Thursday, February 12, 2009

Darkroom (1981, Episodes 1-2)

Darkroom was a great little horror anthology that ran on ABC for a mere 7 episodes, from Nov. 1981 to Jan. 1982. Hosted by James Coburn, who introduced each segment from a darkroom where he is either developing or handling a photograph related to the upcoming story, Darkroom seems to have slipped into obscurity.

It never gets mentioned among the better remembered anthologies that came after it, shows like Tales From the Darkside, the New Twilight Zone, the New Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Amazing Stories, etc., which is a shame, because it really holds its own even among this formidable company.

Each hour-long installment was comprised of at least two (sometimes three) segments , which has lead to some confusion at various web-sources that list 16 episodes for the series. There were 16 stories in all, but contained in only 7 episodes. Like any anthology series, Darkroom has its hits and misses, but when it worked, it really worked. I saw the entire series when it originally aired and certain images and plot elements from that single viewing stayed with me for life.

Darkroom opened with a first-person camera speeding at floor level through a house, twisting and turning around corners and down hallways.

"You’re in a house. Maybe your own. Maybe one you’ve never seen before. You feel it. Something evil. You run, but there’s no escape. Nowhere to turn. You feel something beckoning you, drawing you into the darkness. To the terror that awaits you in the Darkroom!"

SPOILER ALERT! Episode summaries to follow!
EPISODE 1 - Closed Circuit / Stay Tuned, We'll Be Right Back

In "Closed Circuit", an aging news broadcaster discovers he's to be replaced by a computer-generated simulation that perfectly replicates him in every way. He resists at first, but the inevitability of the change, coupled with the promise of an early retirement, causes him to accept and finally welcome his fate.

There's just one caveat-with his unaging electronic doppleganger appearing on TV every night, the studio can't have his real, aging self being seen in public. They take him to a secret apartment in the studio basement where he'll be living out his "retirement."

In the second story, "Stay Tuned, We'll Be Right Back", a father discovers that the crystal radio set he bought for his son as a hobby is receiving radio broadcasts from the 1940s.

At first its just radio serials and commercials, but he's soon hearing Morse-code broadcasts from World War II. When he intercepts a communication revealing the position of a troop carrier that his father served on, which was sunk on Oct. 15, 1942, he becomes obsessed with somehow changing history to save his father's life.

He adapts the crystal radio to send as well as receive, and broadcasts a Morse-code message in German to divert the troop carrier. He succeeds in changing history, and therefore the present. His father lives, but with the unintended consequence of the Nazis having won the war.

EPISODE 2 - The Bogeyman Will Get You / Uncle George

In this first story, written by Robert Bloch, a young Helen Hunt plays Nancy, a teenager who, with encouragement from her monster-movie loving sister, suspects that the mysterious family friend Neil is a vampire.

Discovery of a drowned body at the lake near Neil's cabin only confirms her fears.

One night, Neil discovers her searching his cabin for clues. He assures her he is not a vampire. However, as the full moon soon reveals, he is a WEREWOLF!

The second story, "Uncle George", is one of my favorites of the series.

When good ol' Uncle George passes away peacefully in bed, he leaves his survivors Bert and Margot Haskell (Claude Akins and June Lockhart) with a dilemma.

Seems they had come to count on Uncle George's monthly pension check from the railroad where he used to the tune of $1,000 a month. Bert has an idea. He seeks out a friendly hobo (played by character actor Dub Taylor) that vaguely resembles Uncle George and presents him with a proposition: free room and board, 3 meals a day, a TV all to yourself and as much booze as you care to drink.

All he has to do is pretend to be Uncle George, in case a lawyer from the railroad pays one of their surprise visits to check in on him. They only come by every few years, and wouldn't recognize the switch.

This seems like a dream come true to the new "Uncle George". When Bert brings him home, he's already drunk from celebrating his good fortune.

While Margot takes him to his room, Bert gets to digging a grave in the cellar for the real Uncle George.

The new "Uncle George" is relaxing in bed when Bert and Margot come in to reveal one small detail they failed to mention.

Seems the check Uncle George was receiving each month from the railroad wasn't exactly a pension, but a disability check. One day while he was working on the rails, a runaway freight car plowed right into Uncle George, severing off both legs just above the knee.

"You better finish this bottle of scotch, Uncle George.", Margot advises.

Bert turns around to reveal an apron and a circular saw. BZZZZZZZZZ....

Remaining episodes will be detailed in a later post.


C.Knight said...

This episode in particular was really scary.....the reveal at the end with the circular saw was horrifying!! I loved this show as a child and was disappointed/confused when it seemingly just disappeared after only a handful of episodes. I would love to get my hands on a copy of this show but I doubt it'll ever turn up on dvd. There were some parts of the bogeyman episode on yoututbe for a while but it was never completed.

Anyways, thanks for posting about this...your blog is amazing and there are tons of things on here I remember and cherish from my childhood.

Brother Bill said...

C. Knight, thanks for the kind words. As I hinted in the post, bootleg DVDs of the entire series can be found on-line. Hopefully Mill Creek, Shout! or some other enterprising company will come around with an official release eventually.

LovelyLady said...

I probably have the wrong anthology show, but was there an episode of Darkroom where a little girl receives a jack in the box from a clown on her 8th birthday? The clown tells her to make a wish and wind up the jack in the box and whatever she wishes for will come true. A couple night later her babysitter turns out all the lights and is chasing her around the dark house with a knife trying to scare her. The little girl hides in her room and makes a wish on the jack in the box and her babysitter goes missing never to be seen again. Or is that another CBS show from the early 80's?

Brother Bill said...

LovelyLady: Sounds vaguely familiar but its definitely not a Darkroom episode. Kindertrauma is the place to go to solve these kinds of mysteries.