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Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark - Another Lesson in Not Letting Homeownership Drive You Mad

There's a great history of horror films with "don't" in their titles
These titles suggest horror audiences aren't bright enough to realize the movies they are watching are warnings (premarital sex will make masked slashers target you, mess with nature and you'll end up with an uncontrollable monster, play your heavy metal records backwards and demons will come out of your lawn, etc.) But they also offer sound advise within the context of each film; not following these warnings will get you killed.

Then there's Don't Be Afraid of The Dark, where the oposite seems to be true. The title doesn't actually read as a warning, although the warning is implied there. It actually reads as a wheedling ploy by whatever creature is lurking within the darkness - a trap. But it acknowledges the audience's ability to see through that ploy - "no, really. you should be afraid of the dark."

Before I go any further, I must confess I've never seen the original (which was a made for TV production in 1973.) For this blog entry I'll be writing about the 2011 remake directed by Troy Nixey & written by Guillermo del Toro. I should also warn you that I'm going to spew out some spoilers here so - if you haven't seen the movie and don't want me to ruin it for you... stop reading now.

The story itself is interesting, seemingly paying homage to Lovecraft's The Rats in the Walls as well as Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper, flirting with the idea of something in your home driving you mad (be it you, be it an evil force or entity, etc.) and how your loved ones handle that slipping of sanity.

At the same time it almost appears to be a haunted house story (the kind in which the home itself is the possessed body) However, it's actually more that the house is a portal to hell(?) and is overrun by demonic(?) beings.

It also plays with our ideas of folklore and fairytales; often we tell children very pretty stories of delicate, magical creatures while this story is one of malevolent creatures hiding in the dark waiting to devour us. (In particular the movie offers an origin for the tooth fairy and it's sufficiently creepy.)

Things that worked really well in the movie
  • The location / set: everything was beautifully conceived and absolutely screamed, "creepy, haunted, Lovecraftian world."
  • The whispering: the creatures plead, in whispers, for the teeth of children to eat. Completely unnerving. Definitely worked for me.
  • No omniscient character: horror is plagued by omniscient characters who show up 1/2-3/4 of the way through the story to explain the plot and reveal the super secret way to defeat the monster. This movie had a handful of people who knew bits and pieces of what was going on and the main characters had to figure it out on their own. (As did the audience.)
  • Great hook: the first 10 or so minutes (in which we got a bit of the back story) were great. Creepy, brutal, and compelling enough to keep me from turning the movie off and watching another one.
  • Two words: broken leg. (Get back to me when you get to the end of the movie -we'll talk about this.)
  • Subtle soundtrack: in fact, the score was subtle enough that I hardly even remember it. No sudden, loud clashing of symbols to make the audience jump or anything terribly obvious like that.
Things that didn't work
  • CGI monsters. Blah! I expect better of del Toro. 
  • Terrible ending. I won't ruin it for you but, I was disappointed.
  • Barely any killing. There was 1 serious maiming, a few bumps and bruises, and 3 deaths. That's a pretty low count for a horror movie.
Alright. Wrap up time.
Don't Be Afraid of The Dark manages to provide a few creepy moments and is not the most terrible horror movie I've ever seen. Worth watching if you've got nothing else to do.

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