Alas, I have no more dead horror directors to mourn. Instead, ghouls and goblins, I’d like to take this last opportunity to sing the praises of, and hopefully expose a lot of you to the joy of “Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace”, a spoof television series that ran for six episodes on the UK’s Channel 4 network (it’s their equivalent of public television/PBS here in the States) in 2004. It’s made it way here to the states on Adult Swim and the SyFy networks, and was on Hulu for a short time. All of the episodes are on Amazon, but if you’re a broke ass (and most of us are these days) they’re on YouTube as well. Before we get into what exactly GMD is, a quick word about the people who came up with this delightfully insane television show.
The roots of GMD, and later, The IT Crowd came from a comedy troupe known as “The Mighty Boosh”. The creators of GMD, Matthew Holness and Richard Ayoade (now a semi-household name among the nerdliest of nerdlies) both wrote and performed for that troupe that also included Noel Fielding and GMD stars Julian Barratt , Matt Berry, and Alice Lowe. During writing sessions for “The Mighty Boosh” Ayoade and Holness invented a fictional pulp horror writer Garth Marenghi (it’s an anagram of Argh Nightmare. No, seriously.) vis-à-vis Stephen King:
…the idea of which was to mock the egotistical nature of the Kings, Straubs, Koontzes, and Barkers as ‘horror masters’. Ayoade and Holness put on two separate stage shows – Garth Marenghi’s Fright Knight and Garth Marenghi’s Netherhead. The stage shows were so popular, and critically acclaimed that after winning the Perrier Award (NO it’s not for having the sparkliest water on stage, it’s for comedy) that the television show was launched.
Okay, enough about the history. Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace is so unfunny that it’s funny, so stupid that it’s brilliant, and so unscary that it’s scary. The show presents itself as a documentary, featuring interviews with the “cast” of the show within the show, Darkplace, which takes place at the fictional Darkplace Hospital:
The premise is, of course, that the show was deemed by those in charge at the network to be too frightening and scary to be played on regular television. The show had been unearthed, and was now available to be seen. Darkplace took place in a hospital in which the chief of surgery, Dr. Rick Dagless, had opened a portal to hell (no explanation is given as to why this character does that). For the entirety of the six episodes, the characters in the show battle the absurd (often Lovecraftian) horrors that come to threaten the hospital, while the “actors” talk about their experiences making the show.
Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace can be thought of as a send-up of 1980s hospital procedural dramas such as Trapper John, M.D. (it even uses the same font in the titles) infused with the cosmic horror of H.P. Lovecraft and the viscera of the so-called “video nasties”. The show is fraught with production gaffes, nonsensical dialogue, horrific acting, and special effects an intoxicated 13 year old could come up with, GMD is most assuredly an acquired taste. People not familiar with what the horror genre and network television was in the early to mid-eighties will likely not understand or “get” Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, and shrug it off as so much stupidity.
But, for those of us who remember just how seriously the next Stephen King or Dean Koontz novel was taken back then or episodes of St. Elsewhere or ER will delight in how this cult program absolutely eviscerates those two institutions of entertainment. With episode titles like “The Creeping Moss from the Shores of Shuggoth” ventures directly into the absurd from the first moment and doesn’t let up until the last seconds of the show. This is parody of those artists, actors, writers, and networks at its highest level, in the sense that particular media, almost as a functional characteristic, took itself far, far too seriously. Pay particular attention to Ayoade as Darkplace writer, producer, director, and actor Dean Leaner:
Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace is an acquired taste, one that only a few will ever truly appreciate. I consider myself a fan, and even I think a lot of it is borderline moronic. But then again, that is the point of this show really. The subgenre of comedy horror is not one that truly developed until only recently – sure, Evil Dead 2 had its moments as well as a smattering of a few other films. But, movies with some breakthrough success like Shaun of the Dead and Tucker and Dale vs. Evil simply didn’t exist in the eighties and nineties. Successful horror movies were always dead nuts serious – even slasher movies like Friday the 13th and Halloween were always presented as so straight-faced, so humorless to the point where audiences would see these movies, and just find themselves laughing at the sheer pointlessness of it all 20 minutes in anyway.
GMD puts a face on that self-parody, as if the directors and writers decided to come out from behind the cameras and say, “yeah, we know this shit is stupid, but you still pay to see it, so who’s stupid now?”. GMD is a show that every true horror aficionado should watch, if only just to take yourself down a peg and have a laugh or two. The humor of this show is encapsulated by this image and quote:
Enjoy your Halloween, everyone.
Today’s guest review was by Wally Quigley, a creative writer and director as well as a fan of horror movies. He last discussed Tobe Hooper’s legacy.