Remembering Garth Marenghi's Darkplace

Campy, over-easy, and exaggerated acting is difficult to do – well. Bad actors are as common as foot blisters on the screen and in life. At the same time, good bad actors and an equally cringy script are talents cultivated and unique, like mushrooms in a closet. Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, created and produced by Richard Ayoade and Matthew Holness, is a garden of closeted mushrooms, waiting to release their spoofing spores to the unsuspecting consumer – of fungi and parody.

Darkplace is "set in a sinister hospital in Romford, located over the very gates of Hell itself. Marenghi himself features as Dr. Rick Dagless MD, the charismatic and brilliantly intelligent protagonist, who, along with his colleagues – the devilishly handsome Dr. Lucien Sanchez (Todd Rivers), the ditzy Dr. Liz Asher (Madeleine Wool), and the shotgun-toting administrator Thornton Reed (Learner) – battles everything from Scotch Mist to cosmic broccoli."

The story goes that Darkplace was initially produced in the early 1980s, but the backstory is the hoax. Marenghi is a fictional horror author invented by Matthew Holness, and premiered on the UK's Channel 4 in 2004. Darkplace is the ultimate camp experience – the X Files of indulgent horror parody and comically scary satire of scary movies released during the neoliberal regimes of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Okay, there is a hoax in the previous sentence, and it is not about Reagan or Thatcher.

As explained by Michael Mackenzie, "In reality,Darkplace is an elaborate and brilliantly executed hoax, designed to lampoon 1980s television, horror, sci-fi and the rampant egotism of self-appointed "mastermind" authors. It was actually made in 2004, but the effect is so convincing that it's genuinely believable as a product of the 1980s. Everything, from the fashion, to the music, to the texture of film stock, to the overly punchy audio quality and dated synthesiser score, is captured with expert aplomb, to the extent that more than a few people have actually been taken in by the scam."

The series is a parody of itself. The layers to this lampoon are multiple, and the spoofs are singed with corn syrup one-liners. It drips with sticky irony, and the send-ups are atmospheric, making seriously silly clowning look like a documentary about the end of the planet.

As Jumbled Thoughts of a Fake Geek Boy explained, "On the first layer, you have the show-within-the-show itself, produced with every ounce of ineptitude the cast and crew could muster up…. On the second layer, you have the fiction surrounding Garth and Dean themselves, and the various people they've sucked into producing a product that falls well outside their competence range…. Where things get really interesting is in how the two layers interact."

As Dr. Rick Dagless, MD, explains, "from this day on, I'd have to fight the forces of darkness and deal with the burden of day-to-day admin."

The first episode is available here.

Garth Merenghi's new "long-lost" book, part of a three-part anthology, Terrortome, was published in 2022.

"When horror writer Nick Steen gets sucked into a cursed typewriter by the terrifying Type-Face, Dark Lord of the Prolix, the hellish visions inside his head are unleashed for real. Forced to fight his escaping imagination – now leaking out of his own brain – Nick must defend the town of Stalkford from his own fictional horrors, including avascular-necrosis-obsessed serial killer Nelson Strain and Nick's dreaded throppleganger, the Dark Third. From the twisted genius of horror master Garth Marenghi – Frighternerman, Darkscribe, Doomsage (plus Man-Shee) – come three dark tales from his long-lost multi-volume epic: TerrorTome."

Check out a review of the book here.