Thursday, September 11, 2014

Monster Team-up Reflection #19: Tales from the Darkside--the Circus

"Tales from the Darkside" often features creatures in its stories, but there's one episode, above all others, which specifically fits into the monster-rally category: "The Circus".

"The Circus" is scripted by George A. Romero, from a story by Sydney J. Bounds, and directed by the versatile Michael "Creepshow 2" Gornick. At the time of its airing, it kicked off Season 3 superbly and soon became an acclaimed example of the macabre.

What makes "The Circus" special isn't so much that it contains variations of monster icons, but that it echoes the philosophical concerns of such Bradbury yarns as "Pillar of Fire", "Usher II" and even "The Smile": warning us of the myopic perception that leads to the banning and/or smearing of anything that appears unique.

The dark tale involves a reporter named Mr. Bragg (Kevin O'Conner), who visits a circus known only to make one-night stands in "isolated villages". The circus's advertisements make no bones about featuring macabre sights and shamelessly encourages folks to "Bring the Children" and "Invest in a Sense of Wonder".

Bragg is quite insolent toward the circus's Dr. Lao-like ringmaster, Dr. Nis (William Hickey), but the wise, old gent remains undaunted by the writer's remarks, defending his unique attractions and proudly reveals them to the detractor.

There's a "Nosferatu" inspired vampire (played by recurring "Darkside" make-up artist Ed French); a werewolf (David Thornton), who's unfortunately more obscured than succinctly shown; a Frankenstein-ish monster (also French) and a mummy (supplied via an eye-shifting prop). 

Bragg eloquently denounces the specimens, though eventually acknowledges their authenticity, but in no way does this diminish his disdain. Rest assured: his bigotry results in a most chilling comeuppance by the final frame.

On many levels, "The Circus" resonates more today than during its '86 airing. In this current age where mothers cringe when their sons wish to play with G.I. Joes and daughters are readily ridiculed when they request Barbies for Christmas, "The Circus" shows the grand extent of over-protectiveness and its infuriating result: a stunting of natural, imaginative growth. 

Bradbury warned us of this sort of thing. "The Circus" does, as well. As a monster team-up effort, it's undeniable fun, but like the best "Twilight Zone" yarns, it also projects a profound message and as such, fully deserves renewed contemplation. 

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