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I guess I just like liking things

The Darkroom, according to the tagline, is where “Old Passions Develop”. Nice use of a photography term there, tag line writer. The blurb writer has also really found his photographic groove, informing us that there’s a killer in the dark with a negative attitude. My sides may split with this hilarity. Of course, we’re in the digital age now, but I am no stranger to darkrooms and the processes within. Although my time in the darkroom was less “murder people horribly” and more “Get slightly high off the stop bath fumes,” I’ll be keeping a keen eye on any scenes in an actual darkroom, unless I am distracted by quality performances and finely tuned plotting.

The first thing that happens in my watching of this movie is that my DVD player software crashes as soon as I click “play.” I am grateful to it for trying to protect me from what’s to come.

The film opens with the familiar red light of a dark room where a gloved man who may or may not be naked is developing the opening titles. He’s doing this with a lot of white light around, which is just error number one as far as I’m concerned. Does he want to expose his paper? That stuff is expensive! The themed credits are a neat idea, but they go on forever. The boredom of this sets the tone for the entire rest of the movie.

Now we’re out of the credits, and we meet presumably the main characters having a light hearted smooch in the garden before the chap drives off somewhere. But wait! There’s an extreme close up of a camera lens, someone is watching. For no apparent reason we get a flash of lady legs in black stockings and then the guy with the camera wanders off. I think he’s supposed to be wandering off in a menacing fashion, but he just looks like his shoes are too tight. He wanders to a hovel in the woods and disappears inside.

Our main lady is cleaning up the kitchen in a pair of shorts that are too short and printed in pastel flowers, because this was made in the 1980s and pastel flowers were actually desirable on clothing items. Camera guy (this is going to be much easier when I learn their stupid names) has taped himself into a hazmat suit. He picks up an axe and turns to a bed where there’s a pair of feet tied up. Someone is probably attached to the feet, but we don’t know because the editing is so choppy already I could just scream.

Husband of ol’Pastel Shorts has forgotten something at home which he indicates with some pretty terrible acting. He’s going to turn around, but the Camera Guy has ignored the feet on the bed and is walking toward the house. The music does that “Something terrible will happen” thing that music in bad horror movies does. Camera guy is in the house, walking around in his hazmat suit but leaving plenty of forensic evidence from his grotty shoes. He finds ol’Pastel shorts in the kitchen, mixing batter. There’s a scream, and then batter (not blood) splatters the walls. It’s horrifying, what a waste of cake batter.

Pastel pants is on the floor (turns out her name is Alice) and she is bleeding the most unconvincing blood to ever be committed to film. Although considering she was baking, it’s possible she just landed on some strawberry jam. Mr. Alice gets an axe to the spine, and some slightly more convincing blood. I guess they weren’t actually the main characters after all. It was nice to know them for the short time we were together.

It's a proven fact - ladies can't resist a mullet

It’s a proven fact – ladies can’t resist a mullet

We cut to a an explosion of 80s hair in a kitchen. It’s a happy family all together in a big house, including a grandfather and two Cousins who are living with the family. One of the big haired daughters, Janet, has had a fight with her boyfriend, but he turns up anyway for a family dinner. Boyfriend Steve has a winning grin, a personable attitude and a mullet that could win awards. Despite the argument they’ve had Janet is pleased to see the Mullet. He’s a photographer, this fact is shoehorned into the conversation with arrows pointing to it.

Janet’s mother offers Steve a room for the night, but insists Janet stays in her own room. Steve takes his mullet to bed and Janet wanders off for a shower. Yes, it’s a Horror Movie Lady In A Shower Moment and yes it looks exactly like every other one you’ve seen. The sound track has developed a really annoying squeak, but I’m okay with that because it distracts me from the tedium of the plot. As Janet showers, someone is climbing up the house to the bathroom window. A camera snaps, catching photos of a blurry human shape behind a shower curtain – this is a shocking waste of film. Despite the sound of the water, Janet has super human hearing, and hears the shutter. Being as she’s a lady in a horror film, she decides not to worry about it.

But oh no, someone is hiding in Janet’s closet, breathing heavily. Janet’s super human hearing apparently only works while she’s showering, because she hears nothing. He creeps up, and pounces and … it’s Steve, unable to bear being apart from Janet for a single night. Janet protests as it’s her mother’s house and offers the disturbing line “if she wanted us to sleep together, she would have offered.” I don’t even really want that explained actually.

Janet and Steve chat about Paula, the sister who didn’t come to dinner (good name for a movie). Apparently she’s involved in some guy who lives in a trailer in the woods and is really weird. Hang about, didn’t Camera Guy go to a hovel in the woods? There’s an arrow pointing to this line too. It’s a neon one.

We’re back to the darkroom, which this time doesn’t have white light flooding it. Photos of the murdered couple and a bound girl are hung to dry, plus a photo of Grandpa. He hasn’t bothered to develop the shower photos, I told you it was a waste of film.

In the kitchen, Mother is complaining that Paula didn’t come home last night. I’m going to assume she’s the one tied to the bed in the shack. Janet offers to go and find Paula. She will be taking the Mullet. First they wander the basement, where Steve discovers a locked door which leads to the darkroom that belonged to Janet’s father who died in a house fire 10 years previously. Janet’s Uncle and Aunt also died in the fire, which is why the cousins are living with them.

Janet and Steve have a row about marriage, which Janet isn’t ready for. Steve storms off in a sulk. Cindy, the little sister (who looks older than Janet by a good 5 years) is taking them to George’s hovel in the woods to find Paula. As Janet and Cindy wander around, they are photographed from the bushes. Despite looking directly at the camera several times, they are women in a horror movie and so decide not to make a fuss.

A policeman arrives at the house to ask Mother and Grandfather if they have seen anything unusual because the murdered couple from earlier are “missing.” Considering this house is supposed to be 20 miles from the actual town, I guess the family is known for incredibly good eyesight as well as super human shower hearing. Grandfather, on hearing the news, freaks out and runs away, muttering something about Cousin Mark. The cop watches him leave and listens to the muttering, but doesn’t try to find out what’s going on. He’s a terrible cop and should be fired.

Something is bothering Grandfather, so he takes Janet’s car to follow the cop. There’s someone hiding in the back seat, I wonder who it could possibly be. A knife is forced through the back of the drivers seat, stabbing Grandfather who considerately pulls over before dying. The blood is more convincing, but there’s not a lot of it considering the knife went right through. Camera Guy spends a few minutes in broad daylight beside a public road taking pictures of Grandfather dying. Stealth is not a strong point.

The intrepid trio of Janet, Steve and Cindy are approaching George’s hovel in the woods. George leaps out and attacks Steve. Some people just don’t appreciate a good mullet. George runs off into the woods having been lightly slapped and the three enter the hovel. The soundtrack of flies tells us there’s a dead body in there, and the fact I’m not a complete idiot tells me it’s Paula.  She’s dead, but very tidy. The gore budget on this film must have been about $4.80. I don’t know what the flies were eating as there wasn’t much blood to feed on, and there are no eggs being laid in .. sorry I’ll stop (bit of an insect nerd).

Back at the house, someone is stealing Janet’s panties, and the phone is out. Probably unrelated. Rather than walking to the police in a rush because they just found their sister tied up and murdered in a hovel, they sit around in the kitchen saying there’s nothing they can do until the phone comes back. Mother is told the news, and collapses. They carry her up to bed, stand around doing some Things Are Scary Now acting, and then disperse. Janet decides to go back to Paula, because why wouldn’t you go hang around where a psycho clearly lives? It’s fun for the whole family. Steve and Cindy insist on going with her instead of actually convincing her to not go at all. Before she goes, she remembers Cousin Mark has a tiny motorcycle thing he could use to go to town, and sends him off to fix it. The cop returns and Cousin Perry runs out in hysteria to tell him about Paula. I say “Hysteria” when what I really mean is “Shouty and having lots of facial expressions.”

Janet and Steve are hanging out in the hovel, tampering with evidence and generally messing up any potential investigation. The cop arrives and gets smacked square in the face with a board and then shot with  his own gun. Blood status: Tiny dribble. I guess the local joke shop was sold out of fake blood and they had to make it last. Cindy, running from the gun shots, trips over the dead cop. Of course she does. She does not however twist her ankle, so colour me surprised. Why she was running toward the shots instead of away from them is a question for another day, or a better movie.

They can’t take the cop car as the tyres have been slashed, and I assume something removed from the engine as Steve opens the hood and does some Frustrated Acting. Ignoring the police radio in the cruiser, the three run back to the house. Now that the fear and stress is building, the acting is falling apart, which is not to say it was that together to begin with. It’s turning into a school play now, with over large facial expressions and wild gesturing.  Crying is indicated with a high pitched voice and scrunched up face rather than actual tears.

Cousin Mark has fixed his bike and goes off for help, only to meet George in the road, who is about to smash the kids skull in with a rock when he has an Acting Moment while staring at Cousin Mark and then runs off. The bike, having fallen over gently, is now completely useless and Cousin Mark limps off toward town on foot.

Cousin Perry and Steve wander around outside in the dark, looking for George who they think is in the backyard. Cousin Perry suddenly screams for help and disappears, dropping his flashlight. Steve, armed with a stick, gives chase to the figure he sees running around. He tracks the figure to the basement and since it’s completely dark in there and he has the weakest flashlight in the history of batteries, he goes right on inside. The darkroom is unlocked, and there’s a long sequence of weak flashlight hovering over the inside of a darkroom. This serves to prove that the darkroom had quite a lot of darkroom type stuff in it. Sinister. There’s a photo on the floor, which turns out to be of the murdered woman from the start of the film, laying around in her strawberry jam. Someone approaches Steve and reaches for his shoulder.

Janet decides the most sensible thing to do when people keep leaving and never coming back is to leave. She’s looking for Steve, clutching the cop’s gun and no flashlight. She wanders around in the dark for a bit. I think she was going for “I am very scared” but it ended up more “I am a little bit drunk.” Cousin Perry reappears suddenly at the kitchen window, scaring the face off Cindy. “Open the door!” he screams, although it probably would have been kinder to just ring the doorbell rather than giving his cousin a heart attack.

Cindy is scared and tearful, so Cousin Perry takes her to the couch to comfort her. His comforting of her gets instantly creepy when he demands a kiss and then starts taking her picture, telling her she has to smile. We flash back to the time of the house fire, with Cousin Perry peering in the window at his mother and uncle taking erotic photographs. This has completely snapped his brain, but has not at all improved his acting. As it turns out, Cousin Perry felt he had to murder his Mother and Uncle in the house fire which was barely mentioned about an hour ago to punish them for having an affair. According to the rambling crazy babble Cousin Perry is reading off cue cards, he didn’t realise his father had come home, and so his death was an accident.

Cousin Perry is carrying around a stack of photos of his murder victims stuffed down his shirt, as you do. I hope they’re matte finished because glossy doesn’t do well with skin contact.  He grabs Cindy and forces her to look at them, including the picture of Grandfather he’s snuck off to develop at some point. Cindy freaks out and runs away. She runs into her mothers room, where Cousin Perry beats her to death with the phone, barely waking the Mother who I think is supposed to be drugged or something, or it’s just an appalling piece of script writing.

At this point I’m really just wishing he’d hurry up and finish everyone off because I am losing IQ points sitting here.

Cousin Perry, very mildly splattered with blood despite bashing Cindy’s face in, is preparing his bedroom to emulate the photos his mother was posing for when he burned down the house, only in his mind it will be Janet.  He seems well balanced. Looking for Cindy, Janet stumbles upon the bedroom set up while Cousin Perry pours petrol around in the kitchen. Janet finds the photos of the murders and does a bit of acting about being shocked. Then she finds Cindy dead in the closet, and does a bit of acting about being upset.

Only two people apart from Cousin Perry are alive now, Janet and her mother. Janet tries to leave with her mother, but Cousin Perry has boarded the doors with alarming speed. “We’re trapped!” says Janet, standing beside what can only be described as a massive window. Massive. A quick kick to the glass and they’d be home free. Rather than climbing out of a window, they go into the basement because that way they’re cornered. Their hiding place is given away Mother falls down the stairs and starts oozing fake blood from her mouth.  Abandoning her mother, Janet hides in the crawl space as Cousin Perry approaches. He’s doing more Crazy Acting which I won’t even go into because I’m bored out of my tiny mind with him by now.

I guess that stop bath really *sunglasses* stopped him

I guess that stop bath really *sunglasses* stopped him

Cousin Mark, who I had completely forgotten about, is on his way back with a collection of cops. Meanwhile, Cousin Perry has discovered Janet in the amazingly spacious crawl space, and locks her in there with the body of Steve who he killed earlier of course. Mother is crawling along with an ice pick and uses the last of her strength to stab Cousin Perry in the thigh. He completely overreacts, killing mother and then throwing himself into the darkroom like a diva. Janet follows him in there, stabs him in the belly and then drowns him in the stop bath, which is a pretty good effort considering the stop bath is less than a quarter of an inch deep and she manages to submerge his entire head. It’s also the wrong colour for stop bath, being clear. Stop bath is generally yellow. I promised you a critique of the darkroom set up and this is exactly what you have. Once he’s drowned, Janet flings his body against the wall and runs out in to the basement doing some more acting.  Steve has woken up in the crawl space and emerged with nothing more than a little blood on his forehead. Injuries undetermined, could be a paper cut.

But wait! Cousin Perry isn’t dead! He wanders back into frame clutching an axe while the police try to get into the house (they also don’t figure out the “Go through the window” trick). Steve scrabbles around for a weapon and impales Cousin Perry with a … tiny iron girder? Sure, why not, that works. The police burst in, do some swearing and then take everyone who isn’t dead outside to be wrapped in a blanket and look sad and wistful in the dawn light.

Now it is Cousin Perry having his corpse photographed in a twist of fate or some such nonsense.

I am so glad this is over.

In order for a movie like this to work, the viewer needs to be emotionally invested in the characters. You have to want them to live, and be shocked or sad when they don’t. I didn’t hate any of the characters in “Darkroom” but I didn’t like them either. They were just people I was looking at, one dimensional beings spouting character lines. “Grumpy old Grandfather” “Flirty Little Sister” – it’s almost as if there’s a manual somewhere with the lines pre-written because the characters have all appeared in mediocre films before and since.

The other thing you need is actual tension or suspense. This film contained neither. Again, it was just people I was looking at and sometimes they had a splash of blood on them. I really can’t get over how stingy the blood was. Not that I’m a massive fan of gore, I just would have liked it to be a little bit more realistic. Cindy’s “I have had my face bashed in” blood was painted on with a paintbrush, and may have been actual paint. Come on now.

I’ll give it points for the misdirection as to who the murderer was. I thought it was Steve for a bit, then I believed it was George, then I figured the father wasn’t dead and was murdering people for giggles. I didn’t expect it to be Cousin Perry, but that might be because Cousin Perry was such a non-character that he barely registered. I wasn’t shocked at the reveal, but I didn’t expect it. So you know, there’s a point. Which I realise I’ve just spoiled for you. Sorry (not sorry). His return from the “dead” wasn’t done particularly well, partly because it had no “gasp factor” which is a phrase I may have just made up, and partly because he was clearly breathing when he was leaning against the wall.

The writers seem to have wanted to make this an erotic thriller, but were perhaps too afraid to do so. There’s a sexual element, but it’s so brief and underplayed that the idea of Cousin Perry being messed up by 13 seconds of a his mother in stockings is laughable rather than believable. With the clumsy attempts to make it about sex, the writers ended up just making Cousin Perry a guy who like to take photos and kill people – there wasn’t any need for the poorly handled back story at all except as a little bit of a thrill for people who want to see actresses in stockings.

The actors were there. They turned up and said their lines, so well done them I say. The stilted script combined with the stilted acting made for a mind numbing movie of almost complete tedium. For a few of the cast, this was their only movie. Cousin Mark was actually pretty well acted by Allen Lieberman but it’s his only on screen role. Much of the work of the other actors was limited to Terrible 80s Thriller/Horror Movies, and most of them have no credits after the mid 1990s. The exception is Michael Halpin, who played Norm (husband of Pastel Shorts) so the most successful actor had the smallest role. There’s probably something to be said about that, but I don’t know what it is.

I couldn’t even tell you if this was a horror, a thriller or a slasher movie. There was no horror, no thrills and the slasher didn’t do much in the way of slashing. I think I’d class it as a “movie that someone made.” Why they made it will forever be one of life’s mysteries.


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