a Primal Root written review
“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” (2011)
My buddy Sam and I recently checked out the Guillermo Del Toro produced and written remake of the cult classic 70’s made for TV horror movie, “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”. A television movie, I must admit, I had not seen until recntly. What Del Toro and company have delivered is a moderately entertaining spook show replete with CGI, tooth eating monsters, scared little girls and Katie Holmes looking as dazed and confused as she did in Batman Begins.
Yeah, it passed the time and wasn’t very memorable. I was never once truly frightening beyond a jump scare level and treaded some pretty well worn Del Toro territory and comes off feeling remarkably similar as if his overrated fantasy flick, “Pan’s Labyrinth” had been cross bred with the original plot line of “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”. Our central character is a little girl whose negligent father and step mother allow her to wonder around a gigantic mansion that is being renovated without any supervision. What’s the worst that could happen, right? Well, for one, she could come across a portal to hell where she manages to unleash a bunch of calf-high, albino, hunch back tooth eating demons intent on dragging her tiny ass down to the depths of a hidden fire place pit where she will be mutilated and her soul will be in torment for all eternity. You know kids…
As you might have guessed, this is exactly what happens and when the little girl tries to tell her father (Guy Pierce, dialing it in as if this were MCI Friends & Family) he refuses to believe and shoves a few more Ritalin in his kid and goes back to focusing on his burgeoning career as an architect and a tool. The only one who kind of believes what’s going on is the little girls new, um, step friend (played by Katie ‘Deer in the Headlights’ Holmes) See, she’s not yet technically the little girl’s step mother. Dad’s still giving her a spin in the sack to see if he wants to go through with the marriage thing from what I gather. Hope the Scientology thing isn’t a deal breaker.
Well, no one fully believes our pint sized protagonist until it’s too late despite the mountains of evidence all over the place in the form of photos shot using the legendary Million Shot Polaroid Camera and even a crushed albino demon carcass that is jammed in a bookcase…but is never mentioned…Did anyone even find this guy’s squished little body? I’m sure that fucker started to stink after a while. And by the end of the movie, well, let’s just say there are no happy endings. Although there are happier for some than others…Let’s just say, never get caught between a rope and a fire place.
Vague enough? Good. “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” looks fantastic! It comes wrapped in a very enticing, glossy, package…but once you look beyond that lovely exterior, there’s not much else there being offered up to the viewing audience. And don;t even get me started on how they botched the entire story by changing the little creature’s M.O. I was wondering why certain events transpired at the end of this updated ‘Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” when the little creature’s M.O. was teeth…yet they seemed thrilled to tear people to pieces and not even come close to touching their chompers…It wasn’t until I watched the original that I truly understood what had happened with this retelling of the story and why these added elements feel totally unnecessary.
“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” (1973)
The original telling of the “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” tale was broadcast as the ABC Movie of the Week near Halloween in October 1973. The production was helmed by the late, great, John Newland (host and director of “One Step Beyond”) and has gone on to become a cult classic in many horror circles. And after my very first viewing it became readily apparent just why it holds such special place in the hearts of so many fans of the genre.
“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” is the sad and frightening tale of a young marriage on the rocks. Lonely housewife, Sally (Kim Darby) who lives with her career obsessed husband, Alex (Jim Hutton) in her Grandmother’s old, gigantic mansion. Sally is left home alone a lot with her only company being an elderly groundskeeper. Yes, I know, this sounds like the beginning of a tale from Penthouse Forum. However, Sally’s boredom and curiosity lead her into her Grandfather’s old study as opposed to the grounds keeper’s drawers. And, of course, she unleashes a posse of viscous, sadistic, furry fun-sized beasties intent on dragging poor young Sally into their realm through the fire place.
Sally immediately reports her situation to her husband and he helps her cope with these monsters and the both win the day and live happily ever after. Just kidding! As you might expect, Alex doesn’t believe a word of what Sally’s freaking out about and decides she’s upset and jealous over the fact he’s so devoted to his work (as opposed to her) and, as matters escalate at a dinner party, he just considers her a raving lunatic and that these monsters Sally claims are afraid of light, want to “steal her spirit” and kill the interior decorator with a well placed, Home Alone style trip chord, are nothing more than figments of her angry housewife imagination.Who has the last laugh? Well…no one actually.
In the thrilling climax to the film, Sally is sedated and dragged into the basement study by these evil creatures who are intent on stealing her away to their realm. Sally slowly wakes up and tries in vain o grab onto whatever she can to stop this from happening. It;s not enough. In a last ditch effort she grabs a Polaroid camera and snaps one single shot of these malevolent beings. It startles them for a moment…but they quickly regain composure and, again, begin dragging Sally towards her doom.
“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” is basically a one woman show and is a decidedly grown-up affair. Sally’s horrific ordeal and pleas for help are greatly ignored by her absentee husband who scolds her as if she’s a child whose acting up. She’s trapped here, in this house, in this marriage, alone to fend for herself. “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” works exceedingly well as a metaphor for a loveless, unhappy marriage where the little things, literally in this case, begin splitting the couple apart.
“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” functions on so many levels as a psychological horror, a monster flick, a suspense thriller, marital drama…it has something for everyone and these elements all meld together so naturally, so well, that one never overwhelms the other. Also adding to the appeal, for The Root anyway, is the feel of the piece. It never feels rushed or hurried and the story develops naturally, never feeling forced. Plus, the retro look of the film in a way enhances the unsettling nature of the film itself . It’s age certainly shows, but I feel it is to the film advantage.
“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” works and works well. As I am sure you’ve guessed there are no happy ending here as Sally’s husband comes to his wife’s aid far too late…and the final moments, the final lines of the film are among the most chilling portions of either telling of the tale. It’s the stuff of nightmares.
I can see where Del Toro is coming from with the remake of “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”. It’s a film he’s always had an affection for ever since it traumatized him as a child and felt the need to retell the tail with his own spin. I understand and appreciate that and the updating of the tale works on some levels and I am sure will appeal to a mainstream audience.
But why add that whole teeth subplot to the creatures as opposed to going after people for their spirit? And if this is the case, why does a certain individuals spirit speak at the end of the film from the bowels of the fire place? The flick makes some strange choices in an attempt be slightly different than it’s source material( Del Toro’s got a thing for little girls. Just sayin…) yet keeps all the great elements that made the original fantastic…even though it doesn’t make much sense in the context of the new rules they’ve set up.
Both films work on two separate levels. “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” 2011 works as spectacle. There are jumps scares, more gore, CGI monsters and more Gothic atmosphere and baffelingly bad decisions than you can shake a tooth at. “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” 1973 works as a story and character piece. The film takes the time to build characters, tell it’s tale, create genuine suspense and dread and then completely devastate and creep out it’s audience by the time the credits roll.
Now there’s a “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” for both camps. I’m sure it’s pretty apparent which version I prefer. But I know times and tastes change and the more they do the more I feel like I come across as some old curmudgeon telling the kids how much better things used to be while I yell at them to stay off my lawn while waving my cane wildly above my head as cream corn dribbles down my chin. I guess I am okay with that…Seems like I am the only living man in America who completely loathed the Fright Night remake.
Either way, the next time you find yourself in a gothic mansion with a creepy study that contains a fire place that leads straight to Hell and the owner tries to comfort you by telling you “Don’t be afraid of the dark?” Fuck that noise and get yourself a nightlight. Better yet, go find a Ramada.
Please, don’t be afraid of The Darkness.