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Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)

Review

Author
Date
02-21-2011
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Don't Be Afraid of the Dark poster
Runtime
74 minutes
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Cast and Crew
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During the early 1970s, the three major television networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) provided their viewing audiences with an abundance of well-made, low-budget fright flicks as a response to the then burgeoning drive-in market. One of the most well-remembered shows to air during this time was the ABC Movie of the Week. The series ran for a respectable six years (1969-1975), producing several key genre entries. John Newland's Don't Be Afraid of The Dark stood at the forefront of this small screen movement. Newland's film left an indelible mark on the terrified viewing audience that caught it on October 10, 1973. Now, almost forty years later, it still stands up as the kind of film that will make you want to sleep with your light on.

The story begins with Alex (Jim Hutton) and Sally Farnham (Kim Darby) taking up residence in an old mansion that they have inherited from Sally's grandmother. As the Farnham's begin to move in, a series of mysteries reveal themselves (a locked door, a bricked up fireplace) that will propel Sally into the depths of a waking nightmare.

Writer Nigel McKeand sets the story's supernatural tone by casting three hideous, gnome-like creatures as the film's antagonists. After being released into the Farnham's home when Sally unbolts the ash door to a bricked up chimney in her grandfather's study, these pint-sized terrors succeed at inducing chills as they wield what appears to be a massive straight razor (in comparison to their size), speak in whispered voices from the shadows, and work in tandem on a devious plot which will focus in on an already distraught Sally. Make-up artist Michael Hancock creates some of the most memorable monsters of the 1970s with this effort, and although his designs here are rather basic, they still manage to frighten.

McKeand juxtaposes the story's supernatural aspects with a sub-plot concerning the troubled Farnham marriage. As Alex vies for a promotion at work he becomes consumed with his job leaving Sally to feel isolated and unwanted except in a domestic capacity. McKeand conveys her feelings through dialogue as Sally makes statements such as "You only married me because I'm the perfect hostess." or when she confides to a friend that "Alex is in a stage in his life where all he thinks about is his job and getting ahead. What really scares me is that it may not be a stage." Alex is so overwhelmed with the prospects of career advancement that his wife's obvious emotional issues fail to register until Sally begins to make claims that she is under siege by miniature assailants. Alex's natural response to these bizarre accusations is to think that Sally needs to seek professional help.

The story moves along at a rather brisk pace that is somewhat dictated by the made-for-television format. When you takes into consideration that a portion of the film's ninety minute time slot is set aside for commercials, McKeand was left with seventy-four minutes to get his story across. This time restraint leads to a narrative that is filled with rapid, escalating events that heighten suspense, but also open the doors to some obvious plot holes. For example, although the film's nefarious creatures play an integral role in the story neither their origins, nor the reasoning behind their actions, are ever revealed. This is one of those instances where some could argue with a fair degree of success that a prequel or sequel is actually warranted. Overall, these time-induced plot deficiencies prove to be trivial as the continual flow of action overshadows any negative impact that they would otherwise have on the narrative.

Newland places the film's narrative in the hands of a small but talented cast which includes Jim Hutton, Kim Darby, and William Demarest in primary roles. Hutton is impressive as Sally's callous husband Alex, displaying the emotional vacancy of a career-obsessed spouse to perfection. Demarest shows a cantankerous side as the handyman (Mr. Harris) who knows more about the Farnham's new home than he lets on.

Although both Hutton and Demarest are convincing throughout, it's Darby that carries the film. Her performance as Sally comes across as believable due in large part to Darby's ability to draw out the sympathetic nature of her character. Her dramatic responses to a bevy of frightening situations emphasizes her timid fragility which is vital to the success of her role. From body language to delivery, Kim Darby gives one of the finest performances you are apt to find in a made for television fright film.

The fact that a vast majority of the film is shrouded in darkness affords veteran cinematographer Andrew Jackson with the perfect opportunity to showcase his exceptional talents for lighting. He excels in this capacity by piercing deep black backgrounds with pools of blue light which illuminate sequences of suspense, accentuating the creatures terrifying facial features with vibrant reds, and using open doorways to throw shadows across unlit rooms creating a constant sense of visual menace. Thanks to Jackson's abilities, Newland's feature looks and feels like a much larger production.

Composer Billy Goldenberg is another veteran of the medium who plies his trade on Newland's feature. Throughout his career Goldenberg would score several television fright films such as: Duel, Ritual of Evil, The Legend of Lizzie Borden, and Helter Skelter to name but a few. As this list of credits can attest, Goldenberg is adept at numerous musical styles, so it comes as no surprise that his work here is exemplary. For Don't Be Afraid of The Dark he relies on short precise compositions with a dark classical feel that are orchestrated for the sole purpose of creating tension. This is best evidenced prior to the film's required commercial fades as he builds musical crescendos that peak when the film heads into the break creating instant cliffhangers.

With a following that rivals many of it's big screen counterparts, director John Newland's Don't Be Afraid of The Dark may very well be the quintessential made for television horror film. Highlighted by a suspenseful story, strong acting, and a premise that succeeds in raising all the intended goosebumps, Newland's film is indicative of how frightening the small screen can truly be.

Comments

Great review of " Don't Be

Great review of " Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark " which is one of three standouts in the Movie Of The Week series with the other two being " Duel " & " Gargoyles "... ABC was really hitting the ball out of the park in the early 70's with some really original material that at times put the film industry to shame and kept families glued to the tube.

  I remember seeing DBAOTD in the mid to late 70's and was captivated from beginning to end, remembering how I lost some sleep time that night with this made for TV movie fresh in my mind and probably looked around the dark room that evening for evil little imps sporting razor sharp shaving implements.

   If by chance you have not had the pleasure of seeing this TV masterpiece you can order a copy of it from wbshop.com on a DVDR at marginal quality.  I have a copy and tho it is adequate, Warner really needs to strike a new master and bring this gem into the world of HD.

  Bruce I enjoyed your review and will be looking out for your future reviews, job well done.

I really love this made for

I really love this made for TV horror/suspense film from the 70's, it has impeccable timing, great acting & evil dwarfs from the netherworld how can you go wrong?   ABC was king for a greater portion of the 70's with its Movie Of The Week series for good reason.   Some of ABC's scripts were as good as what you would find coming from the original Twilight Zone.

   Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark had it all, everything a Horror fan could ask for and more and to be honest I don't know if a remake is justified or necessary, I mean, how can you add to or fix perfection, as they say " Imitation is the best form of flattery " but in this case it would be redundant at best.

   You guys here at Classic-Horror are really doing some fantastic reviews on some of the forgotten films of old and it is really generating interest, which keeps me checking on what you will be talking about next.. - Fantastic Review Bruce on a film that deserves alot more attention than WB has been giving it, lets just hope they remaster this great piece of 70's Television gold for future generations to enjoy!

I am addicted to 70s

I am addicted to 70s made-for-tv horror. I just added "Day of the Animals" to my collection. I also have "Something Evil" which I believe is Spielberg's first stab at a TV movie, and a bunch more. They are classic. Why don't we gather around on Sunday nights to see horror movies on the major channels anymore? It seems like with this theme being popular again, it should have happened, but I think most people think of slashers when they think of horror nowadays instead of Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Great post!

Nice review. This is indeed a

Nice review. This is indeed a classic. I have not seen it for some time but this movie stays with you. I grew up with these Movie of The Week flicks. Sure they seem like simple low-budget efforts now, but it was their simplicity and straight forward approach that made them so memorable. Films like this one and others: The Night Stalker, Trilogy Of Terror, Crowhaven Farm, to name a few, formed a sub-genre all their own.

What kills me is how

What kills me is how low-budget this film was (it wa shot in 2 weeks flat due to a threatened TV strike). Some of the rooms look like two walls a table & a picture. But, oddly, this adds to the look - almost like you're watching some kind of a fairy tale instead of a documentary. 

Wasn't Gargoyles was actually

Wasn't Gargoyles was actually released theatrically?  Anyway I agree with everyting you said. It is amazing how in the 70's and before horror films were made with no nudity little on-screen gore and they still are the ones that stay with you at night...I think we may have lost something trying to pack in the booby-shots and buckets-o-blood?

Gargoyles was a made for TV

Gargoyles was a made for TV movie that premier on November 21, 1972, at 72 minutes it would definitely be too short to be viewed at the theater, unlike the film Duel which became so popular that scenes were added, post production, just for the purpose of redistribution in European theaters. 

   Gargoyles received an Emmy award for costume design with Stan Winston being one of the recipients of that award, you might remember Stan as the Creator of the Predator & also created the alien in Aliens

   On a side note I found that the original belief that Gargoyles was an ABC Movie Of The Week short film, to be incorrect, it actually was seen on the CBS Tuesday Night Movie back in 1972, this is why it does not show up on IMDB's ABC Movie listing.

   The cast member of Gargoyles, Grayson Hall, is seen for the first time, since finishing the TV series Dark Shadows, she is the older lady who manages the hotel.

 

lol. omg have you seen Jaws

lol. omg have you seen Jaws before its mint how realistic the shark is?

I wonder if someone can help,

I wonder if someone can help, in the early 70;s there was a tv show- supsence, drama horror and the opening segment always ended with a house and it had crooked shutters...that is all i can remember...does anyone know the name of the series? Thanks in advance..

There was a suspense/horror

There was a suspense/horror show called Family Circle in the early 1970s I think on Friday nights. We watched it with the babysitter when my parents bowled and it was scary for us!

 

I was 5 years old when I saw

I was 5 years old when I saw this movie on TV (not the greatest parental supervision cuz my mom was a hard working housewife and my dad was obsessed with his career~sound familiar?)

Anyway, it took me DECADES to stop checking grates and odd openings in walls and fireplaces and I swear I heard little whispery voices sometimes calling my name.

And yes I'm going to see the remake, maybe by the time I'm 60 I'll have recovered!!!!

I watched this move as a

I watched this move as a rerun when I was about 8 years old. My uncle was babysitting us, I remember this movie so clearly. It was so scary!!!We lived in an old house built before 1900. There were all kinds of hidden doors and little tiny closets. I couldn't sleep for a week. I kept going to my brother's room to sleep in the bunk beds so I didn't have to be in my room with the doors in the eaves of the attic!!!

does anyone know where I can

does anyone know where I can get a copy of don;'t be afraid of the dark!!!!!  My kids who are now 40 and 43

remember watching this movie we have for years been trying to find it.  As soon as my son saw the remake

he called me to tell me about it.  My daughter and I are taken the kids to see the new movie.   My Son lives out of state and will be home

 for my husbands 70 birthday next month and if I could get a copy of the 1970 movie I think we

could have a fun movie night with both my son's and daughter's family and watch it.   Please if anyon knows

where I can get a copy just let me know.   

Here's a link where you can

Here's a link where you can buy a copy online:

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark on Amazon.com

"He went for a little walk! You should have seen his face!"

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