My Kindertrauma: Tales from the Darkside’s “Inside the Closet”

So for my final Kindertrauma, I bring you one of the most obscure, but most trauma-causing pieces of media I was much too young to see. Some people had Pennywise. Some had Chucky. I had the creature from Tales from the Darkside‘s “Inside the Closet”.

inside the closet title kindertrauma

Tales from the Darkside was like a cheaper, milder version of “Tales from the Crypt”. Less gore, more reliance on twist endings and psych-outs. But still, it had its share of monsters. Don’t mistake my description to think I watched the show. No, once again this lovely little memory comes courtesy of my mother, who rented it from the Hollywood Video for her class on horror. Thanks, Mom. I still love you.

For years, I thought this was “Tales from the Darkside: The Movie”. But no, these were three episodes from the show. On a rainy afternoon, I could only make it through the first before I had to leave. This one in particular is Season 1, Episode 7 (or eight, depending on what counts or not).

tales from the darkside inside the closet

Sexy college co-ed Gail has struck housing gold — Dr. Fenner is renting out his third-floor room. It used to be his daughter’s and it’s the last available place in town (just go with it). She needs a place to live while finishing her graduate degree in fine arts (How did she get in this situation–kicked out? Drugs? Too much partying? Double secret probation? College houses are always packed beyond the capacity recommended by the Fire Marshall so people can split the rent).

But the veterinary professor has some rules (aren’t there always when dealing with little monsters?). He demands quiet–no radio, TV, or boyfriends. Also, there’s a peculiar small door in the room. It used to be a closet, but it’s locked now. Seems legit.

inside the closet tales from the darkside

That night, Gail hears a scuffling noise behind the door and gets no sleep thanks to paranoia. Dr. Fenner kicks a box out of anger. I don’t know why. Didn’t he want to rent out the room? Is something forcing him to? (it’s not like the creature needs to eat human flesh, as we find out.) Gail even gives him a perfect out when she thinks it’s a rat. But he says there are no rats in the house. Also, he forgot to give her any keys last night, so he tosses her a ring of keys before he has to leave.

Of course, what’s a scary show without someone snooping into things they’re not supposed to. Gail uses the keys on the small closet door. Nothing there. She puts down a mousetrap and hears it go off later that night. But now the door won’t open again.

That night, her nightlight goes out. (Why does she have a nightlight? I know there are no windows in this room, but she’s a grown woman.) All you hear is the closet door opening and something running around the room. Once she gets a flashlight, she sees the closet door is open, but there’s nothing inside. The camera pans down to the thing’s jaundiced red Gollum eyes under the bed (that’s dramatic irony!).

inside the closet eyes

Gail tells Dr. Fenner about it all, but when she tries to prove it, the closet door won’t open. Dr. Fenner again assures her the door hasn’t been opened for years, even though she put a mousetrap behind it. (Got some Yellow Wallpaper stuff happening.) When they leave, the thing pulls her luggage underneath the bed. This never comes up again. I guess she didn’t need her possessions that bad.

Sometime later, Gail hears the closet door open and runs to it. Inside is a bunch of little girl clothes. She rifles around, but the mousetrap snaps on her hand, and the closet door closes by itself. Further attempts to open it fail.

Now comes some belated backstory, as every good horror movie should have. Dr. Fenner’s daughter, Margaret, ran away with a house painter to Vermont. His wife died of chemotherapy due to breast cancer. How is this related to creepy stalker midget? I don’t know.

Night of the Final Day: Gail is poised with her flashlight when the door opens. She crawls up to it and shines the light, revealing this red-eyed, white-skinned monkey-thing with needle-sharp teeth. It looks like a skeleton with skin. Or some D&D monster that you underestimate and then it kills your party.

inside the closet lizzie

Anyway the thing kills her by breaking her neck, then pulls her into the closet.

inside the closet lizzie attacks tales from the darkside

Next morning, cut to Dr. Fenner on the phone with Gail’s mother. No, he hasn’t seen her, but he’s only the landlord after all — he doesn’t get paid extra for detective work. While this is going on, the camera is creeping around to ominous music, so we know the monkey-thing is coming for the professor. Then he gets off the phone and–“OW”–something bites him on the leg. He looks down and sees the monkey-thing (in glorious stop motion no less). This is it! He knows the truth! He can kill it! We’re saved! Happy ending!


He looks at the thing, holding his leg and rasping… AND PICKS IT UP. Ew, he’s touching it. He starts talking to it, saying she’s a pretty little girl, cooing like it’s a two-year-old child or puppy. It frickin’ hugs him. Those teeth are right by his neck, but he doesn’t care. He even cradles the thing in his arms. After some more sweet murmuring, he carries it upstairs to read it a story. The end. Here, have all my WTF’s.

All right, first off, the opening music is doing me no favors. (Goddamn 80’s synthesizers)

Second, the whole thing takes place in a single house, in a single room. It could be a play–there’s only two actors and one setting. That gives a feeling of claustrophobia, which is fitting for something about a creature trapped in the closet. Third, it uses two methods of psychological horror – gaslighting and paranoia. But there’s an actual deadly monster to be afraid of (some might argue that the gaslighting becomes obsolete once the audience knows the monster exists. I can’t disagree). Fourth, it’s directed by Tom “frickin'” Savini and authored by the writer of Beetlejuice, Malcolm McDowell. Cut, print, ship it.

I don’t remember any of that. What I do remember is that thing’s red eyes underneath the bed. I remember a clawed hand reaching out to grab her feet JUST as she lifts them out of reach. I remember the girl getting killed for no reason–no karmic comeuppance, no playing God, or succumbing to seduction. She did nothing wrong. And I remember that fucked up ending where you think the professor is going to get his… but then starts baby-talking to it.

There’s something about small creatures that are creepier and scarier than big ones. Especially in my generation–gremlins, ghoulies, munchies, critters, hobgoblins, tomatoes, rabbits. One big Jason or Michael Myers is brutal. But a hundred little beasties are unstoppable–kill one, a hundred others remain. I wonder what it was about the eighties that provoked this phenomenon. Proliferation of technology? Disease? AIDS? Foreigners? Change?

I mean talk about hitting a kid where it hurts. We got both the “under the bed” and “in the closet” — the two best places for monsters to hide. Plus so many unanswered questions. What do his wife and daughter have to do with it? Did Dr. Fenner intend Gail to be killed? Why are the dolls & clothes not there, then there, then not there again? How do the cops not get wise to this, what with girls disappearing at this house? What is this thing? How did it get that way? Is it his daughter? A different daughter? Was she born that way? Deformed? An experiment? There’s plenty of animal biology paraphernalia around the house (skulls and teeth and such), but of course there would be — he’s a veterinarian. We know it’s not Margaret because it’s named “Lizzie” by the crew. I can’t find a source for that tidbit, but one would think if it was meant to be Margaret, they’d call it Margaret. (“All there in the manual“) The only possible clue is that, as he takes her upstairs, the camera lingers on a taxidermied bear head (or wolverine, not sure) with teeth bared.

that just raises further questions futurama bender hermes

So we’ve got the dark, deformity, closed-in spaces, spooky eyes, bad dentistry, psychotherapy (Gail’s questioning her mental faculties), and sudden death coupled with evidence-hiding so no one can bring your murderer to justice. I’m surprised I’m still here and not in a padded room. I mean, jeez, how can a little boy see this much horror and trauma and not be warped.

anthony perkins psycho cinemagraph creepy


Eric Juneau is a software engineer and novelist on his lunch breaks. In 2016, his first novel, Merm-8, was published by eTreasures. He lives in, was born in, and refuses to leave, Minnesota. You can find him talking about movies, video games, and Disney princesses at where he details his journey to become a capital A Author.


  • Ronda

    This terrified me, I was 12 when this aired. I can remember staying awake well past my bedtime staring at my stained plyboard closet doors waiting for the smallest movement and a death pale face with a blood red mouth filled with needle teeth to peek through the crack. Little did I know that a life full of mediocrity and slow death sadness waited for me…maybe I would have welcomed the death offered to me by little baby girl Fenner.

  • Erica B

    My sister and I saw this when we were about 4 and 6. It literally shaped our childhood nightmares, and we knew it as “The White Monkey.” It had been in the closet and under the bed, so in our minds it could be anywhere- the crawlspace, lurking in the attic, under the floorboards or under the porch at night. The milky skin, red swollen eyes, razor teeth, and swift stealthy movements added to the overall terror. This recap and reflection was awesome 😆

  • Dwayne

    Fellow ’80s child here. Thanks to this lovely episode, my parents had to perform many a “little white monkey” closet check at bedtime. It’s nice to hear I wasn’t the only tot it traumatized.

  • Melissa

    I was 8 years old when I saw this. I was trying to re-watch it, so I could show this to my husband and make him understand how truly terrifying this episode was, but so far we have been unable to find it streaming. I have no memory of the ending; I just remember the little door and a little white creature coming out, and how absolutely disturbing it was. To find your article, I searched “tales from the darkside little door”. Thanks so much for your write-up – not really feeling too bad about not getting to re-watch this – not sure if it’s really necessary!

  • Stormtrooper53

    I have never actually watched this episode, but I remember the trailer for this episode that showed the monster’s hand reaching out from under the bed and then it’s eyes and that alone traumatized me for years. I was trying to remember which of the 80s “syndicated horror anthology series” this came from, which is how I got here.

  • Blondin

    amazing recap, thanks
    i’m french and i saw it in french version, i was 5 years old, watching this with my brothers.. I don’t know where my parents were but it literaly terrified me for years. The next night, i put all my stuffed toys in my bed, surrounding me to protect me. In the morning, i was jumping out of my bed as far as i could not to be catch by its hand… because i was scared it was under my bed. Obviously, I had the same little closet in my room… it lasted years until 12/13 when only 1 stuffed toy remained… I’m 41 and I finally watched it again, I had chills again. But i’m happy that I could see it again to ward off bad luck. I remember the main parts. But I thought she was lost in a forest and the doctor told her NOT to try to open this door.

  • Holly Golightly

    As far as I know, this was why the camera zooms in at the ending of the episode, above Dr. Fenner and the monster hugging, to a head mounted on the wall. The head has the teeth and eyes of the monster, but also female human hair and skin. It is never clear whether or not Lizzie is Dr. Fenner’s actual daughter. If Lizzie is his biological daughter, then that, coupled with the female adult monster head on the wall… raises some issues. Personally though, I think that the angle they were going for was that Fenner used his knowledge of veterinary science, at which he is very advanced in the field, coupled with genetic material from his hunting exploits, to create a surrogate “daughter” after his own real daughter moved out and his wife died. It also seems that he cleared out Lizzie’s belongings from the rented room temporarily in order to rent it to Gail, after which the belongings (dolls and children’s clothes) were moved back in either by Lizzie or Fenner closer to the time when Lizzie would be attacking and eating Gail, and then moving back in. Lizzie undoubtedly needs to eat, but she has to much affection for Fenner to hurt him. It’s unclear whether or not this was the first time Lizzie killed a person in that house, but owing to Fenner’s strict take on noise and “boyfriends trooping through”, he only rents to a very select clientele of bookish, isolated students who wouldn’t be immediately noticed if they went missing. He easily brushes off Gail’s concerned mother after Gail goes missing. There are many mysterious questions arising in this episode, but I’m not sure that it was meant to be thought on too deeply.

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