Movies From the Black Lagoon: Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

Movies From the Black Lagoon
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark - 1973, Unrated
By Tom Doty

Sally and Alex are delighted when grandma leaves them a mansion upon her death, but they are not so pleased that the house is a little drafty, needs a ton of work, and is also home to a tribe of demonic imps that have set their sights on Sally. The audience already knows this as the film opens with a close-up of the house while we overhear the creatures fiercely whispering about the new tenants setting them free.
Alex is looking to make partner at his law firm and leaves restoring the home to Sally. She promptly hires an overpriced, and wimpy, interior decorator but gets a better deal with the house's original handyman, Mr. Harris. Turns out this gent is the only one alive who knows why the first floor study has been locked up tight. Sally eventually stumbles upon a key and then the trouble begins.
Mr. Harris is vague about the room but insists on they're leaving it alone, especially the bricked up fireplace. Sally, perhaps knowing she's in a horror movie, ignores Harris and unscrews a tiny plate on the fireplace. This frees our miniature devils who proceed to make mischief. Pretty soon you've got objects falling off of shelves and the sounds of tiny, scurrying feet whenever you turn on a light. They attribute the noises to mice but Sally begins to suspect that there is something more sinister at play.
Her husband turns out to be a self absorbed jerk who just wants Sally to concentrate on a house warming party so he can show off their new digs to his colleagues. First he blames Mr. Harris for putting strange ideas in Sally's head and then he compounds the error by calling the man up and firing him after accusing him of playing a series of jokes on his wife. Sally bucks up with support from her gal pal, Joan. Unfortunately she totally loses said control during the big party when she finally gets a glimpse of these critters. Nobody else spots them and, of course, everyone blames the incident on her "nerves."
Before you can say "pain killer addiction" Sally is being prescribed sleeping pills by one of those film doctors who actually make house calls. Sally, to her credit, doesn't want the pills but our imps slyly sneak them into her coffee when her husband's away. All that they need to do now is take out one interior decorator (not a big challenge for our six inch goblins), lock the best friend out of the house, and get Sally back to their fireplace lair before Alex returns from a business trip. Will hubby get home in time to save his precious Sally? All I can tell you is that this is a 70's movie so don't expect a happy ending.
This one is a true classic that premiered as an "ABC Movie of eth Week" and gave nightmare to tons of kids who are all in their 40's now. It works due to tight direction from John Newland (who hosted the horror series 'One Step beyond"). Newland cleverly keeps the creatures in the background until the dinner party where you finally get a close-up of their evil visage (much like that famous 'Twilight Zone" with the gremlin menacing William Shatner on an airplane). The film also benefits from cool make-up and solid acting. Kim Darby (True Grit) is fine as Sally while Jim Hutton (the late father of Timothy Hutton) is properly distant s her career driven husband. The film also gets a boost from William Demarest (Uncle Charlie on "My Three Sons) as the knowledgeable Mr. Harris who finally shares his story during the finale but maybe too late to do any good. The best things here, however, are the monsters. They have pinched faces and appear to be carved out of melted wax. The speak in hushed whispers like the three witches from 'Macbeth." Their antics kick into high gear during the second half of the film and they make for formidable villains despite their diminutive size.
This one also freaked out Guillermo del Toro ("Hellboy "and "Mimic") who has produced a big screen remake that's due to hit theaters this summer. This one is part of the "Warner Brothers Archive Collection" and can only be bought through their website or via "Critics Choice Video." It's worth the effort folks and deserves to come back and scare a new generation of viewers.
Bets Line: "I don't care what "Women's Lib" tells me, the mere mention of a mouse drives me crazy."

Tom Doty occasionally emerges from the Lagoon to check his e-mail and to read to children every Wednesday at 10:30am at Borders in Hagerstown. If you'd like to get a message to him, write to: dotyfox@myactv.net.