Not a Movie Snob - Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

Posted on Thursday, September 01, 2011 at 06:00 PM

"When remakes fail"

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (Original and Remake)

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark was originally a made for TV movie, shot in a hurry in two weeks due to an impending writer's strike, it was released by ABC in one of a flurry of very popular 'movie of the week' horror flicks the station was releasing to combat the popularity of drive-in movie theatres. Like many of those little gems (not least of all was Steven Spielberg's film debut, Duel), the movie went on be become very popular and receive a 'cult status' among viewers who found the story of a woman who moves into an old house only to find it's inhabited by murderous gargoyle type creatures, extremely scary. One of those viewers was Guillermo Del Toro, who is now known the world over as the guy who directed Pan's Labyrinth and walked away from directing The Hobbit. He and his brothers saw the film when it was originally aired on TV and it terrified them to such an extent its effect has never left him.

Now this is what I don't get about these kinds of remakes. Del Toro has obviously always had a special place in his movie heart for this low budget flick and has remembered it as something that scared the shit out of him as a child, so why remake it? Why tarnish the image you hold for it? If you want to do something special for the film, why not help to produce a big special edition type DVD release, so people can experience the original?

I won't say the original film is anything overly scary or special, it's certainly well done, given how quickly it was shot and on a tiny budget, but it's also dated and cheesy in the ways you'd expect of an early 70's made for TV affair. The goblin guys are pretty freaky looking and overall the story plays better than in the remake, but I didn't find it scary or sleep disrupting in the way I might've if I'd seen it on TV as a kid.


With the remake, Del Toro wrote the script and produced the film but decided not to direct it, feeling thematically it was too similar to Pan's Labyrinth, which was a good call, even though one can't help but wonder how much better the remake would've been with Del Toro calling the shots (pun intended).

There were a few things I thought the remake improved on though. In the original, the person tormented by the goblin guys is a woman, in the remake, it's a little girl who the goblins are targeting because they feed off of little children's teeth. Creepy. In a genre so saturated today with having little kids as protagonists and victims, making Sally a little girl instead of an adult is hardly original, but it is more effective. The goblin things in the remake are also more creepy looking than in the original, though they look less like goblins and more like possessed little monkeys with sharp teeth. And finally, the new version being a big budget Hollywood affair with big name stars, it looks slicker and has better acting (the little girl who plays Sally is actually amazing), but I don't know if the slicker look did the film any favours. The grainy, dark, low budget look of the original actually helped its overall effect.

For the most part, the remake of Dark follows the original pretty closely, with many scenes replicated almost shot for shot, but it seems that where it did break off on its own, it broke off in the wrong directions and while it's nice to have a horror film come out that isn't about demon possession or torture porn, this one was a little underwhelming, especially in regards to its creepy 1970's counterpart.

Original (1973): ***
Remake (2011): *½



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