Do you remember the show 'Darkroom'?
James Coburn hosted this early-'80s horror anthology that unintentionally spawned a major motion picture.
Dark and eerie anthology series have long been a staple of television. They have ranged from horror to the supernatural, from black & white noir to full color crime. Shows like The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Thriller and The Twilight Zone are perfect late-night fare.
Of course, they were originally shown in primetime, even when the subject matter was pushed into the darker corners of the imagination. One particularly chilling horror anthology series was Darkroom, which ran for a matter of months on ABC in the winter of 1981–82. Every anthology series needs a host to set the mood. The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery had Rod Serling, Thriller had Boris Karloff. Prototypical tough guy James Coburn handled the hosting duties on Darkroom.
His leathery voice is heard over the opening credits, as a camera raced through an old house. "You run, but there's no escape... nowhere to turn. You feel something beckoning you... drawing you into the terror that awaits you in the Darkroom!"
After the credits, we would enter, well, a darkroom, where Colburn sat at a table reading monster magazines amidst photo development chemicals.
The series clearly took its cues from the abundant slasher flicks of the era. In fact, Darkroom ended up spawning a horror movie of its own. After the series was canceled, four leftover shorts, the equivalent of two episodes, were bundled for theatrical release as the 1983 film Nightmares. The second tale, "Bishop of Battle," is perhaps the most fondly remembered, partly because it starred Emilio Estevez, partly because depicted a video game coming to life with some nifty special effects.
Darkroom had some budding star power of its own. Helen Hunt starred in "The Bogeyman Will Get You," while Billy Crystal, fresh off Soap, appeared alongside Brian Dennehy in "Paddy." The cast also included familiar TV faces such as Rue McClanahan, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, David Carradine and June Lockhart.
There was talent behind the camera, too, with the screenwriting skills of pulp master Robert Bloch (the author of Psycho) and direction of Rick Rosenthal, who was coming off Halloween II — just to name a couple.
Alas, Darkroom was perhaps a bit too dark for the broadcast television of the time. It didn't help that the Friday night hour was up against CBS juggernauts The Dukes of Hazzard and Dallas. NBC's attempt to win that time slot, the James Arness comeback vehicle McClain's Law, also flopped. That's a series for another installment…