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Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark


One of the small-screen’s scariest, now in a special edition.

Rod Lott September 2nd, 2011

My first response after seeing the recent remake “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”: “I liked it OK, but I still prefer the original, although I haven’t seen it in probably 15 years.”

dontbeafraidofthedark

Now that said original has been reissued, coattail-ridin’ style, by Warner Archive, I’d alter that response to, “I liked it OK, but I definitely still prefer the original.”

With much fewer resources, the 1973 version is far more effective. The person being menaced by the trolls in the walls has always been Sally, but here, she’s an adult (Kim Darby, “True Grit”), married to an on-the-rise workaholic (Jim Hutton, TV’s “Ellery Queen”). No sooner have they moved in to a spooky, old mansion where it’s always stormy outside, when the demons in the cellar start whispering her name and crying, “We want you! We want you!”

Soon, they’re pulling at her dress, interrupting a dinner party, switching off the lights while she showers — the original put forth many a beat and scenario the remake Xeroxes, but with less panache. No one believes poor Sally, naturally — at least anyone who lives to tell it. Darby plays Sally as if she’s a bit “off,” mentally, even before the lil’ creatures appear; it just makes you wonder.

What are CGI creations today were people in suits back then. To render them small, they were shot on oversized sets. As primitive an effect as that is, it worked, and their faces are far more frightening than anything conjured by computer, because you can tell they are real.

That a film nearly 40 years older than its remake is the superior shocker isn’t a shock at all. That this was made for TV is, provided you didn’t already know. Prime-time TV used to make some genuinely scary movies, and this ranks right up there with 1981’s “Dark Night of the Scarecrow” as one of the all-time creepiest.

Warner Archive’s new edition contains a commentary with three fans, two-thirds of whom weren’t particularly worth inviting. It’s less like listening to a track that informs and enlightens, and more like listening to a couple of jerks in the next row who won’t shut up. —Rod Lott

 
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