Colin Timothy Gagnon (sacredspud) wrote,
Colin Timothy Gagnon

31 Days of Halloween: Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

You've just discovered that your spouse has overdosed on sleeping pills, and he or she is babbling and nearly unconscious. Do you A) take him/her to the emergency room, B) call the Poison Control Center, or C) visit the elderly handyman who recently refused to take any more of your crap?

If you chose C, then congratulations. People like you are the reason that people like your spouse die in horror movies. Geez.

Tonight I watched Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, a made-for-TV cult classic from 1973. I was turned on to this film by Guillermo Del Toro's remake which just came out, but I honestly don't know anything about the remake. In fact, I haven't even seen a trailer. I should probably take a look. Oh, well.

Anyway, the 1973 version is quite popular. I'd never seen it before, but have heard it mentioned in the same breath as other popular TV movies like Trilogy of Terror and Satan's School for Girls. It's pretty short, clocking in at 74 minutes or so, and was directed by John Newland and stars Kim Darby. He has an impressive resume as a TV director, and she was in the original version of True Grit. Also, she has taught acting at UCLA, and Jack Ruby was her babysitter (so that's interesting). I don't recognize anybody else in the cast.

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark begins with a shot of an old mansion, and we hear strange, whispery voices begging to be let out. Next we meet Sally and Alex Farnham, who are moving into the mansion, which she inherited from her deceased grandmother. She designates a room in the basement as her study, and asks the caretaker to unbrick the fireplace that was sealed after her grandfather's death. He refuses on the grounds that it's better not to disturb such things. Sally manages to open the little door next to the fireplace, and finds that it conceals a musty sub-basemet. The whispery voices get louder.

Sally begins to see things and hear the voices, and figures out that something is calling to her from inside the fireplace. Alex insists she's being silly, and tells her to prepare a dinner party for the partners at his law firm; he's expecting a promotion, and she'd better not mess this up. The party fails spectacularly when Sally, reaching down to rescue her fleeing napkin, sees that it's being tugged away by a diminutive little monkey-looking goblin. Or demon. Or something. She freaks out, nobody else understands why, and Alex's partners are left with the impression that he's married a madwoman.

Pretty soon the things are planning Sally's murder for reasons that aren't entirely clear, and her sanity is being stretched dangerously, which leads to the aforementioned incident with sleeping pills. Will Sally survive? What's really going on in that basement? Who are those little monkey midget guys who speak without opening their mouths? Sorry, we only get the answer to one of those questions.

It's not a bad movie, actually, especially for made-for-TV fare, and I can see why it's popular enough to justify a remake. I generally dislike TV from the '70s, so although I wasn't crazy about any of the performances or the production values, I'm inclined to dismiss those misgivings. I felt there were too many filler scenes depicting normal people going about their normal lives, and not enough explanation of the supernatural element, and this makes the story seem a little thin at times. Sometimes you need to do more than depict the weirdness, you know? Guess that's what happens when you have a small budget and only 74 minutes to work with. Still, it manages to be creepy enough for adults while at the same time being mostly appropriate for a general audience, which is a good trick that nobody does anymore. I recommend seeing it once, if you ever get a chance.

Here's the trailer.
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