Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

By James Jay Edwards
Released: August 26, 2011
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Blackwood Manor has new tenants. While architect Alex Hurst (Guy Pearce) and his new girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes) restore their Gothic mansion's period interiors, Alex's young daughter Sally (Bailee Madison)-neglected by her real mother and brushed aside by the careerist father-can investigate the macabre history and dark corners of the estate. Spurring Sally's investigation are the voices-rasping whispers who call out to her from the basement, who promise her understanding and friendship, who are so very hungry and would like to be set free. When Sally gives in to her curiosity, she opens a gateway into a hellish underworld from which an army of beady-eyed, sharp-clawed monsters emerge, small in size but endless in number: the homunculi. Confronted with the horror that now threatens to taker her life and destroy her family, Sally desperately tries to warn the whole house, but there's just one problem: no one believes her. Will she make them understand in time, or will they become another chapter in the centuries-long horror story of Blackwood Manor?

Based on the 1973 telefilm (Don't Be Afraid of the Dark icon) that Guillermo del Toro believes to be the scariest TV production ever made, DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK was co-written and co-produced by del Toro and directed by Troy Nixey. Akin to PAN'S LABYRINTH, DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK focuses on a young girl's struggle against menacing and terrifying forces.

Illustrated Prequel novel by Guillermo Del Toro: Print/Digital edition: Don't Be Afraid of the Dark icon Digital Edition: Don't Be Afraid of the Dark: Blackwood's Guide to Dangerous Fairies - Guillermo del Toro; Christopher Golden

Soundtrack: Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark - Marco Beltrami & Buck Sanders
Film Review
Guillermo del Toro knows scary. As a producer, writer and director he has been responsible for such horrifying films as Pan's Labyrinth, The Orphanage and Cronos. So when he says that the 1973 T.V. movie Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is the scariest movie ever aired on television, people listen. And when he wants to remake it, people let him.

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark stars Katie Holmes (who found fame as Joey Potter on "Dawson's Creek") as an interior designer named Kim who, along with her architect boyfriend Alex (played by Guy Pearce from Memento), is renovating a beautiful gothic mansion. When Alex's daughter Sally (Bailee Madison from Just Go with It) comes to live with them, strange things start to happen. Sally discovers a hidden basement to the house and, while playing in it, hears voices coming from an old sealed off fireplace. Sally opens up the fireplace to investigate, unwittingly setting free dozens of weird little creatures that are afraid of bright lights and feed on human teeth. Of course, at first, Alex and Kim think that the creatures are simply figments of Sally's vivid imagination, but soon they realize that the odd happenings around the house are more than just coincidences. Kim does a little research and finds that the house has a sinister history. Sally, Kim and Alex learn the secret behind both the creatures and the house, and decide they must get out of the house before it's too late.

Del Toro and Matthew Robbins (who also collaborated with del Toro on Mimic) give Nigel McKeand's ("The Waltons") original teleplay a modern spin and turn it over to first-time director Troy Nixey (more famous as a comic book artist) with terrifying results. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is suspenseful, frightening and just plain creepy. The movie is not perfect; the acting is inconsistent and the dialogue borders on corny. However, these faults can be overlooked when the film is seen as the sum of its parts. Nixey takes an uneven script and average actors and turns them into one heck of a scary movie.
Cinematographer Oliver Stapleton got his start shooting rock and roll documentaries (The Secret Policeman's Other Ball, Chuck Berry Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll) and graduated to mainstream Hollywood filmmaking (The Cider House Rules, The Proposal). He has very little experience doing horror films, but his instincts are impeccable. The photography in Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is flawless. Just about every shot has camera movement in it, but not spastic motion-sickness inducing jerking. Stapleton uses slow pans and smooth dollies to draw attention to what the viewer should be seeing. The movement is subtle but noticeable, and the effect is both unsettling and suspenseful.

Stapleton uses light and shadows with amazing results, too. For example, in Sally's room, there is a revolving lamp that casts light onto the walls whenever it is on. Stapleton uses this to his advantage, creating a sense of motion among the light and shadows that leads the viewer to wonder if the moving shadows are cast from the lamp...or if they are something else...? Stapleton uses the natural darkness of the gothic mansion to craft frightening visuals.
The sound in Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is especially creepy. Sound Designer Robert Mackenzie (Kung-Fu Hustle) and his team bring the house to life with the whispery voices of the creatures. The voices are layered and subtle, almost subliminal, until the point in the action where they need to be heard. When that time comes, they are unmistakable. The whispery voices combined with the natural ambience of the house and the sounds of the weather outside give the film an eerie tone that the viewer will hear in their head long after they've left the theater.
Scary Factor
Between the skin-crawling suspense and the seat-squirming anticipation, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is scary as hell. There isn't a whole lot of BOO!-type scares, but there doesn't need to be. The fear is much more subtle, and, therefore, much more effective. The creatures slip and slide through the house under a now-you-see-them-now-you-don't kind of darkness, causing the viewer to see them in places where they aren't (like in their bedroom when they get home). The cringe-inducing opening scene alone, with its implied threats of what is about to happen, is probably the sole reason for the R rating that is attached to the film. Guillermo del Toro has taken one of the scariest teleplays ever written and has made it scarier.

Release Date
August 26, 2011
MPAA Rating
Running Time
99 minutes
Production Designer
Music Score