BE AFRAID OF THE DARK (1973) is the quintessential made-for-TV thriller that,
for lack of a better saying, they just don't make anymore. Directed by John Newland, a prolific
television director for over forty years, the film originally aired on the
ABC-TV network on October 10, 1973 (thirty-eight years ago today, actually).
was only five at the time and far too young to see it, so I caught up with it
years later during the early 1980's. My
friend Dave, who lived on Staten Island back then, and I used to see some crazy
movies during those years and I vividly remember this one playing on TV in New
York on a Saturday afternoon. His
younger friend, Vinny, was really scared by this movie. The best part of seeing movies like this when
we're young is not only having the opportunity to see them from a children's
perspective, but also to have the beejezus scared out of us in a wonderfully
innocent and ultimately memorable way.
Years later, we can recount where we were, how old we were, and what we
were doing when we saw such scary movies because fear evokes such a strong
emotional response in us.
Darby and Jim Hutton star as Sally and Alex Farnham respectively (they sound
like a barrel of fun), a couple who move into a house that Sally has inherited
(I love this house - does anyone know
where it is in California?). The house
is enormous, sporting an ornate lamppost at the foot of the driveway and really
neat architecture. Jim is the typical work-a-holic
and is anxious to become a partner at the firm he works for. He comes off as stern and loud, and never
seems to have enough time for Sally, who is meek and tries her best to please
him. The house is far too large for just
the two of them, and the handyman (William Demarest) does his best to keep the
place in order.
is bored and inspects the bottom of the fireplace and notices that the opening
has been sealed closed. When questioning
the handyman about it, he evasively responds that it was necessary...and offers
no more than that. This is the part
where a red flag goes up as Sally now begins to see multiple pint-size,
prune-faced creatures scurrying about her house as she tries to sleep, host a
party for her husband's boss, and take a shower (as children, we're all afraid
of things that go bump in the night, and this film preys on that fear). The handyman knows all about the creatures
and is complicit in trying to keep their existence secret, while simultaneously
hinting to the owners to be careful.
the understanding husband that he is, jumps to the conclusion that the large
house is somehow responsible for his wife's condition and suggests that she see
a doctor (read that as: crazy). She's
the only one who happens to see the creatures and therefore is labeled half
nuts. By the end of the film, Sally is a
mess and is practically incapacitated due to her mental state. The creatures begin to drag her across the
floor and she plays James Stewart to their Raymond Burr, using a flash camera
to momentarily blind them. The
creatures, however, overpower Sally and pull her away into the depths of the
inside of the fireplace which, to a young child must have been frightening, but
to an adult's eyes seems illogical and silly.
film benefits from moody and atmospheric cinematography and a terrific musical
theme from Billy Goldenberg who provided the bone-chilling minimalist score to
Steven Spielberg's DUEL two years earlier.
Nigel McKeand also lends his vocal talents to the creatures, providing
some truly creepy voices for them. This
is a terrifically spooky film, just in time for Halloween.
BE AFRAID OF THE DARK was one of those early VHS releases in the over-sized
cardboard boxes released by USA Home Video in the mid-1980's and ran on
syndication on television for years.
of neighborhood video stores sported films like this from the 1970's, and it
was always a treat discovering some new hidden gem sitting on the shelf. For years, people have been requesting a DVD
of it and now the Warner Archive, as part of their burn-on-demand DVD-R series,
has re-released the film in a remastered version with a commentary track from
horror fans and pros Jeffrey Riddick, Steve Barton ("Uncle Creepy") and Sean
Ably. They are a congenial group and
they make watching the film again a lot of fun.
The image is a significant improvement over the previous DVD-R release. The colors do look richer and the overall
image is brighter.
of the creepiness of this film is attributed to the filmmaker's refusal to
explain what these creatures are, where they are from, how they got there, and
what their purpose is. Like Billy and
Agnes in Bob Clark's BLACK CHRISTMAS, and Michael Myers in John Carpenter's
HALLOWEEN, they are never explained.
have a review of Guillermo del Toro's remake when it hits DVD.