Cinema/TV, Film Notes

Film review – Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2010)

My Sight & Sound piece on the horror remake.

A high proportion of enquiries to ‘what was the film where …’ columns turn out to be about 1970s made-for-TV horror films: ‘the one where the fetish doll chases Karen Black’ (Trilogy of Terror), ‘the one with the vampire in Las Vegas’ (The Night Stalker), ‘the one with the possessed bulldozer’ (Killdozer!).  Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973), directed by John Newland from a teleplay by Nigel McKeand, is ‘the one with the whispering little creatures persecuting Kim Darby’.  Before being siezed upon by producer/co-writer Guillermo del Toro, the film inspired at least one de facto unauthorised remake (Kelly Sandefur’s Inhabited, 2003).  Though made under the strictures of network standards and practices, Newland’s film remains a thoroughly nasty piece of work.  For all the much-improved special effects and moments of dental abuse, this remake doesn’t make its creatures as malicious as the lumpier monsters who wreck Darby’s home, marriage and sanity.

Del Toro, co-writing with Matthew Robbins (director of Dragonslayer and *batteries not included), reshapes McKeand’s material so that it dovetails with his own cinematic universe.  Kim Darby’s protagonist/victim Sally was a young wife with no children, but Katie Holmes’s Kim is shunted into the background until the climax to make way for Bailee Madison’s Sally, a modern-day American avatar of the heroine of Pan’s Labyrinth: the child of a broken marriage, estranged from parents and step-parents, brought unwillingly to a new, magical environment and lured underground by exotic creatures who want her to join their number.  Del Toro also picks up on the influence of H.P. Lovecraft, and draws on elements from ‘Pickman’s Model’ (especially as adapted on Night Gallery, a show contemporary with Newland’s film), ‘The Rats in the Walls’ and ‘The Lurking Fear’, all of which deal with subterranean ghouls and devolved human beings.  In linking the monsters with the tooth fairy, he even picks up on a theme from Hellboy II The Golden Army.

Newcomer Troy Nixey stages well the segue between quaintly inviting – it’s hard to imagine an imaginative little girl not loving this house, with its sinister fairytale art direction – and outright horrific.  A certain TV movie plodding remains, especially in the sub-plot about the handyman who issues ominous warnings and becomes an early casualty.  The dividing of the functions of heroine between Sally and Kim (along with the traditional kid-centered horror movie practice of making adult characters dimwits) makes the ending feel less ruthless than the 1973 version (here, a secondary character suffers the terrible fate Newland and McKeown gave their protagonist) and forces Holmes and Guy Pearce to play stooge to Bailee Madison, the precocious kid from Just Go With It.  It’s an enjoyable, old-fashioned creepy old house monster picture, but the simpler, crueller 1973 film remains unmatched.


Here’s a slightly different take on the film, written for Empire.


One thought on “Film review – Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2010)

  1. Frankie Safana Farooq Dragging the other half to see this A.S.A.P 😀

    Steve Smith not to be nosy, but i saw this recently, and was VERY unimpressed. dont set your expectations too

    Frankie Safana Farooq Really? Well damn :/ Anything in particular wrong with it or just generally not that good?

    Steve Smith well, for starters, the pacing was set a little too slow for my tastes. a LOT of buildup for a striking lack of results. then you get to SOME of the actors…some come off as cheesy (and not the good kind) while others have spot-on performances. the…See more

    Frankie Safana Farooq Hrmm fair enough, thanks for the heads up hun – i might wait and watch it on dvd. There’s a few movies i need to see this month 🙂

    Steve Smith *nod* thats why i said something. i wish someone would have given me a heads up, and then i could have just gotten it from netflix or something, rather than spend that gross amount of cash to see it in the theatre xD

    Douglas Draa I’m old enough to have seen the origianl when it first ran on ABC’s movie of the week. These were also the folks who brought us “Night StalkerStrangler” , 2Duel” and “Trilogyof Terror”. I was only 12 or so at the time and the filmed frightened like few ever have. As much as I enjoy and admire “DelToro’s films, this all seems a little to slick and over blown.

    Douglas Draa Have to pay more attention to my typing! 🙁

    Maxine Fone original was far more stylish and scary ,this was like del toro bored and having afternoon tea..

    Posted by kimnewman | May 19, 2017, 11:50 am

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