Darkroom 1988 Review
Directed by: Terrence O’Hara
Starring: Loren Winters, Shepherd Sanders, Jeff Morris
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Sorry for the late post this week, I woke up with one helluva hangover…. Anyway, B-movie stalwart, Nico Mastorakis produced this late entry to the category and surprisingly enough, it was his first true effort at a slasher flick. After Island of Death had built him a career in exploitation cinema, Nico remained in the kingdom of low-budget thrillers with a solid track-record from the projects that he was involved with. I really enjoyed The Zero Boys from 1986 and people have often citied that it could sit alongside Friday the 13 et al as a traditional stalk and slash/killer in the woods yarn. I believe that this later effort plays it much truer to the archetypal slasher template though and that’s why I have posted it here for your perusal.
Janet (Jill Pierce) returns home to her family farm in order to spend more time with her boyfriend Steve (Jeffrey Alan Arbaugh). Unbeknownst to the youngster, a maniac killer is stalking the vicinity, dressed in a bright yellow rain coat. This is an artistic psychopath because after he butchers his victims, he takes pictures of them and develops them in the darkroom of the title. As more and more people die, it looks like Janet is his main target.
Lack of originality is a criticism that’s hard to level at these movies, because the slasher genre’s familiarity is what has given it an unique style of its own and a cinematic personality. This lazily delivered and lackadaisical offering on the other hand, really feels like it omits even the slightest amount of effort from those involved and has pretty much nothing in terms of suspense, pace or excitement.
The plot concentrates on the mystery element and the development of the characters to help build a good puzzle for audience sleuths. Unfortunately for director Terrence O’Hara, the marketing team working on the picture must have been missing from the meetings when the whodunit aspect was discussed, because the killer is shown not only on the back cover of most prints in circulation, but also in the trailer for the feature. O’Hara must’ve been furious when he found out… It’s like, ‘HELLO! I’m making a mystery thriller guys!!!!’
There are a few themes running throughout the movie that show ambition from the screenwriters, but sadly, they are poorly handled and not properly developed. Ever since the proto-slasher, Eyeball, I have liked seeing rain coats as disguises for murderous psychos; and armed with an axe, this dude is pretty cool. He’s also quite brutal, which means that some of the killings are surprisingly menacing even if they’re not packed to the brim with crimson. In fact, gore hounds will be disappointed with the lack of any effects (almost everyone is murdered off-screen) and despite the endless scenes of stalking, the director struggles to build any trepidation or atmosphere at all.
The cast come across as amateur throughout, and the porn-level delivery of banal dialogue soon begins to claw at the strings of your patience. There were also some serious casting miscalculations that seemed obvious to me, but surprisingly not to the decision makers behind the scenes. I mean, Sarah Wade played Cindy really well and her bubbly character was conveyed with a flamboyance that was hard to dislike. I would have felt an allure towards her if she had been given the role of the final girl, but that job went to Jill Pierce who came across as arrogant, cold and unappealing. Pierce did get more work in pictures after this, but for me she was the weakest link and couldn’t raise the runtime from the grasp of tedium.
And there we have the real problem with Darkroom: It’s basically twenty-five minutes of story stretched in to an hour and a half of screen time and it really feels like the director was struggling to fill scenes with the empty script that he had. I guess that if they had hired better actors, the character development and family feuds could have added a bit of depth to the plot. As it stood, we were given a tiresome expedition of waiting around for the psychopath to turn up. By the time that he finally did, I was expecting something, anything, to lift me from a near-catatonic state. Unfortunately it remained totally B-O-R-I-N-G
This was the debut movie of TV director Terrence O’Hara and I was guessing that with it being his first shoot and all, we could have expected him to show that urge and hunger that’s usually tough to hide on an initial attempt. Career best cinematography from David Makin was wasted however and technically the film was as bouncy as a puncture. Chuck into the mix some bizarre and random dialogue (“I don’t trust air I can’t see?“) and you’re left with a pretty low grade excuse for a horror yarn.
It’s a shame, because this was the breakout movie for so many of the people involved in it, so with a fairly good budget, it could have been SO much more. It’s bizarre as to why it has come across so basic and it feels like no one was motivated to turn up
Perhaps it may be rather interesting to genre enthusiasts for the Nico Mastorakis links and the photography aspect of the murderer’s methodology, but aside from that it’s best left in obscurity. Hey, maybe in the corner of a dark room (boom boom) 😉
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl:√ √