Lost Treasures

Don't be Afraid of the Dark (1973)

Directed by John Newland

With the recent success of the no-budget "Blair Witch Project" and a resurgence in the horror genre, we at "HO" decided to search back in our collective past to come up with a little flick that scared the crap out of us when we were mere toddlers. Remember those great Saturday afternoon movies that haunted your youthful memories and invaded your nightmares? We chose a seemingly low budget film (which turned out to be a made-for-TV, Movie of the Week) called "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" (1973). Have you ever sat down to watch an old personal favorite of yours and painfully realize how awful it really is? Well, imagine the shock of laughing through an adolescent fright fest. I thought twice about suggesting this "gem" but the concept of "movies as entertainment" got the better of me so I strongly recommend renting "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" tonight (if you can find it)!

Don't be Afraid of the Dark

Wind, whispers and a Victorian mansion set up the plot in less than a minute. Loving couple Sally and Alex Farnham inherit a gothic house from Sally's recently deceased grandmother. Sally manages to open a strange room that has been locked for many years. Let the fun begin. Kim Darby ("True Grit", "Teen Wolf Too") is Sally, the wife who sets out to refurbish the mysterious room, which contains a bricked-up fireplace. After inquiring into why the fireplace was sealed, Harris the Handyman (William Demarest –"The Jazz Singer", cantankerous Uncle Charlie from "My Three Sons"), warns her not to mess with it.

If you believe fear lies in the dark, then this movie should scare you to death since it is possibly the darkest movie ever produced. The director of photography, Andrew Jackson ("Dragnet", "Bret Maverick" television shows) seems like he had two flashlight-sized lights to work with. Anyway, not heeding Harris the Handyman's warning, Sally breaks open the fireplace with a convenient sledgehammer. Jim Hutton ("Where The Boys Are", "Who's Minding the Mint" and real life father of Timothy Hutton) is Alex, who hankers to become a partner in his law firm and schedules a gala party at the new mansion. Sally is less than enthusiastic about Alex's corporate ladder climbing.

To criticize this movie for gaffes is pointless -- you just combine them for pure entertainment gold. So Sally sets free three mysterious, ferocious, demon-esque, midget, animal-like, prune heads. The three little devils wreak havoc, throw ashtrays and possess Sally (or something like that). Sally is "contacted" by the midget creatures (they're actually about a foot tall) as they grab her from behind the drapes. Yikes! Alex thinks Sally is imagining it all in response to her disliking his rise to "success" and her desire to escape her surroundings. Party night arrives (consisting of something like three couples in evening wear) and Sally sees the pint-sized walnut heads all over the house. You always know when they are about to show their twisted mugs with a musical-queue and a strange blue glow. So Sally flips her wig at the dinner table and everyone thinks she's nuts.

Don't be Afraid of the Dark

The critters struggle to go around the house, up the stairs and into flower arrangements. They bop around on sets that look like they were recycled from "The Incredible Shrinking Man" or "Land of the Giants". At times you can't tell what these little tykes want. Do they want to possess Sally or kill her, or drive her crazy? Who cares, just go along for the ride. There's the obligatory shower scene, which is pretty creepy and funny, as Sally figures out the creatures need to stay in the dark. Ah, a weakness.

Pedro Armendariz, Jr. ("Chisum", "License to Kill") plays Fransisco, the Constipated Interior Decorator, who falls for the old string-across-the-top-step gag, perpetrated by the demons, and he dies. Believe me, you have to see it to really appreciate it. At the height of the climax the annoying music reaches a deafening crescendo, and as I reach to lower the volume, the midgets drug Sally and cut the electricity and phone line. She is now caught in the house alone. It's amazing how these tiny buggers get around... and there are only three of 'em! Alex finally believes Sally after Harris the Handyman "explains" the history of the creatures (loosely and badly) and they race home to save Sally.

Don't be Afraid of the Dark

I can't tell you anymore, it's getting late... I suspect the ending is not something you would see today. Director John Newland started out as an actor in such films as "Gentlemen's Agreement" and "T-Men" before embarking on TV directing duties on various weekly shows. The whole movie is 74 minutes short... for a 90-minute television "Movie of The Week". George Hamilton was originally slated to play Alex but he turned it down. The movie's sole purpose is to scare you. Rent it and if "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" still gets to you after all these years, invest in a night-light or some extra flashbulbs in case "they" come calling for you... Sally, join us! Sally... Sally... join us!

Guido Sanchez - copyright 2000

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