"Greetings traveller. I'm Garth Marenghi, horror writer. Most of you will probably know me already from my extensive canon of chillers, including Afterbirth, in which a mutated placenta attacks Bristol. Back in the 1980s, I wrote, directed and starred in Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, a television program so radical, so risky, so dangerous, so goddamn crazy, that the so-called powers that be became too scared to show it, and gypped me." - Garth Marenghi
Garth Marenghi's Darkplace is a show that was released in 2004 about a show based on the fictional works of a fictional horror writer called Garth Marenghi. Essentially it's part horror, part comedy and part mockumentry. The show is six episodes long and consists of the only surviving recordings of a show that was "made" in the 1980s. A show about the staff and goings on in the creepy hospital of Romford, split up with talking head interviews with the Garth, Dean and Todd.
Darkplace is an amusing parody of the cheesy horror/B movie genre and it attempts to both recreate and lampoon the genre. The show deliberately attempts to take itself too seriously, setting up ridiculous situations and then having the characters treat them as very realistic or touching and heartwarming despite the bizzare nature of circumstances. Also the show has been wonderfully treated to make it look authentic, the costumes, sets, camera work and dialog all fit in with the look of 1980s television. Additionally the show takes it one step further with some truely terrible (but hilarious) editing of the footage.
It's difficult to truely describe how clever this show is, it's an intentionally awful show that provides lame footage, poor acting, terrible plots, laughable monsters and so on but with a huge amount of tongue in cheek knowledge that it's all just a giant hoax. The show is bad and that's the point.
Oddly when it came out in 2004 there was not that much of a response to it from the public. I for one didn't even know it had come out until I saw it on DVD a couple of years ago. But since the DVD release it's enjoyed a bit of a revival and people have come to appreciate it for the comedy gem it is. You really have to understand and experience the genre of television and movies that this show is lampooning to get the full level enjoyment from the show, but as long as you realise it's all a big hoax the show is entertaining even for those who haven't watched 1980 B-Movie style shows.
Dean Learner's talking head interview about the eyeball/penis impregnation scene in episode 3 is worth watching the show for by itself.
"He couldn't actually interact with, you know, with another actor. I've never seen that before, and I've never seen that since. But I've just seen the tape, and it looks okay, though." - Todd Rivers on Dean Learner
Darkplace's packaging is simple, functional and almost exactly what it needs to be. I still personally maintain that DVDs should be packaged in cases that are the same height as CD cases, but that minor grip aside (as it applies to all DVDs) the only problem with the packaging is they could have used a slimline DVD case as the show is a single DVD. The box art maintains the hoax and provides a great level of detail about the show along with stills. Of course if you don't know the show is a hoax reading the back of it can make you wonder why it is sat in the comedy section. So it's not doing itself any favours when on the shelf, but once you're in on the joke the packaging makes more sense.
"She was like a candle in the wind... unreliable." - Dean Learner
The Extras in Darkplace are something a little bit special, they continue to support the idea that the show is a real entity and not a parody. Adding a selection of footage from a lost episode - one of the 43 episodes that were "filmed" before Dean Learner decided his haircut was bad and demanded they were all reshot, a single cut scene from "The Scotch Mist" episode titled "The one scene I cut", music from the show, test footage, an extra hour of talking head interviews and radio ads featuring the cast.
But the jewel in the crown is the commentary, which is provided by Garth Marenghi, Dean Learner and Todd Rivers - who are not the actual actors (they are really Matthew Holness, Richard Ayoade and Matt Berry) but they are the "actors" who played the characters in the show. Madeleine Wool, the fourth cast member has allegedly disappeared or died (depending on who's telling the story) so she doesn't provide any commentary as such.
This commentary is provided entirely in character at location in Garth Marenghi's basement and is just as great a lampoon of DVD commentaries as the show is of the 1980s style. Garth continues to take the entire show exceptionally seriously and gets irrate when the other two dare talk over scenes he feels are 'moving' while Todd has absolutely no memory of anything that happened because he was blind drunk the entire time while filming. Watching the show with the commentary on is a whole new experience, I love the idea of having the characters watch their own show. While it's not possible to do it in most commentaries Darkplace has characters who play characters so it can manage it. In short, the commentary is a whole extra layer to the joke and the show should be watched with it on at least once.
"As a horror writer I don't ask for much. I just hope I've changed the way you think about life." - Garth Marenghi
Darkplace is available from play for the ridiculously low price of £5.99. While the show is short, the talking heads extra adds a great deal to the experience and this is one of the few shows where the extras are genuinely part of the experience. The show itself runs for 2 hours and 24 mins but the extras more than double the experience if you want to get the full enjoyment from them. At a basic level this works out at around 4p per minute, but after you've watched all the extras it's under 2p and this is one of those shows where you really should watch all of the extras.
Final Score: 87.5%
Final Score: 87.5%
For those interested in more here's Garth's official page on the show: