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Case Number 17321: Small Claims Court

Buy the DVD at Warner Archive

Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark (1973)

Warner Bros. // 1973 // 74 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Christopher Kulik (Retired) // September 23rd, 2009

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All Rise...

Judge Christopher Kulik has an irrational fear of made-to-order DVDs.

Editor's Note

Our review of Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark (2011), published December 23rd, 2011, is also available.

The Charge

Now you see them…
Now you don't…
Now you die!

The Case

Even though I wasn't born until 1979, I've been exposed to a number of ABC Movie Of The Weeks created in the early '70s. One such example is Crawlspace, a pretty mediocre time-killer that had a fine cast but made no sense story-wise. That oddity was directed by John Newland, a TV vet who's more well-known for Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark, which some have cited as the best made-for-TV horror movie ever.

Like many Movie Of The Weeks, the story is exceptionally simple. Sally Farnham (Kim Darby, True Grit) has inherited a large house from her recently deceased grandmother. Her husband Alex (Jim Hutton, The Green Berets) likes the place, but agrees it needs some home improvement to fit their style. To help, they hire Mr. Harris (William Demarest, That Darn Cat), the handyman who worked for Sally's grandmother.

One day, Sally asks Mr. Harris why a fireplace in the cellar is bolted shut. Avoiding a concrete explanation, he simply says "some things are best left as they are." After he leaves, Sally's curiosity gets the best of her and she opens it up, only to discover…an abyss.

Suddenly she hears voices, her name whispered over and over again. Sally doesn't get freaked until she spots a troll-like creature that immediately flees when she flashes light on it. It turns out there are several of these hideous demons lurking in the darkness, and only she can see and hear them. Alex and her best friend Joan (Barbara Anderson, Ironside) thinks she's nuts. Will Sally be able to protect her soul from these creatures, or is she destined to join them?

Although Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark is 35 years old, it holds up remarkably well, even with its '70s flavor. The performances—especially Darby's—are above average. The story may be campy on paper, but it actually morphs into a creepy, nightmarish experience. In fact, I would put this film up there with Spielberg's Duel as another low-budget TV movie that still generates goose bumps. Dark's greatest benefit is its tight schedule, the story dynamics played with efficiency and brevity. It plays like an eerie campfire tale.

The only real flaw with the movie is one of convenience. Darby is excellent as the wife who's terrorized by these demons. However, her delay in leaving the premises was a bit hard to swallow. At one point, she actually does pack her bags, determined to get out of there, but a script contrivance makes her stay. It's a minor quibble to be sure, but one that annoyed me nonetheless. Otherwise, this is a must-see for horror buffs, especially since Guillermo Del Toro (The Orphanage) is producing a remake.

Those who've been waiting for this golden piece of TV nostalgia on DVD will be itching to get their hands on it, even if the disc itself is nothing special. Released as part of the Warner Archive assembly line, the studio didn't do much to the 1.37:1 full frame print, which sports murky palettes, lots of grain, and splotches galore. The mono track is drab, but dialogue is heard easily enough. No subtitles or extras.

The Verdict

The film is free to go, but Warner Bros. is fined for releasing a lousy DVD at a steep price.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 85

Perp Profile

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
• None
Running Time: 74 Minutes
Release Year: 1973
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Cult
• Horror
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• None

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