The original Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark was a 1973 TV movie that aired on ABC. I saw it when I was about six years old, and it almost killed me. Really, I’ll never shake the feeling I had while watching that thing — I thought I was going to have a heart attack, and when you’re six you really don’t know what a heart attack is so, really, I had no idea what I was feeling.
That damn thing was scary as hell. Horrible little creatures running about, whispering evil things as they try to stab poor Sally (Kim Darby) in the shower and trip her down the stairs and ruin her dinner party. Argh! I don’t know if I could ever watch it again, especially now that I at least sort of know what a “heart attack” involves.
So it was with a bit of, shall we say, hesitation that I went to see the remake of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. Sure, I’m not a little kid any more, but Guillermo del Toro doesn’t know that. And, ever-grinning trickster that he is, he kind of turned the tables on me — as a kid, I watched an adult get terrorized by these terrible beasties. Now, as an adult, I have to watch a kid go through that hell.
So Sally (Bailee Madison) is no longer a put-upon wife but a little girl who’s just ripe for nightmares, chock full of Adderall and anxiety thanks to her overprotective mom and sent cross country to spend some time with her architect father, Alex (Guy Pearce), and his new interior designer girlfriend, Kim (Katie Holmes). Alex is broke but hopes to make the cover of an architecture magazine with his pet project/obsession: a creepy old Rhode Island mansion THAT’S HAUNTED BY DEMONIC CREATURES.
Of course, Dad and his new girlfriend don’t know this little detail, nor do they believe it when poor Sally tries to tell them after inadvertently releasing the damn things. Adults are never any good at anything in this kind of scenario, so Sally’s on her own in dealing with the little goblin-thingees that just love to feed on children’s teeth.
Did I say “children’s teeth?” I meant “chilllldrrrreeennnn’s teeeeeeeetttthhhhh…”
Yeah, goddammit, there I was again, a six-year-old kid totally creeped out by the pint-sized monsters, the creaking old mansion, the whole impossible and terrifying situation. Beware that Guillermo del Toro fella — he knows what scares you, and he will poke and prod you with it, conjuring up your childhood memories while he’s at it so you feel even more helpless and your fear becomes more irrational.
Man, the new Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a great horror movie. It’s actually scary. It’s one of those movies where the tension gets to be so high that the seemingly most innocuous little moments, like someone taking a book off a damn bookshelf, makes you want to scream ’til you pass out. The production design is first-rate — no one in their right mind would ever stay in that house, but whatever. This being a del Toro production, the story is rich in mythology and history — though, as it’s also spoiler-ific, I’ll spare you the details. The adults are brilliantly, frustratingly clueless. And I can’t say enough about little Bailee Madison — it’s her movie almost entirely, and she carries it with the confidence and skill of a true pro. Kid’s gonna go places (if she ever gets out of that house).
Really, go see Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. We hardly ever get good horror movies any more, especially ones that take you back to those sleepless nights when you were completely convinced that there was something under your bed. And you know what? You were right.