DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK (2011 and 1973)

From the 1973 version: Little teddy bears with coneheads.

I’ve written before of my love for a 1973 horror movie (made for television) called “Don’t be Afraid if the Dark,” mentioning that I suspect that the critters in it were the inspiration for Gygax’s ‘Jermlaine.’  I saw that movie when I was just a kid and it scared the Bejeezus out of me. Unfortunately, one apparently can’t rent the original version of the film — I’d love to see it again.
Recently I finally sat down to watch the 2011 version of this film on Netflix (produced by Guillermo Del Toro, so, despite my kneejerk distate for remakes, I had high hopes). If I hadn’t seen the 1973 movie when I was just a little kid, I might have enjoyed the 2011 version more… although I’m sure the 1973 version would seem pretty crude by today’s standards if I could compare them.

SPOILERS follow:

1973: These little bastards scared the piss out of me

The original films’ synopsis: A young professional couple move into a creepy old house that they are renovating. There is a grumpy old man who worked for the house’s previous owner who refuses to remove the iron cover that has been bolted over a fireplace in an abandoned room that the wife wants to use, muttering vague warnings about ‘things better left alone.’ The wife unbolts the iron cover and then strange things start to happen — little scuttling figures, like rats, are continuously trying to scare her or hurt her, stealing knives and scissors, etc. Since the husband is a workaholic, he thinks his wife is losing her mind. The little critters are always whispering things like, “Let’s get her now…no, wait till it’s dark…we get her when its dark…”, etc., in these creepy, whispery little voices that only the wife can hear and they murder her ‘interior decorator’ (and, yes, being that this is 1973, the interior decorator is some flaming queen dude).  We see more of the little creatures as the film progresses — they look like tiny people with wrinkled, pointy heads and they hate the light. When the film ends, she has disappeared (I don’t remember how) and the iron grate has been placed back over the fireplace.  We can hear the woman’s voice has joined the ‘whisperers’ and it is obvious that they are waiting for the day when some new, ignorant rehabber removes the iron grating from the fireplace and sets them free again.

From the 2011 version: Howler Monkey?

The 2011 version: This is a big-budget, Hollywood film with famous actors and big money production values (the 1973 version was a ‘made for television’ movie). The ‘old house’ is a giant turn-of-the-century mansion being restored by an architect and his interior designer girlfriend in the hopes that they can ‘flip’ it and make a bundle. The architect is obsessed with getting his rehab job on the cover of some architectural magazine and spends most of the movie worrying about whether or not the snooty magazine editor is going to come to a dinner party he is hosting at the house. The architect’s daughter from a previous marriage, who is depressed because both of her parents are too self absorbed to pay attention to her, is shipped to the mansion to live with her architect dad and his designer girlfriend (played by Katie Holmes).  The part of the wife in the first movie has been split up between the girlfriend and the little girl — she is the one who sees them and no one else believes her, but the girlfriend eventually comes to believe that the girl is telling the truth.  There is also an old handyman who gets fucked up royally by the little goblins, but this is passed off as an ‘accident’ (how he ‘accidentally’ stabbed himself a dozen times with every single sharp item in his own toolbox while alone in the basement does not seem suspicious to the architect or the police).

Interestingly, the authors of the new version do some ‘Appendix N’ style* name dropping; a librarian at the local library mentions Arthur Machen in connection to legends of malevolent little people and shows the architect’s girlfriend some of the unusual drawings of ‘monsters’ that the previous owner of the house had made. The more recent version also tries to put the little creatures into context by telling us the story of the previous owner of the house, a famous artist, who was driven mad when his son was abducted by the little fiends.  When the girlfriend notices how much the drawings by the former owner resemble the drawings by the little girl, she begins to believe. And the girlfriend gives the little girl her Polaroid camera with flash-bar to help her defend herself from the little monsters (they hate the light).  The prescence of the Polaroid camera in this film set in the digital age is, perhaps, a nod to the 1973 roots of the original when Polaroid cameras were all the shiznit (do they even sell Polaroid film anymore?).  Of course, in the movies, revolvers usually hold about 20 bullets rather than 5 or 6 and Polaroid Cameras can take about 100 pictures on one pack of film rather than 12… but since the movie is about evil tiny critters that live in a pit under the fireplace, I guess I shouldn’t quibble too much.

Unfortunately, the girlfriend doesn’t manage to get everyone out of the house in time and she gets pulled into the fireplace while rescuing the little girl from that same fate.  The movie ends like the original; a new iron grating has been installed over the fireplace and the house has been forclosed on and is back on the market.  We can hear the girlfriend has now joined the whispering voices, telling them that eventually someone will open the grate again.

There is a lot of CGI in the new version, and, on my TV it looked pretty good, but one of the things that was fascinating about the old version is that the tiny creatures were played by actors in suits and masks on sets made to look like a partion of the set that the actors portaying humans would use, but with the furnishings and details blown up to enormous size, and, by cutting scene back and forth between actors playing humans on a normal set and actors in suits playing tiny monsters on a giant set, it gave the impression that the little people were crawling out of the cupboards to attack.

The new one is pretty good, I guess, but I’m less enthused because, well, it’s a remake.  My memories of the 1973 version are pretty colored by how much it scared me (in a good way) when I was just a youngster, and, like most horror flicks where a child is shoehorned in, the new one can get a little saccharine at times (although if I could watch the original I’m sure it would look pretty cheap and dated).

Here is the trailer for the 1973 version:

Here is the trailer for the 2011 version:

*It has been brought to my attention that Machen is, apparently, not in appendix N.  Mea culpa.  He should be.

7 Comments on “DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK (2011 and 1973)”

  1. At least in real life, Katie Holmes seems to have escaped the tiny dwarf and his sinister friends who lurk in the shadows… 😉

  2. Stephan Poag says:

    I don't think that the words “Katie Holmes” and “real life” have ever appeared together in a sentence before!

  3. porphyre77 says:

    Don't let the weird insectoid illo of the Fiend Folio fool you. The movie was the inspiration of the Meenlock.
    Live in sealed bottomless shafts underground. Check.
    Fear light and try to shut it down by any way. Check.
    Harass future victim by telepathic voices, casting the doubt about possible mental instability. Check.
    Try to grab victim and drag her/him into their lair to make her/him one of hem. Check.

  4. Thanks for the write up on this, Steph. Good stuff.

  5. We Can Remember It For You Wholesale says:

    I’ve been trying on and off for years to work what the hell I’d seen as a child; what I remember was some ‘monkeys’ dragging an unconscious woman to a wall… I thought I must have had a nightmare and super-imposed that on my memory or something.

    By coincidence, I switched over mid-way through a showing of the Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes flick and decided to wiki it, discovered the 2011 was a remake, checked out the entry for the ABC original, a few You Tube searches and one childhood mystery solved. I still think those ‘monkeys’ are creepy little sons of beaches.

  6. Remastered original movie “Don’t Be Afraid of The Dark” buy now on amazon for $14.21 free shipping with Amazon Prime!

  7. […] trailer can be seen here and here is a blog post describing the movie and the 2011 remake, including a few more […]

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