Welcome to HorrorFest 2009.
Wanna know who I'd bet on as next year's Neill Blomkamp?
Wanna know why?
"Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark."
Guillermo Del Toro's become a brand name in horror just like Peter Jackson's become a brand name. And like Peter Jackson, Guillermo's in a position now where he can loan his cachet to other younger directors to give them a sort of buffer. Jackson found Blomkamp and really pushed for him to get a film made, and it sounds like Guillermo picked Troy Nixey in much the same way. Jackson was looking for someone to direct "Halo" when he found Blomkamp, and when Guillermo Del Toro co-wrote a new version of "Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark," inspired by the original 1973 TV movie, he went looking for a new young director to bring it to life, and he found Nixey.
I didn't know Nixey's work when the announcement was made, and until tonight, I didn't bother looking him up. I figured I'd eventually hear who he was or what he did to catch Guillermo's attention. Turns out, he made a short film called "Latchkey's Lament" that mixes live-action and animation, and once I finished watching the 1973 version, I put on the full 17-minute short film, thanks to YouTube.
They toooootally got the right guy.
[more after the jump]
If you've seen "Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark," all you have to do is watch Nixey's short and you'll know why Guillermo got excited. To explain is a bit of a spoiler, so I'll hold off explaining until well after the jump. I'll just say that there are specific elements on Nixey's film that are perfect as an audition tape for updating "Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark," and I actually think this is a case where the remake could eclipse the original for all the right reasons. This is one of those moments where I get why it's being remade.
That's not to bag on the original at all. John Newland started directing TV in the '50s, and he was a solid workman who worked on series like "One Step Beyond," "Boris Karloff's Thriller," "Night Gallery," and "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," demonstrating a knack for that type of material. He worked in TV movies, and he made films that actually hold up despite the budgets and schedules he was working with, films like "Crawlspace" and "The Deadly Hunt." Working from the script by Nigel McKeand, Newland crafted a simple, circular horror story about a trio of strange monstrous little creatures who are unleashed when Sally (Kim Darby) and Alex (Jim Hutton) move into an old house.
The way Newland handles the creatures in his version of the film is about as effective as could be expected for a low-budget TV film in the early '70s. The special effects can't really be called "special" by any rational definition. Three actors in suits and disturbing masks were shot to look miniature, and everything else is all just sound effects and lighting. Newland keeps the creatures off-screen as long as he can, then deals with them head-on after introducing them, and the result is that even though the realization of the creatures is technically crude, it's effective, and they end up being sort of low-grade creepy throughout. Nixey's short film deals with love affairs between keys, animate when people aren't looking at them, and it looks like he'll be exactly the right guy to give real character to the creepy little demons.
Here.... check out part one of "Latchkey's Lament":
And, just for fun, here's part two of "Latchkey's Lament":
The original "Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark" deals with the relationship between Sally and Alex. They're newly married, Alex is ambitious, and Sally isn't happy in her role as wife and homemaker. Her reaction to the house is seen as hysteria by her husband, who feels like she's just trying to find a way out of their new life together. Darby, who I know primarily as the girl from "True Grit," is as appropriate for this film as Mia Farrow was for "Rosemary's Baby." There's something sort of dopey and slow about Darby as Sally, like she's a stubborn child who is just pretending to be married. Hutton's growing frustration with her is well-charted, and part of what drives them apart is the behavior of Mr. Harris (William Demarest), a handyman who knows some of the secrets of their house. He tries to warn Sally away from opening a bricked-up fireplace, and once she releases the monsters, Harris seems to be the only one who knows what's happening. I love Demarest. He's a Preston Sturges regular, best known to many people as Uncle Charley on "My Three Sons," and he's perfect as the crusty old guy warning the leads.
It's not a great film, but it's better than many films that have been in wide circulation since they were made, and I'm very pleased that the Warner Archives picked this as one of their titles. I love the program they're running, where they press titles when they are ordered, and they've put out films that were previously lost in home video limbo. I can't believe I never saw this back in the '70s, and I'm glad I finally did before the remake hits theaters next year. If you're looking for something fun for your own Halloween programming, I highly recommend "Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark."
The film is available now exclusively as part of the Warner Archives Collection.
HorrorFest 2009 runs every day of October 2009.
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