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DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK SE
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Reviewed by: Pat Torfe

Directed by: John Newland

Starring:
Kim Darby
Jim Hutton
Barbara Anderson
William Demarest

Movie:  
star star star star
Extras:  
star star star star
Overall:  
star star star star
What's it about

Sally Farnham and her husband Alex have just inherited and moved into an old Victorian house left by Sally's grandparents. Everything's pretty cool except for one room for which there isn't a key. Turns out the locked room is a basement with a fireplace, which Sally would like to use. Old Mr. Harris, the handyman who is helping to renovate the house and who has had previous experiences in the house tells her not to do such a thing. Too bad Sally doesn't listen, as after she opens the fireplace, she begins to see and hear things in the dark.

Is it good movie?

Growing up, one of the films that influenced genre fave Guillermo del Toro was the 1973 TV film DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK. According to him, the film was the scariest thing that he'd ever seen on TV. Even the case for the DVD proclaims that the film is "quite possibly the best made-for-TV horror movie ever." While I'm not quite sure that I'd go that far in heaping overzealous praise for the late John Newland film, there's something to be said when years later, the film gets put through Hollywood's wacky remake machine and out comes a film starring Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes. So, what does the original do to back up these claims?

For starters, despite being a made-for-TV film, we get a rather creepy atmosphere going rather quickly with a dimly-lit house that plays all sorts of games with viewers' imaginations. The creatures themselves -- actors in some pretty ugly Halloween masks and speaking in hushed voices -- add to the creepy feelings, peering out from behind things like potted plants and scurrying about on oversized sets. It also helps that we don't get a good look at just what these little guys look like until well into the film, leaving the shadows to do those wonderful things with our heads. The scene involving Sally taking a shower as the little trolls creep up on her with a straight razor is one of the most unsettling moments in the film. The film's conclusion keeps the unsettling feeling as well, and is totally not what you'd expect from a film of the era. Kudos to you, John Newland!

As for the acting, Mattie Ross was only four years removed from doing TRUE GRIT with John Wayne, and despite the horrible 70s hair, does an okay job along with everyone else. As for her husband played by the late Jim Hutton, today he's what you'd call a massive prick. You see, this film was made before folks started coming around to the idea that women were pretty awesome and not crazy when it came to certain things (like trolls skulking around in the dark trying to kill you). Instead of trying to talk to Sally, Alex blows it off as her overactive imagination and thinks that she should see a doctor. The film also briefly touches on the couple's marriage difficulties, but doesn't make the sympathy for Alex as deep as it is for Sally.

Yes, the film's era is apparent, and also makes it easy for criticism. This isn't what you'd call a timeless film. The look of the hairstyles and clothing and attitudes are dated and took me out of things. Adding to that was the film's obvious corniness and the forced script. At no point during the film does anyone try to get Sally out of the house. In fact, at one point, Sally has her bags packed and ready to go, but an "are you joking?" moment keeps her in that damn house. Oh yeah, and that moment where the trolls go to attack Sally while she's in the shower? The little guys shut off the lights. So what does Sally do? Finsh her shower, of course! Granted, I'd do the same thing, but not when I'd been seeing little people pop up throughout the house freaking me out.

So, is DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK the best made-for-TV horror movie ever? Not really. The film is obviously dated and the acting isn't outstanding. But then again, it's not terrible, either. The film also boasts some great creepy moments involving the creatures and the setting, which although clichéd nowadays, is still effective here as it was back then. See the film for a creepy good time and a primer for the remake, don't hire an interior decorator, and listen to your handyman.

Video / Audio

Video: DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK was released a little over a year ago with a craptacular transfer (indicating how much Warner Bros. initially cared), so it's quite a surprise when this new disc sports a rather impressive 1.33:1 fullscreen transfer. Cleaner, more colourful and brighter than the original, this new transfer still has its fair share of print damage that while isn't a big concern is noticeable. Still, it looks pretty good for a made-for-TV film from 1973.

Audio: Being that this film is from the early 70s and was broadcast on television, it's not much of a shock with the quality of the film's Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono track. Some of the voices on the track are a bit muffled at times with some hissing found throughout the track itself. Still, this is probably as close to the original broadcast as you can get.

The Extras

Whereas the original DVD was a bare bones affair, this new disc comes with a sole extra: an audio commentary with Dread Central's Steve "Uncle Creepy" Barton, screenwriter Jeffry Reddick and Fangoria's Sean Abley. The track is sort of a MST3K affair with a few serious insights into the film and its popularity mixed in with the trio poking fun at the cheese on the screen. All joking aside, it would've been nice to have had someone associated with the film itself doing a separate commentary or mediating the three guys (like producer and co-writer of the remake, Guillermo del Toro), but this is still a fun commentary. Just don't expect a wealth of information on the film's history.

Last Call

Dated but still able to evoke those not-so-nice feelings of unease, DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK is a nice slice of made-for-TV goodness that can be seen as either cheese today or something that stands out from what you'd normally see on TV back then. The commentary caters towards the cheese factor more than anything, so you'll have to research the film on your own to glean some of the good trivia.

ARROW IN THE HEAD'S RATING SYSTEM
star star star star I'D BUTCHER MY FAMILY TO SEE THIS AGAIN
star star star HANG ME BUT I DUG IT A LOT
star star AN OK WAY TO KILL TWO HOURS
star JUST SLING AN ARROW IN MY HEAD AND LET ME DIE IN PEACE

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