Old 01-26-2012, 02:06 PM
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)

The title of this film tells us to not be afraid of the dark. I don’t know why. If anything, it tells us that we are better off carrying flashlights and an abundant supply of batteries at night. It was made for television at a time when TV-movies were treated as events and, perhaps, more care went into them as well. This was before VHS. Most recently, the last worthwhile TV-movie was “Drew Peterson: Untouchable,” because it was such a big story. This particular TV-movie from the 1970’s was just remade as a theatrical film last fall. I could have watched this sooner and then go see the remake. From time to time, I get around to finally seeing a classic like this and then a remake is suddenly annouced. And I feel a need to apologize. You can blame me for the upcoming remake of “The Woman in Black” and the casting of Mr. Harry Potter. Not that it looks bad; I’m just saying. Well, not this time. I am not responsible for the remake of “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.” I simply wasn’t in the right mood to watch the original film until now. And I wasn’t going to see the remake before the original. The remake didn’t look great anyway and received mixed reviews from critics and genre fans. But this isn’t about the remake, it is about the original TV-movie that inspired it. And I can say that it does give a genuine reason to fear the dark.

The setting is a mansion far removed from the big city, but not too far off from neighboring houses. There is a lot of open land. Quite a number of similar movies are set on such distant locations, aren’t they? Sally Farmham and her husband, Alex, move into the home after she inherits it from her grandmother. Alex wasn’t crazy about moving in. He has a corporate job and prefers living in the big city. Sally embraces living out in the open and in such a nice house. Not that it doesn’t need some work. Mr. Harris is a carpenter who worked for her grandmother. When Sally shows interest in the basement, which was converted into a study, and questions why the fireplace was sealed up, Mr. Harris advises her to ignore it and forget it’s there. Sally refuses to leave it alone. She opens part of the fireplace and just sees a deep, dark pit completely sealed from top to bottom.

Sally has made a common mistake. She has not listened to the wisdom of the old man. These old men, and some women, appear in a number of horror movies with warnings. They tell us to stay away from houses, out of the woods, and also away from the from the former summer camp with the death curse. No matter how level-headed or out to lunch they might appear, we must trust them and have complete respect for these elders. And while at it, we ought to be inviting them over for dinner once in a while. They’re lonely. Everyone else ignores them and thinks they’re crazy. We know that they’re right. It is the characters in all these movies that don’t believe them. Personally, I have been meaning to have a drink with Crazy Ralph. It would be nice learn more about Crystal Lake’s history and find out who Jason’s father was.

Once Sally has seen the fireplace for herself, she realizes that it’s not important and moves on. It is already too late. That fireplace was sealed up for a reason. It was protecting her and her husband from little creatures with whispering voices. At one point, they may have targeted Sally’s grandmother, and now they are targeting her. Sally hears them and eventually sees them for herself. And when they show themselves, it is a little startling. They roam around the house in secret passages and pop out of the most unlikely places. They resemble little people with deformed, monstrous heads. The effect is particularly effective. They are as tiny as any hellraiser from “Puppet Master,” and they appear to be performed by midgets or children. They move about like real people, and not like puppets and stop-motion. When they creep up the stairs, there does appear to be a little bit of camera trickery to make child actors appear smaller. It might be the case or it might not be. Whatever the filmmakers did, it worked and they are creepy, little buggers.

In a way, these creatures do for houses what that gremlin did for airplanes on one particular episode of “The Twilight Zone” and also for the movie. Either you’ve seen it or have at least heard the story. A passenger believes he a seeing gremlin creature on the wing of the airplane. It is tearing at the mechanics and threatening to crash the plane. Nobody believes the passenger and he is suspected to be out of his mind. It was up to William Shatner to make television viewers believe that a gremlin, resembling a man in make-up and a suit, is threatening the plane and I was floored. If one was to judge his best performance without a chip on his shoulder from the characters of James T. Kirk, T.J. Hooker and Denny Crane, it would be this one. When Sally hears whispering voices calling her name inside the house, Alex does not believe her. How could he? He is a businessman trying to get ahead and very much a level-headed person. And so was his wife before they moved in. It is observed that she could be acting out as the result of Alex being away from the house for days as he is trying to reach out to new partners in a merger. They did, after all, move away from the city where he works.

Kim Darby portrays the frightened wife and delivers a convincing performance. So does Jim Hutton as her loving and somewhat cold husband. Darby would later play a similar part again in “Halloween 6.” She played the mother who found out too late that her husband moved their family into the Myers house. It was a minor part, but here it is her show. Nothing really scares me anymore, but I found the creatures to be original and considerably creepy villains. They provided some suspense. If you haven’t seen too many horror movies yet, like I have, this might have a stronger effect. With a short running time of 74 minutes, it has a very simple premise and lacks a large cast for a bodycount. It wastes no time getting started and uses its time very wisely. It is all about Sally, her husband, the old man who knows more than he’s telling, a couple of supporting characters with not much to do, and some nasty little demons driving her crazy. After covering two other TV-movies, “Dark Night of The Scarecrow” and “Don’t Go To Sleep” from the early `80’s, this is a TV-movie that really stretches its muscles. Both of them were well-made and stood out, but this one fares a little better. No wonder it inspired a theatrical remake many years later. It’s been almost forty years. After that long, a remake was inevitable. I cannot speak on behalf of the remake, but I can say that the original movie is an effective and suspenseful horror film.

*** out of 4

Bonus Feature:

Dollman vs. Demonic Toys (1993)

There are actually three Full Moon movies rolled into here. The third one is “Bad Channels,” in which aliens took over a radio station and shrunk a nurse named Ginger. Ginger has become famous due to her predicament, and so has Dollman for cleaning up the Bronx. He decides to meet Ginger and cheer her up. How the policewoman from “Demonic Toys” plays into things is even more ludicrous. She has become paranoid about the deranged toys coming back – and of course, they do. She recruits Dollman to help her stop them, and Ginger joins them. This is a stupid, silly movie only an hour long. Any longer, and it would be a crime. When the extended version was screened for test audiences, they probably lost too many brain cells. The three main characters meet up in the first half hour, and they show up at the warehouse to kick the demonic toys’ butts in the latter half. It falls in between the above-average “Dollman” and below-avarage “Demonic Toys,” and is mildly entertaining. Once again, the demonic toys’ antics threaten the production with too much cheese, and it is Dollman’s and Ginger’s presences that make it bearable.

** out of 4

Last edited by Duke Nukem; 02-01-2012 at 04:47 PM..
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Old 01-26-2012, 06:51 PM
Loved it when I was a kid...found it dated & just OK as an adult. Still miles better than the remake!
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Old 02-01-2012, 03:07 PM
Back in the day!

Dont be affraid of the dark is a classic made for TV movie that still holds up after all these years. I saw it back when it first premired on ABCs Tuesday night at the movies...man am I showing my age.
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Old 02-01-2012, 04:01 PM
Originally Posted by the dead one View Post
Dont be affraid of the dark is a classic made for TV movie that still holds up after all these years. I saw it back when it first premired on ABCs Tuesday night at the movies...man am I showing my age.
Hey, I would do anything to have been around back then to have seen all these older movies when they originally played. You were lucky to see it when you did.
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Old 02-01-2012, 11:46 PM
Made for T.V. Horror...those were the days

Originally Posted by Duke Nukem View Post
Hey, I would do anything to have been around back then to have seen all these older movies when they originally played. You were lucky to see it when you did.
Thanks,Duke! I really appriciate you saying that. From the early 60's through the 70's was the place to be if you loved horror films as much as I did. Were talking The era of the Drive-Ins and made for T.V. movies such as: The Night Stalker,The Night Strangler,The Norliss Tapes, Something Evil, Trilogy of Terror,Killdozer,Gargoyles,Dark Night of the Scarecrow...I could go on but you get the idea. Yes, those were my best days!
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Old 02-02-2012, 10:57 PM
No problem. The way I am, I love the '80's, like the '70's, and getting to know the `60's a little bit more. And I have made sure to check out the best known B-movies from the '50's. If there were no horror conventions in my area, I don't know what I would do (and I hate the idea of buying movies - and doing everything - online). I would go nuts.
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