“Something was pouring from his mouth. He examined his sleeve. Blood, blood. Crimson, copper-smelling blood. His blood. Blood, blood, and bits of sick.”
So begins the first episode of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, a BBC television production from the ‘80s; written, directed by, and starring possibly acclaimed horror writer Garth Marenghi. Pompous, infuriating, and not really that good at anything he does, Marenghi is the epitome of the bad author who, for reasons beyond anyone’s imagining, is somehow successful, though never as successful as they claim to be.
In the 1980s, BBC 4 hired him to create a horror program, the result of which was so terrible that it was banished to the vaults for twenty years, or as Marenghi tells it, the producers “ran away screaming, like little girls.” Now, in the worst programming drought in television history, the show has been resurrected as filler.
Of course, all that is the premise of the series. It is actually the brainchild of comedians Matthew Holness and Richard Ayoade, spoofing the genre of old, dumb “horror” series. The show is craftily assembled, using the BBC 4 icon from the 1980s, cuts of interviews to the present, and special effects blatantly displaying wires and cheap speed-reduction. It shows the genius of using cheap effects and recycling material, lowering production costs, and all the while laughing at itself and actual shows from the 1980s.
The show-within-a-show, Darkplace, is about a hospital called “Darkplace” and the paranormal events that take place because of the Gates of Hell being opened several years ago, then closed, then spontaneously opening again, then kind of stuck with enough of a crack open that unexplained things happen – unexplained mainly because Marenghi didn’t see any need to explain further.
The story revolves around Dr. Rick Dagless M.D., Marenghi’s character: a coolheaded, supposedly hunky, incredible doctor (though no medicine is ever really shown). His sidekicks include Dr. Lucien Sanchez (played by Todd Rivers, who in-turn is played by Matt Berry, of Mighty Boosh fame) and newly arrived female doctor, Liz Asher (who takes the brunt of sexist jokes playing on the typical sexist jokes of the 1980s). Marenghi’s publisher, Dean Learner (Richard Ayoade, best known as Moss from The IT Crowd) rounds out the cast, an even worse actor than the rest, but they needed his garage in which to film the show.
The real comedic genius of the show is its sheer awfulness. The acting is purposely dreadful, the camera shots often stick from hilariously terrible angles that cut off half of people’s heads, and firearms (including flame-throwers) appear from nowhere to supply needed explosive action. 1980s-style exudes throughout with fuzzy picture, an opening sequence reminiscent of MacGyver and the remake of the Twilight Zone, and a synthesizer-filled soundtrack.
What struck me as most humorous was the scripting, with unrealistic lines, bewildering trades of dialogue, and blatant fodder for Marenghi’s character and his staggering ego. Plotlines are semi-sensical, stemming from interesting ideas such as telekinetic abilities and alien spores descending through clouds, but executed even worse than a Michael Bay movie.
There are six episodes on the DVD, the entirety of the series since the BBC is notorious for producing only a few episodes before moving on. The humor is often subtle, such as fake opening credits (“Music by Stig Baasvik…Based on melodies originally whistled by Garth Marenghi.”) Those who like British humour such as The Office and the Mighty Boosh will love it, despite cringing at the awkwardness and feeling the urge to punch self-obsessed, bad horror writers in the face.