You know what's worse than looking forward to a movie, finally seeing it, and being disappointed with it? I'll tell you what's worse! Looking forward to a movie, finally seeing it, and being disappointed with it- when everyone in the world has told you the movie is great! That's what's worse! And that's exactly happened to poor ol' me last night when I got to see the 1973 made-for-TV flick Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. I'd read glowing review after glowing review of this movie, praising it's scariness. Maybe all the Peanut Butter M&Ms I ate were affecting my judgment, I don't know...but I will say that I wasn't overly impressed.
Kim Darby and Jim Hutton (father of Timothy Hutton) are Sally and Alex Farnham, a young couple who inherit a big, creepy old house from Sally's grandmother. The couple hires handyman Mr. Harris (William Demarest) to help with fixing up the place- he's worked on the house before and knows what's what. There's a locked door which Sally is dying to get into, and when she finally finds the key, the door opens to a dark, dank study. Sally wants to turn this into an office for herself, but Mr. Harris tells her to forget that idea. There's a fireplace in the room, but it's bricked up and the ash door is bolted shut. Mr. Harris did that a long time ago, though he won't tell Sally why. He insists that some things are best left the way they are, and that's that- stop meddling! Personally, I think Hollywood needs a Mr. Harris. Anytime some bozo got the idea to revive a series, or screw with an established history, Mr. Harris could stop them in their tracks. Just imagine...
"Let's make a movie about Leatherface's childhood!"
"Some things are best left the way they are! Stop meddling, ya idjit!"
"Hey, that old guy's right! What a stupid idea! Let's come up with an entirely original idea instead!"
Mr. Harris Goes To Hollywood could save me alot of stress. His reasoning isn't good enough for that Sally, though. She really needs to get that fireplace open, and when she's alone, she unbolts the ash door! Pfft- ain't that just like a woman? Can't leave well enough alone. I bet she's a terrible driver, too!
When Mr. Harris finds the door open, he promptly re-bolts it...but it's too late! Tooooo laaaaate! They have been let out...they who stalk the darkness and want to claim Sally as their own...they who creep around and whisper Sally's name...they...who...are about 7 inches tall and have shrivelled gourd-like heads. Dammit.
The fatal mistake of Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, for me, was the overexposure of the things in the dark. Hearing whispered voices, catching a glimpse of something scuttling behind a table, thinking maybe you see a face in the window...these things are scary. Watching creatures run around- creatures that look like Smurfs stricken with that awful condition that makes you age before your time- is not scary.
The rest of the movie runs the typical course: Sally keeps seeing these creatures everywhere and she's sure they're out to get her, but everyone thinks she's crazy. Unfortunately, Sally's the one who's right. Eventually the shriveled little things do get her, and Sally disappears into the fireplace to...I guess become a shriveled little thing herself.
Maybe I shouldn't be so hard on Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. For a TV movie, it's certainly original and scarier than most of the others you'll see. If I had seen this when I was a kid, it probably would've left me afraid to go to bed that night, and most nights afterward. This movie had a great premise- what's scarier than the idea that yeah, there really is something lurking in your room in the dark? Knowing there's something there but not knowing what it is- that's terrifying. It would've worked better if we'd never really seen the pint-sized creatures...I couldn't help but think "Just step on them!", or "Just kick them really hard!" whenever Sally was being tormented. Now this movie would be a great candidate for a re-make. Like Mr. Harris says, some things are better left the way they are, but not all. I give it 6 out of 10 mini-pumpkinheads.