Don't Go in the Lightning Bug's Lair #4 & #3: Don't Be Afraid of theDark (1973 & 2010)

Perhaps the most universal of the "Don't" titles is the rather parental advice, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. At one time or another, in our childhood or a particularly vulnerable moment of our adult lives, we have all been afraid of the thing that goes bump in the night. No matter if we thought it was a burglar or the boogieman, it still sends the heart racing and the stress level up to feel at the mercy of something unexpected in the inky blackness. Perhaps that's what makes both versions of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark so effective that they come in at numbers four and three on the Don't Go in the Lightning Bug's Lair Halloween countdown. The original, a made for TV film, and the remake, hewn under the watchful eye of  Guillermo Del Toro, are similar films that execute the basic plot with near equal competence, but each delivers a unique satisfying experience for genre film fans. So today, it's all treats and no tricks when The Bugg turns the lights down low for a double feature of miniature terror, so come along, don't be afraid, and Don't Be Afraid of the Dark.  

In the 1973 ABC television movie Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, Sally Farnham (Kim Darby) and her husband Alex (Jim Hutton) inherit a Victorian mansion from Sally's grandmother. Sally finds a bricked off fireplace very intriguing, but she is warned by the handyman (William Demarest), in the most ominous intonation, to leave it closed for her own safety. Naturally, she doesn't, and soon she is hearing voices and seeing little things out of the corner of her eye. Alex, deeply entrenched in a campaign for a promotion at work, dismisses Sally's fears and continues to obsess about work. When Alex leaves for a business trip, Sally tries to escape to a friend's house, but a band of small goblin like creatures she unwittingly unleashed when she opened up the fireplace are now intent on capturing her for some diabolical purpose.  

In the 2011 feature film version of Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, Sally Hurst (Bailee Madison) is the eight year old daughter of Alex (Guy Pearce) and Kim (Katie Holmes), and they move into a giant manor estate that Alex intends to renovate in order to piggyback on a magazine article to reinvigorate his career. Sally becomes interested in a sealed fireplace in the basement when she hears something calling out to her from inside. Ignoring the warning of the groundskeeper (Jack Thompson), Sally opens up the grate, and soon she finds herself plagued by small goblin like creatures that seem to be after her. To be completely specific, they're after her teeth. Her mother and father don't believe her, but slowly Kim uncovers some diaries of the past owners whose horrible story matches up to the one Sally is telling. Before a panicked Kim can escape with Sally and Alex, the creatures trap them inside the house intending to gain from the child what they desire. 

 The original Don't Be Afraid of the Dark scores on many levels as a slice of cult cheese of legendary proportions. The story, a highly imaginative affair, preys on the fear of the unseen, but the faltering point comes when the rubber masked, minuscule monsters are shown. They're not scary. They're laughable bad, much like the bulk of the TV version is. Kim Darby tries her best to sell terror and succeeds, but it is hard to imagine the creatures engendering much fear unless they were coming right out of your own wall. The film is typical made for TV nuttiness, and it's a wonder that this drive in reject found a home on ABC instead of American International.  Director John Newland, who also helmed the classic Star Trek episode "Errand of Mercy" along with many other TV episodes in his career, gives some style to the proceedings attempting to up the suspense, and he wisely keeps the goblins hidden away until the last third of the film.   

The remake does what all good remakes do and expands and tweaks the ideas to create something new. With a script penned by Guillermo Del Toro and directed by comic book artist Troy Nixey, the remake of Don't Be Afraid of the Dark casts the silly tale of the original, campy film in an entirely new light. The change that made the biggest difference was recasting Sally as a child (notably her mother then becomes Kim, a nod to Kim Darby) and re-imagining the tale as a Hans Christian Anderson nightmare.  As a dark fairy tale, I mean for crying out loud they want the kid’s teeth, and with the addition of creatures who give good reason to be afraid, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark becomes something that the original never was, scary. Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce (an underrated actor if there ever was one) both turn in solid performances, but the credit for selling the whole movie really should be given to Bailee Madison. The young actress shows a poised beyond her years as she sells absolute terror while being confronted with creatures that she had to imagine on set. Moody, well shot, and atmospheric, the remake of Don't Be Afraid of the Dark doesn't make one forget the cult majesty of the original, but it. does make you appreciate the minds of all the creators who worked on both versions. 

I may no longer be afraid of the dark, but I am afraid of having to rate these two films. The original Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is a beloved cult classic, and the remake, well; it didn't receive the response that I believe it should have. On a given daBy, depending on my mood, it may change which of these films I would rather watch and which one I like better. Today, for this list, the remake edges out the original by half a point.  That leaves us with only two more "Don't" on the countdown, and I promise these are films you want to hear about. So check out number two tomorrow and number one following on Halloween day. I hope to see you back here then, and until then, like Tom Bodet, I'll keep the lights on for ya.  

Bugg Rating
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2010)


  1. I liked the original film with Kim Darby but recently saw a remake that, while worth a watch for b-movie fans is okay, just really did not measure up.

  2. Haven't seen either film, but now I want to, for totally different reasons! Great reviews!


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