Sunday, June 29, 2014

Tales from the Darkside: Inside the Closet

Sometimes, it's the simple things that are the scariest. "Inside the Closet" has such a simple, straightforward premise that lends itself perfectly to the anthology format: a girl moves into creepy room that has a monster living in the closet. That's it. No deeper sociological meaning is required, no plot twists are demanded, and no greater explanation is needed. Special makeup effects legend Tom Savini takes this basic premise and crafts an intense, scary episode that taps into a common, childhood fear.

Graduate student Gail (Roberta Weiss) rents a room from Dr. Fenner (Fritz Weaver) just days before the semester starts. Fenner is a rather strict landlord, but Gail is desperate because she couldn't find another place. The room comes with a rather small closet that Fenner explains hasn't been opened in years, ever since he lost the key. But there are times, especially at night, Gail swears she can hear what she thinks is a rat crawling inside the closet, and there are other times when the door seems to open on its own. Soon, she becomes convinced something far more sinister is living inside the closet.

With two characters (not counting the monster) and two sets, "Inside the Closet" is an example of economic storytelling. Savini strips the story down to its most essential elements, and by limiting the number of locations, the episode generates a feeling of being trapped and isolated. The room itself is not very big, but there's plenty space for deep shadows that could be hiding any number of things. The closet, when open, often only reveals pitch black that seems to go on forever.

Surprisingly, given his history with gory special effects, Savini demonstrates a huge amount of restraint in terms of showing the monster. Sometimes, all we get to suggest the creature's presence is a slight movement of the closet door, somehow being nudged ever so slightly, almost as if on its own volition. Glimpses of the monster itself, at least until the very end, are similarly subtle: a webbed claw under the bed, glowing eyes, and an unfocused long shot of it in the background while something else is going on in the foreground. In perhaps the best shot of the episode, the camera begins with a shot of Gail's face as she lies on her side and then pans down to show under the bed the monster's eyes surrounded by total darkness. Just that thought of something being under the bed while you're asleep and vulnerable is just unsettling.

Because Savini and writer Michael McDowell (who also wrote Beetlejuice) refrain from giving us too much background about Fenner and the monster, they create a sense of mystery and intrigue. What does Fenner know? What does the monster want? What's it going to do? At one point, the closet, which we first saw as being empty, suddenly becomes filled with dresses, and it just generates an uneasy feeling about what is going to happen.

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