On the surface, the marriage of Gary Larson’s The Far Side and Halloween doesn’t seem like an immediate match. Larson’s work is broadly known for its oddball humor, but The Far Side often drifted into the macabre, showing an affinity for space aliens, demons and the undead, while often dwelling on how horrific everyday life can become when you play with perspective a bit.
After all, how do you think that carrot feels when it gets ripped from the ground and eaten alive?
In 1994, a year before the end of The Far Side’s run, CBS aired Gary Larson’s Tales from The Far Side, a Halloween special loaded with twisted horror vignettes starring bugs, monsters and anthropomorphic pigs.
For being a series of one-panel comics, Larson’s work translates surprisingly well to television. The stories in Tales from The Far Side drift from one to the next, some as short as a few seconds, the longest of which clock in at maybe 3 minutes at the most. The special’s structure feels akin to Monty Python’s Flying Circus, where skits drift into one-another without much regard for how they connect, favoring flow over continuity. There’s no over-arcing plot or themes. The special simply seeks to capture Larson’s creepy, twisted sensibility and sets it into motion.
The short bits and shifting subject matters actually does make the Tales feel akin to flipping through an anthology of Larson’s comics. For a 20-odd minute special, there’s quite a lot to take in. It’s utterly dense with gags and visual riffs, with characters often drifting through callbacks to famous panels of the comic.
The best part about Tales from The Far Side, though, is when it ventures into loving horror pastiche. Larson doesn’t necessarily throw barbs at horror films, but rather he simply applies his patented mixed-up aesthetic to them. A pair of amorous eggs gets terrorized by a house wife with an egg beater, a group of insects applaud the climactic scene from The Fly and, in what’s probably my favorite gag in the whole special, a group of cowboys root out a disguised alien by seeing which one of them screws up the number of claps in “Deep in the Heart of Texas,” like an old west version of The Thing.
One doesn’t need to be steeped in Larson’s broader work to appreciate Tales from The Far Side. If anything it’s an excellent primer to the cartoonist’s comic sensibility—his love of sinister twists drenched with bucket-loads of irony.
For being as funny and wonderfully animated as it is, it’s a shame that Tales is so difficult to come across. Though it may take a little work, or a bit of scratch, to see; fans of horror, comedy, comics–all things good in life–owe it to themselves to hunt down a copy of this tragically obscure special.