Color, 1989, 85 mins. 27 secs.
Directed by Terrence O'Hara
Starring Aarin Teich, Jill Pierce, Jeff Arbaugh, Sara Lee Wade, Elizabeth Ince
88 Films (Blu-ray) (UK R0 HD), Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), Image Entertainment (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Though best known as the director of a string of glossy, cable-ready thrillers and action films, Greek filmmaker Nico Mastorakis also cultivated a lot of other young talent during his heyday including such films as Grandmother's House and Bloodstone. His third go at producing a film for a fledgling director arrived one year later with 1989's Darkroom, the debut released feature for prolific TV director Terrence O'Hara. The film has frequently been compared to both gialli and slasher films, though it's far more indebted to the latter for most of the running time as it chronicles a string of murders in a seemingly wholesome American family.
After an opening ax murder we're dropped into a family get together thanks to the recent return of Janet (Pierce), who's in the middle of an escalating relationship with marriage-happy Steve (Arbaugh). Among the other attendees are her perky younger sister Cindy (Wade) and mom Nora (Ince), though a third sister doesn't show up for reasons no one can figure out. As the body count quickly escalates thanks to a serial killer with a fetish for photographing the victims and developing photos in a basement darkroom, it becomes clear that someone here isn't all they appear to be.
Though barely qualifying as a horror film thanks to its soap opera-level acting and surprisingly restrained kill scenes, Darkroom does deliver as a late '80s time capsule par excellence with a nonstop barrage of enormous hairstyles and iffy fashion choices. It also works pretty well as a cat and mouse thriller once the psycho is revealed early on (just a bit past the halfway point), and the motive is twisted enough to make this a bit off the beaten path (as well as not dissimilar to a revelation at the end of Grandmother's House).
This one followed a similar trajectory as most of Mastorakis' films on home video including Simitar and Image DVDs, with the Vinegar Syndrome release (a dual-format Blu-ray and DVD set) from 2019 punching it up with a vastly superior new transfer that really brings out the saturated colors especially some intense shades of red during the big showdown. DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0 English options are included with optional English SDH subtitles, again reliant on a simplistic Casio-style music score. The trailer (which reveals both the killer's identity and the climax) and an image gallery are included, while actor Aarin Teich appears for "Developing Fear" (10m53s) to recall how he knew several of the participants from acting classes and earlier auditions (including earlier Mastorakis films) and worked long, hard days throughout that were nevertheless enjoyable for everyone involved. Then "Exposing the Truth" (14m8s) with Arbaugh (who doesn't have his prodigious mullet anymore) has a similar positive attitude about the shoot and the newcomers who gave their all to the production. This one also comes in a limited slipcase edition. In 2021, 88 Films brought the film to U.K. Blu-ray as part of its "Slasher Classics Collection" including a limited 3,000-unit slipcase edition with four collectible postcards. Audio options are identical to the other disc (5.1 and 2.0) with the same excellent video source ported over here with the same solid results, and optional English SDH subtitles are provided. Both featurettes are also included, but here you also get the very spoiler-y original trailer and an image gallery (2m15s).
Updated review on February 16, 2021
88 Films (Blu-ray)
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray)