Sunday, October 14, 2012

Final Girl Film Club - Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)

Throughout October, Cody will be participating in the Final Girl Film Club SHOCKtober event with articles posted on a different movie every day of the month.

Today, the classic 1973 TV movie Don't Be Afraid of the Dark.

The film begins with an exterior shot of a creepy old mansion at night, a group of filtered voices whispering on the soundtrack, voices of people or things anxiously awaiting the arrival of a woman who will "set them free".

The woman the whisperers are waiting for is Sally Farnham, who has just inherited the mansion from her grandmother and is moving in with her husband Alex. There's one room in the mansion that the Farnhams are unable to get into at first; the door to her grandfather's old study has been locked, the key hidden away. They can't see into the room from the outside because the window has been boarded up. When Sally finally finds the key and enters the study, she discovers that its fireplace has been bricked up as well, the door to its ash pit bolted shut.

Sally would like to turn the study into her own office, and she really wants to put that old fireplace to use. The mansion caretaker refuses to open the fireplace up and tells Sally that she shouldn't, either. It won't work and "some things are better left as they are."

Ignoring the old man's warning like most horror characters would, Sally goes to work busting into the fireplace, setting herself up for a lot of emotional distress and physical danger. Opening the fireplace gives the whisperers what they want as Sally inadvertently sets them free from their bricked up prison, and they have some very unpleasant things intended for their liberator.

Once set loose in the house, the whisperers, which turn out to be small demonic creatures, begin terrorizing Sally, threatening her and those around her. At first Sally's husband brushes her uneasy feelings aside and blames them on her overactive imagination, but as her fear intensifies over the course of more run-ins with the creatures, he accuses her of making up excuses for why they should back out of moving into the mansion.

Alex may get upset with his wife, but I have to say that she takes the house's infestation of creatures much better than most people probably would, certainly better than I would. If I had plainly seen that there were two foot tall demons in my house, there's no way that I would soon after sit down in a chair like Sally does and reassuringly whisper to myself, "Just a few more days and I'll be safe." I may never relax again in my life after having the experiences she does, and would definitely not be spending another minute in that house. Forget what Alex thinks and whether or not he'd want to stay behind or even if he was driven by my hysterics to file for divorce, if I were Sally I'd be getting the hell out of there immediately.

Which may be a flaw in the film; even though Sally does get upset at what's going on, she doesn't get upset enough, maybe not to a realistic level. But if she sped off like a real person would, there wouldn't be a movie. The character's strange reactions are more acceptable given the fact that she's played by Kim Darby, who was always a bit of an oddball actress.

What matters over questions of decisions and logic is the fact that the creature stalking scenes are quite creepy, even if they are obviously people in costumes made to look small through the use of camera tricks and oversized sets. I didn't see this movie for the first time until just a few years ago, but if I had seen it during my childhood I'm sure it would've unnerved me, as small creatures were always a weakness of mine. The little demons in The Gate freaked me out as a kid and the troll from Stephen King's Cat's Eye messed me up for years. A childhood viewing of this movie had a big impact on filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, who co-wrote and produced a remake that was released last year and I still have not seen.

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark made its debut as a TV movie of the week in October of 1973 and quickly became one of the most popular TV movies ever made. It was also one of the most quickly made TV movies ever, going from script approval to filmed and in the can in just over two weeks. Signs of a speedy production might come through in a couple spots, but it's such a simple, quick (74 minutes) and freaky little story that it works just fine.

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