Friday, September 02, 2011

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark 2011

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark ~ The original 1973 ABC TV movie of the week called Don't Be Afraid of the Dark scared the crap out of me. The idea of little buggers running around about a foot high with razors and other implements of cutting danger kept me from enjoying what is for the most a comedy - the Gremlins movies. Yeah, I admit it, I'm that frightened of little people, malevolent or not. I doubt I could deal with Darby O'Gill or The Gnomemobile because of this movie.

Guillermo del Toro has given many interviews citing the original version of this movie, as well as several "Twilight Zone" and "Night Gallery" episodes that similarly scared me, as scaring the crap out of him. He has the same weaknesses, and in this 2011 remake, he pushes those buttons hard, nay, he twists them 'til they fall off.

The only thing that disarmed the original monsters from being truly scary was how fake they looked. The new creatures are del Toro makeovers in the mode of his terrifying creations in Pan's Labyrinth and the Hellboy movies. If there's one thing del Toro can do, it's make monsters. And there are also dozens of them, as opposed to the trio in the original. He also ties in other panic buttons with the themes of children in danger and the irrational reality of the tooth fairy concept. Add in more than a few broken teeth, and I'm terrified just typing this.

The story, slightly altered from the 1973 original, has a young couple renovating a huge mansion with the man's young daughter from a previous marriage joining them after a long time. Secret rooms, evil fairies and mysterious murder attempts follow in suitable movie of the week horror fashion. Del Toro adds a bit more to the background and origins of the creatures and the house with frightening, almost Lovecraftian, zeal.

If you look deeper, del Toro, who has help from co-screenwriter Matthew Robbins and director Troy Nixey, has produced a love letter to those old telemovies that ABC made on a regular basis in the early 1970s. There are many nudges and winks here in names and camera angles to those great flicks. There is much love here, and much horror as well.

Going back to the monsters, I was almost hoping we never saw them, because the human imagination is usually more powerful than anything we can be shown. As you might guess, I'm a big fan of Curse of the Demon and the original The Haunting for this reason. When I finally did see the new monsters, I wanted them to go away, and I know I'm not going to sleep tonight. It's rare that a remake improves on a film in this way. I'm not going to see this movie again, and that's a compliment.

The cast is okay, neither Katie Holmes nor Guy Pearce, despite their star power, really bring anything extra to their roles. The little girl, Bailee Madison, already an acting veteran at twelve, is the real star here and is wonderful. If the Academy ever even looked at horror movies (which they don't), they might find a treasure here. Remember her name, even if they won't.

One plot point bothered me and seemed way out of place. Spoilers ahead, you have been warned. The creatures, weakened by bright light (don't say it, they did predate Gremlins by at least a decade), are attacked by little Bailee with a Polaroid One-Step camera plus Flashbar. First, a One-Step camera in the day of the cellphone seems like an anachronism, and the Flashbar only had five flashes before it neede to be reversed or changed. This camera keeps going like a bad guy's gun in a Rambo movie. Small point, but it pulled me out of the flick.

The above aside, this was a pretty good horror flick, with appropriate scares, I recommend it despite the fact I will never watch it again. It's that scary, and that's a solid recommendation. Check it out, if you dare.

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