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Darkroom Blu-ray Review

Written by ZigZag

Blu-ray released by Vinegar Syndrome

Darkroom Blu Ray Large

Directed by Terrence O’Hara
Written by Robert W. Fisher, Brian Herskowitz and Rick Pamplin
1989, 85 minutes, Not Rated
Released on April 30th, 2019

Starring:
Aarin Teich as Perry
Jill Pierce as Janet
Jeffrey Alan Arbaugh as Steve
Sara Lee Wade as Cindy
Allen Lieberman as Mark
Stella Kastner as Nora
John O’Connor as Hodge

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Review:

Having recently returned home from college for the first time in two years, Janet eases back into the slower rhythm of country life. Her boyfriend Steve joins her for the weekend and arrives just in time for dinner. The family reunion is spoiled when an unseen killer sets his sights on the remote farmhouse, methodically stalking the residents and their neighbors. He travels with a camera, taking photographs of his victims and grows more brazen with each murder. Working in his darkroom, he assembles a collection of souvenirs of his bloodwork and the photos often point to the next victim. Is this maniac a total stranger to the community or is he someone within the house? Once these images are discovered the answer becomes clear.

There is no shortage of suspects and red herrings, but the mystery gradually builds to an early reveal around the one-hour mark. Knowing the killer’s identity changes the tone of the picture and opens it up to more of an extended game of cat-and-mouse. As family and friends are targeted and picked off, Janet is forced to confront a dark secret and somehow manage to elude the maniac until the police arrive. We know who the killer is before she does and it is interesting watching him toy with her. The characters are not overly developed, but we learn just enough about them to care, particularly for Final Girl Janet. The pursuit that builds to the finale is well-staged and engaging as she retreats deeper and deeper into the house for protection.

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Darkroom is a product of the late 1980s post-slasher wave of horror movies that mixes the stalk-and-slash formula with the mystery elements of the giallo. That is not to say this picture greatly resembles the Italian genre in style, but it delivers an American spin on the material. The murders are not overly graphic, as much of the actual killing occurs off-screen, although there is some blood to keep fans happy. The killer carries a hatchet and a large knife for his wet-work and occasionally dons a yellow hooded raincoat as a disguise. The darkroom serves as a sanctuary where previous accomplishments can be celebrated and future murders planned. The family remains largely unaware that there is anything wrong for quite some time as the body count builds around them. Once they are brought up to speed it becomes a survival game until help can arrive.

Prolific television director Terrence O’Hara (Double Vision) makes his debut with Darkroom and does his best with the material given. The script is nothing special and the acting is also disappointing with a few notable exceptions, as Jill Pierce (Dance with Death) and Aarin Teich (Dead of Night) do a fine job in the leads as Janet and her cousin Perry. Many of the supporting players are wooden and lacking in experience, but there are no outright stinkers in the bunch. Cinematographer David Makin (Brain Candy) provides some creative lighting and strong composition, particularly during the finale. There are a handful of energetic set-pieces that build suspense to keep things interesting, but the basic plot is overly familiar. Darkroom did not make much of a splash when released in 1989, but as the film reaches its thirtieth anniversary, it may be time for it to find a new audience.

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Video and Audio:

Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Darkroom has undergone a full 4k restoration of the original 35mm negative and the results are pleasing. Colors are strong and black levels are solid with natural flesh tones appearing throughout.

There are two audio options provided, a DTS-HD MA 5.1 and DTS-HD 2.0 stereo mix. Both get the job done without much discernable difference. Dialogue levels are well-balanced with music cues and remain free from hiss or other distortion.

Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.

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Special Features:

In Developing Fear (11 minutes) actor Aarin Teich shares his memories of the production starting with the audition process. He reminisces about the long hours on a fast-paced shoot and working with producer Nico Mastorakis (Island of Death). He made some lasting friendships on this project and is proud of the end result.

Actor Jeff Arbaugh sits down for the interview segment Exposing the Truth (14 minutes) and reflects on this film which got him into the industry. He talks about working in theatre and getting jobs on soap operas and what it was like filming Darkroom. He has a fondness for the movie and is glad it is getting a new release.

The film received one of the worst marketing campaigns, including a spoiler-filled trailer that reveals too many key moments including the ending. That trailer appears on this disc, but watch it only after seeing the feature.

A still gallery of publicity shots plays as a slideshow (2 minutes) set to music from the feature.

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Grades:

Movie: Twoandahalfstars Darkroom Blu Ray Small
Buy Amazon Us
Video: Fourandahalfstars
Audio: Threeandahalfstars
Features: Twoandahalfstars
Overall: Threestars

About The Author
ZigZag
Author: ZigZag
Staff Writer
ZigZag's favorite genres include horror (foreign and domestic), Asian cinema and pornography (foreign and domestic). His ability to seek out and enjoy shot on video (SOV) horror movies is unmatched. His love of films with a budget under $100,000 is unapologetic.
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