Yep, the ORIGINAL gremlins are back in a remake of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark…nearly FORTY years after the original 1973 TV movie scared the poop out of a bunch of Gen-X kiddies like myself. So it’s time to take on both movies.
The amazing thing about the original Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is that, with the commercials removed, it barely runs an hour and fifteen minutes. It’s a perfect little house of spooks short story. Kim Darby (aka: the moving meat-making mom from Better Off Dead) plays Sally, who moves into a gorgeous home with her hubby, who bears a striking resemblance to Mike Brady in season 1 of The Brady Bunch. The house belonged to Sally’s grandparents. One door in the house is inexplicably locked. Sally finds the key and gets in to a dark and dingy room beyond with a fireplace that has been cemented closed. Sally is warned by the old carpenter, none other than Uncle Charley from My Three Sons, to just leave it alone, leave it sealed. So, the minute he leaves the house…she opens it. Awesome.
Out come the evil little critters that have been locked away in the fireplace for ages. These freaky looking little critters are afraid of light (which begs the question—why did Sally’s grandparents block all the windows in the room?). These little creatures are after Sally. They want her spirit. They hiss her name from dark corners of the house, terrorizing her. They appear in flower arrangements, hide in cabinets, and duck behind curtains tugging on Sally’s dress.
No one else sees them. Sally’s hubby thinks she’s crazy. She should just leave the fricking lights on at ALL times. A creepy neon green glow seems to follow the critters around, adding to the eerie atmosphere of the film. Characters make one typically stupid move after another, leaving Sally in harm’s way constantly. But that’s because this film was made four decades ago, before movie characters were students of horror film conventions, privy to what might happen if someone was running around saying there were little monsters trying to kill her.
And, aside from the MAJOR goof in the film when it is supposed to be night time yet all scenes featuring Sally’s friend getting locked out of the house by the little monsters were shot in daylight, this one has a perfectly dreary open-ending that would serve the sole purpose these days of igniting a franchise. And finally, 38 years later, the Katie Holmes remake may be the catalyst to one family after another moving into the house and directly to DVD for sequel after sequel of CGI critters in a green halo crawling out of the fireplace….
So, after viewing the original 1973 Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark for the first time in decades and finding it so memorable that it was like I’d just seen it yesterday, it was time to venture to the theaters to see the new remake.
As soon as a horse and buggy appeared on screen in a period piece prologue, I turned to my hubby and said, “It’s ruined already.”
Naturally, the first order of business for those behind the business of this Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark remake—torture porn! That’s right. Bring it into the new millennium by giving us a hardcore scene to grab the audience’s attention. This one involves some old dude bashing out the teeth of his maid to sacrifice to the critters. As Uncle Charley said in the original, “some things are just better off left alone.” But of course not. For a horror movie to be scary these days, there needs to be brutality.
Cut to the present. A couple is moving into a gorgeous house, but this time, the wife’s name isn’t Sally. This time around, Sally is a little girl. And Katie Holmes is the lucky stepmom figure. So now we have to contend with a whole subplot involving a little girl who comes from a fractured home. So deep. But, I must confess, now that Sally is a little girl, it makes it easier for no one to believe her when she talks about her new imaginary friends. Remember how Carol Anne talked to the TV ghosts in Poltergeist? Well, Sally, the brunette version of Carol Anne, right down to the bangs and chipmunk cheeks, does the same.
And why wouldn’t she? The critters in this film crawl around on all fours like one of those kinda cute/kinda creepy little CGI characters from a Harry Potter movie. They’re just not that scary. The most frightening moment of the film—and it is a great jump scare—is that moment you’ve already scene in the trailer when Sally is crawling underneath the sheets.
The problem, aside from the critters’ CGI movements, is the fact that you see them constantly. No green glow here. It’s all-out in-your-face creepy crawlies. It gets to the point where these things are shown so close-up while talking to the characters that people in the theater audience actually laughed. And wait until you see them raid a toolbox and stampede the nosy carpenter; it looks like an ad for Home Depot.
There are plenty of nods to the original, including: a creature in a flower arrangement; the rope across the stairway trip—I mean, trick; the constant whispering of Sally’s name; a similar victim dragging scene; and a camera flash used as a weapon. The real question here is—why the frick is this modern family using a polaroid camera? They’d be taking ALL their pix on their cell phones.
While there is definitely some tension in the film, especially towards the end, it’s just loaded with weak plot points and insults to our intelligence. First of all, we have to be TOLD by the fricking critters that they don’t like light. They literally say, “Don’t put on the light! We don’t like the light!” several times. Really? Really??? Do you really think we’re that dumb that we couldn’t figure that out after they screech at the slightest touch of a light beam and go scurrying into the dark shadows?
Next, they swarm Sally in a bathtub like a bunch of baddies in a Jason Statham movie, waiting to be taken out one by one instead of attacking all at once. They have numerous chances to cut the hell out of Sally, but instead they just circle her.
And that’s not the only opportunity they blow. They need to just take one soul—yet every time they knock a victim unconscious, they just leave the body there and continue to pursue Sally. Plus, exactly how smart are these critters that have been locked away in a furnace (not a fireplace this time) for centuries? I mean, they know they have to steal a photo of themselves from Sally so she can’t show it to anyone. They know what a garage door opener is, so they steal that to make a getaway impossible…
Then there are random additions to the story that try to connect dots that don’t need connecting, which instead leads to plot holes! There’s a little anecdote about a fish pond in the yard that is the pivotal moment when Katie Holmes has a breakthrough with Sally. Touching. Really. There’s a trip to the library that has Katie Holmes learning of some deal the Pope made with the critters (that’s right, a fricking Pope), involving teeth and coins as sacrifices. Apparently, the Pope’s deal fell through, because these bastards are still coming for children’s souls (it’s all very Darkness Falls). And when Sally squishes one of the little critters between two sliding library shelves, we’re sure that now her dad will believe her…but it’s never even mentioned! Who the frick cleaned up that library and failed to mention the squished critter?
But the biggest annoyance in the Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark remake has to be after Katie Holmes TOTALLY believes Sally is in danger—and yet still leaves her asleep in her bed in the dark. Oh wait. That’s not the biggest annoyance. That honor goes to the moment at the end of the film when the victimized family of this whole horror RETURNS TO THE HOUSE to leave a little gift for one of the critters that is now locked away in the furnace. On the bright side, that foreclosure sign on the front lawn guarantees those direct-to-DVD sequels are on the way.
Don’t be afraid to be disappointed by the remake….