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"Don't Be Afraid of the Dark"
Reviewer:
Wayne Klein
Studio: Warner Archive
Genre:
Horror
Release Date:
8/09 (burn-on-demand service)
Special Features:

None

Review:

Sally (Kim Darby) proves to have "True Grit" in the face of terror in the made-for-TV movie "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark". One of a series of a series of popular TV movies made in the 70's, "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" followed in the steps of "The Night Stalker", "Killdozer" (still not available on DVD) and other ABC TV Movies of The Week that would essentially now be considered "high concept" horror films. "Dark" is being remade with producer Guillermo Del Toro (who like me grew up on these flicks as a kid and it clearly influenced his style of filmmaking) at the helm and Guy Pearce starring. ***

Sally and her family (her dad is played by the late Jim Hutton a marvelous character actor) inherit and old mansion from distant relatives (never a good sign). They begin renovating the place and Sally finds that the cellar might be the perfect place for her own little art studio. As part of the remodel she ignores the advice of the caretaker (played by "My Three Sons" star William Demharest) and tries to get the fireplace in working order thereby releasing these creepy little creatures that look a bit like shrunken heads corssed with radishes. These things want to claim Sally for themselves and dad and step mom (Barbara Anderson from "Ironside")believe that Sally's losing her mind until they find evidence that can't be argued with. ***

If you watched "Dark" as a kid growing up in the early 70's you were terrified. This was as good (aside from "The Night Stalker") as TV movies got. Using the studio backlot gave these made-for-TV movies a lot more production value than your average American International Pictures release at the time (although AIP was making a serious bid for respectablility with horror films starring Vincent Price often made overseas to increase production values and lower costs). While the scares weren't explicit, they were there and the films were often moody and creepy looking with nice lighting, direction and solid acting. Director John Newland who learned the ropes directing episodes of "Twilight Zone", "Star Trek" and "Fantasy Island" does a solid job with the scares. Newland was the credited director of "Crawlspace"( which had some uncredited work by the late Buzz Kulik) but never really broke through to feature films (although he did do a couple features early in his career) after a long spell as a character actor. Newland does a nice job of keeping the level of tension and keeps the creatures mostly in shadow which is wise given that the actors playing the roles are clearly wearing rubber maks--albeit exceptional looking masks. Writer Nigel McKeand got his start writing for Irwin Allen's "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" and continued to work on "Twelve O'Clock High" and penned some of the better episodes of "The Waltons". His script is crisp, direct and keeps the suspense coming even if some of the twists are a bit predictable. ---

Image & Sound:

This is part of Warner Archives' burn-on-demand DVD/download titles. The website sent out three of these titles for review to increase the buzz for their service. The film hasn't been restored. Colors are a bit faded which isn't a surprise but detail is surprisingly decent given that the film was given a no-frills transfer. Compression artifacts are kept to a minimum and since the film runs about 75 minutes (pretty standard for 90 minute TV movies at the time). ***

The film looks relatively clean with a nice presentation although dirt and grit occasionally pop up, Warner has done a decent if minimal job of sprucing this title up. The real reason they are probably releasing these on home video has more to do with the fact that many of these titles will no longer be protected under copyright and it's less expensive for them to do this service than to give it a full blown DVD release. Licensing it out to an independent would make sense as well but then Warner would only get the licensing fee. ***

Sound was a bit murky at times and a bit of compression applied to the mono soundtrack or EQ might have made the dialogue clearer. The soundtrack does what it is meant to do but doesn't quite have the depth that a well restored film ight have. ---

Special Features:

Aside from chapter stops place at 10 minute intervals, there aren't any special features. One thing that I would suggest given that Warner is charging quite a premium given that these are DVD-R's and/or downloads is to dig around in the archives for the network bumpers and promos that the network aired to advertise the show. Heck, I'd do a commentary track for this myself (since I'm a big follower of these type of films) as a pod cast if Warner would be so inclined to ask and I'd do it for FREE simply because it would be nice to give TV movie fans that grew up on these trivia about the production, careers of the actors involved and even the network. No one's asked but Warner if you are so inclined, I'm still available!

Final Words:

A creepy 1970's TV movie, "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" would benefit like all Warner Archive titles from a tiny bit in the extras department such as a podcast, etc. The film itself looks decent about the same as if Warner licensed this out to another company release. It's great to see these released but given the price I'd love to see Warner spend a bit more time putting together some minor extras for titles like this. Although often forgotten by most folks the late boomers (and others who grew up watching Saturday afternoon horror flicks or even a "Creature Features" type of program) used to gobble up these on TV turning the bulk of them into fairly big hits when it came to ratings. I can recommend this title for folks who have seen the film and want to add it to their collection but I can't recommend it as a blind buy since some folks may be a bit disappointed in the video/audio quality. I'd preview the online trailer since this is a pretty good indication of the quality of the film itself.

 

 
 
 
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