Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)
Can you see them, Sally ... hiding in the shadows. They're alive, Sally. They want you to be one of them when the lights go out.
Year of Release: 1973
Also Known As: Nightmare, Gate of Darkness
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 74 minutes (1:14)
Director: John Newland
Kim Darby ... Sally Farnham
Jim Hutton ... Alex Farnham
Barbara Anderson ... Joan Kahn
William Demarest ... Mr. Harris
Pedro Armendariz Jr. ... Francisco Perez
Lesley Woods ... Ethyl
Felix Silla ... Creature
Tamara De Treaux ... Creature
Patty Maloney ... Creature
Sally and Alex Farnham have inherited a lovely old Victorian home that harbors a deadly secret. In the bowels of a closed-off room lurks a horde of hideously evil creatures, just waiting for a chance to get out - to claim their next victim.
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is a terrifying tale of the supernatural that explodes when curiosity gets the best of Sally and she unlocks a forbidden door in the downstairs study. Suddenly violent poltergeists are able to roam the house in the dark - and their target is their liberator.
Fighting with all her might, Sally is drawn into a harrowing battle of wills as the satanic demons draw her closer and closer to their vile and repulsive underworld. Not for the fainthearted, you'll begin leaving the lights on at night after experiencing this eerie and frightening excursion into the macabre.
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, remindin' us that, like a marriage, there's no place for secrets in a carpentry business. If somebody's got loose floorboards, termites, or little walnut-faced cultist creatures livin' in their basement, you come clean about it. There's no room for this cryptic "some things should be left as they are" crapola, you just gotta come right out with it an tell 'em: "look ma'am, I'm sorry to hafta tell you this, but you've got P.O.'d gnomes who want your soul livin' in your root cellar." That's all you gotta do. What the home owners do with that knowledge is pretty well up to them, but at least by that point you've fulfilled your obligation as a contractor. This is also for your own benefit, cause you know what happens when the Better Business Bureau finds out that you've been withholdin' knowledge of Nazi imps infestin' someone's study? That's right. Yelp rating down the ole toilet bowl. An we wouldn't want THAT, now would we? An speakin' of people who seldom leave the basement, I made a discovery at the Videodome Tape Rental Center this past week that I feel compelled to blab to every man, woman, an child who ain't closed out the browser window yet. See, I was down there lookin' for a copy of The Omega Man after mine got stuck in the VCR an started makin' noises like one of Skunky Hernadez' bulls havin' an orgasm. I usually just toss the tape when that happens, cause I don't want 'em to give my player the vee-dee-ooh. That's video vee-dee for you uninitiated types. Yard sale tapes're fun to hunt down an collect, butcha never can tell what kinda filthy machines they've been stuck in before you got ahold of 'em. So anyway, I'm at the counter bein' rung up by Edgar "the blow-up doll bandit" Mastrude, when he sticks me with a $1 rewind fee for the 368th time even though I know full well that I rewound The Fly after I watched it. You don't forget a thing like watchin' a giant maggot slitherin' its way back inside Geena Davis's crotch cavern. So I follow 'im back to the "repair room" where he keeps all these busted ass electronic devices so he can show me his notarized proof of rewindal deficiency, an I notice how there are a hell of a lot more old VCRs in there than there were about 10 years back when I tried buyin' a couple of 'em for parts. Matter of fact, the ones I'd asked about were still there, only now there was a stack on top of 'em taller'n Marv Chintzley's '74 Ford highboy, an that got me thinkin', which seldom ends well.
My problem with this whole deal is that I've always considered myself to be a pretty kind guy when it comes to rewinds, yet I'm always gettin' stuck with these fees. The more I thought about it, the more I realized everybody I knew'd been gettin' saddled with 'em too, an I hadda find out for myself if my suspicions were true. So I hid behind the SummerSlam '88 mock-up of Hulk Hogan an the Macho Man until the place closed down, snuck into the VCR graveyard, popped a tape into the machine on the top of the stack, an smacked the fast forward button. Sure enough, it made this pathetic sound like Johnny 5 gettin' kicked in his robo-balls just before the power shut off. Now, for all you prepubescent cell phone zombies an rich folks with your "Blu-Ray" players, what that means is that the player'd done so much fast forwardin' in its lifetime that the mechanism'd completely gave out, an when you slap that button (it happens with rewind too, so buy a goll durn tape rewinder!) its got so little get up'n go that the thing just dies. I know this cause I had one do it to me from fast forwardin' to the end credits of Howling II too many times, an I'm here to tell ya; you've really gotta do it a *lot* to actually bust the player. So, just to make sure it wasn't a fluke, I tried a half dozen others an they did the same thing. Died faster'n a Guns 'N Roses reunion tour rumor. Basically what this means is that that fat mollusk's been fast forwardin' people's tapes, showin' it to a co-worker to get the penalty slip approved, an then rippin' us off like the tag on a Salvation Army mattress. Course, I can't just kick the door in at the police station an have Sheriff Arbuckle raid the place with no evidence, so I'm thinkin' some video vigilante justice is prolly in order soon as I decide how to handle this. That's right Edgar, I know who you are an I saw what you did. Might wanna start exercisin' a little bit so you can twist that pot roast you call a neck around far enough to watch your back, pal.
Next time he shows that pan of meatloaf he calls a face in The Gutter Bowl, it's gonna get stomped harder'n the heart of Taylor Swift's latest boyfriend. But that's personal, so I don't really wanna get into it while we got business to attend to; namely, one of the best made-for-TV movies in the history of cable. Now, I realize that's like sayin' it's the sexiest stripper in the Appalachians, but it really is a pretty good flick. An to prove it, I've picked out a few factoids that you could only get from watchin' a mash up of The Amityville Horror and The Gate, that I believe you'll appreciate. First, always drop your little monsters off with the sitter if you're havin' a dinner party. Because sooner or later they *will* do somethin' that makes you go apeshit in front of the guests an cause your social standin' to sink faster'n an outhouse in quicksand. Second, just cause your wife's bein' attacked by Phantasm dwarves that got left in the crusher too long, that's no excuse for demandin' information that might save 'er life over the phone. A gentleman always drives over to another gentleman's house, engages in polite conversation, enjoys a cup of coffee, an THEN brings up the little matter of the murderous trolls livin' in his basement. An third, Hell hath no fury like an interior decorator scorned. But the endin' to this movie got me wonderin' about exactly what these movie monsters do while they're waitin' in limbo for some chunkhead to release 'em from whatever prison they've been forced into. See, in this flick the little gourd-headed cloak-creatures're trapped in this bricked up fireplace until somebody lets 'em out, but there're tons of movies like this one where the monster's basically twiddlin' his thumbs until somebody lets 'im loose. Leprechaun, Pumpkinhead, Creepshow, Wishmaster, Dolly Dearest, the list goes on an on. Pumpkinhead I imagine has some terrible minimum wage job stirrin' a boilin' cauldron of pedophiles in Hell between revenge gigs, but how about the Leprechaun? Guy was stuck in that crate for 10 years without so much as a deck of cards to help pass the time, I mean, shouldn't these guys've gone completely outta their crackers with absolutely nothin' to do but wait? An in the case of Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, where there're several of the midget monsters, how could they possibly be locked up together for that long without killin' each other? I've gotta believe that things got pretty heated inside that fireplace over the decades while they discussed at length just who it was that dropped the ball an got 'em trapped in their. An for that matter, what's Freddy Krueger do while all the Elm Street kids're awake? You spoze Freddy gets cable in the Dream World to help pass the time? They never show ya this stuff in the movies, an it's startin' to bug me. Goddamned lazy screenwriters, there are those of us who need our closure. So maybe make with some revelations, how 'bout it?
The movie begins with this wide shot of an old Victorian where these cackly voices're discussion when "she" will be comin' to set 'em free. For a while I thought maybe the voices were a buncha guys chained up in Mae West's basement, but thankfully it's a lot less disgustin' than that. So the next day, we watch all these still scenes that jump around from room to room in the house like Night Trap, while the new owners (Sally an Alex) talk about all the renovations they're gonna hafta do to the house in case they ever wanna have the Queen of England over for tea an crumpets or somethin'. Fuggin' livin' room in this place is bigger'n my whole house. Talk about rich people problems. Anyhow, the couple has Uncle Charley from My Three Sons doin' some carpentry work in the basement, an all the sudden Sally starts actin' like Reagan an demandin' that Charley tear down this wall that's makin' the fireplace unusable so she can get it workin' again an rent out the room to low budget film crews to shoot softcore porno movies in. Charley's kinda hard to take seriously cause he sounds just like Abner Kravitz from Bewitched, so when he tells 'er to leave it the way it is, Pandora grabs a crescent wrench instead of a quarter inch socket an starts unscrewin' the bolts on the ventilation shaft a half turn at a time so it'll take forever an generate a buncha suspense. Everything seems normal until she gets outta earshot, at which point the disembodied voices start actin' giddier'n Dobby the House Elf after a Chinese dry cleaner screwed up an handed him his master's business suit. Then Sally an Alex have dinner an discuss the big party they're throwin' for Alex' fellow desk jockeys so he can suck up to the boss an get a promotion that'll get 'im outta the house an away from Sally an 'er culinary infections, before headin' to bed. Unfortunately, when Sally starts droolin' all over the bedroom, some phantom creep tries kickin' an ashtray under 'er lip so the place won't flood out an accidentally busts it on the floor. She tells Alex about it but he just tells 'er to quit bein' hysterical or he'll hafta force feed 'er a Prozac smoothie. The next mornin', Sally tells 'er girlfriend (Joan) about the crashtray too, but Joan thinks she's just havin' trouble acceptin' the fact that pretty quick Alex's gonna become a big shot with a floozy in every territory, an she tells Sally that the only known cure for her kinda depression is to ignore the root cause an go buy a new dress.
Then Sally heads home an when she goes into the basement somethin' starts tuggin' on 'er dress an sayin' "we want you," til she ends up havin' flashbacks to prom night. Again she tells Alex, but he just reminds 'er how nothin' could possibly want 'er on account of how old an frumpy she's gotten, an threatens to start tellin' 'er about his day at the accounting firm every night if she don't get it together. It's your basic "start actin' more like June Cleaver an less like June Shannon" pep talk, sometimes women need that. So anyway, the next night it's time to party like it's 1899. Complete with stuffy captains of industry, trophy wives with the IQ of lawn fertilizer, classical music, an little creeps wearin' voodoo face paint peekin' outta the floral arrangements an stickin' their fingers down their throats at all the artsy fartsy ambiance. Then everybody starts eatin' their dinner, cept while Sally's tryin' to chew on 'er seven course Sichuan meal (eight countin' the fortune cookie), the little crud creatures're under the table beggin' for scraps an havin' a tug of war with 'er over 'er napkin, til she finally cracks an starts yellin' like Fred Flintstone after Dino locks 'im outta the house at the end of every cartoon. So later that night, once Alex's tried convincin' everyone she had an allergic reaction to the Peking duck, Sally hits the shower to try scrubbin' off the shame of costin' 'er husband the chance to work twice as many hours for the same pay. But while she's washin' behind 'er ears, the Gomies sneak in through the linen cabinet an argue about when an how to knock 'er off an whether she aughta be in the bath such a short time after eatin'. But pretty quick Sally notices 'em outside the tub checkin' out 'er mangoes an whips the curtain open an watches 'em scatter like white trash children on a Walmart shoppin' excursion. Course, since Alex already thinks she's a few slurs short of a Donald Trump speech, she decides to avoid dealin' with the problem by tellin' 'im she'd like to sell the house an dump the spiteful sprites in somebody else's lap, at which point she parks 'erself in a chair where she stays Up All Night like Gilbert Gottfried with the lights on. Then, the next mornin', Uncle Charley comes to get his tools outta the basement an the G.I. Gnomes're P.O.'d cause they think he tipped Sally off about 'em an they end up takin' a chisel to his wrist so he'll remember his manners in the future.
Meanwhile, Alex's left Sally alone to fly someplace an try sellin' somebody aluminum siding, or whatever it is he does. But Sally's not gettin' caught nekkid an alone again, so she starts stashin' flashlights all over the house an fillin' up the candle holders with Imp insurance until it's time to tackle the most harrowing an dangerous task of all; letting the decorator know his services are no longer needed. Unfortunately, when the decorator starts flutterin' off in a tizzy, the leper-chauns string a rope across the top of the stairway an the next thing you know the decorator's gone to the big chorus line in the sky. They feel real bad about it though, cause alls they wanted do is kill Sally so they can possess 'er spirit, an they certainly never meant to hurt anybody who provided such a badly needed service in 1970s America. Then the cops come an haul the corpse off knowin' that his dying wish of drapes that matched the wallpaper will go forever unrealized, an Sally calls Joan over to keep 'er company so she don't try anything stupid like rearrangin' the furniture without the help of a professional. So Sally tries tellin' Joan about the drooly ghoulies again, an this time she actually believes 'er cause she's got rope burns on 'er hands from where she tried pullin' the little shits into the light after they sent the decorator rollin' on the liver. In the meantime, Alex's hauled butt back from his trip after sellin' only one measly cable subscription, cept while Joan goes outside to tell 'im Sally may not actually need that tour of the Happy Acres Schizophrenia Clinic and Pharmaceutical Testing Pavilion, The Borrowers've gone an slipped Sally a coupla NyQuil geltabs an now she's more out of it than Rush Limbaugh on a Vicodin binge. Alex wants to know what in the name of Tolkien's tales of tiny trespassin' terrorists is goin' on around here, so he leaves Sally an Joan alone an drives over to Uncle Charley's place to get the low down on the leprous low riders. Meanwhile, the cellar dwellers've cut the power, an when Joan goes outside to check the fuse box they lock 'er out like they're havin' a He-Man Woman Hater's Club meetin' inside, leavin' Sally alone an gurglin' upstairs with a pack of maniacal midget monsters closin' in on 'er. Gonna cut it off here, cause the ending is a little gutsier than you might expect from a made-for-TV movie.
Alrighty, sounds pretty good don't it? I thought it was pretty cool the way they didn't pull one of those Roger Corman fast ones on us and make us wait until the very end of the movie to see the creatures. Flick's got a pretty good balance between character development and its ugly disgustin' drool monsters, without having all that much objectionable material in it. Although you can pretty easily see how it would've scared the tar outta little kids when it first aired back on October 10th, 1973. But what's really amazing about it is the fact that it came out as good as it did, having been shot in only two weeks. Now granted, the movie is only 75 minutes, and it has a coupla plot holes, but all in all it's pretty dang elaborate and technically sound for a movie shot in such a short period of time. I suppose that also explains the really god-awful day for night shot near the end of the movie, but I was damn impressed even before I learned it had such a short shooting schedule. It's one of those flicks that does a whole lot with very little, both in terms of budget, and with regard to how tame it is. After all, being a made-for-TV movie, they weren't gonna be able to chainsaw people's heads off in prime-time, so the director stresses mood and the psychological toll each incident takes on Kim Darby's character, rather than grisly death. Normally that's not something I want in a flick, so they were really fighting an uphill battle to get somebody like me to enjoy this style of movie, but they definitely won me over. I suppose it's probably the creatures that save it for me, because when somebody tries this kinda thing with ghosts, it seldom works. The creatures are pretty interesting though, and probably influenced other filmmakers who would carry on the tradition of miniature monsters with flicks like Ghoulies, Troll, Critters, and of course, Gremlins. The ending, which I won't be spoiling, is probably what makes it so effective in terms of its ability to traumatize children, because I was rather surprised to see such a downer ending, as it's a made-for-TV movie. Flicks that're made for cable (at least from the '70s and '80s) are supposed to provide a few thrills, maybe a plot twist or two, but always wrap up with that warm, sitcom-esque feel-good ending. Apparently Nigel McKeand and John Newland never got that memo, and I think it really sends the flick out on a high note. Some movies are just better without that cutesy cookie cutter Hollywood ending, and this is one of them.
Anyhow, it's time to put some serious backspin on these dwarves and find out how many pins they can knock down, so let's get to it. The plot, simple and occasionally hole riddled as it may be, is what makes the movie so memorable. By the end of the flick there's still some serious unanswered questions, but between the chat Jim Hutton and William Demarest have near the conclusion, and the post-climax dialog between the creatures, you do get *enough* information to avoid feeling ripped off. I would be kinda curious to know why the creatures needed Kim Darby to release them when later on in the movie they're able to open up the bolts in the vent without help from anyone, but it's something that I'm personally able to overlook. Sometimes part of the fun is not knowing all the answers, and I don't think the lack of definitive, detailed answers is really that much of a detriment. The acting is pretty good as well, with a cast comprising many recognizable TV faces of the era. Kim Darby is superb as the mousy, freaked out Sally, and William Demarest is also exceptional as the carpenter, Mr. Harris, who sealed up the little boogers originally and knows what's goin' on, but refuses to spill the beans. Jim Hutton's just kinda there, in my opinion. Nothing wrong with his performance, it's just that the character isn't that interesting. Equally important (though seldom credited as such) are the dwarf actors playing the monsters, which include Felix Silla, Patty Maloney, and Tamara De Treaux, and they're great. Tamara had this really uniquely subdued, yet raspy voice on her that I think gets put to even better use here than it did in Ghoulies, since she gets a coupla pretty funny lines. I mean, it's definitely black humor, but the part where she's arguing with Felix about why they hafta wait to kill off Sally until the next day is probably my favorite part of the movie. That Felix, he's always the voice of reason, ain't he?
So a pretty good cast in my opinion, so here's who matters and why: Kim Darby (Halloween 6), Jim Hutton (Psychic Killer), Barbara Anderson (The Six Million Dollar Man), Pedro Armendariz Jr. (The Vampires), Lesley Woods (Bad Ronald), Robert Cleaves (Project X, Seconds), Sterling Swanson (Mac and Me, Dogs), Joel Lawrence (The Clonus Horror, Destination Inner Space), William Sylvester (2001: A Space Odyssey, Gorgo, Devil Doll, Devils of Darkness, Beast of Morocco), Don Mallon (The Baby), Celia Milius (Vampire at Midnight, Conan the Barbarian, Rattlers), Monika Henreid (The Omega Man), Felix Silla (Return of the Jedi, Batman Returns, Spaceballs, The Brood, House, The Dungeonmaster, The Lord of the Rings 1978, The Manitou, Demon Seed, She Freak, Sssssss, Planet of the Apes), Tamara De Treaux (Rockula, Ghoulies), Patty Maloney (The Addams Family 1991, The Lord of the Rings 1978, The Ice Pirates). And of course, when you're dealing in TV movies, you're gonna have a lotta socially redeeming bullstuff on people's resumes, but I'm pretty sure it was just stuff they did to hold them over between horror gigs, so let's not be too rough on 'em for the following moments of indiscretion. Kim Darby would likely be best known as Mattie Ross from True Grit with John Wayne, or Jenny Mayer from Better off Dead. Jim Hutton was Sgt. Petersen in The Green Berets, again with John Wayne, Barbara Anderson played Eve Whitfield on Ironside, William Demerest portrayed Mr. Jones on Sullivan's Travels, Muggsy in The Lady Eve, and of course, Uncle Charley O' Casey on My Three Sons. Additionally, Pedro Armendariz was Anthony on The Power of Destiny, and Lesley Woods went on to play Grandma Helen Logan on The Bold and the Beautiful. Always painful to see talented folks go into soap operas, but let's all try to remember them for this movie, rather than the sordid gigs of their later years.
The special effects are pretty damn good, and I'd especially like to praise the crew's use of forced perspective and oversized props, rather than puppets. There is one scene where a puppet arm reaches out and flicks a light switch off, but other than that, we've got dwarf actors working with exaggerated props a la I Dream of Jeannie, and they pulled it off very convincingly. Such a stupidly simple method, but when done right, it's a million times better than what they'd use these days, which would be a green screen. The monster suits, on the other hand, are a little bit goofy. There are a coupla scenes where the creatures are wearing these pitiful lookin' Wookie suits, but most of the time the dwarves are wearing little cloaks, and have these creepy lookin' walnut heads that're pretty cool. So with the aforementioned exception, the special effects are very well done. The shooting locations, for a movie that is primarily confined to just one set, are surprisingly good. Most of the movie takes place in a ritzy old Victorian house, and for once, the decor in this place actually makes it interesting, while maintaining an authentic "lived in" feel. Normally I don't care for the shooting locations on movies that are primarily shot indoors, but the house used in this movie is pretty neat. Apparently I'm not the only one that thinks so, because it was also used in Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo, Terror House, and Curse of the Black Widow. The soundtrack is another major selling point. Not only is it catchy, but it's also really suspenseful, and contributes a great deal of atmosphere to the movie's already creepy mood. It's got some extreme violining a la Friday the 13th, but most of the time it just lurks in the background, effectively building suspense. I was surprised to see that the composer, Billy Goldenberg, did almost all of his compositions for TV shows. Most of which had little or no connection to the horror genre. He composed the theme music for several hit TV series including Kojak, Harry O, Alias Smith and Jones, Our House, and Rhoda, but didn't dabble in horror flicks much at all. Which is kind of a shame, because it's clear to me that he had a knack for it. Overall, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is the best made-for-TV flick I've ever seen, and better than a hell of a lot of movies that got widely released theatrical runs. Very under-rated movie, definitely check it out.