“Richard P. Rubinstein has never met a monster he didn’t like.” Thus begins a profile from 1989 about Rubinstein and his second attempt (no pun intended) in network anthology horror, following the successful one Stories from the dark side. It was indeed Rubinstein’s frustration with the success of Dark side that prompted him and his company Laurel Productions to launch Samples in 1988.
“We got quite a bit of attention, mostly because of our emphasis on story and acting,” said Rubinstein Stories from the dark side. “But as a company, for our theatrical films like Horror show as well as inside Storieswe had done very, very good makeup and special effects.
The desire to center those special effects was instrumental in creating Samplesthe most obvious successor to Stories from the dark sidewhich began syndication in October 1988, just three months later Stories wrapped up. Though there are several important similarities between them Samples and its predecessor there are also some major differences and this focus on special effects is at the heart of it – just like that title.
Where Stories from the dark side tackled a wide variety of different types of (usually at least horror-adjacent) stories, the episodes of Samples pretty much always featuring, well, a monster or two – from traditional ghouls like vampires and zombies to far stranger fare. What’s more, while Samples alternates between comedy episodes and more serious episodes, just like Dark side did, even the most straightforward episode of Samples tends to be what Rubinstein himself calls “a mixture of fun and fear.” All of which probably go a long way in explaining why Samples has such a special place in my heart.
i entered Stories from the dark side not sure I’d ever seen an episode of it before (and ended the run still not convinced I had). Of Samples, I know damn well I saw episodes of it when it first aired, and I have vivid memories of two of them — two that happened to be released together years later on a double-episode VHS tape. They’re also a pretty good introduction to what to expect Samplesbut they’re both later in the first season, so we’ll get back to them in future columns.
While Rubinstein and his production company may have been the driving force behind it Samplesand the reason for the similarity to Stories from the dark sidethe most famous name associated with the behind-the-scenes show is probably makeup artist Dick Smith (as famous for his classic Halloween monster masks as he is for his Oscar-winning film work), who was assigned as a “special makeup effects consultant” throughout the show’s three seasons.
This dedication to monsters as special effects goggles is primarily reflected in virtually the entire series, which features a wide variety of (often, but by no means always) pretty cool monsters brought to life through a variety of different techniques, from simple makeup to animatronics, puppets and rubber suits to stop the movement.
Despite this, Samples actually cost fewer than the average show at the time, with episodes budgeting only about $200,000. This means that Samples features slightly fewer major stars or impressive directing credits than Stories from the dark sidebut it is doing feature episodes adapted from classic stories by the likes of Frank Belknap Long, Manly Wade Wellman, Lisa Tuttle, Maureen McHugh, Stephen King, and several stories by Robert Bloch, to name a few.
On October 22, 1988, Samples started off strong with “The Feverman”, a particularly good opening episode backed by crawl show 2 director Michael Gornick, who also directed several episodes of Stories from the dark side. The teleplay is by Neal Marshall Stevens, who under the pseudonym Benjamin Carr would go on to write about forty Full Moon films with various stripes, as well as the direct-to-video sequel Hell Raiser: Deader and the 2001 remake Thirteen Ghosts. None of those should be at surprisingly, as the tone and aesthetic of Samples comes pretty close to your average Full Moon feature — or to Thirteen Ghostsfor that matter.
Directed by someone else Stories from the dark side veteran (who also provided the story the episode was based on), “Holly’s House” gives us a good taste of the variety the term “monster” will be applied to before the series ends. In this case, the monster in question is the life-sized, doll-like mascot of the children’s TV series of the same name, who isn’t quite as nice as her on-screen persona suggests.
The procession of Dark side alums continue in “New York Honey” and “The Vampire Hunter,” again directed by Michael Gornick. “My Zombie Lover” is the show’s first full-length comedy episode, featuring an almost all-black cast in a world where the dead come back to life and a living young woman and her zombie boyfriend embark on a love affair that is challenged by her. prejudiced family. Like with Stories from the dark sidethe comic episodes are often the weakest link Samplesbut this one, written and directed by David Misch, producer of TV series like Duck man and Handymanis not bad.
As we wrap up our first column Samples we get to the show’s sixth episode, which also premieres its first “major” guest star. Singer cum actor Meat Loaf plays a mad scientist on an island in the Caribbean where revolution is in the air. It seems he has perfected a serum that keeps a dead rebel’s body in pristine condition for years to come, turning him into something of a perpetual organ bank for the Doctor’s wealthy friends. Unfortunately, a mishap with the serum leads the deceased rebel to return in search of his missing parts.
It is the only episode from writer/director Richard Benner, who also submitted scripts for episodes of Stories from the dark side and Friday the 13thnot to mention an uncredited pass on the screenplay for My stepmother is an alien. When it comes to places to pull the plug (pun intended), it’s not quite as promising as where we started, but don’t worry – next time we’ll cover some classic installments, including stories from the pens of such titans of the field like Robert Bloch and Manly Wade Wellman.
In addition to his work as a Monster Ambassador here at Signal Horizon, Orrin Gray is the author of several books about monsters, ghosts, and sometimes the ghosts of monsters, and a byline movie writer on Unwinnable and others. His stories have appeared in dozens of anthologies, including Ellen Datlow’s Best horror of the year and he is the author of two collections of vintage horror film essays.