PCR past banners
Now in our eighth calendar year!
PCR #385  (Vol. 8, No. 32) This edition is for the week of August 6--12, 2007.

"Becoming Jane"  by Mike Smith
Operation: Woronov  by Andy Lalino
What's In A Name?  by Lisa Ciurro
Forgotten Horrors: “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”  by ED Tucker
Happy Birthday .... Passing On .... Is This Logical?... Barry Bonds .... Whatever Happened To--? Chapter 27: Delayed Until Next Week  by Mike Smith
Archives of Nolan's Pop Culture Review
Archives 2007
Archives 2006
Archives 2005
Archives 2004
Archives 2003
Archives 2002
Archives 2001
Archives 2000
Email PCR
CF Presents Retrorama

Forgotten Horrors:
“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”

In the 1970’s, made for TV movies were a big deal, almost unbelievably so by today’s standards of information overload. Back then, a brand new movie premiering on television was the kind of event that galvanized the family around the gigantic 26 inch screen of a console TV and kept them glued there for the next two hours. The quality of these films varied widely, especially in retrospect, but many of today’s horror fans remember getting their first of many sleepless nights from made for TV movies like “Gargoyles”, “Trilogy of Terror”, and the film I have always considered the hands down winner of them all, “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”.

This 1973 creep-fest must have looked pretty strong back in the day thanks to it’s cast of familiar faces like Kim (“True Grit”) Darby, Jim (“The Green Berets”) Hutton and even William (“Uncle Charlie” on “My Three Sons”) Demarest. Writer Nigel McKeand was no stranger to television, having written for many dramatic series including some of the more serious early episodes of “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea”. Combine these quality talents with director John Newland, who was best known at this point for his excellent work on the “One Step Beyond” television series but had a very long and prestigious career, and you know you are in for an above average film.

“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” is the story of a young married couple, Darby and Hutton as Sally and Alex Farnham, returning to Sally’s isolated family home that she has recently inherited. The house is more than they could otherwise afford at their current station in life and career minded Alex is happy that remodeling the premises will give his wife a hobby and keep her out of his hair. Unfortunately, the house also comes equipped with a brood of goblins that were somehow released when the fireplace in the study was constructed over their pit!

Once the fireplace is opened by a single minded Sally who is intent on using the study and undaunted by the extreme measures taken to close it in the first place, the film kicks into high gear. The goblins have an agenda of their own that involves stealing Sally’s soul in the same way they did her grandfather’s years earlier. The diminutive demons become increasingly bolder as the film spirals to its downbeat ending and even their sensitivity to light isn’t enough to hold them back for long.

The body count in this film is low and the violence is minimal but it has enough atmosphere for any ten films! Scenes of the creatures scurrying into the shadows or whispering conspiringly while hidden in the walls are genuinely unnerving. Part of the reason all this works is the unique design of the goblins and the organic feel that is accomplished by having the small actors inside the costumes performing on oversized sets. This isn’t always successful as the scale of the creatures often seems to change from one scene to the next but this only enhances the nightmare quality of the production.

The film’s strongest asset, almost certainly due to McKeand’s writing, is the believability of the characters and their actions. Once you get past the fact that most people would have done a Munster’s run right through the wall of the house if they saw what Sally has, you can easily buy in to everything that follows. The film is made all the more frightening by the fact that most of the actions taken are what a reasonable person would do in this situation but it still isn’t enough. By the final act, when the rest of the cast has finally started to take Sally’s claims seriously, the audience has been caught up in a firm sense of dread that it may already be too late!

Like many films made for the small screen, “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” lapsed into obscurity after its first few airings. Fortunately, USA Cable Network (back when it was worth a darn) bought the rights to the Lorimar Tele-Films package back in the 80’s and introduced the film to new generations. It also received a brief video release in the early days of VHS but the USA Home Video tape is hard to come by. Bootleg copies, usually sourced from the commercial release in varying quality, are readily available on eBay.

I am not ashamed to admit that this film scared the crap out of me as a kid! It doesn’t seem nearly as frightening watching it again as an adult but there is still a strong creepy vibe infused throughout the whole movie. As an adult, I also realized that the scariest element about the entire film is the fact that these goblins unnerve William Demarest, the family handyman, so badly. Let’s face it, anything that can put that kind of fear into Uncle Charlie, the tough as nails ex-Navy seaman who I am sure used to regularly smack Robbie, Chip, and Ernie into line on “My Three Sons”, has got to be something you don’t want to mess with!

"Retrorama" is ©2007 by ED Tucker.   All graphics this page, except where otherwise noted, are creations of Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2007 by Nolan B. Canova.