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Overall Rating
2.6

Awesome: 10%
Worth A Look: 10%
Just Average: 10%
Pretty Crappy70%
Sucks: 0%

1 review, 4 user ratings


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Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)
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by MP Bartley

"Nostalgia - it's not what it used to be."
2 stars

There's an interesting personal story behind Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. When I was about 7 my favourite uncle turned up at my house with a late night film that he'd taped for me, sure in the knowledge that I'd love it. As it turned out, I didn't so much love it as was absolutely terrified by it (yeah, he was a bit of a sadist). However, over the years I forgot the title, despite never forgetting the concept and the effect it had on me. No matter where I turned to I could never discover what the title of this film was - until last month...

My diligent research had finally turned up the tv movie that had formed such an integral part of my childhood. Further research showed that it had never been given an official dvd or vhs release - but if I looked in the right places I might find a copy somewhere. Lo and behold, Ebay held the key - someone had taped it off television one night, copied it to dvd and was now selling it for two pounds. Two pounds? Bargain! A copy was duly bought, dispatched and watched, ready to resurrect childhood memories...

Ouch.

The copy was decent enough despite losing the colour in the transfer somewhere. But the story is still intact. Married couple Sally (Kim Darby) and Alex (Jim Hutton) move into the big suburban house that she's inherited from her recently deceased aunt. In dire need of renovation, it comes complete with a wizened old handyman who tells her that there's only one thing she musn't do in the house - and that's open up the old fireplace that has been boarded up for years. So what does headstrong Sally do the minute his back is turned? Yup, open up the fireplace of course. Soon after Sally is hearing her name whispered in the dead of night, household objects are mysteriously being moved about, and she's seeing glimpses of little figures darting around the house. Of course, she's the only one that ever hears or sees anything...

It's clear right from the start that director John Newland is directing nothing more than the kind of 'things that go bump in the night' story that your grandad would tell you on Halloween before sending you up to bed. It opens on the mysterious old house caught in a violent storm whilst Billy Goldenberg's spooky score (excellent throughout) goes over the top in both senses of the phrase. Newland has confidence and ambition in what he's doing here, and he does manage to invest the house with dark, foreboding shadows whilst making good work of little sibilant voices in the night - I don't care how cheap a production is, hearing your name whispered in the middle of the night is always going to be so creepy.

Yet we are not talking about a forgotten gem here. Instead Don't Be Afraid of the Dark rarely escapes from its tv movie genre. The scripting is nothing more than clunky exposition throughout, the acting ranges from serviceable (Darby) to awful (Hutton) and for the most part Newland's direction is static and slow.

But what really knocks a whole star off the film is the decision to reveal the creatures haunting Sally halfway through the film. Played by normal sized actors on an exaggerated soundstage, it's a terrible decision to make as they look resolutely unterrifying. The use of giant sets looked bad on Land of the Giants and it fares no better here, with the creatures not living up to the spooky suggestion that the first half of the film hinted at. What can I say? Even at 7 I must have been easily scared.

If only Newland had had the gumption to only suggest at the creatures and work around fully revealing them, the result would have been much more effective. Indeed, there a couple of moments where he does just that, and it's no surprise that these are the best moments in the film. A brief glimpse of one hiding in some shrubbery and a tug of war with a napkin on Sally's lap being creepy little nuggets in the mire. Even the ending with Sally trapped alone in the house with them, stirred the memories of childhood terror as it's a wholly effective scene when Newland is only letting us hear them, rather than see them. It's the ending that is the sole reason Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is probably best remembered as it ends on the kind of shivery note that all the best ghost stories do.

It's no use pretending that Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is a lost gem or a great horror, because it plainly isn't. However, searching around on various forums will reveal that it has got quite a cult following. And while it's difficult to say that it would scare anyone today, it's not difficult to see just why it scarred a whole generation of kids.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16238&reviewer=293
originally posted: 07/02/07 04:53:01
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User Comments

7/24/17 Chaz Walter One of my favorite made-for-tv movies. A classic for sure. 5 stars
1/24/12 mr.mike Not all that good. 2 stars
8/27/10 Aaron Overrated for sure, but still an enjoyable and creepy movie. 3 stars
9/14/09 porfle I enjoyed this movie quite a bit. Very nostalgic and fun. 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  10-Oct-1973
  DVD: 24-Aug-2011

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