that the monster is willing to give Andy anything he wants if he will only feed it is jarring, as is his knowing smile to close out the tale. It's a classic story about a deal with the devil, done incredibly well and adapted in a way that a kid can understand. Unfortunately, there's only one more episode for the first season due to the limitations of Paramount Plus, but I'm hardly gonna gripe when I've been able to watch the rest of them there. Tune in next week for the last episode of this season and the first from Season 2!
Who this episode is for: Kids horror lovers, Faustian horror fans, Hair metal fans
Bottom line: Probably the second scariest episode from Season 1, The Tale of the Dark Music is one that I must've missed as a kid. It's creepy, incredibly well-done, and never is afraid to get a little too scary for the kids. While the rest of the episode is fairly benign and unremarkable and the story is nothing new, the intensity of the scares works perfectly to make this episode one to watch. You can check it out now on Paramount Plus.