Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)

A movie came out last weekend by the title of Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, and it is a remake of a horror film from the seventies that seems to have a lot of respect among cult audiences. I hadn't seen it before, but with the release of the remake, I thought it was a prime time to go back and watch this cult favorite. Having just done so, my impression of the classic film is that it is a quality horror film, though it hasn't aged terribly well. I didn't find it to be super scary, looking back from the perspective of a 21st century horror fan, but there were a lot of elements to it that were genuinely terrifying, and I can believe that this film frightened a lot of people back in the seventies - especially if they watched it as a child.

The premise of the film is that a young married couple have just inherited an old house, but it is hiding a terrible secret. There are apparently some kind of devilish gremlins living in a bricked-up fireplace, and they want out. And you can bet that once they get out (and you know they will), they won't be up to any good. The concept of the creatures is pretty scary, and the film does a very good job of building atmosphere, and not showing you too much. But, inevitably, as weird as the creatures look, seeing them detracts a little bit from their fearfulness (at least interpreting it with my adult mind). However, their whispering is very frightening, and the concept of small gremlin-like creatures emerging from a pit in a fireplace, who thrive in the dark, and don't like the light, is a strong one.

I'm actually curious to see the remake at this point. Of course, one must approach remakes with a healthy skepticism these days, but as much as the original film has gained a loyal cult following, I think the film could stand to gain from a little modernization. Of course, that could just as easily be a kiss of death for a cult classic, but I think it's worth a look. I did notice from the trailer that the remake has recast the protagonist as a child, and I wonder if that somehow reflects on our modern paranoia about the vulnerability of children, as if to capitalize on that fear to enhance the effect of the horror. Frankly, I think a creature that has the power to terrorize full-grown adults (and doesn't have to rely on targeting the weakest link) is much scarier. But at this point, I'm only speculating. It remains to be seen whether I'll get a chance to go out and see the remake in the near future. At any rate, this has been a rather early introduction to horror season, which is coming up in another month!

P.S. Oh yes! This is a total spoiler, so you shouldn't read this if you haven't seen the movie, but I have to commend this film for the direction it took in the ending. Far too often the good guys win out in the end, foiling the plot of the evil ones that hound them. But not this time. I know it's nice to come out of a movie thinking, "boy that was scary, but at least we got 'em in the end", but realistically speaking (well, realistic in a suspending-disbelief sort of way), if an evil supernatural force was after you, I'd wager that your chances for survival would be very slim. ;-)


  1. Very cool, didn't realize you had seen the original. (Yes I am cruising your horror tag for movies to add to my list) I kind of long for the days when TV movies were more prevalent. Potential there to tell stories that might not be grandiose enough for the big screen, not unlike HorrorFest.

    You saw the remake now, yes? Any thoughts on how it lives up? I'm quite smitten with it, I might have to rank it as my second favorite non-ff horror film, behind Trick 'r Treat.

  2. Yes, I saw the remake. Pretty sure I told you this after I watched it, but I thought at first that it was trying a little too hard to be "epic" (which might be a result of the difference between a feature film and a made-for-TV movie), to the point that it kinda takes you out of the experience, because it doesn't feel as documentarian - that this could be a real story, like the original did.

    But, by the end of the movie, I actually ended up liking it. I wouldn't rank it as high as you suggest, probably, but it's not bad either. Also, I really like the idea of incorporating the myth of the Tooth Fairy (with a horror flavor), which I don't think was an element of the original version (I think they were supposed to be kobolds?) - although, brilliant as that idea is, I'm not sure they used it to its full potential.

    Also, it was weird how the girl in that movie totally looked related to Katie Holmes, which *would* have been great casting, except those two characters weren't *supposed* to be related...