Wicked Wednesday: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)

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It’s officially the first Wednesday in March which means only one thing: Made-for-TV Movie March!

Is this not a thing yet? Well, it is this year. After ending my Wicked Wisconsin Wednesday project, I discovered the joys of made-for-TV films. I want nothing more than to celebrate over-the-top lightning, dramatic pauses and gaps in logic.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a 1973 made-for-TV movie that aired on ABC. Starring the adorable, constant-favourite Kim Darby as Sally and Jim Hutton as her husband, Alex, as a couple who move into a home at that Sally inherited from her grandmother.

The old Victorian house is filled with plenty of quirks. Mr Harris, who worked on the estate as a handyman for Sally’s grandparents, is hired on by the young couple to update the house.

Then Sally and Jim move in, they discover a room with a locked door. Sally eventually discovers the key to the door in an envelope on a desk. Inside is a room with all the windows boarded, and a fireplace bricked up. As soon as Sally mentions opening up the fireplace again, Mr Harris becomes upset. In the harbinger of doom way, he tells her that the room was once the office of her grandfather, and it was sealed up then – and reopening it would stir up a ghostly aura.

Confused by his reproach, Sally opens up the side-ash door instead. Voices are heard calling to her, but she closes it up.

The couple are getting ready for an upcoming party. Jim is up for promotion with the potential of becoming a partner in his law firm. But the determination has become all-consuming and has left Sally mostly neglected (she believes he’s only with her because she’s great at throwing parties – the 70s, eh?).

But Jim’s guilt is what helps him to explain away Sally’s growing discomfort with the house. One night, an ash tray shattered while she’s asleep. She tells her concerns to her friend, Joan, who is rather sympathetic. Both have husbands who become more work-oriented than home.

In the following days, Mr Harris tells off Sally for opening the ash door. He furthers her discomfort when he asks if anything has happened to her. Though he refuses to divulge why he’d ask such a question. While digging through her closet, Sally sees something move and hears the whispering of, “We want you.” Once the key to the office goes missing, Sally really becomes freaked.

Becoming angry with Mr Harris for his wife’s hysterics, Jim calls the caretaker and blames him for the missing key and the bolts that keep coming undone on the ash door.

Though things only get worse for poor Sally. The night of the party, she sees something moving in her flower arrangements. Then her napkin keeps getting pulled off her lap during the dinner. The meal hasn’t actually been served yet when she sees something under the table that makes her stand up and scream.

Jim is, well, rather pissed with his wife for her show at the party. He tells her that no one saw anything. That night, the little creatures are finally revealed. They pull out Jim’s razor while Sally’s in the shower. They seem to be plotting to get rid of Jim, but the mostly just argue over whether or not it’s the right day to finally kill Sally.

The goblins (nilbogs as I’d like to think of them) are sort of like walking raisins or dates but somehow manage to be sinister with their dark almost sorrowful eyes. But they’re awful little bastards, and they’re pretty damn good at freaking Sally out, especially for guys so tiny.

But after seeing the creatures running about with her own eyes, Sally finally says that she wants to move out of the house and sell it.

So things should be getting better, but they certainly don’t. Jim heads off on his important business trip to San Francisco and leaves Sally behind with Joan to babysit her. But before Joan can arrive, Sally is harassed by the creatures in from the fireplace. Though she does fare quite a bit better than her interior designer, who falls victim to the trap that was meant to kill Sally.

After the police leave, a doctor speaks to Joan and tells her he’s given Sally some sedatives to take. While Sally initially rejects them, the little creatures put it in her coffee and instantly make her a bit droopy. It’s the perfect time for the creatures to pull out the breakers. When the lights are out, Joan goes outside to investigate and is locked out of the house.

Meanwhile, after quickly returning from San Fran, Jim goes to speak to Mr Harris about what’s going on in the house. The caretaker tells Jim the story that when Sally’s grandparents moved in to the house, the fireplace was already bricked up. A maid who had been working at the house at the time told Mr Harrison that Sally’s grandpa had disappeared in that very room, and all that was left was a entirely wrecked room.

Upon hearing the story, Jim and Mr Harris head back to the house to rescue Sally – the certain next victim.

The sedated Sally is dragged into the study, bound up by the creatures. Despite their urgency, Alex, Joan and Mr Harris don’t reach her in time, and her body isn’t found. As the camera pans out from the home, Sally’s voice is heard comforting the creatures, tell them that they will have their freedom again.

Yes Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is pretty dated. The effects of the creatures is clever, but looks a bit tacky now. But the film still has plenty of atmosphere. Darby’s performance alone makes this worth watching.  In 2010 the film was remade and produced by Guillermo del Toro, and it’s… meh. Personally, I much prefer the subtle eeriness that this little film managed.

It’s simple, yes, and a bit obvious at times, but it’s a classic story that just unfolds really well.

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