Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

So Monday night, the ex and I went to see Final Destination in 3D. It was at my choosing, having already seen Halloween 2 on Friday with the BFF and while the ex would have preferred I sat through H2 again on his behalf, I was having none of it. Flaming drinks beforehand and the kitsch factor of 3D glasses did nothing to save FD, but this isn't a post about that shit. It's about the palette cleanser movie after FD that the ex brought over, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, a 1974 made for TV exercise that exceeded this movie junkie's expectations tenfold. It made me so happy, I almost started crying. I'm serious about stuff like this, ya'll. I was also seriously crunked. It was so good, we watched it again Tuesday and quoted it to each other over hair of the dog margaritas. I know once you see it, you'll be like, damn Jenn, that was so good and I have you to thank so please accept these gifts of free movies and pony bottles of liquor. Remember, no gin!

I love when a movie tells me not to do something. The very title warns against something as banal as looking in basements or being fearful of the dark. I like that in a title. Tell me right up front what it is that I'm not supposed to do so I can do the very opposite. I WILL be afraid of the dark and I WILL look in that fucking basement thank you very much. I'm like that. Very obstinate.

Anyway, DBAotD is a simple tale of a simple couple, Sally and Alex, who inherit Sally's grandmother's creepy old house. Based on the title, you're likely thinkin', okay, spooky, old dark house movie, I can get down. Might have some psychological thriller stuff thrown in there. We shall see. So Sally and Alex move in and the place is old and a bit of a fixer upper, so Sally, a housewife with nothing much to do while lawyer Alex slaves away at becoming partner, hires a gold chain wearing, three buttons undone on his shirt, bearded decorator to give the place some much needed style. And by much needed style, he's thinking navy blue shag carpeting and neon green walls.

There just so happens there's a mysterious locked room in the house which Sally eventually procures the key for. Seems it's an old damp study with bricked up fireplace. Sally, 'the perfect woman, stubborn and curious' (her own description of herself), becomes obsessed with opening up the fireplace. Mr. Harris, a whizened old carpenter who came with the house, warns her against it, being as how he himself bricked it up for Sally's meemaw fifty some years ago.

Screw Mr. Harris, the thing must be opened. Sally takes an axe to it, and in no time, there's a gaping whole in her study, literally. Well, that proved to be a real lark, she sticks her head down in there, sees nothing, and goes to have a scotch with her husband. She's gotta fix him dinner too, you know.

Unbeknownst to the happy couple in their overly stereotypical gendered roles, Sally has let forth an unspeakable evil into their midst. And by unspeakable evil, I mean these guys, the cutest little demon dudes I have ever seen:

Some strange shit starts happening around the house, ashtrays get broken, Sally's dress gets ripped, she's starting to hear voices. Alex tells her basically to grow up, I mean, he can't be bothered since he's this high-falutin' lawyer hoping to make partner. So who cares if Sally's having a mental breakdown or what, Alex needs her to throw the party of the century to impress the bigwig lawyers. Well, there's only one thing that can happen during said party, Sally sees the little guys and has a massive screaming freakout right in the middle of dinner.

Seemingly calmed down a bit now (has this woman never heard of valium?), Sally decides to take a shower in the dark. The demons, they're only about a foot and half tall and oh so adorable, sneak in through a secret passage way in the linen closet. They're carrying a strait razor and have the following conversation, one of the best conversations I have ever heard in a movie:

Demon 1 to Demon 2 who is brandishing a strait razor: Don't! Wait! Don't hurt her!
Demon 2: But I want to! I want to get her!
D1: Wait until tomorrow. Just scare her.
D2: Scare her! Scare her!
D1: We'll get her in the bedroom!

I don't know if Sally can hear this convo over the roar of the shower spray, but it is so terrifying. What if you were just minding your own business and two tiny little demon guys came into your bathroom and had a conversation about how they were just gonna scare the shit out of you today and then give you 24 hours to think about your impending demise the following evening by their hand?

She gets out of the shower and the demons have disappeared, but she finds the strait razor and is completely whacked out by it and tries to go lay down. The demons run all over the house repeating to themselves and the others (there are about four, I think), 'We'll get her tomorrow. Yes, tomorrow. Tomorrow. Tomorrow.'

So Harris, who knows about the little buggers, natch, comes by to get some tools he left at the house. Seems he won't be working there any more. Well, he tries to warn Alex that 'some things are better left alone' and goes to the study to get his crap. The goblins are waiting for him and they know what he's been up to. 'You told,' they whisper at him menacingly. 'You told! You know what happens to people who tell!' Where'd these guys get their dialogue from, a mob movie? Alex comes to check on Harris and the little guys let him be....for the moment.

The next day, Alex has to leave on business. The demons couldn't be more thrilled - they emit some green light and keep repeating 'Sally, Sally' in their whispering throaty little voices. They string up a trip chord at the top of the stairs and beardo interior decorator strips over it and dies instead of Sally. Another freakout later - they actually reveal themselves to her and tell her they need her spirit - and Sally's got the cops, a doctor, and BFF Joan in the house with her. The doctor, thinking she's suffering from some sort of mental breakdown, prescribes sleeping pills. Joan, or the demons, it's hard to tell exactly because Joan seems like she's cool and Sally doesn't really want to take the meds, slips her the pills in some coffee and she's off to acting drugged out. A few cut power and phone lines later, and it's all hell breakin' loose!

The demons make their move and drag Sally through the house, as she makes some really suggestive noises IYKWIM, to take her straight down to hell, or wherever it is they come from. Maybe they just live in the fireplace. But she shows them, and grabs a camera and takes their pictures. I guess they don't like to be photographed. She only proves to incense them more and they take her ass into their fireplace hell and she essentially becomes one of them and fuels their desire for world domination.

Oh boy, did I have a good time watching this thing! The little demons are so fabulous, so cute, and I love how creepy they are with their whispers. I can tell you one thing, had I seen this as a kid, I would have been so fucking freaked out, I probably wouldn't have slept for days. I would have been thinking those motherfuckers were in my closet, coming to drag me down the chimney. I don't think I would have gone near a fireplace.

There's plenty of subtext too, lots of sexual repression going on, and lots of stereotypical sexist stuff that almost seems out of place in a movie set in the seventies. Having said that, Sally could have been hotter. She's frumpy and not very entertaining to watch in her shape hiding cardigans and mumus. She could do with a makeover. So the aforementioned shower scene is kinda lost. And this is made for TV, so what the hell are they really gonna show?

The house is also under-utilized; I like how some of these movies with this type of setting almost incorporate the house as a character; this one doesn't. At first, I was thinking it was an old dark house movie and it probably could have functioned well as one, but introduce those creepy critters and all the better.

Pour the wine and get ready to start telling all your friends 'I'm gonna get you tomorrow.' It'll freak 'em out, I promise. I sent the BFF a text message earlier today telling him that very thing. Thank you, hilarious and creepy little demons from a all but forgotten made for television movies from the seventies. Thank you.


  1. Man, they don't make made-for-TV horror movies like they used to, do they? I'm of an age that I saw many of these on network tv as an impressionable lad, and as quaint as they seem now, I'm telling you they were some SERIOUS nightmare fuel for the 7-10 age bracket. I still tease my younger brother about the intense emotional scarring he suffered thanks to a certain scene in the made-for-TV flick THIS HOUSE POSSESSED, which last year I finally managed to procure a copy of and send to him anonymously (after reviewing it myself, of course--the jig, she was up).

    When I reviewed DBAotD over at MMMMMovies, I couldn't help noticing a couple of neat/weird things about it. One was that the opening conversation between the yet-unseen California Raisins from Hell sounded an awful lot like the opening of King Diamond's THEM, still one of my fave albums. (Wonder if he was influenced by this?)

    Also, there's some weird sexual subtext going on between the wife and hubby here, with her wanting him not to work so much so he can "spend more time at home," and the near-explicitly sexual subtext of the demons dragging her down to the Hole. (She's been wearing dowdy housedresses the whole time, but suddenly we get flashes of legs from thigh to ankle, and those suggestive noises you mention.) I'm not sure if there's a thesis there, but it's an interesting layer to consider.

    Speaking of creeps in the walls, have you seen BAD RONALD? Another 70s made-for-TV legend, and also worth your time.

  2. I love me little demon movies, havent seen this one though I recognize the name. The pic reminded me of a cross between the minions in The Gate and the Djinn for some reason.. I like that the buggers want to fuck with them too, sounds like fun in my book! Heading over to Half to see if its sellin cheap =D

  3. Next on my list is What the Peeper Saw. It comes highly recommended and likely blog-worthy. I have not even heard of Bad Ronald, but I love the name! It brings to mind so many images! I'll have to procure a copy of This House Possessed as well, if it produces scares in young children, I'll likely show it to my cousins. But they aren't scared by a thing any more, the bastards. Not like when we were kids *shaking fist in the air.*

    I noticed a lot of repressed sexy stuff going on too, Sally's definitely got some issues and Alex is just about as oblivious as they come. But my one thing, and this isn't sex related (I know! No, I don't have a fever :P) is that, okay, they drag her down to fireplace hell because they need her spirit. Then they have a convo with her about them all getting set free and taking over the world. So she's one of them now? Why didn't they just get her to let them out and unleash them on the world?

    I watched this several times, once drunk, once with a hangover, and again today, kinda half-assed while I was eating lunch. So maybe I missed something? As is my way :)

    I'm gonna go check out your review...


  4. Carl, I have a copy on a DV-R. Want that I burn you one?

  5. I am sure the chimney creatures (aka Clive Barker's Lovecraft Babies)seemed to have a kind of vampire style life cycle where they would make whoever freed them one of them.

    That is what I took from the movie anyway, I've loved it since I was a kid.

    I'm glad to see that new viewers like the film- I sometimes worry that nostalgia colors my tastes.

    Great blog btw.

    Oh speaking of made for TV horror have you seen any of the Kolchak tv movies or shows. (The real straw fedora wearing Kolchak not the pretty boy Frank Black Kolchak from the remake series)

  6. the sneering (homo-phobic) snobSeptember 4, 2009 at 2:08 AM

    I thought Kim Darby was quite a tasty little bird back in the late 60`s and early 70`s.

  7. I really wanna see this one! I love tiny terror movies. And that big-headed demon on the movie poster looks kinda like George Eastman from Anthropophagus.

  8. Jenn: There's just something about small and creepy that is more frightening the big and creepy. Must be the "when cute goes evil" effect. Your so right - this one's almost design spefically to scare the water out of children. What with their evil whisper language and their size being so perfect for hiding under the bed and in closets.

    Good post! -- Mykal

  9. Thanks for all your comments, guys! You know, I thought this was so good, I watched AGAIN yesterday. As you might already know, I don't have a lot going on.

    What is it about little monsters? Did anyone ever see Full Moon's The Creeps? Wow, there's a good time. Now that I think about this, if this wasn't made for TV in the seventies, it totally could have a been a Full Moon/Charles Band movie. It's got that written all over it. Take this thing over to Romania, ramp up the sex a bit, throw in a couple more little puppets, and there ya go!

  10. Havent seen The Creeps but how can you go wrong with a description like that!

    I cant pass you up on an offer like that Ms Jenn, email en route!

  11. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark and Bad Ronald have haunted me for more than 30 years...they knew how to scare kids back in the day! I also saw an Evangelical movie at a church one night...A Thief in the Night...throw that into the mix and you have a recipe for an anxiety ridden adulthood.