Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark (1973)

Yeah, I know I said this would be up last night, but I fell asleep, and by the time I woke up it was time to go to work. Fatigue gets the best of us more often than not. lol.

And for those of you wondering, Freechelle is back on Amazon for a free download!

**This review contains spoilers**

Preparing to start a new chapter in their lives, Alex (Jim Hutton) and Sally (Kim Darby) Farnham move into a house previously owned by Sally’s deceased grandparents. Sally’s grandmother left the house to Sally in her will, and an elderly Mr. Harris (William Demarest), the same handyman, who worked on and repaired the house, when Sally’s grandparents were alive, agrees to work on some renovations and repairs for Alex and Sally as a sign of respect for Sally’s grandmother.

Alex spends most of his time working and on business trips, leaving Sally in the house by herself. Out of curiosity, Sally decides to open a fireplace in the study sealed up years ago by Mr. Harris at the request of Sally’s grandmother, ignoring warnings from Mr. Harris. Sally unknowingly unleashes a group of miniature creatures from the fireplace. But after numerous creature sightings and pleas for help, Alex refuses to believe Sally. Instead, Alex suggests Sally see a psychiatrist for help. The creatures plan to abduct Sally to take her spirit, because, whoever sets the creatures free must become one of them, and return to the fireplace. And a few hours before the planned abduction, the creatures accidentally kill the interior decorator, Mr. Perez (Pedro Armendariz, Jr.) by tripping him down a flight of stairs with a small rope that was meant for Sally.

Sally is able to convince her best friend, Joan (Barbara Anderson), and Alex changes his mind after Mr. Harris explains the history of the house, the fireplace, and the mysterious disappearance of Sally’s grandfather. The creature’s main weakness is light, but Sally will have to rely on a camera, candles, and one flashlight after the creatures cut the power to the house during the night. 

I won’t sit here and pretend to be a Kim Darby expert, because I’m not. In fact, I’ve only seen her in this film and the original True Grit. But Darby easily steals the show as Sally. You’ll see Darby slowly unravel into a paranoid and frightened mess before it’s all over. Two scenes that stick out are the scene at the dinner table, where one of the creatures pulls Sally’s table cloth from her lap, and Darby screams “ALEX!!! ALEX!!! PLEASE!!!” The other is after the creatures kill Perez, and Sally is tugging on the rope with the creatures, and she says “Who are you??? What do you want???” This was towards the end of the film, and you could really feel Darby’s frustration, because Sally was so sick and tired of being tormented and taunted by the creatures.

Jim Hutton is the domineering and stern man of the house/husband, but he shows some vulnerability at the end, as Alex screams for Sally (more on that later). Demarest is believable as the stubborn, paranoid, and fussy old man, who won’t back down in an argument. And speaking of arguments, the funniest parts of Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark come from an argument between Alex and Mr. Harris, because Harris believes in the supernatural, and of course, Alex thinks it’s all ridiculous nonsense. And Barbara Anderson is harmless as Joan.

Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark takes the slow burn approach. The reveals are carefully spaced out and hints are dropped one by one, until the big finale. The slow burn technique might bore some, but Darby is the one, who pulls everything together. After a while, you can actually see the creatures, but you’re so caught up in Sally’s hysteria, because at certain points in the film, Sally is so freaked out by what’s happening, she tries to convince herself the creatures aren’t real.

The series of events leading up to the ending and the ending itself are done so well. Alex rushes to Harris’ place to learn more about the history of the house. Meanwhile, Joan is trying to protect Sally, and the creatures cut off the power outside. The events of Joan struggling to turn the power back on and get back inside the house after the creatures lock her out, the creatures finally capturing Sally, and Alex and Mr. Harris rushing back to the house are spliced together. The first time I watched this movie years ago, I was on the edge of my seat, because it was almost impossible to predict what would happen next. Will Joan get back into the house, and save Sally in time? Will Alex and Mr. Harris arrive in time to help stop the creatures? Or is Sally doomed with no one to help her?

It’s a fantastic suspenseful finale that’s executed to perfection, and Sally’s horrifying screams, as Alex breaks into the house provide the perfect cliffhanger, because Alex, Joan, and Mr. Harris were only seconds away from saving Sally’s life. Hutton does a wonderful job of selling Alex’s heartbreak with a horrified look on his face, as Alex looks into the fireplace, searching for Sally after dropping the flashlight, because Sally would still be alive and safe, if Alex just listened to her in the first place. Speaking of this finale, am I the only one, who notices the sudden changes from night to day? It’s supposed to be nighttime, and when Joan runs outside, you can clearly see it’s dark outside. BUT there’s one shot, where Joan is trying to turn the power back on and get back in the house, and you can clearly see daylight outside. Weird.

The creatures are appropriately freakish. They look like little evil goblins, and their hoarse voices are so creepy, as they stalk Sally, “We want you, Sally!” “It’s your spirit we need!” Plus, director John Newland does a wonderful job of creating some genuinely spooky and chilling atmospherics. You won’t see any real jump scares in Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark, but Newland provides enough haunting tension to make up for any missed “jump out of your seat” moments.

Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark was a made-for-TV movie that premiered on ABC back in 1973 on October 10th, and you can clearly see the parts of the film that lead into commercial breaks here. But of course, Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark gained a cult following from the horror fan base over the years. The film was released on VHS in the 80‘s, on DVD in 2009, went out of print, and then they released it again on DVD in 2011 to help promote the remake.

A lot of horror aficionados like to praise this film as a forgotten classic. A gem? Yeah, I could live with that type of praise. But a classic? I think that’s going a bit far. Take away the commercial break pauses, and you wouldn’t be able to tell Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark is a TV movie….but you can see the commercial break pauses. Look, Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark is better than your average TV movie from any genre. I won’t deny that. But hearing some other people praise this film, you would think Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark is worthy of ten Academy Awards and a spot in the National Film Registry. Come on now. It’s not that good.

But I’ll say this, Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark features one of my favorite openings ever. The music, the black cat, the voices of the creatures, and the rustling of the leaves in the wind. Everything has the right amount of spook. And before you actually see the creatures, you’re wondering where the voices are coming from, and who are they waiting for? Take a look!


Rating: 7/10

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