Tales From the Darkside 117: Madness Room

The episode opens, as more of them ought to, on a dark and stormy night. A beautiful woman is reading on a couch when her older husband sneaks up on her. Not in a sinister way, although his self-pitying when dealing with his far-too-young wife could be called emotional assault, I suppose. They kiss for a moment before a doorbell calls the young wife away, leaving her husband to clutch the left side of his chest, signaling the heart condition that will claim his life before the half-hour is done.

The man at the door is Michael, who lets us know with a reciprocal leer-

That he's the wife's secret lover. Michael and husband sign some business papers while wife takes out the ouija board, planning, no doubt, to begin a game that will wind up scaring husband to death. I'm not psychic, but I have seen Deathtrap, so there's really only one way this can be going. Add to the situation the fact that Michael is talking about how terrified he is to be playing with the ouija board at all, and you've got a recipe for terror!

The wife explains that the board is used to communicate with 'Ben', the spirit of the house's original resident. Husband suggests they test the theory by asking the ghost where he lives, and the board responds by spelling out 'THEMADNESSROOM' of the title. Wife naturally knows exactly to what the board returns - a room in the house that drives anyone who sleeps in it irrevocably mad!

Just where is this room? It's sealed away somewhere in the house, walled over after Ben's wife 'Ophelia' shot him and then drowned herself and her child in the property's well. Michael suggests they stop the game, but husband insists they continue until they've found the location of the room. A clue from the board leads them to the fireplace, and a loose contained therein. Behind the wall they discover a weathered map of the house and an old key - the madness room is within their grasp! But should they enter it?

Well, if the wife and her lover are ever going to get husband to have a fatal heart attack, they'd damn well better!

Before we continue, I've got to ask - is it really possible to lose a room in your house? I know the place is big, but wouldn't you notice an unusually long stretch of wall and two rooms whose size clearly didn't justify it? It's not like the thing will be in the center of four other rooms, and only accessible through a closet or something.

While husband consults the plan, wife and Michael consult Ben one more time - the ghost has a strange message, about being locked in a room and dropping a key in a crack.

My suspicions about the impossibility of losing a room are borne out when husband notices that, according to the plans, the western hallway that's currently a dead end actually once had room!

I've never been in a genuine creepy old mansion, so maybe this is normal, but doesn't a hallway that leads nowhere the kind of thing you'd question when buying a house, and demand an explanation from the previous owner about? Didn't someone inspect this place?

They tear down the wall, revealing a sturdy old door which the key unlocks, just as predicted. While the men are busy opening the door wife reveals that she's brought along a gun for 'protection'. For some reason husband doesn't insist on her putting it safely away before they enter the room.

Lighting their way by a conveniently-placed-and-filled oil lantern, they look around the shockingly creepy room-

You know, the fact that these dolls are hung everywhere is certainly creepy, but the connected fact that they're all made of plastic would tend to throw suspicion on the claim that the room has been sealed for a hundred years.

The group then makes the insane choice to go ahead and lock the door, just as the ghost requested - as if a ghost's requests are something you should make decisions based on. Meanwhile wife starts reading Ophelia's diary, which instantly drives her mad. It's at this point that allowing her to hold onto the gun proves to have been a very poor decision.

Husband dutifully has the expected heart attack, helped along by the shock of witnessing his wife pretend to shoot Michael. As his last act, husband drops the key into the crack as the ghost instructed, hoping that will break the spell. Also, presumably, leave them trapped in a sealed room so they can die of thrist.

The spell isn't broken, though, and wife puts the gun near her head and pulls the trigger. Husband dutifully collapses from the shock, allowing the two lovers to stop feigning death and begin gloating over their evil scheme.

With husband dying wife explains the scheme - there never was a madness room at all! She had the house remodeled while he was in the hospital from a previous heart attack, and had the workers board up an existing room after she'd filled it with creepy dolls and a fake diary! Wow, this is what I'd call a long game! Also a nonsense game - we're expected to believe that the husband didn't notice that before he went into the hospital there was a room at one end of the house, and when he came out there was a mysterious hallway that went nowhere?

As Michael prepares to finish husband off the old man grabs the lantern and throws it against the wall, lighting the room on fire. Wife and Michael try to flee, but are confronted with the locked door! And neither of them has a spare key. How could they make they make a mistake so profoundly stupid? It seems that each one assumed the other had the key because they'd sent the last message about dropping a key down a crack. Little did they know that there really was a Ben working through the Ouija board... and he didn't take kindly to having his name used for manipulation and murder!

So everyone dies of smoke inhalation in the madness room, and the credits roll, leaving us with one question: If they'd planned and rehearsed this scheme so thoroughly (as they must have), why did neither Michael nor wife find it suspicious when a new message was added to the end of the Ouija board sequence? More importantly, why did they go out of their way to gloat to husband, rather than playing dead until they were sure he was gone?

Probably because this wasn't exactly a stellar episode.

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