Author. Dreamweaver. Visionary. Plus actor. These are just some of the terms used to describe prolific horror aficionado Garth Marenghi. Back in 2004, a six-episode miniseries aired across the pond entitled Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. It told the tale of fictional author Garth Marenghi (Matthew Holness) and the horror hospital soap opera he curated in the 1980s. A show so edgy, so ahead of its time that it only lasted six episodes. Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace also contained interviews with the primary cast. There’s Todd Rivers (Matt Berry) who portrayed the enigmatic Dr. Lucien Sanchez. Dean Learner (Richard Ayoade) played Thornton Reed, head of the Darkplace hospital. Outside of the series, Learner also served as Marenghi’s publisher. Marenghi himself was Dr. Rick Dagless, a charismatic man who marched to the beat of his own drum.
Unfortunately, Madeleine Wool (Alice Lowe), who stole hearts as resident psychic Dr. Liz Asher, had gone missing years prior.
Darkplace was written and directed by Holness and Ayoade. It’s become somewhat of a cult comedy classic. So, why should you watch it? I’m glad you asked! Here’s a comprehensive list of reasons why Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace should be on your radar.
It’s so bad it’s good!
One thing you should know off the bat about Darkplace — it’s a parody. It spoofs soap operas, particularly ones airing in the 1980s. Additionally, it parodies slasher flicks and the overly gory horror genre of that time. Everything about the show is horrible — from the acting to the writing to the poor production values. But that’s all on purpose. Have you ever watched something so bad it actually reverses over the threshold to good? That’s this show. So bad it’s good. You’ll laugh your arse off and then some. Which leads me to my next point…
There’s something innovative about how Darkplace operates. That’s not to say parodies never existed prior to it, but this series took the genre and inventively updated it. Firstly, it’s quite feasible that a hospital horror soap like Darkplace could exist in that era. I’m sure there were shows of that caliber in the ’80s that took themselves very seriously. Marenghi being serious about it is perhaps what makes it all the funnier. Comedy comes from honesty, after all. No one “plays at” their roles or emphasizes the poor dialogue/clunky writing. Everything brims with truthfulness, which is where the funny is derived.
The bad acting!
It takes a talented performer to seamlessly pull off bad acting. I know that sounds strange, but it’s true. Berry and Ayoade are particularly adept in this arena. We all know Berry is recognized for his ability to play with language. His innate knack for adding inflection where one isn’t needed. Ayoade really surprised me here. I was so used to seeing him as the adorable Moss in The IT Crowd, and while there is still a touch of that awkwardness present, Ayoade takes it to another level with Darkplace. Berry is a believable cocky surgeon. There’s loads of awkward pauses, strange intonations, and over-the-top crying. It’s horribly hilarious.
The bad writing!
Darkplace takes place in a hospital in the UK that’s located over a hellhole. Yes, Marenghi inadvertently opens a portal to hell and with it comes a surge of supernatural phenomena in the hospital’s day-to-day. A man gives birth to a giant eyeball, of which Marenghi develops an unusual attachment. There’s a green Scottish fog that overtakes hospital grounds while ghosts of Scots past haunt Marenghi for his racy comments against them. In addition, the show uses the green fog again, but this time said fog turns a beautiful woman into a piece of broccoli. While the writing for the fictional series is atrocious, the writing for Darkplace as a whole is brilliant. The outlandish stories in the fake show are laden with plot holes and slipshod resolutions. But again — so bad it’s good.
The Matt Berry!
Ah, the Matt Berry of it all. You may know him from What We Do in the Shadows and The IT Crowd. You may even recognize him from the lesser known Toast of London. Berry is what drew me to Darkplace. While Ayoade is my favorite in the miniseries, Berry is just as hilariously bad in this. His Lucien Sanchez isn’t nearly as crass as Laszlo and Douglas Reynholm. Think of him as a toned down Steven Toast, but with a different profession. Even when you watch the faux interviews with his other character Todd Rivers, you see he’s a slightly dialed down version of Toast. Perhaps that’s where the inspiration for Toast originated. We may never know…
The hilarious gore!
If Jaws and any Quentin Tarantino film had a baby, Darkplace‘s overt gore would be the lovechild. Of course, the series is poking fun at the incessant and unnecessary gore of ’80s slasher films. You know, where the blood looks like someone spilled gallons of red Kool-Aid. And it squirts. A lot. There’s a scene wherein a decapitated head rolls across the floor and it ceases looking like a natural human head. Gunshot wounds ooze way too much blood. It may be enough to put you off red Kool-Aid forever.
The bad production values!
Hey, Marenghi isn’t a piggy bank, folks. The fictional series had a low budget. But Author/Dreamweaver/Visionary/plus Actor Garth Marenghi had a dream…that he weaved. He wove that dream like Charlotte wove her web. Darkplace is comprised of poor cinematography, camera shots of actors from only the neck up, clunky cutaways, and unrealistic monsters. There’s even a fake baby Marenghi tosses in the opening credits that’s clearly meant to be real. Nothing will arrest my attention faster than purposefully poor production values. Sign me up.
It brilliantly spoofs 1980s soap operas and slasher films!
I love a good spoofing. Spoof me up, Scotty. I also find soap operas tedious and rife with melodrama. Darkplace intelligently makes fun of that. Good plotlines? Replace them with corny dialogue, obviously artificial tears, below par writing, and overly dramatic love stories. Every movement, every production flaw, serves as a comedic moment. It’s smart TV. I’ll say it again for the folks in the back — it’s so bad it’s good.
You can watch all six episodes of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace on YouTube.
This article was originally published 9/21/20