September 3, 2011

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)

"A young couple inherits an old mansion inhabited by small demon-like creatures who are determined to make the wife one of their own."

I'm not old enough to have watched "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" when it was first shown on TV but I did see it one night on BBC1 during what I think were the early '90s. I tried unsuccessfully for years to get it on VHS but the closest I came to it was a Dutch version which was no use to me at all. Of course, now that the remake is out, the re-released DVD is showing up everywhere.

Having just watched it yet again on a rather worn VHS tape which I bought for a couple of dollars from the local pawn shop, I'm finally ready to review the thing. "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" was a made-for-TV movie and a product of its time so maybe I really shouldn't criticise it too harshly but, having said that, of course I still will.

The first thing I noticed was that Kim Darby was a lot plainer than I remembered her to be. Possibly, underneath all the frumpy clothes, she had a cracking little body but, facially, she didn't do anything for me. The potential of the shower scene was knocked on the head a bit too quickly later on too.

A more important thing that stood out though was that "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" had become horribly dated. The rich characters were no longer likeable and the words that came out of their mouths even less so. I hate snobby, know-it-all, rich people in films anyway and seeing them get what's coming to them is always a source of delight.

Now, I'm not saying that the Farnhams were know-it-alls. In fact, they were just the opposite. Underneath their stubbornness, they were both as dumb as a box of rocks and their actions made me cringe. I'm glad the film was only an hour and a quarter long or I think I would be looking for a new TV set after putting my boot through the screen. Honestly, people that stupid and frustrating should not be allowed to have houses or to even live in society without specialist care.

I did like the old carpenter played by William Demarest. At least he had the good sense to stay away from the house once the dumbasses decided not to listen to him. Note to self: Always believe surly old carpenters who tell you not to interfere with bricked up fireplaces.

As for the little goblin-creatures, well, it's people in masks filmed against oversized props so you can make of that what you will. I was very disappointed and would have preferred claymation or something. It had honestly been so long since I last saw the film that I believed them to be puppets of some kind originally.

The worst problem with "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" was, of course, revealing the little creatures too early. All the suspense was gone once I knew what they looked like and I didn't much care about what they were after.

As a grown-man with a lot more film and real life horror experiences behind me, I didn't find the film scary at all but I admit that many years ago, I still thought it was good enough to include in the Video Vault. That has changed and I'm now rating it as "Just Average" even though the story was very original. It only escaped going into "The Dungeon" by a hair's breadth.

I haven't seen the remake yet but I've read a few reviews of it which said that it was also somewhat disappointing. Possibly going into it expecting a Del Toro film only to realise that it wasn't actually by him has upset the apple cart a bit but I'll certainly watch it eventually and let you know what I think.

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