Sunday, August 22, 2010

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)

Well, it's been awhile since I've done a good old fashioned review her at TGDH, too long, I know, I'm a bad girlfriend to you internets, I'm sorry. Moving on though, considering my overwhelming excitement about Guillermo Del Toro's re-imagining of "Don't be Afraid of the Dark" I thought I should see the original. Which turned out to be easier said than done.

Considering it was a made for TV movie from the 70's, it was stupidly difficult to hunt down. And when I finally did I ended up with a slightly rubbish version, that at times made weird blipping noises on the sound track, and at other times the audio didn't quite synch up, and was fairly grainy the whole way through. By I plodded through it, my darlings, I plodded through it for YOU.

Yes you, in the back of the room, trying to sneak out like you thought I couldn't see you! Sorry buster, pointing right at you, so get back in your seat, no one leaves until the presentation is over.

Anyway, stop distracting me now or we'll never get out of here. So 'Don't be Afraid of the Dark'. Wow, I feel that this is one that I can have an absolute Academic field day with, dissecting the intentional, or otherwise, symbolism that this film is filled to the brim with. On the surface, it's like 'Poltergeist', 'The Descent', and snippets of the original 'Dark Water' were thrown into a pot together and mashed up like potatoes. But, like I said, that's just on the surface. And if there is one evident thing that 'Don't be Afraid of the Dark' deals with, it's that what you see on the outside in no way matches the inner workings.

So before we pop the hood and take a look at the engine, so to speak, let's inspect the body of the thing, since so much of this film deals with the idea of a disconnect between inside and outside. So then, on the outside, our film opens with, seemingly, normal, well off, red-blooded American, husband and wife team Sally and Alex Farnham.

Sally has inherited an enormous, gorgeous, mansion from her grandmother. I can write volumes on how much I love that damn house, but we'll come to that later. Sally, however, thinks that Grandma didn't have half the sense God gave her when it comes to interior decorating, so her and her flamboyant decorator buddy are in the process of ripping the place to shreds and throwing as much paint, draperies, and area rugs to mask Grandmama's apparent poor taste. Alex, the human Ken doll, is content to let Sally just wreck as much havoc as possible, because hey, she's a woman, let's just let her do her womanly things.

Alex is generally not concerned about Sally's interests anyway. Alex is only concerned about Alex's business. He's a lawyer ... or something? He might just be a professional douchebag. His policy seems to be that if Sally isn't organizing a party or fixing him a sammich, she should just shut the Hell up. So as Sally continues to try and fill the hole in her soul that might otherwise be filled with spousal affection she stumbles in to dear old Grandad's boarded up study. And by study, I mean tiny dark room probably filled with mildew. For some reason or another Sally thinks that this place is HER IDEAL ROOM LIKE WHOA. LIKE SERIOUSLY, SHE NEEDS TO HAVE THIS ROOM LIKE FIVE DAYS AGO. And she in no way finds it odd that the fireplace is bricked up. Or that the old Carpenter man who has been helping with renovations says all kinds of creepy old man things about "some things being better left alone."

Sally decides that the old man, and probably her Grandad too, is a giant moron and just waits until he leaves and then jimmies the thing open with the tools he left behind. Because that's not a terrible idea or anything.

That is, of course, when everything goes to Hell. I bet you're shocked. I'm shocked, horrible things never happen when a somewhat spooky old man whose "done seen things with his own two eyes" is ignored. From that point on Sally starts being plagued by disembodied voices chanting her name, and doing juvenile pranks to make her look crazy.

All of these shenanigans start to make Sally go a bit apey, and Alex, being the supportive husband he is, basically informs her that she's stupid and to suck it up and throw him a party. But Sally wants her abusive asshole husband to be happy, so throws him a party despite being on the verge of a nervous collapse. Sally is a brave little soldier, so she puts on the most horrible 1970's dress she can get her hands on and plays the dancing bear for Alex's arrogant WASP friends. The little beasties Sally released from the fireplace don't like that these people are turning their house into party central, so they help Sally to have that mental breakdown that was in the making.

Alex is so sweet, and considerate, and attentive, that he is completely supportive of his wife's fragile mental state. And by supportive, I mean he sits her down and screams at the top of his lungs at her. He, in fact, at one point, bellows "STOP BEING SO SCARED" at her. I wish I was making that up. Obviously Alex won the title of 'Mr.Asshole '73'. So then Alex goes off with his fellow holier-than-thou bureaucrats and tells Sally that if she doesn't get the crazy out by the time he gets home he just might have to ship her off to one of those places that take care of hysterical women with overblown cases of the Vapors.

So then Sally is left alone with the little dudes that she let out. Who only show up when it's dark because they're ultra photosensitive. Fair enough. But honestly, much scarier before you actually see what they look like.

In theory, these things are akin to the "Crawlers" in 'The Descent'. Photosensitive beings that dwell in the underground, and shuffle around in the dark making bizzare noises. Although the similarity stops there, sure, I cut some slack because it's 1973. But the little demon things look like tiny sad old men with gorilla bodies. And that did kill a bit of the scare factor for this girl, sorry to say.

However, this film is a psychological goldmine. As when I discussed 'Candyman', I reiterate that I do not consider myself a feminist, but I could help but see a truly feminist angle to the film. Furthermore, 'Don't be Afraid of the Dark' comes across a more modernized version of the The Yellow Wallpaper. Just take away the fixation on ugly wallpaper with a woman supposedly lurking behind it, and make it a fixation on darkness dwelling creature and you have an almost direct parallel.

"It is very seldom that mere ordinary people like John and myself secure ancestral halls for the summer.
A colonial mansion, a hereditary estate, I would say a haunted house, and reach the height of romantic felicity--but that would be asking too much of fate! Still I will proudly declare that there is something queer about it.
Else, why should it be let so cheaply? And why have stood so long untenanted?
John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage.
John is practical in the extreme. He has no patience with faith, an intense horror of superstition, and he scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures.
one's own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression--a slight hysterical tendency"

Intentional or otherwise, the resemblance is striking. Both women are wives of affluent husbands, both are expected to upkeep a certain appearance of Upper Society and any deviance is deemed dementia. In both cases as well the husband can be seen as just as much the aggressor as the women's respective "demons". And on the account of maintaining appearances, both women have to fight the evils on their own, while their husbands only start to be even remotely sympathetic when the hypothetical shit has already hit the fan.

Don't get me wrong. 'Don't Be Afraid of the Dark' is no masterpiece. It is flawed, intensely so. If you can get away from the fact that Sally is 'Miri' from the Original Star Trek episode of the same name, she doesn't exactly have the best acting skills, that and I had an intense paranoia that the other awful children from said Star Trek were going to show up at any minute, and that would be scarier than the cheaply done demons skulking through out the film. But bearing in mind that it was a made for TV movie from 1973, it actually holds its ground fairly well against cinema-bound movies of the same genre. If nothing else, it is worth a watch for the absolutely stunning house that it is shot in. Seriously, this girl would be beating down the door to live there.

Skulking demons be damned, I would vacuum up the little bastards and move on in.

However, it's an enjoyable, if not depth-plumbed watch. And it's a film that I cannot wait to see transformed in Guillermo Del Toro's more than capable hands.

1 comment:

  1. I have just given you the Zombie Rabbit Award!
    Dreaded Dreams
    Petunia Scareum