Saturday, May 12, 2007

Horror Hospital

GARTH MARENGHI’S DARKPLACE (2004)

Unlikely defenders of the Earth: from left to right, Matt Berry as Lucien Sanchez, Richard Ayoade as Thornton Reed, Matthew Holness as Rick Dagless and Alice Lowe as Liz Asher.

FILMED in the 1980s, DARKPLACE has earned a cult reputation as one of the most terrifying and radical television programmes. Considered too subversive and scary, the show was suppressed for over twenty years – although it did enjoy a brief run in Peru - until it finally surfaced on Channel 4 in 2004. The brainchild of best-selling horror author Garth Marenghi – the writer of such chillers as The Ooze ("can water die?") and Black Fang ("Rats learn to drive!") - Marenghi not only scripted and directed the episodes but also starred as the lead character, Dr Rick Dagless MD, a maverick physician battling evil forces lurking beneath a post-apocalyptic Romford hospital. The series was produced by Marenghi’s publisher and business associate Dean Learner, who plays shotgun-toting administrator Thornton Reed in the show, together with devilishly handsome and velvet-voiced Todd Rivers as Dr Lucien Sanchez, and Madeleine Wool as psychic Dr Liz Asher.

In reality, the show is a razor-sharp parody of 80s TV from Richard Ayoade and Matthew Holness, adapting the pretentious horror writer from their Perrier Award-winning GARTH MARENGHI’S NETHERHEAD (2001). Marenghi (Holness) is painted as a super-egotistical Stephen King who happens to write like Guy N. Smith or Sean Hutson. He’s a man’s man, speaking in a constant husky whisper, and wearing leather jackets over dark shirts. One often thinks of THE EXORCIST (1973) director William Friedkin when looking at Marenghi, who is inadvertently self-incriminating (at one point he boasts that he’s written more books than he’s read).

DARKPLACE's dynamic duo: Richard Ayoade and Matthew Holness.

Suitably ham-fisted, appallingly acted and badly written, DARKPLACE’s not so special effects adds to the cheesy fun as the characters battle everything from Scotch Mist to cosmic broccoli. Fashions, music, film stock and punchy audio are all captured with expert aplomb. The episodes themselves are funny enough, but the "new" framing interviews provide the real meat. Reminiscing about the show, Marenghi is presented as a blinkered genius and still thoroughly convinced that the show is a masterpiece; he adopts a highly defensive stance, aggressively justifying the material and the sub-texts behind it, while Rivers (Matt Berry) is portrayed as a washed-up theatre actor, whose experiences on the show have left him with an alcohol dependency and a hazy memory; a glass of whisky constantly in his hand, Rivers alternates between praising his own performance and having no recollection in actually starring in them. Learner (Ayoade), meanwhile, with his oddly-angled beret and extensive cigar, is the picture of a sleazy tycoon.

"He whisked off her shoes and panties in one movement, wild like an enraged shark, his bulky totem beating a seductive rhythm. Mary’s body felt like it was burning, even though the room was properly air-conditioned. They tried all the positions: on top, doggy, and normal. Exhausted, they collapsed onto the recently extended sofa bed. Then a hellbeast ate them" – Extract from Juggers by Garth Marenghi.