"The cutty black sow shall come on All Hallow's Even, to devour and destroy."
When great-grandmother Catherine (Paula Trueman) realizes that she is going to die during the pre-dawn hours of October 31, the distraught woman gives her young great-grandson Jamie (Huckleberry Fox) a disturbing last request. She implores that he take several stones, make a mark on each stone for every member of the family, place the stones in a fire, and guard over them. For if a stone should happen to fall out of the fire's protection, the cutty black sow will come and claim the soul of the person whose mark is upon that stone.
Jamie gets as far as placing the marked stones in a fire, but he cannot watch over them until the end of All Hallow's Even at midnight. His parents are at the funeral home, preparing for the the next day's burial, and Jamie has to watch over his younger sister, and take her trick or treating.
When they return from trick or treating, Jamie finds a stone has fallen free of the fire's protection...
For some strange reason, The Cutty Black Sow, Tales from the Darkside's final Halloween themed episode, did not air on, or even around, Halloween, the most appropriate of times for it to do so. Instead, for whatever reason, the episode was aired during the first week of May, smack dab in the very middle of springtime. Weird.
This memorable and frightening episode (one of the series very best) has more than a little in common with season three's Christmas themed episode, Season of Belief. Both feature impressionable young children hearing a spooky tale of a monstrous spirit-beast that, if certain precautions are not undertaken, will arrive and bring down all manner of fear and misery upon the unfortunate soul(s) that have awakened it from its fitful slumber. Both are slow builds, where the reality of the monstrous spirit-beast is called into question, until the very end, where the final answer of whether or not the Grither or the Cutty Black Sow exists is given. It came as no surprise whatsoever to this viewer that both episodes, although based on source stories by two different writers, were written by the same man, series fixture Michael McDowell.
The difference between the two episodes is that of tone. Seasons of Belief was, more or less, played for laughs, while The Cutty Black Sow is dead serious. Director Richard Glass pulled out as many stops as the television standards and practices of the day would allow, and cloaks every scene with dark and foreboding atmosphere that had me checking the shadows pooled at the edges of the frame; checking to see if anything was hiding there, waiting to pounce. It is unfortunate that this episode seems to be the man's only directing credit.
Because I remembered The Cutty Black Sow as being a genuinely chilling episode of the series, I was a tad reluctant to return to it, having not seen it in well over two decades. Would the reality hold up to the memory? Well, for the most part, yes, it did. There are a few shortcomings. Huckleberry Fox is a tad under emotive for a kid that is supposed to be deathly terrified, and some of the scares could have used a tad bit of sharpening. But neither of those shortcomings defused the mounting suspense, nor thinned the ever mounting dread that grew as the fateful midnight hour crawled closer and closer. Great stuff.